Posts Tagged ‘Stalinism’
Die Partei, die Partei, die hat immer Recht!
Und, Genossen, es bleibe dabei;
Denn wer kämpft für das Recht,
Der hat immer recht.
Gegen Lüge und Ausbeuterei.
Wer das Leben beleidigt,
Ist dumm oder schlecht.
Wer die Menschheit verteidigt,
Hat immer recht.
So, aus Leninschem Geist,
Wächst, von Stalin geschweißt,
Die Partei – die Partei – die Partei.
Oh The Party, The Party is always right
And comrade, may it ever be so;
For who fights for the right
He is always right
Against lies and exploitation
[women] Whoever insults life
is stupid or bad
Whoever defends humanity
Is always right
Grown from the spirit of Lenin
Welded by Stalin
The party – the party – the party.
Das Lied der Partei.
Iron Curtain. The Crushing of Eastern Europe. 1944 – 1956. Anne Applebaum. Allen Lane 2012.
A Note on Totalitarianism.
Iron Curtain is an important and deeply researched study of Eastern European Communist states. It begins with their blood-stained birth, illustrates their brightest hopes, and deepest fears, it travels from the sweated labour that built Socialist Cities, to the spying and the stridency of everyday life. Anne Applebaum’s book is equally an investigation into regimes that aspired to “total control” and how they used their power to achieve this.
Anne Applebaum is, as Duncan Bowie observes (Chartist March/April 2013) highly “partisan”. She is married to the centre-right Polish foreign Minister, Radek Sikorski. She is, nobody will be surprised to hear, far from neutral about assessing the damage done in the name of Communism.
It would be derisory, and irrelevant, to make her parti pris stand against the mass of historical detail, mastery of several of the countries’ languages, and weighed judgements that Iron Curtain offers.
Why? The answer comes in the opening pages. The first chapters of Iron Curtain Applebaum overwhelm the reader with the terror brought in the wake of the Second World War. Axis atrocities are laid out in full and the Shoah is never far away from the narrative. Readers of Timothy Synders’ Bloodlands will be acquainted with the terrible reality of destruction on the Eastern Frontiers. But it is other events that stay in the mind the undoubted heroism of the Red Army in fighting its way to Berlin and defeating Nazism, was accompanied by its own brutality against civilians and, in particular, mass rape. The Red Army re-opened camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald almost as soon as they closed them, to house their own undesirables.
The cruelty, oppression, and ethnic cleansing (notably of those of German origin, or even, in Hungary’s case, of those with Teutonic names of other ethnicities) that followed in the first years after the war, principally, East Germany, Poland and Hungary are memorably described. Whole populations of Poles, Rutheniums, Hungarians, were summarily ‘re-allocated’ to new territories.
During the late 1940s Communists consolidated their rule. At the pivot of the system – even before the countries were openly Communist-led – were the security services. Moscow trained local functionaries under the ultimate command of the Soviet NKVD quickly consolidated these. From the Interior Ministries they directed wholesale purges of real and suspected opponents. Executions, consigning people to local camps, even sending them to the Soviet Gulag, followed. The take-over of each state proceeded remorselessly, “first (by) the elimination of right-wing; or anti-communist parties, then the destruction of the non-communist left, then the elimination of opposition within the communist party itself.”(xxxiv)
Yet at the same time the Communist parties were led by true believers. Their Central Committees initially allowed (relatively) free elections because they thought they could win. They thought their doctrine was true. They “really did think that sooner of later the working-class majority would acquire class consciousness, understand its historical destiny and vote for a communist regime.”(P xxxiv)
Harsh policies were a reaction to defeat in elections, notably by the Small Holders’ Party in Hungary, and (if electoral fraud had not obscured this) by the Social Democrats and others in East Germany, ‘patriotic’ parties in Poland, and elsewhere Even in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, barely covered in Iron Curtain) where the local Communist parties did have deeper bases (something Applebaum plays down) they were unable to reach a majority on their own.
