Stalin: Critical History of a Black Legend – II



Reply to review by Jean-Jacques Marie

One will never be able to satisfactorily assess the wisdom of the phrase attributed to Georges Clemenceau: war is too serious a thing to be left to the generals!

Indeed, in his ardent chauvinism and anti-communism, the French Prime Minister was quite clear-headed about the fact that experts (in this case, war experts) are often able to see the trees but not the forest, they they allow themselves to be absorbed by the details, losing sight of the global; in this case they know everything but what is essential.

One is quickly led to think of Clemenceau's statement when one reads the intransigent criticism that Jean-Jacques Marie wanted to target my book on Stalin [ -black/]. Apparently, the author is one of the greatest experts on “Trotskyism-logy” and he sets out to demonstrate it under any circumstances.

Stalin liquidated by the Secret Report, the Secret Report liquidated by historians

He immediately begins to dispute my assertion that Khrushchev "proposes to defeat Stalin in every respect." Yet it is the great Trotskyist intellectual Isaac Deutscher who points out that the Secret Report mentions Stalin as an "enormous, dark, flamboyant, degenerate human monster". However, this portrait is not monstrous enough in Marie's eyes! My book goes on like this: in the argument pronounced by Khrushchev, “because he was responsible for horrendous crimes, he was a despicable individual, whether on the moral or on the intellectual plane”.

“In addition to being inhuman, the dictator was also laughable”. It is enough to think of the detail on which Khrushchev dwells: “it is necessary to bear in mind that Stalin prepared his plans on top of a world map. Yes, comrades, it marked the front line of battle on the world map” (p. 27-29 of the French edition). The picture drawn here about Stalin is clearly caricatured: how did the USSR manage to defeat Hitler, which was led by a criminal leader and an imbecile at the same time? And how did this criminal and imbecile leader come to govern an epic battle such as that of Stalingrad on the “world map”, fought from neighborhood to neighborhood, from street to street, from terrain to terrain, from door to door?

Instead of responding to these contestations, Marie is concerned with demonstrating that – as the greatest specialist in “Trotskyism-logy” – she also knows the Khrushchev Report by heart and starts quoting it everywhere, in aspects that have nothing to do with it. do with the problem under discussion!

As a demonstration of the fact that this total annihilation of Stalin (on an intellectual as well as a moral plane) does not stand up to historical investigation, I draw attention to two points: eminent historians (none of whom can be suspected of being philo-Stalinists) speak of Stalin as the "greatest military leader of the 20th century". And they go even further: they attribute to him an “exceptional political talent” and consider him a “supercompetent” politician who saves the Russian nation from the decimation and enslavement to which it is destined by the 3rd Reich, thanks not only to his astute military strategy, but also to the “masterful” war speeches, sometimes true and appropriate “acts of bravery” that, in tragic and decisive moments, come to stimulate national resistance. And that's not all: ardently anti-Stalinist historians recognize the “insight” with which he treats the national question in his 1913 writing and the “positive effect” of his “contribution” to linguistics (p. 409).

Secondly, I note that as early as 1966 Deutscher was already showing serious doubts about the credibility of the Secret Report: “I do not consider him to be ready to accept without reservation the so-called 'Kruschev revelations', particularly his assertion that in World War II (and in the victory over the 2rd Reich) Stalin only played a practically insignificant role” (p. 3). Today, in the light of new material available, not a few scholars accuse Khrushchev of having resorted to lying. And therefore: if Khrushchev carries out the total annihilation of Stalin, the most recent historiography nullifies the credibility of the so-called Secret Report.

How does Marie respond to all of this? It summarizes not only my point of view but also that of the authors cited by me (including the Trotskyist Deuscher) with the cliché: “Go retro, Khrushchev!”. In other words, the great specialist in “Trotskyism-logy” believes he can exorcise the insurmountable difficulties he faces by pronouncing two words in Latin (ecclesiastical)!

