Tendance Coatesy

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Stalinism and Trotskyism both back in vogue says Andrew Murray (Chair of the Stop the War Coalition).

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Image result for stalin trotsky alan wood

Both Stalin and Trotsky Back in Vogue says Chair of Stop the War Coalition.

Stalinism and Trotskyism appear to be back in vogue. Their shrouds are being waved — entryism here, a purge there — to terrify bystanders to the struggle over the future of the Labour Party, writes Andrew Murray.

“This illustrates the extent to which “dead Russians,” using the term slightly loosely, still hold the imagery and lexicon of the international left in thrall nearly a century after the October revolution.”

Andrew Murray is, to repeat, Chair of the Stop the War Coalition and holds some other positions in the labour movement.

He continues on this site.

In a learned analysis of Trotsky’s uncompleted book Stalin (apparently now out in a definitive edition) Murray  outlines within this context the background of the founder of the Fourth International’s final (uncompleted)  book.

It was Trotsky’s last major literary endeavour and he was working on it when he was assassinated by an agent of Soviet security in 1940. It was a biography so unauthorised that it may be the only one in the history of the genre whose author was murdered by its subject while the book was still being prepared.

We should nevertheless get the low-down on the cash involved.

Trotsky had been paid $5,000 for the job by a US publisher who was accurately anticipating a sustained assault on the Soviet leader.

Murray outlines the new version of the text now published by Socialist Appeal

In a herculean labour of love, Alan Woods and Rob Sewell of the Socialist Appeal group — that vindicated element of the old Militant tendency which argued that the fight in the Labour Party was not over — have restored the book to something more like what Trotsky would have intended. (1)

Here are some choice quotes from Murray’s review,

There is more to Trotsky’s bile than Olympian Marxist analysis. His outrage at the fact that he, the great leader of the insurrection and the Red Army, should have come off second best to a man obviously inferior to him in every salient respect — orator, writer, reader of second and third languages and so on — permeates every page.


The USSR won the war and Stalin emerged stronger than ever, with socialism spreading to half of Europe and much of Asia, perhaps the most significant of the many circumstances which left Trotskyism without Trotsky stillborn as a major political movement.

Trotsky would have found all this quite incomprehensible but perhaps not as incomprehensible as his own political worsting by a nonentity from the provinces. Historians and some on the left will continue to dispute these questions ad infinitum.

Murray concludes,

But no, the Labour Party is not living through “Stalinism” versus “Trotskyism” reincarnated.

Time, perhaps, for a new political vocabulary.

Time indeed.

I shall leave it to the comrades to discuss this review in more detail, including this claim against Trotsky, his assertions about the number of Red Army officers suppressed in the purges are wide of the mark by significant magnitudes.”

Personally I much prefer Boris Souvarine’s Stalin:A Critical Survey of Bolshevism (Translated by C.L.R. James 1939. French edition 1935) (see also this  « Staline » de Boris Souvarine). “Souvarine was a founding member of the French Communist Party and is noted for being the only non-Russian communist to have been a member of the Comintern for three years in succession. He famously authored the first biography of Joseph Stalin, published in 1935 as Staline, Aperçu Historique du Bolchévisme (Stalin, Historic Overview of Bolshevism) and kept close correspondence with Lenin and Trotsky until their deaths.”

According to the one-time Trotskyist Fred Zeller in Témoin du siècle while he visited the Marxist leader in Norway he informed Trotsky of Souvraine’s work.

Trotsky did not have a high opinion of it, noting that the book was even not unreservedly  respectful of Lenin…..

Souveraine was, one observes today, critical of Trotsky, but rightly laid the emphasis on the monstrous crimes of Stalin and the immense social apparatus of repression and killing that was built from the 1920s onwards.


(1) More here: In these videos, Alan Woods and Rob Sewell discuss Leon Trotsky’s great unfinished work, Stalin, which is being published this year by Wellred Books.  Alan Woods discusses the political and theoretical analysis provided by Trotsky, who attempts to explain some of the most decisive events of the 20th century, not just in terms of epoch-making economic and social transformations, but in the individual psychology of those who appear as protagonists in a great historical drama.  Meanwhile, Rob Sewell provides the story behind the publication of this magnum opus – the most extensive edition of the book ever released, completed from the original archive material.