Iron Curtain’s principal thesis is that Communist rule under the period of High Stalinism (that is, from the late 1940s to 1956) saw an effort to eliminate any independent life for civil society. “The nascent totalitarian states could not tolerate any competition whatsoever for their citizens’ passion, talents and free time.”(Page 185) They took over youth groups, women’s leagues, churches, trade unions, independent educational movements, and, above all, the mass media, beginning with the Radio. In doing so, “They managed, undermined and sometimes eliminated churches, newspapers, literary and educational societies, companies and retail shops, stock markets, banks, sports clubs and universities.”(Page 496) Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday in Le Monde on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Stalin’s death (5th March 1953) there was a supplement on the Great Terror.
The Supplement includes Identity photos of the victims. Unlike the well-known figures whose memory was effaced from the public record, many images remain of ordinary people.
More details are in: La Grande Terreur en URSS, 1937-1938, de Tomasz Kizny, Nicolas Werth, Arseni Roguinski, Christian Caujolle. Avant-propos de Sylvie Kauffmann. Editions Noir sur blanc, 412 p., 40 €.
Vestiges invisibles de la Grande Terreur
Photos of the sites of mass executions and common graves, including these.
Boutovo, near Moscow, where people condemned to death were shot.
Tomsk, in the centre of Russia. It is estimated that there are 10,00 corpses in this ravine.
Ryszard Kapuściński. A Life. Artur Domosławski. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Verso).
In 1953, an acquaintance of Kapuściński, Teresa Lechowska, was sent to prison. A Warsaw she got two and a half years for making political quips. One was about Soviet (Lysenko) genetics. “Why is a good idea to cross an apple tree with a dog? Because it waters itself, and if anyone tries to steal the apples, it barks?” At the time that this real-life Milan Kundera’s “joke” took place, Kapuściński was a committed Communist and member of the party’s youth-wing (ZMP). He wrote a poem with the lines, “We, – stronger by a billion hands, mightier, by force of Stalin’s mind” (page 60) He was a member of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) until the declaration of Martial Law by General Jaruzelski in 1981.
Domosławski’s biography is not just the story of somebody caught up in Polish Stalinism. It is a critical, deeply researched, “warts and all” account of one of the 20th century’s leading field journalists. Kapuściński’s reportage, his books, The Emperor (1978), on Haile Selassie, the Shah of Shas (1982), are not only exceptional, they form part of the mental furniture of millions of readers. Domosławski’s unravelling of the factual basis of much of these books has created the most visible controversy. But it is perhaps Kapuściński’s political engagements, including the Stalinism just cited, that make for the most troubling discussion.
Turning the pages, again, of The Shadow of the Sun (2001) is to be reminded of just how fine a writer Kapuściński was. In this collection of African reports his Lecture on the Rwandan genocide ends with the Tutsis’ return and the flight of Hutus implicated in the mass killings. Read the rest of this entry »
Dead, but the Dynasty Continues – for now.
The overwhelming majority of socialists, Marxists and leftists, do not care an iota about the death of this figure.
The French Communist Daily, L’Humanité, says the Leader died of ‘overwork’ (surmenage).
It descriibes him the following terms,
Dictateur à la tête d’un régime totalitaire dont on ne sait que peu de choses, il a organisé un véritable culte autour de sa personne (voir la vidéo). C’est aussi l’homme qui a doté la Corée du Nord de l’arme nucléaire, déstabilisant la région et provoquant une rare hausse des tensions avec les pays voisins. L’importance des ressources investies dans le militaire, la volonté d’autosubsistance du pays comme les blocus internationaux font que sous son règne, la Corée du Nord a connu une terrible famine, dont on ne peut estimer le bilan.
A dictator, at the head of a totalitarian regime about which we are badly informed, he organised a true personality cult around himself (see video on site). He was also the person who equipped North Korea with nuclear arms, which destabilised the entire region and provoked a rare rise in tensions with all his neighbours. The diversion of funds to the military, the drive for self-sufficiency, and international sanctions, provoked a famine, whose extent we are still not able to gauge.
