Why do some among the Left shriek in horror and cry ‘Stalinist’ upon hearing anything positive about the Soviet Union, China, or any other country where a Communist Party took power? Why does such Anti-Stalinism dominate the Left only in countries with a history of being the colonisers? Leftism with Imperial characteristics? The ‘Imperial Left’ perhaps?That former term is a much broader church, the focus here is on the geopolitical substance of ‘Anti–Stalinism’.
The purpose of posing these questions is not to suggest that criticising Joseph Stalin is inherently racist (it’s not obviously), but rather to argue that the politics of the ‘Anti-Stalinist’ crusade led by some on the Left is racist because it denies the progressive historic role played by the Soviet Union in fighting colonialism,which is the economic foundation upon which modern-day racism historically developed.
What is Racism?
Racism is not just a tool of capital to divide labour (which is the dominant definition of the term among first–world Left); it is also an ideological weapon employed primarily by empires to shape how their citizens think about other nations in accordance with their geopolitical strategy.
To understand what this means, just watch the late Edward Said talk about Orientalism, or‘Reel Bad Arabs’, a documentary based on a book by the late Lebanese American writer Jack Shaheen, both of which argue that the negative portrayal of Arabs in Hollywood is motivated by geopolitical interests.
To uncritically assume therefore that Anti-Stalinism is unrelated to the anti-Soviet/Russian foreign policy of the United States and its allies over the past century is simply naïve. Two years ago, the United States vetoed a United Nations resolution tabled by Russia,condemning Nazism.
That same year a documentary came out called ‘Apocalypse’ claiming that because Joseph Stalin was Georgian, “his mindset is closer to that of a Middle Eastern despot”, which is a curious accusation to make at a time when Russia stands accused of supporting a “Middle Eastern despot” in Syria by both the Western corporate media and Anti-Stalinists alike.
To justify empire building, colonising cultures produce racism of two kinds, one which justifies conquest on the grounds of naked national self-interest, and another which justifies conquest by claiming to ‘civilise’ conquered nations and ‘save’ them from ‘despots’, and ‘evil dictators’ (a saviour complex). Anti-Stalinism is comparable with the latter kind in the sense that it encourages its followers to believe they’re on the side of The People ™ but who are these people exactly?
In the Syrian war, Anti-Stalinists today support the overthrow of President Assad’s government by “the people” while also claiming to oppose the actual armed militias that make up the actual people that are attempting that overthrow. “The people” who “rise up”against a “brutal dictator” demanding “freedom and democracy” has become the Anti-Stalinist chorus over the past decade, one accompanied by imagery of homogenous mobs of poor oppressed victims bullied into submission by a cartoonishly evil “oppressive”, “brutal”, “tyrant”, be it Stalin, Mao, Gaddafi, or Assad – all spinoffs of the ‘Stalinist’ caricature projected by Anti-Stalinists.
Again, to uncritically assume that Anti-Stalinism is unconnected to aggressive foreign policy is naïve, and to forget that racism is a hierarchy based in the aggressive history of colonialism is ahistorical. Inability to think in a logical and consequential manner is why Anti-Stalinists often forget they have the privilege of living in a state that isn’t threatened by other states, this includes Anarchists.
Nations that establish their dominance can afford to be more liberal especially if they’re not threatened by more powerful enemies, whereas countries that find themselves actively fending off aggression by more powerful enemies do not have the luxury of adhering to ‘liberal’ standards premised on a privileged place in global affairs.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but many of the ‘liberal’ freedoms Anti-Stalinists take for granted at home are founded upon a history of being the colonial masters abroad, and not solely due to domestic struggles. Inheriting the memory of an arrogant colonising culture, the first–world Left in general has the weakest historic memory of having fought off a foreign colonial power compared to the socialist and postcolonial worlds against whom extreme genocidal levels of violence have been inflicted over the last several centuries.
