Debating the nature of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin’s rule
Jacob Secker argues that the Soviet Union was “socialist” and trivialises Stalin’s crimes as mere “excesses” (Letters, 5 August). He’s wrong.
Under Stalin, all the achievements of the 1917 October Revolution were overturned in the interests of industrialising Russia.
After October workers ruled through their councils. But from 1928 Stalin ruled as absolutely as any Tsar.
Where the Russian Revolution had been internationalist, Stalin promoted Russian nationalism.
Where the revolution fought racism, Stalin’s Russia encouraged anti-Semitism to divide workers.
The genuine socialist tradition lay under the bodies of the millions who died as a result of forced collectivisation, industrialisation, or were “purged” by Stalin - the gravedigger of the revolution.
Stalin and Stalinism are deservedly in the dustbin of history.
Sasha Simic, East London
I have a degree of sympathy with Jacob Secker’s point of view.
It is undoubtedly true that the Soviet working class suffered from a self aggrandising, oppressive and murderous bureaucratic elite.
It is also true that the Soviet economy was transformed from a state of lethargy to one capable of providing a standard of living for all its people, which comparable capitalist economies couldn’t even dream about.
Disfigured as it was by its bureaucracy, it was as socialist as it was possible to be in the circumstances of continual threat from capitalist invasion and sabotage.
It was, after all, Leon Trotsky who demanded the militarisation of the working class during the Russian civil war and who wrote, “In the transition from capitalism to socialism, the exploitation of the working class will be at its most intense.”
G Way, Bournemouth, Dorset
Was the Soviet Union under Stalin socialist?
The litmus test is simple. Did Stalin extend the revolution and democracy in the Soviet Union, giving workers complete control over all organs of the state and the means of production - the workplaces and farms?
The opposite was the case under Stalin and his successors.
Stalin destroyed and proved the gravedigger not only for those Bolsheviks, but for many subsequent revolutions around the world. The Soviet Union was socialist? How many of its workers defended it from the transition to free market capitalism in 1991?
Gary Duke, Salford
According to Iain Taylor, (Letters, 12 August) I was dismissing the idea of internationalism by supporting the idea that the Soviet Union could achieve socialism in one country.
Of course, internationalism is essential to the creation of revolution. What I am criticising is the idea that if some countries achieve a socialist revolution before others, these revolutions will lead only to capitalism.
This sets the fence so high for the achievement of socialism that no horse could possibly jump it.
As for living standards not rising under Stalin, the death rate decreased from 30.2 per 1,000 in 1913 to 18.2 in 1940 and 9.0 in 1953, which indicates that things were improving for the Soviet people in this time.
Anyway, it’s good to be able to debate the issues without the usual “Stalin was worse than Hitler” slanders.
Jacob Secker, East London
‘Help us save our hall’
I am writing on behalf of the trustees of our local Labour hall.
We wish to retain local ownership of our hall, which is well used by the community and the local Labour Party. Its success, over many years, is entirely due to the work of our local trustees and active party members.
However, following the rule change at the Labour Party conference in 2004, it would appear that we are required to agree a recorded decision of a Constituency Labour Party meeting, to transfer the legal title of our hall to the Labour Party Nominees Ltd.
Given the state of the Labour Party’s finances - £27 million in debt - we fear that the future of our hall is in danger.
We are doing everything we can to resist the demands of the Labour Party bureaucrats.
We wonder if there are any other trustees of Labour halls who are in the same position as us.
We feel sure there must be other Labour hall trustees and Labour Party groups in a similar situation. We are anxious to get in touch with anyone who could help.
Please write to 11 Pembury Rd, Worthing, West Sussex, BN14 7DN or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Joy Hurcombe, Worthing
Two state solution?
While generally agreeing with Alex Callinicos’s analysis of the nature of Israel (Why ‘two states’ is not the solution, 5 August), I am a little confused as to what his conclusions are.
He seems to argue that a two state solution is no solution, because the Palestinian state would be so far below the Israeli state in economic and social development that it would inevitably lead to permanent instability and conflict.
His answer is for Jews, Christians, Muslims and, I guess, atheists to live in a unified state on the basis of equality.
These are very nice hippy sentiments but totally utopian, and utterly useless as a guide for the way forward at this stage of development.
Surely the establishment of a Palestinian state would be a step forward for Palestinians in determining their own destiny? As such it should be supported by all socialists and people concerned with ending the oppression of the Palestinian people.
Chris O’Connell, Austria
Alex Callinicos is effectively denying one of the cardinal principles of Leninism in his article - the right of oppressed nations to self-determination up to and including separation.
The key point is this, what do the majority of the Palestinians want themselves? Not what we in the West think is good for them.
Do they want unity with Israel? Or do the majority of Palestinians favour complete independence from the Jewish settler state?
It is my understanding that the majority of the Palestinians favour the latter - whether Western socialists like it or not.
We must start from what the oppressed Palestinian people want at the present time.
Palestine belongs to the Palestinians and all lands taken from them illegally by force in the post-war period must be returned to them - from the river to the sea.
Chris Edwards, Manchester
Rifondazione's shameful vote
Sadly the issues raised by Alessandro Valera (‘We defend our votes’, 5 August) are far broader. There are three and a half parties in the Italian parliament with an anti-war record: Rifondazione Comunista, the Party of Italian Communists, the Greens, and the left of the equivalent of the Labour Party, the DS. They add up to about 100 MPs, and incredibly, in the weeks leading up to the vote, they did not raise a fuss about voting to send troops to Afghanistan - something that was not in their electoral programme of just three months earlier.