Let's look at a second example. At the beginning of the second chapter (“The Bolsheviks: From Ideological Conflict to Civil War”), I analyze the conflict that develops on the occasion of the Brest-Litowsky peace. Bukharin denounces the “peasant decline in our party and in Soviet power”; other Bolsheviks leave the party; others even declare Soviet power itself to be worthless. In the opposite sense, Lenin expresses his indignation at these “elusive and monstrous words”. Already in its first months of life, Soviet Russia sees the development of an ideological conflict of extreme harshness and on the point of turning into civil war.

And it will all the more easily turn into civil war – I observe in my book – since, with the death of Lenin, “an indisputable authority disappears”. Before – I add –, according to an illustrious bourgeois historian (Conquest), already at that time Bukharin had cherished the idea of ​​a coup d'état (p. 71). How does Marie respond to all of this? Again, he displays all his erudition as a great, and perhaps the greatest, specialist in “Trotskyism-logy”, but makes no effort to answer the questions that arise: whether the deadly conflict that successively afflicts the Bolshevik ruling group is solely to blame of Stalin (primitive thought cannot do without a scapegoat), how can one explain the harsh exchange of accusations that Lenin condemns as “monstrous”, the phrases uttered by those who encourage the “degeneration” of the Communist Party and Soviet power? And how to explain the fact that Robert Conquest – who dedicated his entire existence to demonstrating the sordidness of Stalin and the Moscow processes – spoke of a project of coup d'état against Lenin, cultivated or cherished by Bukharin?

Not knowing how to respond, Marie accuses me of being a manipulator and even writes that – as far as Bukharin's idea of ​​a coup d'état is concerned – I quote only myself. I don't have time to waste on insults. I will limit myself to pointing out that on page 71, note 137, I quote a historian (Conquest) who is not inferior to Marie either in erudition or anti-Stalinist zeal.

2- How Trotskyists for Marie insult Trotsky

With Lenin's death and Stalin's consolidation of power, the ideological conflict becomes more and more a civil war: the Saturnian dialectic which, in one way or another, manifests itself in all great revolutions, unfortunately spares neither even the Bolsheviks. I develop this thesis in the second part of the second chapter, citing a series of personalities among the many different ones (which reveal the existence of a clandestine and military apparatus created by the opposition) and citing, above all, Trotsky. Yes, Trotsky himself declares that the struggle against Stalinist “bureaucratic oligarchy” “does not allow for a peaceful solution”. He is always the one who declares that “the country is notoriously heading towards revolution”, towards a civil war, and that, “in the framework of a civil war, the murder of some oppressors is no longer a matter of individual terrorism”, but it is an integral part of the “mortal struggle” between opposing alignments (p. 104). As can be seen, at least in this case, Trotsky himself challenges the scapegoat mythology.

Marie's wholly private embarrassment is understandable. And then? We already know the ostentation of erudition as a smokescreen. Let's go to the substance. Among the countless and very different personalities mentioned by me, Marie chooses two: one (Malaparte) she considers incompetent, the other (Feuchtwanger) she labels as a mercenary agent in the service of crime and an imbecile who is in the Kremlin. And so the game is played: the civil war disappears and again the scapegoat primitivism can celebrate its successes. But refusing to take into account the arguments used by a great intellectual, such as Feuchtwanger, to limit himself to branding him as a mercenary agent in the enemy's service: isn't this the way to proceed that is generally considered “Stalinist”? And, above all: what should we think of Trotsky's testimony that speaks of “civil war” and “mortal struggle”? Is it not a paradox that the great expert and high priest of “Trotskyism-logy” constrains the divinity he venerates into silence? Yes, but it is not the only paradox and not even the most resonant.

Let's see: Trotsky not only compares Stalin to Nicholas II (p. 104) but goes further: in the Kremlin there is a “provocateur at Hitler's service”, or “Hitler's puppet” (p. 126 and 401). And Trotsky, who boasted that he had many supporters in the Soviet Union and who, according to Broué (Trotsky's biographer and hagiographer), had managed to infiltrate his "believers" even into the heart of the GPU, had done nothing to destroy the counterrevolutionary power of the new tsar or the slave of the 3rd Reich? Marie ends up portraying Trotsky as a simple chatterbox who confines himself to tavern verbal bluster, or as a revolutionary lacking in coherence and even fearful and vile. The most glaring paradox is that I am actually constrained to defend Trotsky against some of his apologists!

