Stalin: Critical History of a Black Legend

Image: João Nitsche


Commentary on the book by Domenico Losurdo

The motto of the Scouts says that “nothing is impossible for the brave”. Domenico Losurdo belies this masculine motto. He is undoubtedly brave for trying to rehabilitate Stalin. But the emptiness of this intent, whose ambition is certainly immeasurable, is obvious.

Losurdo harshly attacks the report presented by Khrushchev against certain crimes of Stalin, during the last session, behind closed doors, of the XX Congress of the CPSU, in February 1956. Right from the start, he distorts his purpose. According to him, this report "is a requisition that proposes to liquidate Stalin in all his aspects". But Khrushchev states right off the bat: “The subject of the present report is not an exhaustive assessment of Stalin's life and activity. (...) We are now faced with a question of immense importance for the Party, for its present and its future (...). This is how Stalin's cult of personality gradually grew; this cult which, at a given moment, became the source of a series of unanimously serious and serious distortions of the principles of the party, of party democracy, of revolutionary legality (…). Stalin's merits are well known from the countless books, pamphlets and studies that were written during his lifetime. Stalin's role in the preparation and execution of the socialist revolution, in the civil war and in the struggle for the construction of socialism in our country is universally known. Nobody ignores that”.

For those who did not understand, the report also adds: “The party had to fight against the Trotskyists (…), the rightists, and the bourgeois nationalists (…). In all of this, Stalin played a positive role.”

Khrushchev, therefore, has nothing to say about the Moscow processes, from which Domenico Losurdo takes up several inventions, which he presents as if they were truths. Stalin is therefore to be thanked for liquidating opponents of all kinds! In fact, Khrushchev clarifies: “Before the XVI Congress, Stalin had always taken into account the opinion of the collective”, “Stalin continued to consider collective opinion to a certain extent until the XVIII Congress”, which took place in January 1934.

Until then, therefore, Stalin was an excellent Communist leader. He only became bad when he began to eliminate his own followers, from 1934 onwards. Losurdo erases this assessment to place Khrushchev and Trotsky on the same level.

Although I am speaking of Khrushchev, he is not actually the author of this report – but Domenico Losurdo seems to ignore (or else hide) this. It was drawn up by Pyotr Pospelov, based on the work of a commission of the Presidium of the Central Committee, which he headed. The aforementioned Pospelov had been the main editor of the official biography of Stalin, published immediately after the war, and for a long time he was editor in chief of the Pravda. So he was a good and legitimate Stalinist.

Khrushchev contented himself with adding to Pospelov's text some exaggerations of his own authorship, such as the (invented and grotesque) detail according to which Stalin had directed World War II military operations using a terrestrial globe. Another two or three provocations of the same type only marginally modify the nature and scope of a report that was collectively prepared by a commission made up of Stalin's supporters.

These Stalinists were concerned about what translated into condemnation of the “cult of personality” directed at Stalin. Its very simple meaning completely escapes Losurdo – despite Hegel's help. It means that power is now in the hands not of the Supreme Leader and Father of the Peoples, but of the Central Committee, which Stalin had convened only four times between 1941 and his death in 1953. This is what Khrushchev promised the Central Committee during his June 1953 meeting to try Beria. And that was what the members of the Central Committee, reduced to silence during the last thirteen years of Stalin's rule, wanted to hear. “Now we have a collective direction (…). It is necessary to regularly convene the plenums of the Central Committee”. The report read by Khrushchev on behalf of the Presidium of the Central Committee is the expression of this collective desire.

Losurdo's arguments boil down, in general, to a simple scheme: “All states and all governments do the same! What, then, is there to reproach Stalin for?” In this sense, he cites this fragment in which the Khrushchev Report denounces the deportations of some ethnic minorities in 1943-44: “No Marxist-Leninist, nor any person with common sense, is capable of understanding how entire nations can be held responsible for activities hostiles, including women, children and the elderly, communists and Komsomols [communist youth], and how can so many people be deported and subjected to misery and suffering, on account of the hostile acts of individuals or groups of a few people”.

