The misery of historical denialism

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By FELIPE COTRIM & GUSTAVO VELLOSO*

Since 2016, a wave of revitalization of the figure of Josef Stalin has emerged on social media.

A strange phenomenon surrounds the YouTube and social networks. It is the so-called “leftist” historic denialism. It all (or almost) started in 2016, when, shortly after the coup d'état that resulted in the removal of Dilma Rousseff from the Presidency of the Republic, a dozen "cats" began sharing images of Josef Stalin on their Facebook profiles accompanied by phrases from the like: “Stalin killed too little”. Perhaps with that they wanted to say that in the face of the atrocities and injustices that capital is capable of carrying out, only a strong government guided by non-negotiable objectives would be able to offer the perspective of an alternative social reality. But if they wanted to, they didn't say so.

At that time, there were negative repercussions in the left-wing media and the authors of the barbarity avoided claiming it was a mere joke. Some apologized, while others simply pretended it wasn't about them. The matter passed. Or rather, we thought it had passed. Since then, a veritable wave of revitalization of the figure of Stalin began to gain momentum among some sectors of the left, with special emphasis on the younger ones, in a hurry to assume an allegedly “radical” stance in the face of the dark picture of political regression that until now it has only deepened. A radicalism, however, that has no relationship with the famous Marxian formulation according to which radical criticism is that which addresses the deepest spheres of human problems.

The rescue of the Georgian, which for years had been placed on the reserve bank of political references for associating him with State crimes that were carried out during his management of the Soviet Union, has curiously been nourished by a relativization of the idea that these crimes were actually committed. Relativizations appear, in some cases, in a more embarrassed way. In other cases, less. And when there is no shame at all, it turns into explicit and direct denial.

One begins to speculate that perhaps Stalin's years were not as bad as they say... that criticism of Stalinism is nothing more than poor liberal moralism... that historical circumstances help to explain the decisions taken... that the same atrocities carried out under Stalinism were also carried out by other nations, by western countries (“morning! he was the one who started it!”)… that without Stalinism Nazism could not have been defeated… and, in the most hard of these intellectual pirouettes: that anti-Stalinism cannot be anything other than a form of anti-communism (!!!)…

Adherents to this set of disconnected ideas had almost no difficulty finding a theoretical framework that seemed minimally solid to them (since, after much searching, they did not find it in Stalin's own texts). They came across Domenico Losurdo, an Italian philosopher who died in 2018, whose works had already been translated and published in Brazil at least since the early 2000s. more us Blogs and YouTube videos than in the university spaces itself): Stalin: Critical History of a Black Legend e Western Marxism: how it was born, how it died, how it can be reborn.

The socialist and Marxist tradition is rich in theoretical and political polemics. Remember from Karl Marx's critique of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in misery of philosophy (1847), including Friedrich Engels' critique of Eugen Dühring in Anti-Duhring (1878), Vladimir Ilyich Lenin to Karl Kautsky in The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky (1918), Carlos Nelson Coutinho against structuralism in Structuralism and the misery of reason (1972), Edward Palmer Thompson to Louis Althusser in The misery of theory (1978), among many others.

The Italian-Brazilian historian and communist activist Mário Maestri, a tireless researcher and debater of Marxist historiography, lived up to this tradition in his most recent book, Domenico Losurdo, a faker in the land of parrots (Porto Alegre: FCM Editora), released in August 2020. (The launch meeting live is available at tomorrow allamattina @ YouTube.)

On the one hand, Maestri focuses on the curious (and eccentric) phenomenon of reception of Losurdo's work by the even more curious (and eccentric) "neo-Stalinism" that seems to be developing in our country, a recent phenomenon, characterized by Maestri as "ideology justification of the capitalist counterrevolution” within the contemporary socialist and communist movement and parties (p. 13). On the other hand, the book aims to meet the practical and theoretical needs of the Brazilian socialist and communist movement and criticize the work of one of its most recent imported pet idols: the Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo (1941-2018).