I say “some of her apologists” because not all of them are as unprepared as Marie. With regard to the merciless “civil war” that develops among the Bolsheviks, my book observes: “We are facing a category that constitutes the guiding thread of the research of a Russian historian (Rogovin), of firm and declared Trotskyist faith, author of a work in several volumes, dedicated to recording the detailed reconstruction of that civil war. It speaks, with regard to Soviet Russia, of 'a preventive civil war' unleashed by Stalin against those who are organizing to defeat him. Also to those outside the USSR, this civil war manifests itself and in parts breaks out on the front of combat against Franco; and, indeed, in reference to Spain in 1936-39, one speaks not of one, but of 'two civil wars'. With great intellectual honesty and taking advantage of the rich new documentary material available, thanks to the opening of the Russian archives, the author cited here reaches the conclusion: 'The Moscow trials were not a cold-blooded and reasonless crime, but Stalin's reaction in the course of a keen political struggle'”.

Arguing with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who mentions the victims of the purges as a bunch of “rabbits”, the Russian Trotskyist historian cites a little pamphlet that in the 1930s called the sweep of the Kremlin “the fascist dictator and his clique”. Afterwards, he comments: “Even from the point of view of Russian legislation currently in force, this leaflet must be analyzed as a call for a violent overthrow of power (more precisely of the dominant upper stratum)”. In conclusion, far from being an expression of “an attack of irrational and senseless violence”, the bloodthirsty terror unleashed by Stalin is, in reality, the only way in which he manages to break down the “resistance of the true communist forces” (p. 117). -118).

This is how the Russian Trotskyist historian expresses himself. But Marie – in order not to renounce her primitivism and looking for a scapegoat (Stalin) on which to concentrate all the sins of Terror and the Soviet Union as a whole – prefers to follow in Solzhenitsyn’s footsteps and present Trotsky as a “rabbit” .

3- Betrayal or objective contradiction? Hegel's Lesson

Within the framework outlined by me, Stalin's merits remain firm: he understood a series of essential points: the new historical phase that opened with the failure of the revolution in the West; the period of slave colonization that threatened Soviet Russia; the urgency of catching up with the West; the need to conquer more advanced science and technology and the awareness that the struggle for such conquest can be, under certain circumstances, an essential and even decisive aspect of the class struggle; the need to coordinate patriotism and internationalism and the understanding of the fact that a victorious national resistance and liberation struggle (such as the Great Patriotic War) constituted at the same time a very first-rate contribution to the internationalist cause of the struggle against imperialism and capitalism.

Stalingrad laid down the requirements for the crisis of the colonial system on a planetary scale. Today's world is characterized by growing difficulties of the same neocolonialism; by the prosperity of countries like China and India and, more generally, of civilization at the same time subjugated or humiliated by the West; by the Monroe Doctrine crisis and by the effort of certain Latin American countries to unite the fight against imperialism with the construction of a post-capitalist society. Well then, this world is not presumable without Stalingrad.

And yet, having said that, it is possible to understand Trotsky's tragedy. After having recognized the great role he played in the course of the October Revolution, my book thus describes the conflict that came to form with Lenin's death: "To the extent that a charismatic power was still possible, it tended to take shape in the figure of Trotsky, the brilliant organizer of the Red Army and brilliant orator and prose writer who intended to embody the hopes of triumph of the world revolution and who, for this purpose, advanced the legitimacy of his aspiration to govern the party and the State.

Stalin, however, was the incarnation of legal-traditional power that was painfully trying to take shape: unlike Trotsky – lately linked to Bolshevism – he represented the historical continuity of the party that was the protagonist of the revolution and, subsequently, holder of a new legality; Furthermore, by affirming the feasibility of socialism even in a single (great) country, Stalin infused a new dignity and identity into the Russian nation, which thus overcame the frightening crisis – fictional rather than concrete – that erupted from defeat and chaos. of the 1st World War, and rediscovered its historical continuity.

