Friday, December 4, 2015

Stalin in Eclipse: They came not to praise him but to bury him . . . (1956)

From the June 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

On March 5th, 1953, one Jospeh Vissarionovich Djugashvili, alias Stalin, died.

In the Soviet Weekly (12:3:53), under a large photograph of the late Russian dictator, the following words were written:—
"The immortal name of STALIN will always live in the hearts of the Soviet people and all progressive mankind!"
And in a statement published on the same day as Stalin's death, by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, we are told that: The heart of Jospeh Vissarionovich Stalin, comrade, in arms and continuer of genius of the cause of Lenin, wise leader and teacher of the Communist Party and the Soviet people, no longer beats." The Russian Communists, in their statement, also inform us that: "Comrade Stalin led our country to victory over Fascism during the Second World War . . . "

In his funeral oration Georgi M. Malenkov, now Soviet Minister of Power Stations, spoke of Stalin—the "Great" Stalin—as the greatest genius of mankind, the great thinker of our epoch and the greatest theoretician on national questions. And he continued:—
"The strengthening of the country's defence capacities and the consolidation of the Soviet armed forces have been the object of Comrade Stalin's tireless concern."
Malenkov then bid farewell to "our teacher and leader, our beloved friend . . . !"

After Malenkov had finished Beria, who has since been shot as a traitor and an enemy of the Soviet State, reminded those present that:—
"Our great leaders Lenin and Stalin taught us untiringly to increase and sharpen the vigilance of the Party and the people, against the designs and intrigues of the enemies of the Soviet State. We must now still further intensify our vigilance."
And they did—against the Secret Police Chief, Beria, himself!

Three Years Later
Three years after the death of the "great" Stalin, "Comrade" Khrushchev, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in his report to the twentieth Congress of the Party, shocked many of the "comrades" present by saying:—
"Many of the shortcomings we are now working to eliminate would never have arisen of not for the complacency that at one time gained currency in some links of the Party, and for the tendency to give a rosy picture of the real state of affairs . . .
   "If Party unity was to be further consolidated and Party organisations made more active, it is necessary to reestablish the Party standards worked out by Lenin, which in the past had frequently been violated.
    "It was of paramount importance to re-establish and to strengthen in every way the Leninist principle of collective . . .
       "The Central Committee was concerned to develop the creative activity of Party members  . . . It vigorously condemned the cult of the individual as being alien to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism, a cult which tends to make a particular leader a hero and miracle worker and at the same time belittles the role of the Party and the masses and tends to reduce their creative effort. Currency of the cult of the individual tended to minimize the role of collective leadership in the Party, and at all times resulted in serious drawbacks in our work."
(Cominform Journal, 17.2.56).
This was only the first shot against the late "leader and genius" of the Soviet Union—Joseph Stalin.

M. A. Suslov also condemned the cult of the individual: and said that collective leadership had at least been re-established. And A. I. Mikoyan admitted that in the past three years "after a long interruption, collective leadership has been created." (Applause). (Cominform Journal, 2.3.56, emphasis theirs). He continued by saying: " . . . for approximately 20 years we had no collective leadership . . . " And:
"In analyzing the economic position of present-day capitalism it is doubtful whether Stalin's well-known thesis in the 'Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R.' can be of any help to us or is correct—in relation to the United States, Britain and France—the thesis that with the break-up of the world market the volume of production in these countries will shrink! This assertion does not explain the complex and contradictory phenomena of present-day capitalism and the fact of the growth of capitalist production in many countries after the war."
(Cominform Journal. 2.3.56).
Dealing with Stalin's book 'The Short History of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of the Soviet Union' Mikovan says that it is inadequate and inaccurate. After attacking other books on Party History and the Civil War, he admits that "Such historical scribbling has nothing whatever in common with Marxist history."

Stalin the Terrorist
Since the termination of the twentieth Communist Party Congress in Moscow, it has been reported that Khrushchev made another—more pointed—attack on Stalin at a secret session. He is reported to have accused Stalin of making mistakes in regard to Soviet agriculture, of weakening the Russian Army prior to the Second World War by killing 5,000 Russian army officers—and of terrorism. Even Harry Pollitt, the British Communist, admits that "Stalin . . . ignored warnings about Hitler's invasion plans . . . " (Daily Worker, 24.3.56). He also admits in his first article condemning Stalin, that Stalin made serious mistakes in connection with agricultural policy, and later in his relations with Jugoslavia.

According to the Manchester Guardian (28.3.56), the first reliable report of what Mr. Khrushchev actually said about Stalin appeared in the Polish Communist Party paper Trybuna Lubu. In an article bu Jerzy Morawski, a leading Polish Communist, he says:—
   " . . .  the degeneration of the security organs could, and indeed did take place. They became independent of the Party authorities and were used to consolidate the personal power of Stalin."
And:—
"Later on repression was used automatically and blindly."
And further:—
   "As a result many honest people were sent to prison penal camps or shot."
  "Almost all the leaders and the active members of the Polish Communist Party then in the Soviet Union were arrested and sent to camps."
For many years both Socialist and non-Socialist critics of the Russian régime have said that Russia was in fact a dictatorship, that Stalin was a ruthless dictator, that the Soviet Union was a police State, that many innocent people had been thrown into slave camps, and that neither democracy nor Socialism existed there. And for as many years Communists, in all countries, have denied these allegations. Yet now, scarcely three years after Stalin's death, the Communists themselves are admitting much, if not all, of the truth about Stalin and his bloody dictatorship.