The reasons given by Maestri to justify the writing and publication of the book stem from the growth of both a certain “nostalgic” Stalinism (defined by the author as a by-product of Nikita Khrushchev's bureaucratic de-Stalinization) and a new form of neo-Stalinism that emerged among militants and supporters of socialism and communism in Brazil.

Maestri mentions two concrete personal experiences as examples.

The first refers to the brief period in which he was a member of a cell of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) in the state of Rio Grande do Sul between 2017 and 2018. Often in meetings and other occasions of meeting, a veteran comrade would refer in tones eulogies and apologetics to Josef Stalin. When questioned, she used to answer: “– Have you read Losurdo? – Read Losurdo!” (p. 14, 43).

The second case was reported to him by a young militant of the Union of Communist Youth (UJC), who told him about the manual literature that circulated among the militants and the appreciation that his young comrades had for Stalin and Losurdo. According to him, one of the main sources of information and political formation of the militancy were the publications of Jones Manoel da Silva – Master in Social Service from the Federal University of Pernambuco (2018), blogger, youtuber and militant of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), is recognized by many as a specialist in the work of Domenico Losurdo and one of his main promoters in Brazil.

Maestri identified a strong militant impulse among young Brazilians since the June 2013 Jornadas. However, militant voluntarism does not guarantee and does not replace other valuable communist virtues. For Maestri, the current Brazilian militant youth is characterized by “scarce political and scientific training and by bibliophobia – after all, a gram of action is worth more than a ton of theory, isn't it? –, which makes it susceptible to imported intellectual fads and anachronistic and uncritical reading of books, manuals and political documents in general (p. 14).

The wide dissemination and promotion of political content of low scientific and theoretical substance among militancy in the most diverse formats and platforms – printed, digital, audiovisual materials, etc. – is considered by Maestri as one of those responsible for the renewal of Stalinism among Brazilian socialist and communist militancy. Finally, the remarkable presence – and in not a few cases, the remarkable idolatry – of Losurdo among students, activists, professors and intellectuals in Brazil surprised Maestri.

On his frequent trips to Italy, Maestri reported, he rarely heard or read about Losurdo. According to Maestri's own words, Losurdo had a “very limited audience” in Italy (p. 15). So, why would Losurdo be so valued in Brazil? Among many reasons, one of those indicated by Maestri was the ethos de psittacidae, or the parrot-like behavior of many Brazilians – the famous one: “I didn't read it, but I liked it, since everyone liked it” (p. 15). The argument is not the strongest and sounds excessively subjective. There is, however, a more substantial and historically grounded argument.

One of the theses defended by Maestri is that we live in a counterrevolutionary historical phase. Its landmarks were the capitalist restoration in China in 1978 under the leadership of the reformer Deng Xiaoping and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992 – events that consolidated the globalization of capitalism. In this historical soil, Maestri defended, contemporary distortions of Marxism and socialist and communist parties and movements would have sprouted, to the point that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, gained the status of active rivals and an alternative to the US imperialism (pp. 13-14, 21, 25-26).

Accompanied by these material phenomena in economics and politics, Maestri argued, would come cultural and intellectual phenomena, among them, Losurdo's historical revisionism, much echoed in Brazil by bloggers, youtubers and by the interests of the publishing and bookseller market - after all, a book It's a book. However, under certain conditions, it becomes one more item in the “huge collection of goods” (Karl Marx, Capital: Book I, section 1, chap. 1; section 8, chap. 25).

The book is organized into three parts. In the first, the critical reviews of two books by Losurdo, Stalin: Critical History of a Black Legend (Rio de Janeiro: Revan, 2010 [1. ed., 2008]) (Stalin: history and critique of a black legend, Rome: Carocci, 2008) and Western Marxism: how it was born, how it died, how it can be reborn (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2018) (Il marxismo occidentale: como nacque, come morì, como può rinascere, Bari & Roma: Laterza, 2017) – both previously published on the portal Left Online.