But precisely because of this, opponents shouted “treason”, while traitors in the eyes of Stalin and his supporters all emerged, with their adventurism facilitating the intervention of foreign powers, endangering, in the last analysis, the survival of the Russian nation – which was in the At the same time, the vanguard detachment of the revolutionary cause. The clash between Stalin and Trotsky is a conflict not only between two political programs, but also between two principles of legitimation” (p. 150).

At a certain point, faced with the radical newness of the national and international scene, Trotsky became convinced (wrongly) that there was a counterrevolution in Moscow and acted accordingly. In the picture drawn by Marie, on the contrary, Trotsky and his supporters – despite having managed to infiltrate the GPU and other vital sectors of the state apparatus – without fighting, allowed themselves to be beaten and massacred by the criminal and idiotic counterrevolution that was installed in the Kremlin. No doubt, this is the reading – to particularly ridicule Trotsky, dwarfing and making mediocre and unrecognizable all the protagonists of the great historical tragedy that developed in the wake of the Russian Revolution (as in all great revolutions).

In order to adequately understand this tragedy, it is necessary to appeal to a category of objective contradiction cherished by Hegel (and by Marx). Unfortunately, however – warns my book – Stalin and Trotsky share the same philosophical poverty: they cannot go beyond this reciprocal exchange of accusations of treason: “On one side and the other, more than engaging in the laborious analysis of contradictions objective, and the opposing options and political conflicts that develop on that basis, it is preferred to resort lightly to the category of treason and, in its extreme configuration, the traitor becomes a conscious and corrupted agent of the enemy. Trotsky never tires of denouncing 'the conspiracy of the Stalinist bureaucracy against the working class', and the conspiracy is all the more abject for the fact that the 'Stalinist bureaucracy' is nothing more than 'a transmission apparatus for imperialism'. It is only a case of saying that Trotsky has generously taken his payback in kind. He regrets being branded an 'agent of a foreign power', but, in turn, he brands Stalin as an 'agent provocateur in the service of Hitler'” (p. 126).

Less than ever, Marie – who effectively mocks my frequent citation of Hegel – was willing to problematize the category of “betrayal”. In the current debate, who is the “Stalinist”?

4- Comparativism as an instrument to fight against the frauds of the dominant ideology

So far we have seen in the great specialist of “Trotskyism-logy” an erudition effort as an end in itself or used as a smokescreen. And yet, in Marie one must recognize reasoning, or rather an attempt at reasoning. When I make a comparison between Stalin's crimes – or attributed to him – and those committed by the liberal West and its allies, Marie replies: “So, in the triumphant homeland of socialism (because for Losurdo socialism arose in the USSR) and who achieved the unity of peoples, it is normal that the same procedures are used by the heads of capitalist countries or by a feudal obscurantist and even by Tsar Nicholas II”. Let us examine this rebuttal. We even leave aside inaccuracies, exaggerations or true and proper misunderstandings. Nowhere do I speak of the USSR or any other country as “the triumphant fatherland of socialism”; in my books I wrote, on the contrary, that socialism is a difficult and by no means completed “learning process”.
But let's focus on the essentials. From the October Revolution until our days, the dominant ideology has had a constant tendency to demonize everything that has any connection with the history of communism. As I noted in my book, for some time Trotsky was accused of being (like Goebbels) the one who “perhaps in his conscience the highest number of crimes that ever weighed on a man” (p. 343); successively this obscure primacy was attributed to Stalin and today to Mao Tsetung; Tito, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, etc. are about to be equally criminalized. Should we put up with this “demonization” which – as I argue in the last chapter of my book – is just the other face of the “hagiography” of capitalism and imperialism?

Let us see how Marx reacts to this Manichean manipulation. When the bourgeoisie of his time – accepting the motive for the murder of the hostages and for the fire spread by the Communards – denounced the Paris Commune as synonymous with infamous barbarism, Marx replied that the practices of taking (and eventually killing) hostages and fire-settings were invented by the ruling classes and that, in any case, as far as fires are concerned, it would be necessary to distinguish between “vandalism for a desperate defense” (that of the Communards) and “vandalism for pleasure”.