The Dominant WW2 Narrative: ‘Democracy’ vs. ‘Totalitarianism’
The 27 million Soviet citizens who were martyred in the struggle against the fascist Axis powers led by Germany in WW2 not only resisted the most genocidal war of colonial aggression in human history, they smashed it to pieces. This was the most decisive anti-colonial struggle in human history, however if your immersion into the world of Marxism was from within the cult of Anti-Stalinism you wouldn’t know it, and that’s because Anti-Stalinism emerged in a political culture that trivialises this question by reducing WW2 to a struggle between ‘democracy’ and ‘totalitarianism’, one in which the United States, Britain,and France fought against the aggressive designs of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, defeating one after the other, while spreading ‘democracy’.
This contrived dichotomy driven by Anglo–American interests during the Cold War has strong roots in Left Anti-Stalinism. The word ‘totalitarian’ was originally used by Mussolini favourably in 1925 to describe the fascist order he wanted to build in Italy, so how did it end up becoming an Anti-Stalinist curse word to attack the USSR and Stalin?
In 1936 Leon Trotsky used the word three times in his book ‘The Revolution Betrayed’ to attack the Soviet Union which made it a household invective in the Anti-Stalinist ideological arsenal from then on.
Two years later in 1938 Winston Churchill used the term “totalitarian state” in referring to “a Communist or a Nazi tyranny” before becoming British PM during the war. This was right after agreeing to the joint German, Polish, and Hungarian invasion of Czechoslovakia, also known as the Munich betrayal, which to Stalin looked as though the British were encouraging Hitler’s march east, bringing them that much closer to the Soviet border.
Following Trotsky’s lead, prominent Anti-Stalinist theorist Tony Cliff in his book ‘Stalinist Russia’ (1955) argued that the “probable programme of the anti-Stalinist opposition ”was to establish a “socialist democracy”, and what opposition was he referring to? He writes,“the Vlassov movement and the Ukrainian Resurgent Army (UPA)” both of which are militias that collaborated with the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union, the latter complicit in carrying out the Volhynian massacres against Poles and Jews. Cliff cites these fascist collaborators favourably, suggesting that what they promised was progressive relative to the “Stalinist totalitarianism” of the USSR, a phrase also used by the said collaborators.
The word ‘totalitarian’ is useful because it means nothing and everything at the same time.It’s the key that opens all doors, and the door openable by all keys. It is true, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union both had goosestepping, personality cults, party propaganda, and displays of military might with lots of saluting. Does that make them essentially the same?
The Soviet Union promoted among its citizenry a sense of pride that they were working towards a socialist world of racial equality without colonialism and war, by contrast, Anglo–American, French, and German patriotism is steeped in a long history of justifying colonialism and conquest on the grounds of self–professed racial supremacy.
Soviet Red Army Loses WW2, Colonialism Continues
The ultimate difficulty in estimating the importance of an historic event is the inability to ever know what would have happened otherwise, however, by studying the history of European colonialism there’s no doubt that a Soviet and Chinese loss in WW2 would have opened a very dark chapter of human history. So, what would have really happened had the Red Army lost the war? The continuation of colonialism is the only feasible answer for obvious reason that a budding explicitly anti-colonial superpower (the USSR) would have not only been defeated but colonised itself. German Nazi ‘white supremacy’ was not simply ‘nationalism on steroids’ as some on the Left mistakenly assume,it was an appeal to build solidarity among the world’s colonial powers, it was a German ‘soft power’ offensive intended to convince Britain, France and the Anglo settler states that because they belonged to the same ‘master race’, that they should not only protect, but advance their colonial ambitions at the expense of ‘inferior races’ across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan wanted their own colonies carved out of Eurasia and Africa, and for that they wanted the Anglo-French powers to accommodate their colonial ambitions. Unsurprisingly therefore the British and Americans were rather blasé about the prospects of German aggression against the USSR.
When the war began, Lord Halifax, the leading British architect of the Munich betrayal,predicted that the Red Army would be “liquidated in 8 or 10 weeks” while US Senator Truman (later President) was even more crass and cynical, saying “if we see that Germany is winning, we should help the Russians, and if Russia is winning, we should help Germany and that way we let them kill as many as possible”.
