Saturday, October 06, 2007


Click on title to link to the Leon Trotsky Internet Archive's article by Leon Trotsky from March 1936 titled "Stalin Plans Wholesale Persecution".


On the 70th Anniversary of the Great Stalinist Purge Trials

An October 5, 2007 Associated Press news item out of Moscow concerning discovery of some long buried bodies that had been shot caught my eye. It seems that some workers on a reconstruction site in that city had unearthed a few dozen bodies buried since the 1930’s, many of them showing signs of having been shot in the head. The newsworthy point is that this building was adjacent to the infamous KGB headquarters at the Lubyianka Prison, site of many political executions during the time of the Stalinist reign of terror at that time. The unearthed bodies are presumed victims of those purges. It brought to my mind that this is the 70th Anniversary of the height of that madness. This is hardly an anniversary occasion for celebration, except for those few unreconstructed Stalinists who are muttering in their mush about Trotskyite conspiracies, agents of Hitler and the Mikado and other such babble. It is an appropriate time, however, to make a few comments about what all that evil time meant politically and on the destructive nature of Stalinism as the ‘face ‘of socialism that still has ramifications for the international working class these many years later.

Many years ago I read British historian Robert Conquest’s study The Great Terror that vividly describes the arbitrariness of the prosecutions and executions, their extent and the chilling atmosphere on the political life, such as it was, of the times. The book is still worthwhile reading, with the following caution, in order to get a partial flavor of the bleakness of the times and the extent of the political freeze placed on Russian society. Conquest had his own axe to grind and was using his study as prima facie evidence that Stalinist ‘socialism in one country’ was a retrograde step in the fight for human progress. He thus comfortably took his place as an active anti-communist agent on behalf of Western imperialism. Alas, he was not alone in such endeavors. A virtual cottage industry grew up around that premise, especially at the height of the Cold War in the 1950’s and especially by the ‘god that failed’ crowd of former Stalinist devotees. I would only add that anti-Stalinist, pro-communist militants, led during the 1930’s by the Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky and others, did, and today can, quote chapter and verse the crimes, high and low, of Stalinism with the best of the anti-communist cottage artisans. The difference, and no small matter, is that we did not, and do not, ‘outsource’ this fight to international imperialism.

One cannot mention the Stalinist purges without mentioning the name of Leon Trotsky, a central figure in this drama. Yes, there was a general mopping up of any and all previous political oppositions, including a significant number of former Stalinist factionists (particularly from the so-called “Congress of Victors” of 1934). Yes, anyone conceivably political, or who knew anyone conceivably political, or who just ran afoul of the KGB was rounded up. And beyond that anyone who, for the most bizarre and arbitrary reasons, including wrong nationality was suspect. However, in the end it was the three well-known political trials that not only captured the headlines but that can also serve today as an explanation for the rationale, if that is the word, of those events. And at the center was the hated figure of Trotsky, who also faced the Stalinist executioner’s blade later. I might add that the vaunted Western press of the times, notably in America, the "New York Times" and the liberal "Nation" magazine took the accusations at the trials as good coin. They were more than willing to give Vyshinsky, the chief prosecutor, and a passing grade on his outrageous conduct at the trials. Of course, those were the ‘popular front against fascism days’ of blessed liberal memory and they were all good fellows and true- Stalinists included. Oh well, the names, individual and political, change but some things never change.

Let us be clear Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Rykov, Bukharin and the other lesser prisoners in the dock for the most part were at that time political opponents of Trotsky’s and who, for the most part, had capitulated more than once to Stalin. But they also formed the core of the Bolshevik Party that made the revolution in 1917. To suspect that cadre who had spent their whole lives in the service of the revolution to have really spent that time trying to destroy the revolution defies description. Even the editors of the Nation, in their more lucid moments, should have been able to fathom that. But here is the point- those in the dock may not have been our people, but they were our people. It may be not be important today to most people but these cadres were in no need of good conduct medals by a later generation of Stalinists, like Khrushchev and Gorbachev. Particularly not Trotsky, who fought Stalinism to the end.

