Fredric Jameson used to argue for what may be called a dialectic of totalisation. In some cases, a universal master narrative actually fosters a diversity of voices, which in some way gain the possibility to speak. Jameson was countering the postmodern ban on master narratives, but I am interested in another dimension of this dialectic, which relates to Stalin. I am working on a detailed argument concerning Stalin and anti-colonialism, as a development from his extensive formulations of the ‘national question’ in the USSR. In the midst of my study, I came across this intriguing observation, in response to Kautsky’s argument for a universal proletarian language:

Until now what has happened has been that the socialist revolution has not diminished but rather increased the number of languages; for, by stirring up the lowest sections of humanity and pushing them on to the political arena, it awakens to new life a number of hitherto unknown or little-known nationalities. Who could have imagined that the old, tsarist Russia consisted of not less than fifty nations and national groups? The October Revolution, however, by breaking the old chains and bringing a number of forgotten peoples and nationalities on to the scene, gave them new life and a new development (Works volume 7, p. 141).

He goes on to weaken his insight a little, suggesting some mutual benefit between proletarian culture and local cultures. But he tries to get across the point that the process is dialectical, with each side, or, rather, many sides engaging in the process. More to the point, some forms of the universal, in this case the proletarian universal, actually enable diversity rather than stifling it. Of course, if you no longer buy into the universal in question and opt for another, such as when an enemy appears on the doorstep, then you fall outside the process.

Stalin and minorities 01a

Stalin and minorities 02a

In his extended struggle with Trotsky, Stalin turned to a detailed study of Lenin. Both sought to claim the legacy of Lenin, in what may be called a ‘scriptural dialectic’, in which the texts interpreted can lead to both positions. It was also part of the growing veneration of Lenin (rather sought to negate any veneration of himself). Repeatedly in those arguments, Stalin sought to counter Trotsky’s argument that socialism would be successful only with a world, or at least European, revolution. So Stalin argued that socialism in one country is indeed possible, yet that does not remove the threat of international intervention, if not the potential destruction of socialism. He writes:

The point at issue is not complete victory, but the victory of socialism in general, i.e., driving away the landlords and capitalists, taking power, repelling the attacks of imperialism and beginning to build a socialist economy. In all this, the proletariat in one country can be fully successful; but a complete guarantee against restoration can be ensured only by the ‘joint efforts of the proletarians in several countries’ … for as long as capitalist encirclement exists there will always be the danger of military intervention. (Works, volume 7, pages 122-23).

A foreboding of 1991, or perhaps a warning concerning events he hoped would never come to pass?

A wonderful piece of advice from Comrade Stalin on the practical wisdom of peasants:

To illustrate how tactlessly the peasants are approached sometimes, a few words must be said about anti-religious propaganda. Occasionally, some comrades are inclined to regard the peasants as materialist philosophers and to think that it is enough to deliver a lecture on natural science to convince the peasant of the non-existence of God. Often they fail to realise that the peasant looks on God in a practical way, i.e., he is not averse to turning away from God sometimes, but he is often torn by doubt: “Who knows, maybe there is a God after all. Would it not be better to please both the Communists and God, as being safer for my affairs?” He who fails to take this peculiar mentality of the peasant into account totally fails to understand what the relations between Party and non-Party people should be, fails to understand that in matters concerning anti-religious propaganda a careful approach is needed even to the peasant’s prejudices. (Works, volume 6, page 323)

Connected is a proverb Stalin liked to quote: It needs thunder to make a peasant cross himself.

Lenin and Stalin 01

Stalin and peasants 01

Today marks the 97rd anniversary of the Russian Revolution. But something curious is happening. Members of the communist party of course celebrated it, as is their custom:

2014 celebration of October Revolution 01a

But on Red Square itself, another procession was taking place. Here too red flags were everywhere:

1941 March reenactment 20a

1941 March reenactment 01a

Notice the image of Lenin on one of the flags, along with the Red Star. But these are not from ostensible communists. Instead, a re-enactment took place of the legendary procession of 7 November, 1941:

1941 March reenactment 12a

On that day, Stalin decided not only to stay in Moscow but to hold the annual celebration of the October Revolution (old calendar). The decision was an immense one. Hitler planned to take Moscow on the following day and his forces were within kilometres of the city. A state of siege had been declared. But Stalin showed his real grit by going ahead with a massive morale-boosting event. Soldiers marched past and went straight to the nearby front:

1941 March reenactment 00a

As for today:

1941 March reenactment 05a

1941 March reenactment 03a

1941 March reenactment 09a

1941 March reenactment 10a

1941 March reenactment 18a

1941 March reenactment 21a

1941 March reenactment 15a

The wool in those jackets – all of the uniforms worn come from that time – was supplied by Australian sheep, although one wonders whether the sheep knew they were Australian.

