SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 159 - June 2012

Stalinist dictatorship is not inevitable

I BOUGHT a copy of Socialism Today (No.157, April 201) for the first time in some years and was so pleased to see Peter Taaffe’s article reviewing Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. This book is surely a classic of the 20th century for both its literary quality and its insight into the horrors of war, Nazism and Stalinism. It deserves a much wider audience and I would encourage readers not to be deterred by its epic length as it is well worth the effort! I hope that following Radio Four’s serialisation more will be encouraged to seek it out.

The media has generally equated socialism with Stalinism and all the inhumanity associated with it and particularly since the fall of the Berlin Wall pointed to the ‘failed experiment’ of ‘socialism’.

I believe that although economics and political structures are obviously closely related it is worth considering the two separately in countering this argument. It is self-evident that the economic system of capitalism can exist in many different political structures from liberal democracy through regimes riddled with corruption and bribery to military dictatorships and out and out fascism. Indeed capitalism relies on adopting different political structures to persevere in different social conditions. In general it is the advanced capitalist countries which have the greatest degree of liberal democratic structures due to the advancement of the working class. However we are encouraged to believe that a planned and largely nationalised economy can only be run on the basis of Stalinism.

Although Marx and Engels foresaw the socialist revolution taking place in the most advanced capitalist countries this has not been the case. The rule of the Tsar in the Russian empire and the Emperors in China were features of mainly peasant countries closer to feudalism in many respects than advanced capitalism and with little tradition of mass participatory democracy. In these circumstances and in a situation of isolation Stalin, Mao, etc were able to establish authority through exercising bureaucratic manipulation and outright terror. It is important to refute that Stalinism is the only way to operate and run a planned economy, just as there are many variations of the capitalist model. That the one party state and the centralising of power in a clique or individual are not an inevitable outcome and that democratic socialism is a viable alternative to both capitalism and Stalinism.

Because of the traditions of democracy and participation in advanced capitalist countries it would be much harder to impose Stalinism and the cult of the personality in such countries which in future succeed in establishing socialism.

We should not be at all complacent though. In the current circumstances where democracy is under attack at all levels across the globe it is important for socialists, trade unionists and community activists to promote and protect democracy both within their organisations and in wider society. Active participation and involvement is the best antidote to all forms of autocracy and dictatorship and we should beware calls to dilute these elements.

Malcolm Emmerson, Coventry


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