During much of the Cold War the ‘face’ of Stalinism to the Western public was the Gulags, the labor concentration camps. To those of us with a greater political focus the ‘face’ of Stalinism was the purge trials and political murders of the 1930's. Under either understanding we are very, very far away from the promises held out by the socialist vision. The sad political fact is, however, that Stalinism was never politically defeated by anti-Stalinist, pro-socialist militants. Rather the demise of the Soviet Union and the other Eastern European states run by Stalinist bureaucracies imploded. The various causes of that implosion are beyond the scope of what I want to comment on here. However, we have, and we continue to pay a huge political price for the fact that we were unable to do that task of politically defeating Stalinism. As a result the general political consciousness of the vast majority of the international working class has turned against socialism as a solution to the pressing human problems of the day. In short, we have been left with the Promethean task of putting socialism as a societal solution back on the agenda. If there is one more reason to hate the Stalinist betrayal of socialism that, my friends, says it in a nutshell.

Note: December 13, 2007. A later report from Moscow indicated that these bodies were not victims of the purges in the 1930’s but had been killed sometime in the 19th century. The political points discussed in the commentary, however, are still relevant.

Friday, October 05, 2007



A rich man's war, a poor man's fight-including the dough

Just when I was beginning to think that it was safe to say something nice about the very few hard anti-war parliamentary Democrats left without having to bite my tongue one of them goes and bites me. In an entry a few days ago I mentioned that 3rd District Massachusetts Congressman James McGovern stuck out as a principled Democratic parliamentary anti-war advocate. I again mentioned it yesterday in regard to his vote against the very watered-down Pentagon contingency planning report now being pushed by the Democratic House leadership as a substitute for any real action on troop withdrawals. Those positions accrue to his honor. So far, so good.

However, I have also noted that such positions are merely the beginning of wisdom. I have argued that other factors preclude political support to such politicians, notably their otherwise pro-capitalist politics. And, as if delivered directly from the sages of the socialist pantheon for my benefit, a recent article in the Op/Ed page of the October 4, 2007 Boston Globe by Congressman McGovern brings the chickens home to roost.

Apparently Congressman McGovern is bothered (as I am, but for vastly different reasons) by the widespread indifference, expressed by the pronounced unwillingness to sacrifice on their behalf, to the fate of the rank and file soldiers in Iraq, except by the small circle of those directly affected. Moreover, the Congressman is greatly bothered by the ultimate cost of this war and the burden that it will place on future generations (you know, the classic –our children, and our childrens' children- rhetoric that is like manna from heaven for all politicians). The Congressman thus proposes and intends to introduce legislation that would levy a “surtax”, a war tax, on existing tax liability for all, except a few military-related cases, in order to pay down future Iraq War appropriations. Nice, right?

And there is the rub. The Congressman's underlying assumption is that, right or wrong on Iraq policy, we are all in this together, rich or poor, although the effect of the burden of his bill would presumably fall heaviest on the rich. But the hell with that notion. It it is a non-starter. In this increasingly class-bound society we are not all in this together. Not by a long shot. That is the fundamental liberal fallacy and goes a long way in explaining why we are in tough straits not just in Iraq but where this country is heading generally.

There is an old expression that cuts to the core of the fallacy on this issue. A rich man’s war, a poor man’s (updated these days to include women) fight. That means the money for it, as well. I am generally distrustful of tax-the-rich schemes as a panacea for the alleviation of social ills (or, as here, to bail out the very government that got into this mess in the first place). Generally, as presented by leftists, these schemes substitute for hard programmatic positions that focus on the need to see that the world has to be turned upside down, in short, the rich must go. So here I kick Congressman McGovern in the shins and call for a No vote on this proposal-with both hands and feet.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007