Written by Andrew Coates

October 20, 2016 at 5:16 pm

14 Responses

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  1. No one can call himself a communist and support the reactionary LGBT movement. There will be no rainbow flags in a socialist state but the red banner of the proletariat!




    October 20, 2016 at 11:48 pm

  2. Ignoring Dean’s cretinous remarks Murray could perhaps begin with a modern serious analysis of Stalin rather than using Trotsky as a foil to avoid the issues this totalitarian anti-socialist regime of murder still raises.

    For example:

    Andrew Coates

    October 21, 2016 at 11:13 am

  3. “totalitarian” – debatable concept
    “regime of murder” – very true
    “anti-socialist” – unfortunately not
    Probably the most important issue which cannot be avoided is the fact that the people involved in Stalin’s regime from top to bottom sincerely believed that they were building socialism, and that this could only be achieved by mercilessly crushing all the enemies of building socialism. This notion of socialist politics as a life-and-death struggle in which any “softness” was tantamount to treachery was not invented by Stalin. It was a view shared by his most famous biographer and victim, for example.


    October 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm

  4. @ Francis – ““totalitarian” – debatable concept” – I tend to agree with Kolokowski that totalitarianism is a valid term in the same way that socialism or capitalism are reasonably respectable categories to describe certain societies whilst it is still true that there have never been *pure* capitalist or pure socialist societies. The totalitarian mindset (what Kolokowski described as “the absence of neutrality” in “Main Currents of Marxism”) views art, politics, ethics, information, philosophy as subordinate to a particular political program – with no neutral forms of reference (e.g. universal human rights, constitutional processes).

    @General point – How many countries have parties in which “Stalinism and Trotskyism appear to be back in vogue” that are actually in power (by way of free election that is!!) – as opposed to them being inward looking identity cults. A quick mental calculation makes me think that ditching the dead Russians is absolutely a good move (for both moral and strategic reasons) – and provides more hope for a left that can come up with convincing answers to questions around international instability and social inequality whilst also potentially being electable.

    alex ross

    October 21, 2016 at 4:10 pm

  5. Totalitarian is used by Victor Serge.

    I would think there is a case to be made, inflected by some aspects of Hannah Arendt’s writing and Claude Lefort, that it has some use to refer to the political aspect of these regimes: the attempt to mould the entire social and political world around the central pillar of a unique power.

    Obviously there are problems with the term (it’s not much use for economics when you look at the detail and obscures classes). There is equally the well known tendency to conflate often different regimes together.

    Not to mention the whole debate on the nature of the Soviet Union covered brilliantly in . Marcel van der Linden. Western Marxism and the Soviet Union: A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates since 1917. 2007

    On Serge:

    “Beginning in the 1930s, Serge would make frequent use of the term “totalitarian” in his writings.

    The term originated among the Italian antifascists, although the fascists also used it. In 1925 Mussolini proclaimed the “fierce totalitarian will” of his regime. Totalitarianism was above all the total absorption of civil society by the State, which, of course, the fascists defined as no longer capitalist. According to Mussolini himself, “Everything within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State”.2 Hitler’s accession to power, which installed a racist totalitarianism where the State was the embodiment of the will of the Leader (Führer) lastingly impressed the notion of totalitarianism on antifascist literature.

    A.) Serge, at the time of the victory of Stalinism, was one of the first writers to use the term “totalitarianism” to describe the Soviet State formed in 1918. In a letter he sent from Moscow to friends in France in February 1933, Serge stated that the Soviet State was a “totalitarian, caste-ridden, absolute, power-mad State that does not care about human beings”.3 At that time Serge identified himself as a member of the Left Opposition, with whose positions he substantially agreed. Trotsky, who characterized the Soviet State as a “degenerated workers State”, defined the same State in September 1939 as a “totalitarian State” that—so he said—“was incapable of self-perpetuation”

    More here: https://libcom.org/library/victor-serge-totalitarianism-state-capitalism-philippe-bourrinet

    Andrew Coates

    October 21, 2016 at 4:28 pm

  6. BTW, Murray may have bad politics, but I have to give him credit for his Socialist Register article which argued that any attempt to found a left-wing party that would compete in the electoral arena with Labour — like the Left Unity party — would come to nothing. He was right. Like it or not, the fight for socialist politics within Labour is “where the action is.”