Colonialism created the conditions for capitalism to develop, not the other way around. The industrial revolutions that began in Britain and later spread to the rest of North– Western Europe were entirely premised on the supply of cheap raw materials from the Americas, Africa, and India.
This is something Hitler understood quite well when he said, “the wealth of Great Britain is the result less of a perfect commercial organisation than of the capitalist exploitation of the three hundred and fifty million Indian slaves” and that the British “know very well that it’s the possession of India on which the existence of their Empire depends”.
Hitler said this because he embodied the interests of German capitalists angry at the disappearance of their colonial empire after WW1. One major strategic military reason Germany lost the First World War is because the British imposed a naval blockade causing hundreds of thousands of deaths due to starvation.
After being stripped of their colonies after the First World War, Germany’s currency collapsed, and it developed a new leadership that set its sights on colonising the Soviet Union, especially the fertile lands of the Ukraine, and the port city of Baku on the Caspian Sea in Soviet Azerbaijan, which by 1900 was producing half the world’s oil.
British colonialism was a role model for Nazi Germany, or to quote Hitler directly, “what India was for England, the territories of Russia will be for us”. What Germany wanted by colonising the Soviet Union can be seen by what the British had already done to India and Australia.
When the British arrived in Bengal (India) it was one of the richest place in the world, and when they left it was reduced to the poorest place in the world. When the British won their first victory on Indian soil in 1757 (see Battle of Plassey) India represented roughly 24 percent of global income, and when the British left that collapsed to a mere 4 percent.
By colonising North America and Australia, the British had already achieved what Germany wanted for itself when they invaded the Soviet Union. Why is it that Winston Churchill’s racial opinions were indistinguishable from that of the Nazi party? To justify the partitioning of Palestine to make way for “Israel”, Churchill stated, “I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia…by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race…has come in and taken their place”.
Under British rule any trading entity that wanted to do business with India had no other choice but to hand over their earnings to the British colonial authorities in exchange for pieces of paper called ‘Council Bills’ that could be exchanged with the Indian producer who would ultimately exchange it for local Indian Rupees that were drawn from tax paid by Indians to the colonial regime.
Just as the subjectivity of the European worker didn’t ask why the raw materials their factories processed were so cheap to begin with, the subjectivity of the Indian producer assumed they were being paid for their goods in Indian rupees, when really all that was happening was the unequal distribution of wealth within India thereby reinforcing already existing caste hierarchies. Exports were leaving India without being paid for resulting in income deflation, causing famines that killed 48 million Indians.
The Germans too wanted ‘lebensraum’ or ‘living space’ as the Nazis called it. They wanted land and resources, so they could fuel their industry. They wanted to export their citizens to lands that had been cleared of their native populations who they accused of being‘subhuman’ and ‘racially inferior’.
That’s what would have been done to the Soviet Union, resulting perhaps in German colonies across Eurasia, Germans sunbathing on the Caspian Sea, drinking beer, and having barbecues on their front porch, and perhaps after a century of ethnic cleansing and suppressing “the natives” and their insurgency, maybe then they’d start accusing the Slavs, Romani, and Jews of being ungrateful for German civilisation?
Is it really that hard to imagine German settlers across Eurasia running breakfast TV shows where they casually talk about the need to steal children from the families of subjugated nations in the name of ‘saving’ them? For the mass of humanity that bears the scars of colonialism, the counter-factual possibility of the Axis powers winning WW2 looks eerily like what they had already experienced.
By contrast, colonial cultures put their creativity towards dystopian fiction about a counter–factual ‘totalitarianism’ that features a lot of Nazi goose-stepping,which is then merged with Communist imagery to suggestively portray both as equally condemnable. Evil, however, is not arbitrary. Rather it is a by–product driven by concrete interests that follow a historic pattern.
While pretending to oppose both fascism and communism, the West carries on the foreign policy orientation of fascism against the Eurasian landmass centered around China and Russia.
Continued in Part 2