Serve the people truth or fiction?
In recent discussion, we contrasted science versus apolegetics in dealing with history. Stalin was used as an example. A familiar voice objected to our discussion. He roars:
“There is nothing original in noting the USSR’s initial support of Israel as primarily geo-political. Of course it was a mistake, but hindsight is always 20/20.
The USSR aided Israel during the Nakba, but did they ever aid the Euro-Settlers before that? No. However, the Nazis did, as documented extensively by the Jewish Trotskyist Lenni Brenner. There wasn’t anything like the Transfer Agreement between the USSR and the Euro-Settlers in Palestine as there was between Nazi Germany and proto-Israel. Even when the USSR was officially supporting Israel, it was still a crime for Soviet Jews to emigrate there. This is a result of the consistent position maintained since pre-revolutionary days by the Bolsheviks, that Jews ARE NOT A NATION.
It is interesting, though, that LLCO is now willing to say the USSR was imperialist even before Stalin died. I suppose trying to convince the Oppressed Nations of the world that their nationalism isn’t “applied internationalism” leads one to such absurdities.”
Leading Light Commander PF responds:
Thank you for your instructive comment.
Right off the bat, the whole tone of your comment is strange to us. It is as though you think that questioning one aspect of the Stalin era is somehow a big betrayal of socialism or Stalin. It is also odd to us that you seem to think that it is a defense of Stalin to put forward the equivalent of “well, he wasn’t as bad as the Nazis!” as you do. Yes, you are right, Stalin’s foreign policy was not nearly as bad as the German fascist one. Stalin’s policy, obviously, was not as bad as numerous policies of imperialist powers. In fact, numerous other imperialist powers were not as bad as the Nazis. It is interesting to us that you think saying as much is a defense of Stalin and socialism. It is interesting to us that you hold socialism in such high regard that you set your expectations for it so low. We hold socialism and our leaders to a higher standard than you do. We expect more from our socialism and leaders than just being better than Hitler. Your comment is an example of what I was trying to say in the post. Apologetics, historical narratives based around personality cults, leads to absurdities.
The Soviet line on the Jewish question is interesting. As you said, the stated line was that the Jews were not a nation. Yet then there is the de jure recognition of Israel, which was done for geopolitical reasons, but nonetheless legitimates the idea that the Jews are a nation. There is the creation of the Jewish Autonomous Zone within the Soviet Union. And Jews, especially Soviet Jews, were encouraged to migrate there, although few took up the offer. In any case, as it seems we both agree, the Soviet support for Israel was mostly for geopolitical considerations.
Saying “hindsight is 20/20” does not excuse all political errors. Do not apologists for US atrocities, for the institution of slavery, for example, make a similar excuses? Or imagine someone who said “Yes, Khrushchev made errors, Deng Xiaoping made errors, Gorbachev made errors, but hindsight is 20/20!” Is this a serious defense of their policies? There are numerous kinds of errors, often overlapping in various ways. There are ones that are reasonable given what was known at the time. There are ones that are unreasonable given what was known at the time. There are errors that emerge from bad empirical evidence with socialist thinking. There are errors that emerge from capitalist thinking, but with good or bad empirical data. There are rightist errors that still fall within the revolutionary camp, then there are revisionist errors. There are leftist errors that still fall within the revolutionary camp, then there are revisionist errors. There are errors that are “left in form, right in essence.” There are errors that have their origin in reactionary mentality and character. There are errors that we should take responsibility for as inheritors of the revolutionary tradition. There are errors that are not our’s, that we do not take responsibility for. All movements that claim to be Marxist acknowledge these kinds of distinctions. They just draw the lines differently. For example, Trotskyists don’t feel obliged to justify the policies of the Stalin era, extreme orthodox Marxist-Leninists don’t feel obliged to justify the policies of the Maoist era, Maoists don’t feel obliged to justify the policies of Deng Xiaoping. Maoists, for example, see Deng Xiaoping’s policies not as socialism in error, but as revisionism, as capitalism. We agree that the policy to support Israel was an error, the question is what kind of error.
We are interested science, not dogma. Those who approach history not as truth, but as a kind of story to elevate or denigrate this or that leader, are not doing science. Their approach to history is the Great Man Theory that Marx criticized long ago. It is a product of lingering personality cults. God may be dead, but the smell of the corpse lingers. Similarly, cults of personality outlive the leaders they idolize. The apologetics that pass for history within the revolutionary movement are really just a kind of cult-of-personality myth making. Whether or not it is worthwhile to make revolution does not depend, for us, on whether Stalin or Mao may have made revisionist turns in the end. The necessity of total liberation for humanity is something we live and die for, regardless of whether Soviet regime made a nationalist and traditionalist turn during World War 2 that they never emerged from. The moral command to “serve the people” flows in our veins whether or not Mao went bad in the 1970s. Our first love is the masses and the land, not any single individual, even a Stalin or Mao. We tell the masses the truth because we really do believe the Maoist slogan that “the masses are the real heroes” and “the masses are the motive forces in history.” We also love the great leaders, geniuses, warriors, Leading Lights that the struggle has produced. However, when the latter begins to conflict with the former, we will always choose the masses, the land, the truth over the myth making, even if the latter is well-intentioned. A true friend is an honest one.