    October 21, 2016 at 5:43 pm

  7. See – I said “totalitarianism” was a “debatable concept” and there you are debating it! 🙂 For myself, I find the concept of some use in denoting the intentions of certain regimes, but less so in denoting the reality of those regimes.


    October 21, 2016 at 10:53 pm

  8. Had cause to revisit old posts, found this: A gay African ‘anti-imperialism of fools’ http://paulocanning.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/a-gay-african-anti-imperialism-of-fools.html

    Yeah fuck you ‘Dean’ and the horse you rode in on.

  9. Venezuela: The left’s giant forgetting http://paulocanning.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/venezuela-lefts-giant-forgetting.html

  10. I think we can agree on this.

    For example Lefort’s use centres on the idea that there is “One” leadership whereas the book I cite in the picture is about Stalin’s “team”.

    Andrew Coates

    October 22, 2016 at 11:59 am

  11. Yes the Register article is important, and I’ve not only read it but cite it often – particularly the analysis of the Socialist Party’s attempt to create a ‘shadow labour movement’ and other, alas, cruel phrases he employs about the – they look even sadder now…..

    Andrew Coates

    October 22, 2016 at 12:01 pm

  12. Murray’s article was also published in the Morning Star, which today publishes a letter in response:

    AN INTERESTING review by Andrew Murray of the latest edition of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin (M Star October 17).
    I am not a great fan of Trotsky but speaking of omissions Andrew himself left out a few salient facts.
    Who are these “Western academics” who “comprehensively debunked” the idea that Kirov’s murder was ordered by Stalin — and so what?
    Since Stalin ordered the murder of thousands on trumped up charges why believe them? And why mention that the “number of Red Army officers suppressed in the purges are wide of the mark” without giving figures?
    We have plenty of testimony from Zhukov and others that the purges weakened the party and the Red Army’s defence capacity making the Nazi-Soviet pact necessary to buy time.
    Evidence from Emilianov in Communist Review of the hundreds of thousands of Bolsheviks and non-Bolsheviks purged or killed is surely sufficient to make the case that the great terror was also a red terror, a crime against humanity and socialist legality.
    As for Andrew’s conclusion that Stalin and Stalinism “confounded” Trotsky’s predictions of a “rickety Thermidorian reaction” history suggests not doesn’t it Andrew, even if the implosion was rather later than predicted?
    While, as Chris Gould and others say, we deserve an analysis of the British party’s position on the Soviet invasion of Hungary any such analysis needs also to examine British CP and Daily Worker treatment of the years of red terror.
    We can learn and grow stronger from history.

    Jim Denham

    October 22, 2016 at 3:11 pm

  13. Francis wrote: ‘… the people involved in Stalin’s regime from top to bottom sincerely believed that they were building socialism…’

    Perhaps, but that’s not the important thing here. Marx wrote in The Holy Family: ‘It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat, at the moment regards as its aim. It is a question of what the proletariat is, and what, in accordance with this being, it will historically be compelled to do. Its aim and historical action is visibly and irrevocably foreshadowed in its own life situation as well as in the whole organization of bourgeois society today.’

    Let us apply this to the Soviet bureaucracy. If one assumes, as I do, that the Five-Year Plans ushered in a decidedly non-socialist society — for me, socialism means a society that is more democratic, more efficient and more productive than capitalism, so on this basis the Soviet Union logically was not a socialist society — then it doesn’t matter in some senses what the Soviet regime thought it was doing: the key thing is what it was actually doing.

