Gay Rights in the Former East German Ddr

Peter Tatchell is a very admirable man; I don’t agree with all his politics, and I sometimes think he chooses the wrong targets, but he has done a fantastic job at challenging homophobia, often at personal risk; and his inspiring bravery and his preparedness to speak truth to power have helped to change for ever the public perception of gay people.

It would therefore be a shame if Peter Tatchell should be used to eclipse and write out of history the achievements of another brave gay man, Dr. Rudolf Klimmer, who successfully campaigned for anti-gay legislation to be removed from the statutes in East Germany.

We need to understand the historical context. During the 1920s there had been a robust questioning of sexual stereotypes in Weimar Germany, for example through Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld’s “Scientific-Humanitarian Committee” (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee) that campaigned for gay rights. However, Bismark’s Paragraph 175, the Prussian law from 1871 against male homosexuality, was never repealed under the Weimar Republic.

In the Nazi era, gay rights received two catastrophic reverses. Firstly, the law was made much more repressive by clause 175a, that made it a criminal offence for a man to look at another man in a “lewd manner”. This allowed the Nazis to arrest and persecute tens of thousands of people for simply “being gay”. But secondly, the Nazis thoroughly institutionalised their bigoted views in the judicial and criminal justice system, in universities, teaching hospitals and medical organisations. This consolidation of social attitudes meant that in West Germany – where de-Nazification was very shallow – law 175a was in force until 1969.

In contrast, in 1948 the Superior Court in Halle, in the Soviet Occupied Zone, struck down section 175a, removing legal sanction against people for simply being gay, 21 years before this happened in the West

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s West Germany had a conservative social culture, and homosexuals were arrested and incarcerated for breaching this law – simply for being gay. A thought crime, where people could be and were sent to prison simply for their desires and dreams. Indeed, during the 1950s in particular Church and conservative politicians in the West continually contrasted their own family based morality with what they described as sexual licence and debauchery in the East.

This was a particularly important ideological battleground, as sexual conservatism was the mainstay in the West for the state to emphasise its discontinuity with the Nazis. The Nazis had ridiculed Christian prudery, and encouraged pre-marital sex. Precisely because the West German state did not purge out leading Nazis from many government positions, and because it continued with most of the economic structures of the Nazi regime, it played greater emphasis on a return to what they saw as personal morality, and gave a leading voice to the Catholic church. The 1950s and early 1960s saw major state sponsored campaigns from the Catholic Church and CDU party against pre-marital sex, and against sexual experimentation

In the East, the economic and social reorganisation, and the thorough de-Nazification meant that the state had no need to invent differences with the Nazi era. They did however stress the sexual exploration of the Nazi era was often exploitative. In contrast, love and mutual respect were encouraged as a pre-condition for sex: in 1963 the Youth Committee of the SED issued a memorandum, responding to reports of teenagers becoming sexually active younger, in which they praised romantic love as the “path to happiness”, and encouraged parents to respect their teenage children’s rights to have loving relationships that became sexual.

The reform of law towards gay sex was led by Rudolf Klimmer, a gay man and a communist, who kept his head down during the Nazi era, marrying a lesbian for mutual self protection; and who chose to go and live in East Germany after the war. (Many gays did, due to the better legal situation there.)

Klimmer wanted not only section 175a, but also the whole of section 175 repealed. He campaigned tirelessly, gradually winning support for his position in the Party. He re-established the “Scientific-Humanitarian Committee”, and appeared as an expert witness in countless trials against people being prosecuted for consensual gay sex throughout the 1950s. He became director of a sexual counselling and health institute, on a model that was replicated in other towns in East Germany. It became a peculiarity of East German society that issues of sexual politics and relationships were debated and promoted by the medical profession, not because these are actually medical issues, but because the Doctors had the political space to do so.

Gradually, he won the party around, and in 1957, the police and prosecutors were told that there should be no more prosecutions for any consensual sexual activity between adults. Furthermore, in 1968 Statute 175 was removed completely from the statute book – meaning there was no legal prohibition against gay sex (though both gay and straight people needed to be carefully of the strictly enforced Article 151, that prohibited intergenerational sex, between someone over 18 with someone under 18). It is interesting that one of the factors which inhibited faster progress in the East was the homophobic campaigning from West Germany, depicting the DDR as immoral.

Two further issues need to be explored. Decriminalisation and legalisation did not end discrimination; and the official attitude to sexual experimentation. The question of homosexuality was part and parcel of the government’s overall attitude to all sexual activity.