In the second part, there are some brief texts of the author's testimonies and personal considerations about neo-Stalinism – also previously published on the networks. Of these, the reports of conversations with Dimitris Anagnostopoulos – a Greek painter and poet living in Brazil and a communist combatant in the Greek Civil War (1943-1949) – and Jacob Gorender, a Brazilian historian, combatant in the Second World War for the Brazilian Expeditionary Force ( FEB) between 1943-1945 and a communist militant.

In the third and last part of the book, there is an unpublished translation into Portuguese of a document about the prisoners of Vekhneuralsk, persecuted political prisoners and “heretics” in the 1930s in the Soviet Union. The translation – as well as the introductory text – were made by Maestri in partnership with his partner, Florence Carbonari, an Italian linguist and professor at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCLouvain).

For the purposes of this brief public intervention text, the first two chapters of Maestri's book are of most interest. In them Maestri presents us with a critical examination of two books by Losurdo: Stalin e Western Marxism.

In your exam Stalin, Maestri exposes all of Losurdo's shortcomings as a historian. According to Maestri, the examined works by Losurdo suffer from extremely low methodological and scientific rigor, disrespect for the objectivity of the sources, anachronisms and chronological confusions about Russian, Soviet and European history, in addition to recycling old anti-Trotskyist prejudices.

In the words of Maestri himself, Losurdo “amalgamates historical phenomena and chronologies. He takes logical, subjective, idealistic leaps when he should be leaning on factual material. In times of unbridled globalization, it relies on digressions by F. Hegel, the philosopher of the era of genesis-consolidation of nation-states. He goes to great lengths to propose that Stalinism and the “Great Terror” [1934-8] were born from the coup and terrorist attacks of the Trotskyists, who sabotaged the defense of the USSR from Nazi “enslavement”, the main rabbit that pulls out of the hat. Go get it from who knows where a Soviet “Third Civil War”, started inside the CPSU, heroically won by J. Stalin and his bloodhounds, at the cost of a few million dead, especially against the Trotskyist bandits! What he proposes as inevitable ”(p. 26).

In part, Losurdo's errors come, argued Maestri, both from his fragile and questionable supporting bibliography and from the lack of precisely the raw material indispensable to every historian: the sources - available to the researcher in historical archives, many of them public and freely accessible . For those distant archives, many of them today offer access to their collection in digital format through the internet. However, Losurdo is not a historian – neither by training nor a practitioner – as he “does not like archives or taking the trouble to use them” (p. 34).

A large part of the reference and support bibliography used by Losurdo consists of revisionist, denialist and openly conservative and anti-communist authors and/or researchers, among them The Black Book of Communism (Stéphane Courtois (org.), Le livre noir du communism: crimes, terreur, répression, Paris: Éditions Robert Laffont, 1997), of questionable reputation, and the book Technique of the coup (Technique du coup d'Etat, 1931), by Curzio Malaparte, an Italian fascist who marched with Benito Mussolini on Rome in 1922. Even when referring to minimally serious and respectable historians and researchers, Losurdo made use of works and authors that were outdated by time, such as Isaac Deutscher. Deutscher's classic biographies of Stalin (published in 1949) and Trotsky (published in the 1950s and 1960s) became outdated with the opening of the Soviet archives in the early 1990s. But Losurdo, Maestri argued, ignores all scientific and historiographical literature produced based on Russian archives, not only because Losurdo does not read Russian – an obligatory requirement for any researcher who ventures seriously into Russian and Soviet history – but also to not contradict his hypotheses supported by his particular “deductive method” – which abstracts from the facts and empirical sources in favor of their “hypotheses”. Thus, works by contemporary historians specialized in Russian and Soviet history and based on open sources after 1992, such as Pierre Broué, Jean-Jacques Marie, Richard Day, Bernhard Bayerlein, among many others, were ignored by Losurdo. According to Maestri, all this historiographical literature was available in his own Italy. Losurdo, however, ignored her. Losurdo also ignored all the myriad primary accounts of Soviet political persecution – probably because they were not convenient for him (p. 31-37).