In place of this, what would we like to see?
We would hope that this death brings closer the moment when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will fall.
That democracy will come to the people of this country.
Others take a different view (at least officially),
Liu Weimin, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said,
“We were distressed to learn of the unfortunate passing of the senior-most North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, and we express our grief about this and extend our condolences to the people of North Korea. Comrade Kim Jong-il was the great leader of the North Korean people and a close friend of the Chinese people. He made important contributions to the development of socialism in North Korea, and the development of friendly, neighbourly and co-operative relations between China and North Korea. We hope the two countries could carry on working together for peace in the Korean peninsula.” (BBC)
The Morning Star Readers & Supporters Group takes a very different line to their French Communist comrades,
“Solidarity and condolences to the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea over the loss of leader Kim Jong Il. Viva DPRK!”
Another whole-hearted, genuine, expression of grief comes from this quarter,
Below is an extract from their recent ‘seminar’ on the regime.
“This Seminar convened to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the foundation of the Workers’ Party of Korea conveys to you its warmest and most fraternal greetings. It also wishes you the very best for your continued successes on the occasion of the 14th anniversary of your election as the General Secretary of the Party, and on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the formation of the Down-with-Imperialism Union by the great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung.”
Now the RCP (M-L) have issued this,
“NORTH KOREA: FROM COMMUNIST PARTY GREAT BRITAIN, ML. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=nqscnaZ8kNA It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Kim Jong Il, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, General Secretary of the Workers Party of Korea and son of legendary freedom fighter Kim Il Sung, who was born nearly 100 years ago on 12 April 1912, and who led the struggle of the tiny but defiant Korean people to defeat that imperialist goliath US imperialism.” (Hat-Tip – Lee)
A member of the Friends of Korea, of Indian origin, once said to me that as ”Westerner” I could never understand why people supported the Kims.
Let us discard the cultural patronising this claim involves.
North Korea’s tyranny is not hard to grasp.
It is a form of military Stalinism – ‘Communism’ in quotation marks’.
The template was the first decades of the Chinese People’s Republic.
As Frank Dikötter describes this in the recent Mao’s Great Famine (2010), the state was run on the military model that had successfully triumphed in China against the Nationalists and Japanese.
North Korea sharpened this model during its war with the South.
Does this mean that we should think of the DPRK as a land of autonomous obeying their Socialist Sovereign?
Dikötter describes how during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, faced with mass starvation and economic collapse,there was ferocious opposition. Peng Dehuai, a military leader himself, paid with his life for this. Others too perished in the purges that followed.
By their willingness to resist, the Chinese seem to have less differences to anybody else’s political history than some might think.
The evidence from South Korea, in films, reporting and literature, is that they are indeed similar to ourselves: there a right, a left, a workers’ movement, and people’s lies are extremely similar to our urban existence.
I suspect that the people of the DPRK would be the same given a chance.
They too have experienced a Great, and very long-standing, famine.
When the DPRK crumbles to dust, we will know in full of those who nobly resisted Kim Jong-Il, his family and his ‘party’.
Everything Flows. Vasily Grossman. Translated by Robert & Elizabeth Chandler with Anna Aslanyan. Harvill Secker. 2010.
The author of Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman, gains in stature every year. That monumental novel has the energy and depth to cover the siege of Stalingrad, the Soviet fightback against the Nazi invaders, the Shoah, and does not shirk from describing Stalin’s terror. Begun with these events still fresh in his mind, the manuscript (completed in 1960) remained confiscated by the KGB and the work was unpublished until the 1980s. Translations appeared in the same decade. But, as Robert Chandler notes in the Introduction to a new translation of Everything Flows, “Grossman’s reputation grew onlyslowly.” His journalism, first-hand, patriotic, reports of the Soviet army’s progress, A Writer at War, appeared in English in 2006. These pieces reminded us that the author was an eye-witness to the events he fictionalised. Now, Everything Flows introduces us further to the moral and political foundation on which Grossman’s work rests.