    I have come to the conclusion that what we had in Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China was a huge state-led course of modernisation of a big backward country within a capitalist world — industrialisation, urbanisation, etc — a course that could not be undertaken within the bounds of a market economy, but which required a period during which market relations were suppressed. It was wasteful in both natural and human resources, at times quite inhuman, and ultimately required a shift back to the market and reintegration into the world capitalist economy, but it did work in the task of modernisation, despite its dreadful features. The problem was that the Soviet regime left market reforms until it was far too late; the Chinese one has timed it well.

    The irony is that what occurred was the result of a workers’ revolution in ‘the wrong place’; one that was isolated in a big backward country and in which a new proto-élite arising within the party-state apparatus acquired for itself a solid social base in a new, étatised economy and indeed society, in which it became the genuine ruling élite. Bolshevism was defeated, and this defeat resulted in the rise of this new élite and its socio-economic formation. What was a major problem for the socialist movement was that this new socio-economic formation was seen by a major chunk of the movement (the communist parties) and by many intellectuals as a genuine socialist society, the model for socialist advance for everywhere to follow.

    Of course, faced with this strange new thing, it was not surprising that all sorts of theories were thought up. It’s only now that the historical role of Stalinism can be fully assessed. Hopefully, this opportunity for a proper assessment might stop some people from still seeing it as a socialist society.

    Dr Paul

    October 23, 2016 at 11:51 pm

  14. I do however think that there is ample evidence that the party structure and party practice of the RSDLP(b) – (All-)Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks) – All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) had a lot to do with the way the USSR’s political forms and mass repression developed.

    Lenin and Trotsky forged Stalinism

    “The Soviet state, combining the party and the administration, formed a gigantic pyramid of various cells and multiple bureaux under local and regional executive committees ranked according to a minutely detailed hierarchy from top to bottom under the overall authority of a single centre, the party Central Committee, of which the Politbureau and Secretariat were, in principle, the executive organs. But as George Bernard Shaw said on one occasion, Stalin was confirmed as the secretary of a committee all of whose members he himself had appointed so that they could appoint him as General Secretary.

    Under the dominating structure of the party several parallel structures were added and intertwined, those of the pseudo-soviets, the pseudo-trades-unions, the Communist Youth, the economic institutions and the police organisations. These various structures fitted together and were mixed up as in an apparently inextricable labyrinth, but one for which the Secretariat, its Orgbureau and its Orgraspred (while it still existed) held Ariadne’s thread.[35] Privileges of every sort corresponded to all levels of this bureaucratic network, notably material advantages that encouraged internal rivalries, social climbing and open corruption (housing conditions, cars, holidays, “gifts”, and special shops forbidden to the people, reserved for the beneficiaries of the “nomenklatura”, sic). An improbable but real superimposition of kom (committees) maintained the system for good or ill, i.e. from top to bottom of the scale the plethora of kom (of places, districts, towns, provinces and regions) and of ispolkom (executive committees) were subordinated to many superior kom that hung over an oligarchy about which Lenin spoke quite openly.

    Such was the actual result of the work of the man who, in The State and Revolution in 1917, had affirmed that the state must begin to wither away on the morrow of the socialist revolution.[36] It had been created in stages to incorporate a refractory population and subject it to the new regime. For even the minority who had voted for the Bolsheviks in the elections to the Constituent Assembly had not voted for the Cheka and the terror, or even for Communism; they thought they were voting for peace, for the distribution of land, and for free soviets. To this monstrous etatist construction corresponded an aberrant ideology, a verbal pseudo-Marxism, simplistic and caricatural, of which Lenin was equally the theoretical and practical creator. Stalin only carried to extremes what Lenin had invented, though the latter was sincere in his socialist intentions, for which his epigones cared nothing.”

    Boris Souvarine Stalin: Why and How 1978 https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/souvar/works/1978/stalin.htm

    As a non-Leninist Marxist, a democratic socialist, I’d also consider that the practice of imprisioning or killing people who opposed the politics of this party from the Lenin years up to the full scale Gulag, was a fundamental part of the “party-state apparatus” from its inception.

    In wider terms I’d agree with Paul about the ‘modernisation’ thesis.

    Andrew Coates

    October 24, 2016 at 1:05 pm

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