The Khrushchev Report lists only five deported peoples, out of a total of twelve who suffered this fate and which Losurdo – who in no way disapproves of this selective opinion – I take care not to list. Losurdo evokes in a few words “the horror of collective punishment”. However, making this humanitarian concession to a tragedy that saw about a quarter of the deportees – above all old people and children – perish during the interminable displacement, he adds critically: “This practice characterizes the Second Thirty Years War [that is, the beginning of World War I to the end of the Second, 1914-45 – JJM], starting with Tsarist Russia, which, despite being an ally of the liberal West, suffered, during the First World War, 'a wave of deportations' of 'unknown dimensions in Europe (in particular of Jewish or Germanic origin)'”.

Then he mentions the expulsion of the Han from Tibet by the ultra-reactionary Dalai Lama, who briefly flirted with the Nazis; later, also the confinement in camps of all American citizens of Japanese origin by the democratic president Roosevelt, in 1942. Thus, the Italian philosopher concludes, in a sweet and calm way: “although it was not equitably distributed, the lack of 'good sense' was widespread among political leaders in the XNUMXth century”. Alright, all solved!

Thus, in the triumphant homeland of socialism (because, for Losurdo, socialism actually flourished in the USSR), which brought about the unity of peoples, it is normal to use the same procedures that employ the heads of capitalist countries, or an obscurantist feudal lord, or even Tsar Nicholas II. The latter, in 1915, in response to the German offensive, moved half a million Jews to the east, unofficially suspected of spying on behalf of the Germans.

But the justifying reference is not very fortunate, since, as barbaric as this displacement was, it caused far fewer deaths than that of the “Soviet” Koreans in 1937 (in the absence of any war), collectively considered as potential spies in charge of Japan. , and who had fled from the terror that Japan unleashed on their country; or else that of the Crimean Tatars, the Kalmucks, the Chechens and the Ingush, in 1944. We must emphasize that the deportation of these last two peoples is one of the causes of the tragedy that this region has been experiencing for about twenty years. Stalin's legacy still draws blood today.

Losurdo uses the same argument when referring to the Gulag, listing all the horrors of the concentration camps in colonial countries. He takes the forgeries of the Moscow Trials as his own, but without directly referring to them, so contaminated is this source. Thus, he states, for example, that in 1918, Lenin was “surrounded by the suspicion or accusation of treason, [and] he even became the object of a project, however vague, of a coup d’état considered by Bukharin”. This project, created by the procurator Vichinski during the third Moscow Trial, in March 1938, is presented here first as hypothetical, to later become a certainty, with a wave of a magic wand: “To make the Peace of Brest fail- Litovsk, which he had considered as a capitulation to German imperialism and as a betrayal of proletarian internationalism, Bukharin briefly considered the idea of ​​a kind of coup d'état, destined to remove from power, at least for a time, the one who , until then, had been the undisputed leader of the Bolsheviks”.

Certainly thinking that a lie repeated several times becomes the truth, Losurdo writes further on: “We have already seen that Bukharin, on the occasion of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, briefly considered the project of a type of coup d'état against Lenin, the whom he reproaches with wanting to turn the party 'into a dung heap.” In fact, we saw nothing but Losurdo's pirouettes.

Why would Losurdo, who makes multiple references to anyone – including Sir Montefiore, promoted from novelist to historian status, or the novelist Feuchtwanger, whom Stalin made even extol the second Moscow Process in exchange for publishing his works? in the USSR and paying huge fees – does it not provide any reference to this invention by Vichinsky?

The truth is very simple: during Lenin's speech to the Executive Committee of the Soviets on February 23, 1918, regarding the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the left-wing Socialist Revolutionary (SR) Kamkov – whose party was still in government – ​​approached the “left-wing communists” Pyatakov and Bukharin, hostile to the signature, and the asked what would happen if they won a majority in the party against the peace of Brest-Litovsk. In his opinion, he told the pair, "In that case, Lenin will leave and we, together, will create a new Council of People's Commissars," which Pyatakov could chair. For both of them, this was nothing more than a joke. Several days later, left-wing SR Prochian suggested to Radek that, instead of writing endless resolutions, left-communists should arrest Lenin for 24 hours, declare war on the Germans, and then unanimously re-elect Lenin as president of the government, because – he said he – obliged to react to the German offensive, “although insulting us and you, Lenin would nevertheless carry out a defensive war better than anyone else”. Prochian died six months later. Radek then repeated his phrase to Lenin, who began to laugh.