This is how Maestri synthesized Losurdo's technical mistakes: “In the book, there is a frequent amalgamation of historical facts, often anachronistic, that is, with dates that contradict the actual chronology of events” (p. 37). And further on: “The 'rehabilitation' of Stalin and Stalinism constitutes a contortionist, superficial and uncritical bibliographic review, supported by the fabrication of facts; in contaminated sources; in assumptions, deductions and subjective inferences, etc., all to advance the arbitrary propositions defended. The author does not prove his proposals in facts: he literally cuts them to the dimension of his lucubrations. It is a grotesque, unscientific, defamatory essay, with clearly ideological objectives” (p. 39).

But, after all, what do Losurdo and the other neo-Stalinists want with all this?

The above question is answered by Maestri in his exam of Western Marxism, from Losurdo. In this book, Maestri argued, Losurdo creates a false split and a false polemic between what he called “Western Marxism” (failed) as opposed to “Eastern Marxism” (flourishing). From the western side, Losurdo selected – arbitrarily – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Lukács, the Frankfurt School, the existentialists and structuralists, etc. The birth defect of these “Western Marxists” lies in the Judeo-Christian, messianic, utopian and internationalist roots of their thought – they believed in universal human emancipation, etc. (?!) (p. 50). On the side of the East, he chose – again, arbitrarily – Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Deng Xiaoping, Kim Il-Sung and Josef Stalin, characterizing them as pragmatics, realists, developmentalists and builders of their respective States and nations (p. 55.)

The nation has a central place in Losurdo's book. According to Maestri, Losurdo substitutes proletarian internationalism and the class struggles of the “Western Marxists” for the unified nation – that is, bourgeoisie and proletarians united – in the name of national developmentalism – as if development, as well as science and technology, were ideologically neutral and not dictated by the interests of the ruling classes against the dominated. “The important thing is to develop, develop, develop” (p. 56). Furthermore, Losurdo celebrated the capitalist reopening and the incorporation of China, Vietnam, Russia, etc. in the globalized capitalist market (p. 57).

An interesting observation made by Maestri was that, despite the great reception of his work in Brazil, Losurdo paid little attention – if not none at all – to Latin American Marxism. Its pages do not contain any analysis – critical or complimentary – of Latin American Marxists (p. 58-59). Ernesto “Che” Guevara is mentioned only once by Losurdo in Western Marxism (p. 62). In turn, José Carlos Mariátegui and Caio Prado Júnior were ignored. It is surprising, as Losurdo frequently attacked the “Western Marxists” for having abandoned the anti-colonial struggle in Latin America and for having joined imperialism, however, he himself did not demonstrate any intellectual approximation with the anticolonial and anti-imperialist theorists and militants of the Americas .

As in StalinOn Western Marxism, Losurdo, observed Maestri, frequently distorted facts and data in order to support his historiographical and philosophical speculations about the concrete reality and materiality of history.

But what's all this for? According to Maestri, Losurdo aimed to present an apology for the capitalism of the Chinese Communist Party and its many entrepreneurial projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America – and even in Western Europe -, establishing such “china business” as the only alternative for its economic development and the only path to emancipation from European and US imperialism. Thus, Losurdo defended, according to Maestri, that the working classes of countries on the periphery of capital – Asia, Africa and Latin America – give up their political independence and pragmatically ally themselves with the capitalism of the Chinese CP. (But this is just the opinion of a “Western Marxist” who does not know that the whip that the Chinese CP uses on the back of the working classes is made of silk (silk), not leather.)

In short, we would be facing a true strategic and programmatic retreat by socialists and communists in recent years, resulting from the loss of a historical horizon due to the effective overcoming of capitalism (cf. p. 41-42). Behind the attempt to recover the (today no longer so) imposing figure of the corpulent mustache, there would be hidden a deep deterministic conformism of the neo-Stalinists in relation to the conversion of communist China (and other eastern nations) into a powerful machine for the exploitation of human labor to the benefit of Chinese “national” capital. The political autonomy of the working classes loses ground. The fetish for the national state with a communist past as it manifests itself in the East wins.