The Leading Light’s line is not that the Soviet Union did or did not become imperialist before Stalin died. The Leading Light does not have a “line” on every little historical detail. Leading Light unites around a general line. Our line is that the Soviet Union began to shift toward capitalism and imperialism sometime during or in the immediate decade following World War 2. Just as we say China restored capitalism sometime in the 1970s. Again, we do not structure our historical narrative around the demands of the personality cult. For us, it is fine to say Mao was one of the greatest revolutionaries of all time, but also made major errors, including revisionist and capitalist ones. We are about genuine science, not the pretense of science. With all things, we uphold the good and toss the bad. Humans are flesh and blood. Humans are not perfect. Humans make mistakes. Our supreme leader is no human, but truth, as best as it can be known through science.
Your infantile remark about oppressed nations is barely worth my time. How exactly does questioning Stalin’s policy, adopted for geopolitical reasons, of supporting, albeit only for a short time, a Euro-invasion of Palestine lead to the conclusion that national liberation of oppressed nations is not applied internationalism? What is the chain of inferences, as you see them? If you can’t explain yourself, then that says a lot about where you are coming from. Your remark is just another example of how some people are not interested in the truth. Our line has always been the same: we support whatever path leads to Leading Light Communism, total liberation, the end of all oppression. Our first loyalty is to the masses and the Earth, not to nations of any kind. If national liberation is the best way to achieve that, then we support it. If there is a better strategy, then we support that. However, we do not elevate nationalism to level of principle. There is a big difference between communists who have, at times, adopted nationalism as a means to an end and nationalists who have, at times, adopted communism as a means to an end. As it happens, neither Mao nor Stalin were nationalists in the sense that national liberation movements in the United States are. Both led multi-national revolutions that encompassed dozens of oppressed nations. The Bolshevik revolution was a revolution spread over much of the old Russian empire, which was called “the prison house of nations.” The Maoist revolution spread over a vast territory that corresponded with the previous Chinese imperial dynasties. Both revolutions sought to create transnational red identity to replace the more nationalist and localist identities. At the same time, the hope was to forge this identity as gently as possible. Unfortunately, things did not always work out that way. For example, Stalin and Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev came into conflict over this. Sultan-Galiev seemed to see Stalin’s line as really just a manifestation of Russian chauvinism toward oppressed nationalities. Stalin was probably correct to oppose Sultan-Galiev. Sultan-Galiev was accused of nationalism and arrested. Whatever one thinks about Sultan-Galiev’s claims, Stalin’s regime later did turn toward resurrecting Russian nationalism as a way to fight the Nazis in World War 2. This surely carried over into the post-war period. In China, the Cultural Revolution was often accused of trampling the sensibilities of the smaller nations. This is why Maoist policies were sometimes wrongly seen as being Han chauvinist. The reality is that they weren’t really Han chauvinist even if they did trample on national traditions at times. Afterall, the Maoist attitude toward Han traditionalism could be very negative also, maybe even more so. Mao was steeped in China’s classics, but Mao had great disdain for oppressive traditionalism. Mao jokingly compared himself to the Qin emperor who buried the Confucian scholars alive. During the Cultural Revolution, the grave of Confucius was dug up by Red Guards. In India, there is also a debate. Some Maoists push for a pan-Indian revolution that calls for subsuming smaller national struggles with it. The CPI (Maoist) holds this line. Other Maoists, like the “Third Central Committee,” have accused the CPI (Maoist) of Brahmin chauvinism against the Dalits. They see the Brahmin caste as akin to an oppressor nation occupying a Dalit oppressed nation. Dalit Voice used to carry articles comparing Brahmin occupation of India to white occupation of North America or Jewish occupation of Palestine.Thus they attack the UCP Nepal (Maoist) and CPI (Maoist) as Brahmin-led on the basis of identity politics. I think this simplistic way of describing India and North America is problematic.
Leading Light has always supported the united front against imperialism. We support people’s movements, even if they are led by erroneous ideas. This goes for the country-wide liberation movements in the Third World. It also goes for the narrower national movements you find among First World oppressed nations or communities, when those struggles are progressive. Even so, we do not see these types of struggles as the vanguard. Just as capitalism has been globalizing, so too is resistance to it. Narrow struggles are not at the forefront of the anti-imperial struggle. Today, more internationalist movements are contending to make their impact, sometimes they are progressive and anti-imperialist, sometimes they are just another face of imperialism. For example, some pan-Indigenists ended up on the side of imperialism against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s. Some pan-Islamists end up on the side of imperialism today. Even so, these ideologies, like Bolivarianism, like pan-Africanism, and others are having more of an impact within the anti-imperialist struggle than narrow nationalism or even country-wide nationalism. Leading Light calls for a Global People’s War. One people. One earth. One fight.