However, in early December 1923, in the midst of the Left Opposition's campaign for the democratization of the party, Bukharin, at that moment allied with Stalin against it, turned these anecdotes into serious proposals that the "Left Communists" would have discussed at the time, despite denial on the part of all involved. Therefore, he concluded, the Opposition plays into the hands of the party's enemies. Zinoviev was indignant: the “Left Communists” would then have concealed these ignoble proposals from the Central Committee, which only became aware of them six years later! Stalin went further: some opponents of 1923 were already, according to him, potential members of the intended anti-Leninist government of 1918.

Bukharin would pay with his life for this political falsification of memory. In the third Moscow Trial, in March 1938, prosecutor Vichinsky, using his demagogic statements from 1923 [and “confessions” obtained through torture – MLM], accused him of having negotiated with the left-wing SRs the overthrow and imprisonment of Lenin . Bukharin was sentenced to death.

Domenico Losurdo does not know the history on which he outlines comments – sometimes embellished with exaggerated references to Hegel. Thus, he qualifies the head of the provisional government of 1917, Alexander Kerenski, as a “Menshevik leader”. However, Kerensky, close to the SR, was never part of the Mensheviks. Referring to the assassination of Sergei Kirov on December 1, 1934 in Leningrad, he writes: "At first, the authorities' investigations focused on the White Guards." The authorities had an odd way of focusing on them. The day after the assassination, Stalin ordered the shooting of a hundred White Guards... who were already in prison and whom no one questioned, since they could not, from their cells, organize even the smallest attack.

Wanting to confirm his treachery against Trotsky, he states further on: “Lenin already sees a Bonapartist danger weighing on Soviet Russia and expresses his concerns even with regard to Trotsky”. The lack of reference, once again, hides a trick: in 1924, the year of Lenin's death, Gorky, then in Italy, published “Lenin and the Russian Peasantry”, where he only quotes Lenin's eulogizing phrases to Trotsky. Six years later, in the USSR, Gorky republished his book and added a sentence attributed to Lenin on this issue, who, six years after his death, returns from the grave to manifest a rather belated fear of Trotsky's imaginary Bonapartist ambitions. .

What is even more astonishing is that, on several occasions, Losurdo alludes to an alleged “conspiracy directed by Trotsky”, and reproduces (without saying so) this fable taken from the Moscow Trials, using Curzio Malaparte as a reference. However, all historians consider Malaparte a mere literary source. Who would name “Kaputt” in a World War II history? A gifted writer, he considered history only as a handmaiden of literature and fabled like no one else.

It would be good to take a break from disassembling Losurdo's (easily disassembled) costumes. But we can't ignore his ramblings about the Gulag. He rightly emphasizes that the Stalinist Gulag was not at all a death camp, as were the Nazi camps for Jews.

But, having said that, we cannot read without suppressing the affirmation that “the intentions of applying 'soviet democracy', 'socialist democracy' and even 'socialism without the dictatorship of the proletariat' to the 'totality' of the country ' [as if the oppressed proletariat exercised, at that moment, the slightest control! – JJM] correspond to the intentions of re-establishing 'socialist legality', or 'revolutionary legality' in the Gulag”. In the end, finding in the Gulag “a pedagogical concern”, Losurdo is ecstatic: “the detainee in the Gulag is a 'comrade' in potential, obliged to participate, under particularly harsh conditions, in the productive effort of the whole country”. Particularly harsh ones indeed, but the word 'comrade', however much potential, is priceless. And Losurdo swears to us: “until 1937 the guards called the prisoner 'comrade'. Furthermore, imprisonment in the concentration camp does not exclude the possibility of social promotion”. What a great social elevator this Gulag socialism!

*Jean-Jacques Marie He is a historian and Trotskyist militant. Author, among other books, of Stalin (Paris, Fayard).

Translation: Marcio Lauria Monteiro to the website counter power.

Text originally published in La Quinzaine littéraire, on March 15, 2011.



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


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