Perhaps in time more will be admitted. The Communists may even deny that Socialism exists in Russia.
Peter E. Newell

Digging Optimism (2015)

The Pathfinders Column from the December 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
There's a bit of a revolution going on in archaeology at the moment. It started a few years ago with the excavation of the temple complex of Göbekli Tepe in southern Anatolia in Turkey. The structure consists of concentric circles of 20 ft high, 20 ton stones and the earliest phase of building is dated to the Epipaleolithic, a period of post-glacial hunter-gatherer groups that came before the Mesolithic era, and long before the agricultural developments of the Neolithic. At somewhere between 10,000  and 20,000 years old, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known temple structure in the world.
That's if it is a temple. So far nobody is quite sure, and guesses have ranged from a sanctuary to a banquet and festival venue to a proto-religious centre devoted to Sirius, the dog star. If a sanctuary, it's not clear what guests might have been fleeing from. If it turns out the structures were roofed over, the stargazing theory will be dogged with an obvious problem (New Scientist, 14 August 2013). The festival centre idea is the most novel, and the most troublesome.
What nobody disputes is the remarkable fact that there is no sign of agriculture anywhere near the temple, nor any trace of a permanent settlement. In archaeological terms this is an anachronism, and it's not just Göbekli Tepe. At the Syrian site of Tell'Abr, dated 11,000 BP, and also at Dja 'De and several others, pre-agricultural villages - consider the significance of the phrase - have been excavated with large communal buildings, while at Wadi Faynan in Jordan what looks like an amphitheatre has been excavated, dating to 11,600 BP. Somehow hunter-gatherers who knew neither the potter's wheel nor the plough were doing large scale monumental building 3,000 years before settled farming, and 7,000 years before the Pyramids (New Scientist, 2 October 2013).
To say that these discoveries have blown a hole in orthodox theory is putting it mildly. The assumption has been that environmental limitations, possibly population growth, or global warming or some other factor, caused distressed humans to abandon their hitherto successful foraging life and develop settled agricultural techniques. You could sum it up as 'necessity is the mother of invention'. Marxian materialist thought has been in agreement with this narrative, and indeed through Marxist archaeologists like V. Gordon Childe may even have been the parent of it.
Some modern archaeologists are now asking themselves whether we've got it all wrong. Instead of changes in material conditions creating changes in overlying cultural strata, could major changes in the cultural superstructure instead have caused seismic changes in the material basis of society? To a socialist, that's rather like asking if you can boil a pan of water without turning the gas on.
Something's certainly wrong with the picture. Evidence is gathering that, instead of a sudden headlong rush into farming spurred possibly by some calamitous event, an extended period of 'proto-farming' grew up alongside and complementary with hunting and gathering, in which human groups acquired the knack of managing forests and game. In other words, there was slow agricultural evolution, not fast revolution, and it took place independently on every continent. Moreover, the great advances of farming technology, such as hybridisation of different strains for higher yield, tended to come about during phases of material plenty, not need, quite the opposite of what orthodox theory predicts (New Scientist, 31 October).
A plausible explanation for this is that while foraging provided the main diet, proto-farming was a sort of hobby which produced not the basics but the luxuries, and groups were in no hurry to rely on it as a main food source. This makes sense because the technology of hybridisation must have been a lengthy, trial-and-error business, and not one to be conducted in a hurry when times were particularly tough. Indeed some Scandinavian sites show that when the farming failed, the groups went back to foraging, and not the other way round.
If this view is right, it lends sustenance to the idea that early 'temples' like Göbekli Tepe were really feast-centres for gatherings of otherwise nomadic tribes, perhaps coming together to celebrate some seasonal prehistoric equivalent of Christmas, and that settled living and farming grew, organically and much later, round such established centres.
There is another factor to consider. It has been well documented in studies that humans have a bias towards loss-aversion, meaning that they are more likely to act to prevent a loss than to achieve a gain.
In the context of the pre-Neolithic this implies that agricultural technology could have developed after the fact of material plenty, in order to preserve it, rather than before it, in order to acquire it.
What's wrong then is not materialist thinking in itself but a particular iteration of it. If we factor in loss-aversion as a material motivator, we see that human social change can still be understood perfectly well in materialist terms, just not quite in the way we imagined.
And what, queries the impatient reader, does any of this have to do with the cost of my gas bill?
Just this: there are many people out there who, although sympathetic to socialist ideas, have failed to lend a hand or get involved in promoting the case for socialism for the simple reason that they have a fatalistic, even millennialistic view of social change. In short, they imagine that socialism, or any large-scale upheaval, can only come about after some global cataclysm which knocks out the entire governing apparatus of capitalism. That this amounts to an argument for doing nothing is almost beside the point. It's not a political stratagem, it's a suicide note, and a more depressing view of humanity and of the future would be hard to come by.
What if such people have got it backwards? What if recent work in archaeology is telling us a different story, that instead of being driven forward by disaster and desperation, humans are spurred on by success? Other things being equal, how much more motivating is it to offer a vision of the future based on a history of successes, than to offer dark and gloomy forebodings based on a history of failures? After all, we humans have got a lot of things right as well as wrong, and despite capitalism's rat race and rigged laws, values of tolerance, empathy, equality, mutual aid and democratic cooperation are surprisingly resilient in almost every country.
If we want people to come together in support of collective liberation from an economic system that's outdated, restrictive, destructive and viscerally unequal at every level, perhaps we ought to start creating arguments that build on the abundance of energy and creative genius that humans have, and not do what everyone else does, beat people over the head with a big nailed stick.
That way, maybe we could finally extend the season of goodwill to a year-round phenomenon.
PJS