Like Losurdo's books, Maestri's book isn't perfect. They have their "drips" there. Among those of a formal nature, the book failed in the editing and layout process, missing some slips: double spaces here and there; lack of unity of style – in some passages “YouTuber” is written, in others “youtuber" etc. Trifles, it is true, and which should not interfere with the flow of reading. There is a great imbalance in the size and depth of the chapters, which can be explained by the fact that it is a collection of texts independent of circumstances previously published in different communication channels. There are even chapters originating from Facebook posts. There does not seem to have been a process of rewriting and/or deeper adaptations in all of them. Consequently, the work as a whole lacked unity and common thread.

At the launch meeting broadcast live on tomorrow allamattina @ YouTube, one of the panelists – Gilson Dantas, physician and sociologist and professor at the Federal University of Goiás (UFG) – sometimes stated that the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) é stalinista and that Losurdo is an author who deserves no attention.

Regarding the first statement, we cannot fail to present divergences. Now, although there is a fair claim to the old acronym and the tradition of the party founded in 1922, it can be considered that the PCB of today is also the result of self-criticism and the overcoming of the Stalinist experience that took place within it after 1956 and, mainly , 1962, when the sector that refused to make them decided to disconnect from the acronym and found the PCdoB. If this has accommodated itself to the bourgeois institutional order in recent decades, making those sympathetic to the old Georgian try to carve out space in the party whose program remains faithful to communist principles, let that not be blamed on the organization!

Em November 21, 2019 policy note, when the virtual controversy surrounding the problem of Stalinism was on the rise again, the PCB took an unequivocal position: “We do not participate in any historical revision whose political and theoretical centrality is to recover what was conventionally called Stalinism. We disagree with the methods, deviations and autocratic behavior in the management of the State, in the leadership of the Party and society, of which Stalin was the public expression of this process”.

And before the so-called “left-wing” denialists moved about in their comfortable chairs acquired (from Chinese capital?) with the monetary income obtained from the likes of their channels, stunned by the bourgeois, liberal and anti-revolutionary content of the pecebista declaration, the party clarifies: “However, we do not accept that the criticism of this period has any relationship and identity with the anti-communist narrative that today seeks to place communism on the same level as Nazism, in terms of crimes against humanity, to justify the prohibition of the existence of political parties. Communists, as has already been decreed in some countries”. Let’s leave the subject here, as there is no space here for intra-party settling of scores…

As for Dantas' second statement, bibliophiles that we are, if we accept Losurdo's masterful reading as entirely valid, we could claim that even bad books – or, in George Orwell's terms: bad good books (“Good bad books” [Tribune, November 1945], in Inside the Whale and Other Essays, São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2005) – deserve their place in this world, just as they deserve to have readers. Thus, by comparison, the good good books can shine even brighter.

Returning from Losurdo and Maestri to the new left deniers, we would like to make some final remarks.

It is sometimes claimed, as a way of changing the subject and preserving friendships, that the working class couldn't care less about the old quarrel between Trotsky and Stalin and that, therefore, the discussion today is Parnassian and has no relevance to the world. concrete. And truth. We ourselves would not like to be wasting, at this moment, time and work with the critique of the so-called “leftist” negationist neo-Stalinism, while the tractor of capital and its neo-fascist face mercilessly advances on dreams, lives and rights, without us having any horizon in sight. output in the short or medium term.

