Bob Gould, 2003

The Communist Party and Stalinism
An open letter to the CPA and The Guardian

Source: Self-published pamphlet, August 1, 2003
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

In a July 16, 2003, column in The Guardian, with the unintentionally revealing subheading, More rewriting of history Rob Gowland has this to say:

Stalin is a towering figure of the 20th century. It is precisely because of Stalin’s achievements and stature, valid criticisms notwithstanding, that he is still held in such high standing and that there are so many — and such unrelenting — attacks on him in the bourgeois media 50 years after his death.

The hole of Gowland’s Culture and Life column is a general diatribe against “Trotskyist agents of the bourgeoisie”. Coincidentally, the same issue of The Guardian contains a favourable article about the widely publicised fact that one wing of the Iraqi Communist Party has joined the narrowly based, non-elected US puppet provisional government in Iraq.

Since July 16, the CPA has associated itself with a determined attempt to split the Sydney Walk Against the War Coalition, one of the political issues being that the more radical members of the Coalition support the demand for the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops from Iraq. This demand is increasing in volume all over the world and has been taken up by many of the families of the American servicemen.

It is in this framework that it is necessary to view the catch-all article by Hannah Middleton in the latest Guardian, in which she cobbles together a general sweeping diatribe against splitting, wrecking Trotskyites all over the world who, she alleges, are damaging the peace movement by emphasising narrow demands calling for the withdrawal of all US imperialist troops from Iraq.

Both Hannah Middleton’s article and Gowland’s occasional columns about “Trotskyism” are straight out of the discredited historic arsenal of high Stalinism, in the sense that they are crude amalgams in which many groups and currents are arbitrarily lumped together, and then demonised to justify a current Stalinist political line. This is fortified by the approach that Gowland makes explicit by his paen to Stalin, as the font of all socialist political wisdom, the great genius of the 20th century.

This appeal to high-Stalinist prejudice is bizarre, almost beyond belief, in the year 2003. The exposure of Stalin’s crimes against the socialist movement and all humanity, has been continuously unfolding, particularly since Khruschev’s initial exposure of some of Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, in February 1956.

Since that time also, the credibility of the Moscow Trials of the 1930s has been completely destroyed by material out of the USSR archives and by testimony of survivors and participants. As a by-product of this, the political honour of the murdered old Bolsheviks, including such figures as Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin, has been completely established, for anyone who can read history.

In particular, since the final internal collapse of the senile Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union in 1991, the amount of material about the crimes of Stalin, the greatest mass murderer of communists and socialists in the 20th century, that has poured out of the still only partly opened archives in the former Soviet Union, has provided irrefutable documentary evidence of Stalin’s crimes.

As a socialist all my adult life, I have been preoccupied, among many other matters, with the question of Stalinism since Kruschev’s initial exposure of Stalin in 1956. I have accumulated an archive of more than 200 memoirs of communists and socialists who spent time in Stalin’s camps, and I have also accumulated a substantial collection of documents about Stalin’s crimes.

The books that have come out since 1991 contain a massive amount of additional material, some of which is so painful that it is difficult to read all at once. I have just finished reading the sombre but definitive book by Anne Applebaum, Gulag, a History (Doubleday 2003). The raw figures quoted by Applebaum from the archives from 1930 to 1956 have a devastating impact. The additional figures for people in administrative exile from October 1945 to January 1953 are also staggering. For most of the years between 1945 and 1953, the composite figure of people in the camps and people in administrative exile, was well in excess of five million in a country of about 200 million. The death rate in the camps was very high.

In addition to this, nearly a million innocent people were administratively executed, the overwhelming majority without trial. A very high proportion of those administratively executed were members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The overwhelming majority of delegates to every Congress of the CPSU up until the Congress of 1951 were executed in the Stalin period, as were the overwhelming majority of every Central Committee and Political Committee from the Lenin period until the end of the 1930s.

There is a vast collection of undeniable documentation of all these historical events. There are two recent books that I’ve found extremely moving. One is about the trial of Solomon Lozovsky, the former leader of the Red International of Labour Unions, who had some connections with Australia. I quote from a polemical document I wrote last year:

The connection of Garden and the Labor Council with the RILU and Lozovsky became important later, during the Stalinisation of the Comintern, and eventually of the Australian CP.

Lozovsky generally adapted to the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union, but as secretary of the RILU, he retained a certain limited independence, and discretely resisted the worst excesses of the imposition of the Third Period line in the labour movement.

He sent his son-in-law to Australia, as a RILU emissary to the CP, to discretely try to soften the blows from Moscow against the Labor Council, and particularly against Jack Ryan, the Labor Council’s research officer, a CP leader who resisted the Third Period line.

