Stalin: Critical History of a Black Legend

Image: Anderson Antonangelo


Commentary on the Book of Dominic Losurdo

Brazilian publicity, and not just those on the right of the political spectrum, got used to referring to Stalin as one of the great assassins in history. Judging by the book by Domenico Losurdo Stalin: Critical History of a Black Legend (Revan) This point of view is in need of a profound revision. This if one wants not only to reflect on the political use to which the figure of Stalin served in the capitalist West, but also to pay attention to what is most current in the historiography that has approached the theme of “Stalinism”.

In fact, if what was expected from the opening of the archives of the former Soviet Union was a sea of ​​facts that would make the history of the communist leader even more abominable, as well as the regime he helped to build, Losurdo's book, supported by the most recent surveys, comes to debunk such expectations. See, for example, the case of Stalin's “executions” at the end of the 30s, when the phase of forced collectivization of agriculture was well advanced. The aforementioned surveys demonstrate that they did not reach more than 1/10 of what was said: it is because the ideologues of anticommunism, adds Canfora's essay, added to them the millions of dead of the Second World War.

One can see how, based on such a hoax, it was possible to associate, for the consumption of the unwary, Stalin with Hitler, an operation to which even an author like Hannah Arendt, who, having praised Stalin's Soviet Union in the immediate aftermath of World War II, , ends up embracing the idea of ​​the association between communism and Nazi-fascism − both totalitarian, he maintained. In fact, a thesis dear not only to Cold War ideology, but from the fascist point of view itself, insists Losurdo, referring to a quote from Thomas Mann: “Placing communism and Nazi-fascism on the same moral level, as being both totalitarian, at best it's superficiality, at worst it's fascism. Whoever insists on this equation may well consider himself democratic, but in truth and in the depths of his heart he is already… fascist…”.

Now, for the sake of a purely empirical comparison, it is no small matter to oppose the conditions of Soviet prisons to those of Nazi concentration camps. Abundant reports demonstrate that good living conditions prevailed in the communist country – in fact, somehow confirming Arendt's own observation, who noted that there were no death camps in the USSR. An example is the Moscow prison of Butirka, which in 1921 allowed “prisoners to leave prison freely”, organized “morning gym sessions”, formed “an orchestra and a choir,… a circle with foreign magazines and a good library”. Or again, in the early 30s, at the height of the Stalinist turn, the example of the penal colonies in the far north, which relied on investments in the construction of hospitals, training “some detainees for the profession of pharmacist and nurse”, building of “companies collective farms” to “supply food needs”, and even technical training schools, for “illiterate or semi-illiterate” ex-Kulaks.

Certainly, in each of the cases, it is not without meaning to speak of a spirit of rehabilitation, hence the many initiatives inspired by Gorki's ideas, such as the opening of "film rooms and discussion circles" and even the payment "of a salary regulate the prisoners”. And if there are known tragedies, such as that of the exiles on the island of Nazino (western Siberia) in 1933, marked by hunger, which made them feed on corpses, they are not the result of a homicidal will, as the anti-communist militancy would have you believe, but before “the lack of programming”.

Still insisting on comparisons, Losurdo remembers how an author dear to Hitler, the Anglo-German Houston S. Chamberlein, knew very well how to differentiate between socialism and Nazism, the first child of “the ideas of universal fraternization of the XNUMXth century”, of “common origin and unity”. of the human race", the second of the XNUMXth century, the "century of the colonies" and of the "races", whose "merit" would have been to refute the mythology of the common origin and unity of the human race to which the socialists were attached. Indeed, and even in order not to fall into the trap of blaming Hitler's psychopathology for the infamies of Nazism (a tendency observed in Roosevelt, the author notes), it is necessary to understand that the Führer took from the pre-existing world, the world of the colonial empires of the XNUMXth century, two central elements, now taken to radicalization: a) the colonizing mission of the white race of the West; b) the reading of the October Revolution as a Jewish-Bolshevik plot that stimulated the revolt of the colonial peoples and undermined the natural hierarchy of the races. (By the way, here one understands well the reason for the relentless persecution of the communists – “we will tear the word Marxism out of every book”, says Hermann W. Göring, minister of the interior and second man of the regime -: they are the last to call into question the project imperial and racial order of the Third Reich).

How much difference, then, between Hitler who calls the Russian people “ferocious animals” – Stalin would be a being from “hell”, confirming the “satanic” character of Bolshevism – and who says it is the fate of the Ukrainian people, like all peoples subjugated, keep at a proper distance from culture and education, even without knowing how to "read and write", and the Stalin who, faced with the extreme misery bequeathed to the people by tsarism, sets himself to the task of raising the standard of living and emancipation general of all Soviets. As early as the mid-30s, examples are the development of hitherto marginalized nations through affirmative action, the equalization of legal rights between men and women, the emergence of a solid social protection system with pensions, medical assistance, protection of pregnant women, family allowances, the development of education and the intellectual sphere as a whole, with the extension of a network of libraries and reading rooms and the spread of a taste for the arts and poetry. In addition to an important expansion and modernization of urban life, with the construction of new cities and the reconstruction of old ones.