And since the Red Army had a significant number of women in its ranks (due to the ‘affirmative action‘ program), women too were involved in the celebration:

1941 March reenactment 04a

1941 March reenactment 22a

Most of those involved were descendants of Red Army soldiers, who did the hard work in defeating Hitler. A few veterans from the original procession were also there (images from RIA Novosti).

But the curious question is: what is going on? Putin and his apparatchiks have been appropriating Soviet history and achievements in a significant manner. Putin is by no stretch a communist, and yet it makes one wonder what is happening. Of course, the warmongering from Europe and the United States is misleading, accusing Putin of wanting to rebuild Stalin’s ‘empire’. It says more about them than Russia. These events may be part of that strange streak of Russian exceptionalism, if not some slavic chauvinism mixed in with Great Russian nationalism. Yet, something more is going on with this re-appropriation of history and even soviet symbols.

It may come as a surprise to some, but Stalin has quite a lot to say about democracy, especially in the protracted debates with the ‘opposition’ (and Troysky) in the 1920s.

Among other formulations, one of the best on democracy is as follows, from the Thirteenth Party Congress in 1924:

It is in this way, and in this way alone, that the question of democracy can be presented if, of course, we are discussing not a party with formal democracy, but a genuinely proletarian party linked by indissoluble bonds with the mass of the working class (Works, volume 6, p. 238).

As for purges, he has much to say, invoking Lasalle’s famous phrase, The Party becomes strong by purging itself. 

The Party cannot strengthen its ranks without periodical purges of unstable elements. Comrade Lenin taught us that the Party can strengthen itself only if it steadily rids itself of the unstable elements which penetrate, and will continue to penetrate, its ranks … I have been told with what fear and trepidation some non-proletarian elements among the intellectuals and office employees awaited the purge. Here is a scene that was described to me: a group of people are sitting in an office, waiting to be called before the purging commission. It is a Party unit in a Soviet institution. In another room is the purging commission. One of the members of the Party unit comes rushing out of the commission room, perspiring. He is asked what happened, but all he can say is: “Let me get my breath, let me get my breath. I’m all in.” (Laughter.) The purge may be bad for the kind of people who suffer and perspire like that; but for the Party it is a very good thing. (Applause.)

We still have, unfortunately, a certain number of Party members receiving 1,000 or 2,000 rubles a month, who are considered to be Party members but who forget that the Party exists. I know of a Party unit at one of the Commissariats, in which men of this type work. The members of this unit include several chauffeurs, and the unit selected one of them to sit on the purging commission. This evoked no little grumbling, such as saying that a chauffeur should not be allowed to purge Soviet big-wigs … The chief thing about the purge is that it makes people of this kind feel that there exists a master, that there is the Party, which can call them to account for all sins committed against it. It seems to me absolutely necessary that this master go through the Party ranks with a broom every now and again’. (Applause.) (Works, Volume 6, pp. 239-40)

But what has Mars got to do with anything? It actually relates to democracy and the party:

Our Party has become the elected organ of the working class. Point me out another such party. You cannot point one out because so far there does not exist one … I am afraid they will have to migrate to Mars in their search for a better party’. (Applause.) (Works, volume 6, p. 242)

Stalin poster 09

A new article of mine is up at Philosophers for Change: The ‘Failure’ of Communism.

Update: I am told that this article has taken off somewhat, with more than 1,000 ‘likes’ on the facebook page for Philosophers for Change.

Another wonderful snippet from our good friend, Comrade Joseph. Now it is Lenin and the ‘rock of salvation’ of Christianity:

The fact that Russia, which was formerly regarded by the oppressed nationalities as a symbol of oppression, has now, after it has become socialist, been transformed into a symbol of emancipation, cannot be called an accident. Nor is it an accident that the name of the leader of the October Revolution, Comrade Lenin, is now the most beloved name pronounced by the downtrodden, oppressed peasants and revolutionary intelligentsia of the colonial and unequal countries. In the past, the oppressed and downtrodden slaves of the vast Roman Empire regarded Christianity as a rock of salvation. We are now reaching the point where socialism may serve (and is already beginning to serve!) as the banner of liberation for the millions who inhabit the vast colonial states of imperialism (Stalin, Works, Vol. V, p. 354).

Lenin 90th anniversary of death - Red Square

Lenin and Religion 07

Next Page »