Admittedly, I have never been one to be patience with the parliamentary maneuvering that is the daily bread of virtually all politicians today. It took a while for me to understand that leftists could use parliamentary venues as ‘bully pulpits” to fulfill our duties as fighters for our issues, although knowing that the questions of war and peace sometimes can only be solved in the workplace, in the barracks and the streets. But today enough is enough. The Democrats allegedly rode the wave of Iraq war frustration (which, as I have argued elsewhere, may be quite different from being anti-war) in last year’s mid-term elections. Over the past several months the House of Representatives, in particular, has attempted to get various votes passed on the war budget and other measures to restrain the Bush Administration’s prerogatives. Those efforts have proven fruitless either because they have not generated enough support in the House or have been sabotaged by the narrower Democratic margin in the Senate. That so-called 60-vote rule.

Well, apparently, those ‘gallant’ attempts by the House leadership are in the past as a recent (October 3, 2007) vote discloses. Having failed with a frontal attack of a straight up and down vote on the various war measures the Democratic leadership is now trying to ‘make nice’ with the Republicans. So now instead of a hard and fast Iraq withdrawal plan they have sponsored legislation that, in essence, asks for another round of progress reports from the Pentagon. Correct me if I am wrong but didn’t we just go through that scenario?

The Republicans are smart enough to know a good lifesaver when they see it, especially when it doesn’t cost anything, so they jumped on this bandwagon and the measure passed 377 to 46. Even House Republican Minority leader Boehner was wise to the game. He knows that this legislation commits nobody to nuthin’, especially the Pentagon. Think about it though, a promise to report on reports on reports. This is very heaven to these guys and gals. The real impact, however, is that now the surprisingly few (about 30) hard anti-war parliamentary Democrats are on the defensive. And while I stand well outside the Democratic Party this isolation is not a good thing for the only politicians, for the most part, from the establishment who have stuck to their principles on the Iraq War issue. NOW, does my call for anti-war soldiers and sailors anti-war committees to link up with the rank and file soldiers seem all that utopian. Utopia (or, rather dystopia) lies with those who continually and solely rely on parliamentary politics to end this damn war. IMMEDIATE WITHDRAWAL OF ALL U.S. AND ALLED TROOPS-AND MERCENARIES FROM IRAQ

Monday, October 01, 2007


Click On Title To Link To Associated Press, June 27, 2009, Article On The Latest On The Jena Six.


Recently in a commentary on integration (Reflections of the 50th Anniversary of Little Rock, September 2007 archives) I mentioned, in passing, the case of the Jena Six, a group of six black youth faces with, frankly, unwarranted pig-piled charges being accused of beating up a white youth after provocation down in rural Louisiana. The case has received international attention as a result of being taken up by ‘black leaders’ and Democratic Party stalwarts Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who led a large and spirited march in Jena by a predominately black crowd from many parts of the country. That is to the good. As always when the ‘hot button’ issue of race intersects the raw face of American justice ‘Southern- style' (or Northern style, for that matter) the plight of these teenagers has been the subject of comment from all sides all the way up to the leading presidential contenders.

Here the reported comment of Illinois Senator Barack Obama deserves special mention. He, in his inevitable ‘color blind’ way is looking for ‘fairness’ in the case. And there is the rub. I do not know what planet the Senator is on but even a cursory look at the history of Black existence in this country, and more importantly, CURRENT prison population patterns both on death row and as a result of the 'war on drugs' renders that search as rather illusive.

And to have a word on the Jackson-Sharpton Democratic Party-oriented leadership. In my Little Rock commentary I noted that in some ways, in this case on the standards of ‘justice’ for black people in this country, there has been little progress since that time. Yes, the question of freedom for the Six rather than ‘fairness’ is correctly posed. However, as Hurricane Katrina definitively brought to the surface, what justice, what program for black advancement has been carried through by a policy of 'toting water' for the Democrats lo these many years? What has that policy gotten the masses of black (and other people) in this country? But enough of that for now, we can fight that argument out at another time. The demand here is for justice for the Six- by any means necessary. Free the Jena Six.