These are complex areas. The SED party as a whole did not take an attitude on social and personal sexual issues. However, the leadership were themselves personally socially conservative, older men; and what is more they were very sensitive to negative international opinion about the DDR. The fact that the USSR persecuted gays to the bitter end, and that West Germany was, until perhaps the early 1970s, a conservative and sexually repressive society provided an inhibiting context.

But the party were also not opposed to sexual liberalism; which created enormous space for policy to be shaped by specialist groups, like the SED’s youth committee; by debate in the medical profession; and also just by what ordinary people did.

This last factor was very important, as we can see from one of the most characteristic aspects of East German life was nudity (Freikorpskultur (FKK)) ; with absolutely no official encouragement, from the 1960s onwards public nudity, and very commonly nudity in the home, became normal; and early municipal attempts to stop it were simply overwhelmed by the public mood. Research has shown that these second generation DDR families practising FKK had very liberal attitudes about sex.

Over issues of abortion, teen marriages and divorce, the party increasingly liberalised the law following evolution in social practice. Throughout the 1960s, medical professionals used evidence of what people actually did as a wedge to drive SED policy in a progressive direction. The push from informed expert opinion is what decided public policy.

Society was torn in two directions, and liberalism was winning, so that while Volkmar Sigush reported a puritanical attitude among party members in the 1950s, and Wolfgang Bretschneider was fighting a losing battle in the medical profession against condoning pre-martial sex; at the same time a number of guides to sex and relationships were published that encouraged people to take a relaxed and permissive attitude to sex, for example Rudolf Neubert’s “Das Neue Ehebuch” in the 1950s or the best selling book by the Weber’s “Du und Ich” in the 1960s.

Admitedly, gay sex was completely absent from the official guides and discourse (despite one mention in “Du und Ich” recommending that heterosexual women avoid marrying gay men. Which in its own terms is perhaps not bad advice). But simply ignoring the gay expereince in offical discussion of sex and relationships is not unusual even today in the West.

The official position was therefore to remove legal discrimination, but not to otherwise acknowledge that gay relationships existed. This evolved so that by the 1980s, gay social groups and clubs were able to openly organise, as long as they took the precaution of making some tenuous linkage with the Protestant churches. (Gay groups that sought to link with West German gays could expect repression, for different reasons). All the evidence is that ordinary people took a permissive view that it was a private matter between consenting adults. Towards the end of the 1980s the East German government opened a state-owned gay disco in Berlin; and in 1987 the East German Supreme Court affirmed that “homosexuality, just like heterosexuality, represents a variant of sexual behavior. Homosexual people do therefore not stand outside socialist society, and the civil rights are warranted to them exactly as to all other citizens.”

The difficulty in making comparisons is that this is all more than twenty years ago. The social attitudes in Britain and Germany have also moved in a long way since then. But generally the DDR was more progressive on liberalising attitudes to gays earlier than other European countries. The medical profession continued to promote gay rights to the very end, and indeed a happy postscript is the progressive influence of doctors from the former DDR in shifting social attitudes in Cuba.

So what about the absence of openly gay German role-models, and people in higher positions? Well, we need to acknowledge that 20 years ago these were very rare in Britain as well ; but the biggest problem was that the SED leadership were completely ossified as a bizarre club for old men. There were not even any women (except Honneker’s wife) at the top table, let alone gays. There was only one person under 40 years old in a senior leadership position in the SED, and he was only a candidate member of the politburo, in charge of the youth section!

So gays were not being discriminated by not raising to the top. No-one rose to the top. The party was a completely dysfunctional and failed institution, with no social mobility; where the senior leadership lived all together in a bizarre little village and never met anyone socially, they even had their lunchtime sandwiches together every single day. They might as well have been on the moon.

Generally, we have to say that in the area of personal sexual relationships, and respect for women as being the equals of men, then the DDR was a surprisingly innovative and successful society. It also provided both a relatively liberal attitude and legal permissiveness towards gays and lesbians at the grassroots level, but advance towards gay rights were compromised and thwarted by the general perception of any social non-conformity as political opposition. Given that the DDR collapsed in 1989 our comparators need to be with other societies in 1989 and earlier, and it is a correct judgement that the DDR was progressive in this area.

This is worth commemorating especially because the advances in gay rights were not handed down by the party leadership, but campaigned for and bravely fought for by  gay activists like Rudolf Klimmer, who used the space open for medical professionals to change public attitudes and party policy; and by thousands of gay men and lesbians who simply persevered in demanding to be treated with respect and dignity.

119 comments on “Gay Rights in the Former East German Ddr

  1. Very interesting article on a subject that really doesn’t see the light of day (gay rights and sexual freedoms in East Europe). Thank you.