The great popularity that Stalin enjoyed, which continued even after the two-year period of the Great Terror (1937-1938), certainly accounts for this great transformation operated by the country after the revolution, which cannot be explained simply by the censorship and repression of the State, he emphasizes. Losurdo, but because of the existing chances of social promotion. It is enough to remember the rise of the Stakanovists, who became factory directors, as well as the ample vertical mobility observed in the army. In fact, knowing the social progress of Soviet Russia, it is time to note that Stalin points out that the Hitler regime, with its trampling on the rights of intellectuals, workers, peoples, with the unleashing of pogroms medieval attacks against Jews – the popular attacks of violence –, a copy of the reactionary tsarist regime.

We know that the rhetoric that associates the victorious movement in October 1917 and Nazism also appears in references to the non-aggression “pact” signed with Hitler's Germany in August 1939 – the Molotv-Ribbentrop “pact”. Now, not being a pure anti-communist ruse, to support this point of view is not to know the least about the geopolitics that preceded World War II, or even the entire geopolitical context that opened with the Revolution of 1917.

In fact, points out Canfora, in some way the “pact” is in line with the policy of international relations of the USSR opened by Lenin – and at the side of which Stalin placed himself – through the peace of Brest-Litovsk, signed with Germany in 1918, that is, that “the imperialists slaughter each other, we stay out and strengthen ourselves”. On the other hand, after World War I ended, the policy of fronts – or great democratic alliances − to which the communist country surrendered, approved in the III (1921) and IV (1922) Congress of the Comintern, was constantly sabotaged by France and England (but also – and with some reason – by Trotskyist opposition in the colonies). Already in 1925 the first country approaches Germany through the Locarno Treaty (Switzerland), isolating the USSR, while in 1926 it is the turn of Great Britain to break commercial and diplomatic relations with the communist country, inviting France to do the same. And, on the eve of the War, the two countries, having already abandoned the Spanish Republic – aided militarily only by the Soviets and the international brigades –, which fell to fascism, lost interest in an agreement with the USSR against Germany. Moreover, since the fascist Pilsudki's coup d'état in 1926, Poland has presented itself as a declared enemy of the USSR − notably committed to taking Ukraine away from it ─, and since 1934 it has been openly subordinated to German policy. While Japan was a real threat to the east, in fact contained insofar as the “pact” allowed the Soviets to send weapons and ammunition to China to protect itself from the Japanese country – even Pearl Harbor supplied with oil and gasoline by the USA, it is worth noting −, as Mao Zedond noted.

Given the above picture, it is difficult to say, as Canfora's article argues, that the “pact” was not, and despite continuing the pragmatism initiated in Brest, a way to gain time to “prepare” better. The thesis, by the way, is dear to Trotsky and Khrushchev, whom Canfora also seems to follow regarding the unpreparedness of Soviet lines. But how can we accept it knowing that Stalin was well aware of the analysis made by General Foch shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the Treaty that “put” an end to the First World War? That is, that it was not a matter of peace, but “only an armistice for twenty years”.

As for the Soviet lines, you have to stick to geography. Indeed, despite the enormous dimensions of the Red Army, the initial success of the German units benefited from the wide range of the front (1800 miles) and the scarcity of natural obstacles – in addition to the cities far apart from each other, and to which roads and railways converged, which left the enemy with countless alternatives for infiltration.

But dealing with the fight against Nazi-fascism is also, for Losurdo, extracting a periodization that explains the Stalin era − or even all of Russian history. Indeed, it would be the conclusion of a second great period of disorder in Russian history. The first of them, comprising the 1689th century, ended with the accession of Pedro the Great to the throne (20). The second begins with the First World War, continues until Stalin's strengthening of power and the acceleration of the heavy industrialization of the late XNUMXs that he carried out, as well as the “westernization” that corresponded to it.