The present unfinished novel (begun in 1955, and worked onuntil his death in 1964) is an indictment against the Soviet “State without freedom”. It follows the path of Ivan Griegoryevich, newly released from the Gulag. He has survived three decades in the camps, a rare ‘guilty’ inmate who had, as a student, “declared that freedom is as important a good as life itself.”
Ivan returns to a world where the State had been ready for a last lurch into frenzied repression. Only a short while before it was rumoured, in the wake of the ‘Doctors’ Plot’ that a wave of pogroms would sweep the country and the Jews would be deported to Siberia and Turkmenistan, to work on the construction of the Turkem canal through the Kara-Kum desert. Where people had made their compromises with the State, and those who would greet Ivan are rarely untouched by Stalinism or morally untainted. This remains a county where liberty has yet to be won. Griegoryevich, changed by his years of suffering, strains to find a tolerable niche in the post-Stalin land. he cannot step in the same social river twice.
The flood of Ivan’s camp memories inundates Everything Flows. The horrific, detailed, account of camp life remains startling. During his years there Ivan observes the imprisoned population that had swollen with people who might oppose Stalin. He is familiar with causal cruelty, impossible workloads, starvation, and killing. Ivan has witnessed everything. The caste of common criminals who oppress the atomised ‘political’ zeks sentenced under Article 58 for “counter-revolutionary activity” further poisons their lives. Readers of Solzhenitsyn are aware of the bleak landscape. The Green Procurer in Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales describes in parallel to Grossman how conditions in the same Koylma from the late 1920s onwards had got harsher and harsher. Yet would even the most pessimistic agree that, “neither within nor outside the camps were people willing to admit that everyone had an equal right to freedom”? (Page 93)
Informing the Terror.
Everyone knows about the Terror, though few are at all willing to more than allude to it, at least in the presence of Ivan. But, who, he/the author, reflects, is guilty of its crimes? Who will be held responsible? Should it just be the State? Or Stalin? All of the public ‘organs’ needed individuals to carry out their wishes? They required, first of all, people willing to herd the victims into their folds.
Grossman presents one of the most profound explorations of informers and denouncers ever written. Seeking information against enemies, real, potential, or imagined, provided by individuals encouraged, forced, or bribed, to play this role, is as long-standing as politics itself. Use of the ‘delator’ (the Latin for informer – Imperial Rome was probably the first recorded systematic political use of informing) was well established – though periodically repressed. But the USSR under Stalin was not just an Emperor with a “passion for unmasking enemies” but a State. That is one, according to Stalin, which is a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, “unrestricted by law and based on force.” (The Foundations of Leninism)
In “the beginning was the word..”(Page 61) One end of the chain there two people chatting, next an activist speaking. At the other end are crazed eyes, damaged kidneys, skull pierced by a bullet, “gangrenous, pus-oozing toes gnawed by the frost of the taiga, scurvy-ridden corpses in a log hut that served as the camp morgue.”(Ibid)
Who then are the agents of the Stalinist Logos? There is the Judas 1, who buckles under, who “behaved badly under interrogation”. He slanders a man, who is not arrested, and ends up serving twelve years of forced labour to return “barely alive, a broken man, a pauper “on his last legs”. A Judas ll took the initiative, out of anxiety about his tainted class background. “Enchanted by the new world” he offers “his all on the alter of the fatherland.” There is Judas lll, one of “life’s masters” who has pushed his way up from the bottom to become a true believer. He is filled with loathing for the old Bolsheviks who hesitate to embrace the new order. “Stamping in its Stalinist boots, the Party had shouted at him, ‘If you show the least indecision, you will prove that you are no different from these degenerates –and I will grind you to dust.”(Page 66) Judas IV simply considered informing and denouncing as a way of replacing his former poverty with position and property. He is a ready volunteer, who inverts Kant’s rule to treat human beings as ends in themselves: “a man, and mankind as a whole, is simply a means to be employed in the course of his never-ending hunt for objects.”(Page 68)
All have reasons to collaborate, initiate, and to excuse themselves; all have victims, most of whom would never be able to contradict them. In this vein there is enough in Grossman’s pages to furnish a library of commenatories on the subject of this “human obscenity”, and its flourishing under the Stalinist state.