Marie does me great honor when she argues with me on this point: he would do well to do the same directly to Marx. Or, if I could, with Trotsky, who also acts in the same way I was censured: in the libretto Your morals and ours, Trotsky refers to Marx, already quoted by me, and – to refute the accusation according to which the Bolsheviks, and only they, are inspired by the principle according to which “the end justifies the means” (violent and brutal) – he calls in it causes not only the behavior of the bourgeoisie of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, but also (…) that of Luther, the protagonist of the war of extermination against Müntzer and the peasants.

But, attached as he is to the cult of erudition, Marie does not even reflect on the texts of the authors he most esteems. And, in fact, he makes fun of me by giving his intervention the title “The socialism of the Gulag!”. Naturally, with this same irony around, Lenin’s (and Trotsky’s) Soviet Russia could be mocked: “The socialism (or the socialist revolution) of Ceka”, or “the socialism (or the socialist revolution) of the hostage-taking ” (keep in mind that, in Your morals and ours, Trotsky is obliged to defend himself even against the accusation of having resorted to this practice). In reality, with the irony dear to Marie, any revolution can be liquidated. Then we have: “The Commune of shot hostages”, “the freedom and equality of the guillotine”, etc. On the other hand, these are not imaginary examples: this is how the reactionary tradition of thought liquidated the French Revolution (and, above all, Jacobinism), the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, etc.

Marx summed up the methodology of historical materialism in the statement that "men make their history for themselves, but not in circumstances chosen by them". Instead of taking the gestures of these lessons to investigate the mistakes, the moral dilemmas, the crimes of the protagonists of each great historical crisis, Marie indicates this simple alternative: either the revolutionary movements are sovereignly superior – and, rather, miraculously transcendent in relation to the historical world, and to the contradictions and conflicts of the historical world – in the context in which they develop, or that revolutionary movements are a complete ruin and a complete mistake. And so the history of the revolutionaries as a whole appears as the history of a single, uninterrupted, miserable ruin and deceit. And once again Marie puts herself in the ditch of the tradition of reactionary thought.

5- Socialism as a laborious and incomplete learning process

I said that building socialism is a laborious and incomplete learning process. But precisely for this reason it is necessary to commit to providing answers: socialism and communism involve the total elimination of identities and even national languages, or is Castro right when he says that the communists were to blame for underestimating the weight that the national question continues to carry to exercise even after the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist revolution?

In the society of the foreseeable future, there will be no more room for any type of market or for money, or should we take advantage of Gramsci's lesson, according to which it is necessary to bear in mind the “determined” character of the “market”? With regard to communism, Marx sometimes speaks of “the extinction of the State”, and at other times of “the extinction of the State in the current political sense”: these are two significantly different formulas; which of the two can be inspired? These are the problems to provoke among the Bolsheviks, first a sharp ideological conflict and then civil war; and these problems must be answered if one wants to restore credibility to the communist revolutionary project, avoiding the tragedies of the past. Is it in this spirit that I first wrote Escape from History? The Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution Today and After Stalin: A Critical History of a Black Legend.

Without confronting such problems, one can neither understand the past nor project the future. Without confronting such problems, learning by heart even the smallest details of the biography (or hagiography) of this or that protagonist of October 1917 will only serve to confirm the depth of the motto dear to Clemenceau: how war is a very serious thing to be surrendered the history of Trotsky's own tragedy (not to mention the great and tragic history of the communist movement as a whole) is too serious a thing to be handed over to specialists and generals of Trotskyism-logy..

* Domenico Losurdo (1941-2018) was professor of philosophy at the University of Urbino (Italy). Author, among other books, of Liberalism: between civilization and barbarism (Anita Garibaldi).

Translation: Lucilia Ruy protocols for website Red .


Domenico Losurdo. Stalin: Critical History of a Black Legend. Rio de Janeiro, Revan, 2020.


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