Now, for Losurdo, the mark of this second period is not that of a totalitarian regime, but, rather, that of a state of exception, or a developmentalist dictatorship. This responds to a civil war prolonged, which began with the struggle against Tsarism and the Allied powers between 1914 and February 1917, but which continued with the victory over the Mensheviks in October 1917 and with the disagreements within the Bolshevik ruling group after Lenin's death. All in the context of growing international hostility, or imminent danger, to recall a notion by the American philosopher Michael Walzer, which Losurdo uses − not without a certain restriction, it should be noted − to account for the concentrationist universe of the Stalin era. Hence it is possible to understand, therefore, the repeated insurrectionary actions – such as the attempted coup made by Trotsky during the parade for the tenth anniversary of the revolution – the plots in military environments – such as those that seem to have attracted General Tukatchevski – or even the many assassinations – such as the one that killed Kirov, which today is no longer attributable to Stalin. By the way, if we are talking about the Moscow trials, the new material that the opening of the Russian archives has made available has allowed us to conclude that they “were not a cold-blooded and motiveless crime, but Stalin’s reaction during an acute struggle policy".

Before saying that the book is pure apologia for socialism in the Soviet fashion, or a hagiography of Stalin, it is worth noting the theoretical criticism to which he submits some of the foundations of Marxism-Leninism or, to put it more correctly, of Marxism throughout the world. your set. Fundamentally, Losurdo focuses here on his difficulty in detaching himself from abstract universalism. It is from here, he notes, that the many problems that the construction of the new society faced in spheres such as the market and money, the State, the nation, the legal norm, the family, emerge. Basically, it was about the difficulty, so common among the left, in moving from universal ao particular. Now, the curious thing is that here, the need to provide solutions to very concrete questions made Stalin the one who managed to outline important advances − and this, it is worth noting, approaching theorists who, more often than not, are called upon to criticize him. lo (Gramsci, Hegel, Marx himself) −, although even he stayed halfway there.

Take the issue of the market and money. While the champion of reformism, Karl Kautsky, already in 1918, criticizes the permanence of commodity production and private ownership of land – in charge of intellectuals and the proletariat, according to him −, in a tone that nothing distinguishes him, for For example, Trotsky's extremist criticism of the NEP − which speaks of the restoration of capitalism under the command of a bureaucracy to call for the suppression of money and any form of market −, Stalin, in a 1934 report to the XVII Congress of the CPSU, insists on the the need to guard against "the leftist gossip... according to which Soviet trade was an outdated stage and money should soon be abolished". Now, in place of a market or a monetary economy in general, it is about the “construction of a determined system of production and distribution of social wealth”.

Incidentally, from the above results another no less important issue, and not always well understood, namely, the differences in income under socialism. Stalin is very aware, warns Losurdo, of Marx's reference in the The Manifest regarding the illusion that socialism would be the reign of a “universal asceticism” and “gross egalitarianism”: “The leveling in the field of needs and personal life is a petty-bourgeois absurdity worthy of any primitive sect of ascetics, not of a socialist society organized in the Marxist spirit, because it cannot be demanded that all men have equal needs and tastes... affirm. In fact, we are facing the aporia posed by Hegel in the Phenomenology of Spirit, according to which “an equal satisfaction of the different needs of individuals” leads to “an inequality in relation to… the distribution of goods'” (the participation quota), whereas “an 'equal distribution' of goods… makes it unequal… the 'satisfaction of needs'”. Aporia to which Marx corresponded, respectively, the socialist and communist stages of the division of labor, and in the last of them, the stage reached by the productive forces makes inequality unimportant – which is always present, therefore.

A similar question arises with regard to the State and the nation. While Trotsky, radicalizing abstract universalism, accuses the construction of socialism in Russia of national-reformism, Stalin will underline the need to link “a healthy nationalism, correctly understood, with proletarian internationalism”, a warning that in every way recalls the distinction of Gramsci between cosmopolitanism and internationalism, the latter having to know how to “be at the same time 'profoundly national'”. Now, Stalin is aware that the class struggle is now configured as a commitment to economically and technologically develop socialism in the USSR, which would thus make its contribution to the internationalist cause of emancipation. This fact is even more relevant when it comes to resisting the “slavery plans of Nazi imperialism”, which means that “the march of universality passed through the concrete and particular struggles of peoples determined not to let themselves be reduced to the condition of slaves in the service of of the Hitlerian people of the masters”.

But it is not just a matter of a certain conjuncture. The question even seems to cut across the whole problem of transitions, as the references to the reflections of German idealism on the French Revolution demonstrate. Kant warned, highlights Losurdo, about an “excessively extensive universality”, stating that “the attachment to one's own country” must be reconciled with “the inclination to promote the good of the whole world”. And Hegel, developing the same line of thought, celebrates “as a great historical achievement the elaboration of the universal concept of man (holder of rights 'as a man and not as a Jew, Catholic, Protestant, German, Italian, etc.')” without , however, fail to add that this celebration “should not lead to 'cosmopolitanism' and indifference or opposition to the 'concrete state life' of the country of which one is a citizen”.