There were two other shameful events about the vote: firstly it was bipartisan - the left voted alongside Berlusconi, assorted racists and fascists, to send troops into another military adventure. Secondly, the day MPs voted an opinion poll showed that 61% of Italians wanted immediate withdrawal from both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Furthermore, only Blair, Bush and the Generals define what Nato troops are doing in Afghanistan as a ‘peace keeping mission’: the deaths of 2,000 Afghans and 68 western troops so far this year show what the reality is - a war - part of the ‘arc of imperialism’ that stretches from Kabul to southern Lebanon.
Alessandro claims that ‘Troops are not going to be moved to the south, where there is fighting.’ So why did the Afghan Defence Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, greet an Italian parliamentary delegation last week with the words: ‘We are glad that Italian forces will take part in the ISAF (Nato) operation in southern Afghanistan.’
The fact that seasoned anti-war campaigners took this decision makes anti-war campaigning more difficult, not easier, as Alessandro suggests. As the highly respected anti-war surgeon Gino Strada has commented: 'with the end of the “peace movement” in Italy, a movement “against the war” needs to be built.’
The best thing Rifondazione could do is what it did under Prodi's first administration in the 1990s - leave government and support it from the outside when it is justified. That would create greater room for manoeuvre and freedom from the very real numbers game of coalition government Alessandro mentions. In the Autumn Rifondazione will have to vote on what is likely to be a vicious anti-working class budget, and possibly even earlier, on whether to send occupation troops to southern Lebanon.
The difference in the Italian electoral system does not explain much either. In March 2003 139 out of 410 Labour MPs voted against their own government - a few weeks after two million had marched in London. Wherever we are, the task of ‘the world’s second super-power’ is to create a huge movement that frightens, embarrasses or forces MPs to act on majority opinion.
Tom Behan, Whitstable
I think the arguments used by Alex Callinicos (Giving in to blackmail, 12 August) about Rifondazione Comunista in Italy are formally correct but he misses the point - that is Rifondazione is a class collaboration party.
It is helping the government of Italy’s imperialist ruling class to survive and voting for its agenda.
This is the real issue.
Hernan Kurfirst, Barcelona, Spain
The inspirational article on the corporate manslaughter bill (Labour lets Britain’s killer bosses off lightly, 5 August) shows there is no such thing as a clean employer.
Top corporate employers will turn to any dirty trick in the book to maximise their profits. They have been given the green light to do so by these new regulations. If proof were needed, they were welcomed by the bosses’ CBI organisation.
How suspicious is that? Even when Network Rail was fined £13.5 million all it did was increase its fares and the cost of the fine hardly touched it.
As for the five Balfour Beatty executives who were cleared on lack of evidence, how much evidence do the courts need? Another Clapham? Potters Bar? Hatfield?
Hardly what I would call “tough on crime”. It’s more like encouraging it. There is an old saying, “money buys justice”.
Charlie Dowthwaite, Barrow in Furness
Britain’s low pay culture
I am English with a postgraduate degree and many years of professional experience.
Following three lots of surgery this year, I resigned from my job and sought temporary work via high street agencies.
The pay on offer is truly appalling.
People with a family who work for this kind of money have to claim working families tax credit.
In principle, anyone working full time should be paid a living wage.
The supermarkets make vast profits and are also exploiting both their workforce and the taxpayer via these workers having to claim tax credits.
Enough is enough.
Please campaign for an increase on the minimum wage. Lifting people out of poverty is the foundation of a civilised society.
Why should anyone working full time feel humiliated and have to claim handouts?
Sonia Taha, St Albans, Hertfordshire
It is urgent to Impeach Blair
We must impeach Blair NOW to send a definitive message to US neo-cons that the British people reject absolutely their government and their murderous foreign policy.
Mark Hamilton, Rutland, Leicestershire
Sorry, but how many of the crowd at last weeks Stop the War demo voted Tony Blair in for a third time knowing his record of backing Bush?
I can only be cynical. Blair is on his way out and has only been so since the failure of his war for “democracy” become unpopular.
It is precisely because voters backed him the third time round that this grossly immoral individual finds the confidence to ride sidesaddle with Bush.
I can’t help feeling that out in that crowd are a load of Pontius Pilates saying, “Not in my name - but I’ll put an ‘X’ in the Labour box once the crucifixion scandal has died down.”
F Stewart, East London
Galloway takes on Sky
George Galloway is spot on. I watched his demolition of the hapless Anna Botting on Sky News recently.
Frankly, I counted the seconds until they cut him off air, but the producers arrogantly waited, hoping she could make him look like the buffoon they’ve already painted him as.
Amazingly, they allowed her to dig a big hole which she duly jumped into.
Ronnie Lambert, via e-mail
Bertolt Brecht in the US
Loved your piece on the playwright Bertolt Brecht (‘This chap Marx was the first to really understand my plays’, 5 August).
But I noted one mistake. Your authors wrote, “Shortly after the war, Brecht was put before Senator McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. He took a plane back to Europe the day after his hearing”.
He did indeed leave on the first plane back to Europe. But that one you can’t blame on the despicable Joe McCarthy, who wouldn’t come into prominence until the Korean war.
About his experience Brecht famously said “Americans aren’t as bad as Nazis. At least they let you smoke while they interrogate you.”
Michael Hirsch, New York, US
NB: This has been corrected online