Editorial from the March 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
So, it’s fifty years since that other Great Dictator himself – Josef Stalin – finally departed this mortal coil. Fifty years on from the death of a man who probably did as much as anyone else in human history to sully the name of socialism. Today, few outside of Arthur Scargill’s mis-named Socialist Labour Party and their friends in the near-moribund Stalin Society have anything but contempt for one of the greatest destroyers of working class hopes (and lives) this century.
Stalin presided over a ruthless dictatorship over the proletariat which was the model followed by a host of other unsavoury regimes which believed that the only way to achieve a socialist society was to oppress the very class – the only class – capable of bringing it about. Their vision of this socialist society was, in any case, distorted virtually beyond recognition, where Marx’s dictum “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” was replaced with “from each according to their ability, to each according to their (supposed) work” and where the Party bureaucrats drove round in limousines and accessed shops only they could access while the rest of the population lived miserable lives of poverty.
It is difficult to think that a sane person could hanker back to the type of regime that Stalin helped develop in Russia and which was replicated across most of Eastern Europe and parts of Africa, East Asia and the Caribbean. And yet, thousands of people – even in a country like the UK – still do. Not that most of them would call themselves followers of Josef Stalin though – far from it. Unlike Scargill and his ilk, these are people who profess to abhor Stalinism and all that it led to: the fear, the intolerance, the labour camps and the murders. But they are people who still agree with most of what Stalin stood for, because even though they might be latter-day supporters of Stalin’s great rival in the Russian Communist Party, Leon Trotsky, they are united in their fervour for the politics of the man who mentored them both: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
The bureaucratic Russian police state which terrorised its political opponents (including genuine socialists) did not originate with Stalin, nor did it die with him. Neither was the idea that socialism was really state-run capitalism when operated under the dictatorship of the Russian Communist Party one of Stalin’s contributions. These ideas were Lenin’s and they were adopted by Stalin and Trotsky alike.
Today, many political parties exist which still extol the virtues of Lenin and Trotsky while supposedly denouncing Stalin and all his works. And yet they undoubtedly agree with 95 percent of his politics, including most of the bits others (rightly) find abhorrent. Groups like the Socialist Workers Party, Militant (now masquerading under a nom-de-plume), the Alliance for Workers Liberty and others all believe that the working class must be led to socialism (read state controlled capitalism) by a dedicated band of revolutionaries (them) who will then proceed to set up a “dictatorship of the proletariat” in time-honoured fashion.
We must point out that their politics stands in clear distinction to the honest, open and democratic political tradition of the Socialist Party. This is a political tradition which insists that the working class of wage and salary earners must themselves – organised democratically – bring about socialism: a society without class division, the wages system, a state or national frontiers.
Whatever our political opponents may say about us, we have a proud tradition of standing by our principles and of conveying a consistent analysis of capitalism and of how it can be democratically transformed into socialism. As all reminders of the Soviet Union’s murky existence demonstrate, our opponents on the political Left meanwhile have a past to hide from and a future that is merely a promise to repeat yesterday’s nightmares. In refusing to learn the lessons of the Russian debacle they have tarnished the words “socialism” and “communism” to describe the society that can replace capitalism. For these reasons, their protestations of innocence this month will ring hollow to all those with a decent knowledge of history and a political conscience to match.