April 26, 2015

Andrew Taylor: My re-evaluation of Stalin and the Soviet Socialist process. Part I, April 26 2015

Why the re-evaluation of the period of JV Stalin and the Soviet Project in articles of this Blog? Hasn't the 20th Century model of Soviet Socialism been rejected by Soviet Party itself since their XX Party Conference?

First I must say that the sheer volume of polemic pumped out by the ubiquitous enemies of Stalin produced an ideological suspicion in my mind and over time this formed into a hermeneutic of suspicion in analyzing anti-"Stalinist"/anti-Stalin literature.  Specifically as a historian of  revolutionary movements and ideas, the new Soviet archival discoveries of the so-called 'revisionists' such as J Arch Getty, Lynn Viola etc had a major impact on my view of the October Revolution and its ongoing process in the consolidation of Soviet power under Stalin's leadership.

Second, the work of a contemporary, Domenico Losurdo particularly in his well-reasoned and carefully researched book, Staline: Histoire et critique d’une légende noire (French Edition) caused a re-evaluation of the whole project of  liberalism's particularist and supremacist beginnings. Following Gramsci I came to think that Marxism is and must be interpreted as a pragmatic, slowly unfolding project in which all was not built once and forever. I rejected the vilification of China's path to socialism, and all schematic idealist readings of 'The Revolution' as it ought to be or have been. This worldview set my thinking at odds with all idealist or opportunist caricatures of Soviet history, and in particular put me off the line of The New Times anti-Old Left project of the broad Eric Hobsbawm - Stuart Hall continuum. Stuart Hall of the defunct Marxism Today journal had said

“The ‘third space’ [between Marxism-Leninism and social democracy] which the ‘first’ New Left defined and tried to prise open still seems to me the only hope for the renewal of the democratic and socialist project in our new and bewildering times”.

Increasingly within the lengthening of the years of the 1980's and 90's  and the re-invention of Social Democracy in Blairite form I had rejected Hall's conclusions entirely. It seemed to me that the energies and possibilities of the Social Democratic enterprise were exhausted. It was in those 20 years that I found myself driven back to a reassessment of the demise of the Soviet camp as well as its central builder Stalin.

I came to be convinced that Party historians must turn to discovering (or re-discovering) an analysis of the years of the building of Soviet socialism. Without undertaking a generational examination of them no firm basis for the transformation of society toward socialism was possible. The statements of figures such as Sam Webb of the CPUSA appeared to me as an opportunist, silly caricatural view of Communism of the 20th century.I equally despaired of the seriousness of the nostalgic defenders of CP history. I was on a trajectory navigating between the Scylla and Charybdis of the  New Times-style opportunists on the one hand and naive sov-sentimentalists on the other.

The post 2000 anticapitalist left explosions seemed to me a spasm of anguished outrage without a centre of theory or organisation. I studied the past of the socialist camp to make sense of the present stage of class-struggle. I was determined to neither be a tub-beater for or against Stalin but rather to attempt to recover, through an objective study of  facts, the wealth in theory and accomplishments which marked the first attempt at building Marxist-Leninist socialism in a nation.

It is necessary to leave behind the image of Stalin as a monster, as a sort of bloody cartoon phantom because anti-Stalinism remains an objective hindrance to the unity growth and cohesion of the Communist parties.  This is so because the phantom of Stalin obstructs a truth-seeking, impartial appraisal of the historic process of building socialism in Soviet and Eastern European societies in their given historical moments. And in consequence the unity and ideological coherence of the International Communist Movement is stymied.

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