Now, but the question of the State and the nation is also the question of the relationship between democracy and socialism. An issue that Lenin did not neglect, recalls the author referring us to a passage from the Bolshevik leader: “whoever wants to walk towards socialism by a path that is not political democracy, will inevitably arrive at absurd and reactionary conclusions, both from the point of view of economic and political point of view”. But how did the abstract universalism mentioned above have its effects here as well?

Attachment to the thesis of the extinction of the State, that is the problematic point, accuses Losurdo. Indeed, strongly influenced by anarchism, different revolutionaries gave themselves up to a bitter criticism of all forms of power − including contempt for “parliament, unions, parties, sometimes even the communist party, itself affected by the principle of representation and , therefore, by the scourge of bureaucracy”. Trotsky is the ultimate exponent of this criticism, we know, but it affects everyone – even though he, for example, alongside Lenin, was the object of rejection by Alexandra Kollontai in the early years of Soviet Russia. By the way, reminds the author, before insisting, on Better less but better, in the task of “building the State”, of “administrative work”, for which “the best models of Western Europe”, even Lenin, in The State and the Revolution, argues that the post-revolutionary phase needs “only a state on the verge of extinction”.

It is the 1936 Constitution that initiates a rupture with this messianism − according to which “'the law is opium for the people` and 'the idea of ​​a constitution is a bourgeois idea`” −, points out Losurdo. And it was Stalin who underlined that this Constitution was not content with merely “fixing the formal rights of citizens”, rather managing to shift “the center of gravity towards guaranteeing these rights, towards the means of exercising these rights”, among them the “application of the universal, direct and equal suffrage, like secret ballot” (which for Trotsky was nothing more than the reappearance of a bourgeois institution). And, still in 1938, calling for the lesson of Marx and Engels not to become “into a dogma and an empty scholasticism”, elaborates that, among the functions of the socialist State, “in addition to those traditional of defending the class enemy on the internal plane and international", is the function of the "work of economic organization and the cultural and educational work of the organs" of the State. This with the “purpose of developing the germs of the new, socialist economy, and of re-educating men in the spirit of socialism”, even though the “function of repression” should be “replaced by the function of safeguarding socialist property against thieves and wasteful of the heritage of the people”.

Certainly, these statements are in contradiction with the Great Terror and the expansion of the Gulag at the end of the 30s. However, if the dictatorship of the proletariat, as defined by Lenin in The State and the Revolution, is power that is not bound by any law, Stalin, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, declares that Bulgaria and Poland can “realize socialism in a new way, without the dictatorship of the proletariat”, and that even in the USSR, if “no Had we had war, the dictatorship of the proletariat would have taken on a different character.” Something sketched after the victory over the Kulaks, as can be seen in the rejection of amendments to the Constitution that wanted to “deprive of electoral rights the ministers of the cult, the ex-white guards, all the 'ex' and people who do not carry out a job of public utility”, as well as the rejection of the proposal to “prohibit religious ceremonies.”

Undoubtedly, insists Losurdo, all the theorizing around the functions of the State, “in itself an essential novelty”, was halfway done. If Stalin speaks of conservation of the State in the communist phase, he does so conditioned by the “capitalist encirclement”, the “danger of armed aggression from abroad” (even the question of the national language, where he made an enormous contribution, insisting on differing from it “in a radical way”. of a superstructure”, since it was not created “by any class, but by the whole society”, it is still thought of as subject to extinction at this stage). Now, it is here that, for Losurdo, an appreciation of Hegel is imposed. More precisely from Hegel who spoke of government learning when focusing on the French Revolution and its English counterpart of the XNUMXth century – fundamentally, on Hegel who spoke of the dialectical need to give “concrete and particular content to universality, putting an end to the mad pursuit of universality in its immediacy and purity”.

This is also the root of the tragedy that was the Great Terror of 1937-38, or the forced collectivization of agriculture at the end of the 20s − and for which even the messianism of a not inconsiderable portion of the population, nostalgic for the egalitarianism of the XNUMXs, counted. war communism −, the root, in short, of the difficulty of advancing towards socialist democracy. Lessons, by the way, inescapable if one wants to understand the evolution of the socialist countries that are there (China, Vietnam), committed to building both a neo-NEP, with the greater objective of developing national productive forces, and a whole set of legal regulation that can only very forcefully be interpreted as simple formal democratization. An evolution, it should be said, that in no way resembles the Gorbachovian apostasy − well demonstrated in Canfora's essay −, as they like to make believe not only the most messianic within the left, but the right itself, always ready to decree the death of the socialism.

* Marcos Aurélio da Silva Professor of Geography at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).

*Originally published on the Mauricio Grabois Foundation in 29 / 06 / 2011.


Domenico Losurdo. Stalin: Critical History of a Black Legend. Translated by Jaime Clasen. Rio de Janeiro, Revan, 378 pages.


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