But if we do, it is because the criticized phenomenon does have practical consequences for the political struggle. Who would deny that one of the main difficulties we face today in stopping the growth of the extreme right is the lack of left-wing unity? Isn't it why we dedicate ourselves so much to building fronts and alliances? With little success so far, it's a fact. But it is not by denying historical reality with abstract lucubrations or by relativizing the pain and suffering of so many comrades of yesterday that we will be able to gather the strength we lack for today. It should be noted: we are talking about “comrades”. We are not dealing here with fascist soldiers killed on the battlefield, but with a large number of convinced communists and other progressive people who lost their lives many times without even knowing the guilt that was attributed to them.

Do historical circumstances explain? Well then. Let's suppose that a few years from now we reach a new revolutionary situation comparable to that of 1917. The forces of capital would never hand over power with a kissed hand (as they never did), we know that. They would move weapons, send spies, assassins and saboteurs to act against us. But would that be enough to justify the revolutionary forces building a social order based on fear, violence and blind obedience to state power, as prevailed in the 1930s and 1940s in the Soviet Union? Would this then be the natural and manifest destiny of any socialist revolution? In our view, this logical consequence of neo-Stalinist thought is much more similar to liberal anti-communism than the radical and left-wing (not always Trotskyist) critiques of the Stalinist experience.

What is behind all this, as it seems to us more and more evident, is that the so-called “left” denialism is added (voluntarily or not, it doesn’t matter) with “right-wing” denialism in its threat to the scientific principles of construction of human knowledge. The so-called “leftist” denialists are proud of their status as “public” figures (to what extent is the internet truly public?) and present their personal opinions as if they were concrete analyzes of concrete historical situations. Lenin turns over in his tomb... or rather his mausoleum...

It is clear that the actions of left-wing people in the YouTube and on social networks it is welcome as they challenge (or at least try to) the hegemony of right-wing ideologues in these spaces. Some of these people are even serious researchers and use networks to share their own work results and that of other researchers. Others, unfortunately, despite having already done scientific research (sometimes of dubious quality, but they did), never presented it in their videos and prefer to expose random and “controversial” notions (their own or by authors like Losurdo) that maybe they will result in a higher number of likes.

In the so-called “leftist” denialists, deductive logic operates in place of the concrete analysis of reality. Like the best-known authors of best sellers from the right, present a semi-sensationalist discourse and inflame themselves to accuse scientists, university students and academics of being censors, elitists or even of producing useless material for society. For the interested actors of hegemonic neoliberalism, hungry to discredit the social reason of public institutions of research and education, such depreciations appear as a plate full!

The left tends to consider that the truth is in its favor. We can understand this truth as the historical knowledge of the real. The History that is interesting to know (or that, at least, should be interesting) is the one that can be objectively thought and theorized based on concrete material evidence. Those who are sincerely convinced of the justice and viability of the project for the future that they defend need not mutilate or be afraid of the past as it presents itself to us.

Let's leave real-world denials and obscurantism to our adversaries. Let us stick with the weapon of systematic and sincere human knowledge. Maybe this is the last one we still have left.

That said, it is necessary to recognize with complete clarity and certainty, in accordance with the opportune name of this website: the land é round, nazism é right, vaccines are beneficial medicines for the human body and Stalinism physically and intellectually annihilated a generation of true communists.

*Felipe Cotrim is a master's student at the Graduate Program in Economic History at the University of São Paulo.

* Gustavo Velloso is a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Program in Social History at the University of São Paulo (PPGHS-USP) and author of Idle and seditionary: indigenous populations and the times of work in the Campos de Piratininga (XNUMXth century) (São Paulo: Intermeios & USP/Capes, 2018).

Both are militants of Célula István Mészáros, the education workers' base of the Brazilian Communist Party in São Paulo (PCB-SP).

Article dedicated to David Ryazanov, historian, philosopher, archivist and communist activist. First director of the Marx-Engels Institute and first editor-in-chief of Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA). He was pursued by the Tsarist political police as well as the Soviet political police. He lived and worked many years in exile. David Borisovitch Goldendach was born, in Odessa (Russian Empire), on March 10, 1870. He died shot, in Saratov (Soviet Union), victim of the Great Purge, on January 21, 1938, at the age of 67.

 

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