Eventually, however, Ryan was expelled from the CP, on the eve of a vital ACTU conference, where his absence, as the most experienced CP speaker and leader, made the critical difference to the debate on a motion from right-wing unions to disaffiliate from the Pan Pacific Trade Union Secretariat that was carried by the narrowest of margins.

Had Ryan spoken as the main CP leader at the congress, the result would probably have been different.

The bloodthirsty monster, Stalin, never forgave, and never forgot, even the slightest deviation from his will. A recent book, published by Yale University Press, containing newly released material from the Comintern archives, containing letters and documents between Dimitrov and Stalin, reveals the shabby, casual way in which Stalin purged Lozovsky from the RILU, and closed that body down in the late 1930s because it had become a bit of an obstacle to the total Stalinisation of the Communist Party forces in the labour movement.

The sad fate of one old Bolshevik. Stalin murders Solomon Lozovsky and the other leaders of the Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the last Moscow Trial, conducted in secret in 1952

During World War II, however, Lozovsky again proved useful to Stalin, because of his Jewish background, and his wide connections in Jewish circles in Europe and the United States.

He was made the main organiser of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the Soviet Union, which was extraordinarily successful in mobilising Jewish community support for the Soviet Union in its war effort, particularly in the United States.

After the crisis of the war, however, Stalin’s underlying antisemitism began to resurface, and in the late 1940s and the early 1950s organisations like the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and Meyerhold’s very successful Yiddish Theatre, were closed down, and all their main personnel, including Solomon Lozovsky, were arrested by the NKVD.

The greatest of all theatre producers in the Soviet period, Meyerhold, was murdered on Stalin’s instructions. The last fully fledged Moscow purge trial was held, in secret, in 1952, involving the leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, with the main figure in the trial being Solomon Lozovsky, by now an old man, up until then one of the very few survivors among the old Bolsheviks.

The transcript of that trial recently surfaced in the GPU archives, and it has now been published by Yale University Press. The book is Stalin’s Secret Pogrom. The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee edited by Joshua Rubenstein and Vladimir Naumov (Yale 2001).

The transcript of this final Moscow Trial makes the most extraordinary reading. The book says: “In the transcript Lozovsky, the stubborn old Bolshevik, who has, no doubt, capitulated to Stalin several times, nevertheless, finds the extraordinary inner resources to repudiate, in the courtroom, the confession that has been extorted from him under torture. He makes a lengthy and detailed speech defending his life’s activities, and indicting the Stalinist Court and Stalinist justice. Nevertheless, he and most of his fellow accused, are found guilty, sentenced to death and shot on July 18, 1952. Lozovsky was 75.”

I would also commend the harrowing book, 1937, by Vladimir Rugovin. The list of unrefutable evidence of Stalin’s crimes goes on and on and on.

It is rather weird but politically comprehensible that Stalinist prejudices are invoked by yourselves to justify a sweeping witch-hunt against the more leftist forces, worldwide, and in Australia, in the antiwar movement.

This reflects a certain political reality. A very large part of the younger section of the left movement know the truth about Stalinism and Stalin’s crimes, and owe something to the heroic legacy of the Left Opposition and other opposition communists and socialists who swam against the stream in exposing Stalin’s crimes in the 1930s. To that end, we have been putting up on Ozleft a number of historical documents that relate to these questions.

It’s politically fantastic of The Guardian to belt out, from time to time, its defence of Stalin’s thoroughly documented crimes, for the narrowest factional purposes, combined with ancient prejudices.

It seems appropriate to me that we should have a big public discussion on the matter of Stalin’s crimes and the political honour of the murdered old Bolsheviks. To this end, I throw down this challenge: why not have a public debate on the question of Stalin, Trotsky, Bukharin and the old Bolsheviks, and the truthfulness or otherwise of the Moscow Trials and the purges in the 1930s, with the protagonists on one side being, say, Peter Symon, Rob Gowland, Hannah Middleton and Bruce Cornwall, and on the other side, Bob Gould, the historian Di Fields, Phil Shannon who occasionally writes for Green Left Weekly and R.D. Walshe. The whole event might be chaired by Cameron Murphy from Civil Liberties, and/or Kep Enderby, the former attorney general in the Whitlam government. Rather than bizarre sniping, let’s have a real public debate in the labour movement on these important historical questions.

I’m certain that in Sydney we could achieve a very large attendance for a serious public debate about these historical matters, which are of enormous interest to any serious socialist.

I look forward to your early response to this proposal for such a public debate, so that we can set in train mechanisms to organise it in such a way that it is conducted completely fairly, in a civilised manner and spirit, and with proper guarantees that all participants will be able to express their views in an appropriate way, without interference.