Two extremely powerful chapters deal with the Ukrainian famine. A moment of happiness in Ivan’s life, as he meets Anna Sergeyevna, is overshadowed by her account of ‘dekulkisation’ in 1929 – 1930. To her Lenin and Stalin said that The kulaks are not human beings” (page 129) After the killings and deportations, the collective-farms failed. The Plan was unfulfilled. Grain began to be confiscated, famine arrived: starvation swept the countryside. Every morning the dead were taken away, “I saw one cart, it was stacked with the bodies of children. ..They looked thin and long – faces like dead birdies, sharp little beaks..Some were still making cheeping noises: their little heads were like ripe ears of grain,
bending the thin stalks of their necks…” (Page 145)
The description of the peasants’ misery is too heart-rending to cite further. Blood Lands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin (2010) by Timothy Snyder gives in documented detail the facts of the Ukrainian holocaust that are painfully written out here.
Lenin, Stalin and the Servile ‘Russian Soul’.
Everything Flows concludes in its present, uncompleted form, with essays on Lenin and Stalin.
The former is judged severely, “Lenin’s intolerance, his forcefulness, his intransigence in the face of disagreement, his contempt for freedom, the fanaticism of his faith, his cruelty towards his enemies – all the qualities that brought victory to his cause were born and forged in the thousand-year-old depths of Russian slavery. That is why his victory served the cause of non-freedom. And in the meantime other aspects of Lenin, the traits that have charmed millions, the traits of a kind, modest Russian working intellectual did not cease to exist – but they existed immaterially, without significance.”(Page 197)
The ‘two-sides’ of Lenin, the factionalist, the hardened leader, and the sensitive intellectual with a warm private life, could be developed further. But Grossman charges Russian national character with the worst side of Lenin. This is much more contentious: “The Russian slave soul is manifest in Lenin’s revolution, in Lenin’s passionate embrace of Western revolutionary teachings, in Lenin’s fanaticism, in Lenin’s violence and in the victories of the Leninist state.”(Page 199) As for Stalin, “This fusion of party and State found its expression in the person of Stalin. In the mind and will of Stalin, the State expressed its own mind and will.” (P 205) “It was Stalin – who was both a European Marxist and an Asian despot – who gave true expression to the nature of Soviet statehood. What was embodied in Lenin was a Russian national principle; what was embodied in Stalin was a statehood that was both Russian and Soviet.”(Page 205) “Stalin united within him all the most ruthless traits of slave Russia.”(Page 206) “In this country, huge factories, artificial seas, canals, and hydroelectric power stations do not serve people; they serve a State without freedom.”(Page 207) “skilfully employing the vocabulary of revolution while living by the laws of tribal vengeance..”(Ibid)
There is just one-side to Stalin, that which fitted the ‘national principle’ of slavery. All of the Caucasian, ‘Asiatic’ tyrant, come down to the burgeoning Soviet ‘Statehood’. It’s as if there had never been resistance to Stalinism from the Soviet and anti-Soviet people. We are less than sure that this fits with Grossman’s own description of the camp inmates who, if only a minority were actual opponents of Stalin, numbered a great quantity of potential enemies of the Despot, and still, in their bones nurtured the sense of freedom that Ivan Griegoryevich stood up for. That is those in the villages who were “overcome with joy”, and those in the Gulag who “rejoiced” at Stalin’s death.
These are very definitely not the last words to be said on Lenin, Stalin, the Stalinist terror, and the Soviet State or its ultimate collapse.
Lenin’s ‘cruelty’? “Western Revolutionary teachings”? The Russian ‘slave soul’?
Perhaps not. But, after such sadness, piercingly conveyed, can one reply to Grossman’s judgements with ease?