  2. Corrigan on said:

    The reference to ‘de-nazification being very shallow’ in the GFR is misleading. In both the GFR and the GDR [and in Austria] people who had been obliged – ‘compelled’ would be a better word – to be members of the NSDAP or its subordinate bodies included members of the professions and such people as primary school teachers and village postal workers.

    Most were only too willing to accept the reality of political change after 1945.

    Some were, allegedly, culpable to a greater or lesser extent but most were people neither better nor worse than most of humanity.A great many successfully concealed their activities during the Hitler years.

    A recent contributor on ‘Harry’s Place’ found, and posted, a newspaper report about a woman doctor in Jena, now in her nineties, who had been both highly regarded and decorated in the GDR era and of whom it was alleged that she had taken part in the involuntary euthanasia of the retarded and mentally ill during the National Socialist period.

    In such instances, sensible people simply shrug their shoulders and accept that one should let bygones be bygones.

  3. According to Wikipedia on LGBT rights in Germany:

    “”Police force was used on numerous occasions to break up or prevent public gay and lesbian events. Centralized censorship prevented the presentation of homosexuality in print and electronic media, as well as the import of such materials.”

    Ironically, the Protestant church provided more support than the state, allowing meeting spaces and printing facilities. The Protestant Church in the GDR supported fringe groups, such as gay rights groups and punks, throughout the 1980s.”

    Celebrate Dr Rudolf Klimmer by all means but please don’t make out the the DDR was any less homophobic than the West. It’s an insult to all the LGBT’s who suffered under this repressive Stalinist regime.

  4. “In such instances, sensible people simply shrug their shoulders and accept that one should let bygones be bygones”

    eh? And what about a ninety year old woman who’s sister was murdered by this woman? what about the survivors of these ghastly policies (including those who suffered steralisation?). What if they don’t want to let ‘by-gones be by-gones’?

  5. I think its safe to say no. A far more balenced approach is provided by Gareth Dale in this months IS:

    http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=581&issue=124

    His point about the historic role of Stalinism in signaling left but tacking right seem to me to sum up whats going on here-not withstanding Andy conceding that those who ruled East Germany were a bunch of unpleasent authoritarian freaks. What he chooses to ignore is that concensus in society was built on smashing and pulverising working class organisation and struggle.

  6. Yeah… this is all a bit too much for me to be honest.

    I’ve come here regularly as I can often read fairly intelligent articles from a part of the left that I don’t agree with. But the transformation of SU into an extended aplogia for ‘really-existing socialism’ is a bit of a turn-off to say the least.

  7. Gareth Dale on said:

    Blimey, the GDR worship on this blog is nothing short of astonishing. You wouldn’t think from Andy N’s post that the situation for gays was actually less oppressive in West Germany than in the East! It’s true that after around 1968 formal legal discrimination was no longer so serious (and it’s the formal legal situation that Andy reads for reality), but the actuality was of systematic discrimination. Even the official media was forced to acknowledge this. Gays faced prejudice at work and harassment. Very few dared come out. Homosexuality was a taboo issue, and when it was raised, the authorities would clamp down. It is true, as Andy writes, that the new spaces for independent organisation in the 1980s were exploited by gays – but it meant relying on the Church for protection (because no protection came from the state). Only at the very end of the 1980s did the issue begin to open up.

    Some odd stuff has been written here on denazification too. The implication is that it was thorough in the East. Hold on. The use of the term was hypocritical in the East. It consecrated the efforts of SMAD/SED to appoint their supporters to positions of power. While it is true that over 500 000 Nazis lost their jobs in the public service, the Kaderstamm of the new arising state (particularly of VP, NVA, Mfs, but also the government bureaucracy) was formed in large part from German POWs, captured by the Soviet Army: many had been Wehrmacht officers and NSDAP members. Heinz Brandt, who as an SED functionary had an inside view, reported that these loyal soldiers were indeed favoured above ex KZ-inmates. To ease conversion, let’s not forget — with reference to earlier stuff on this blog — the Communists stressed their German nationalism. The organisation set up by German Communists in Russia to integrate German POWs (the NKFD) assured its audience of its patriotic credentials, even choosing as its colours the monarchist Scwarz Weiss Rot rather than the republican Schwarz Rot Gold. Then, in 1948, the SED made its peace with the “kleine Nazis” in the form of an amnesty; integrating them into the National Front via the creation of a party intended specially for them, the NDPD. The SED justified this step by declaring that the recent election failure of the Austrian CP had been due to its “Anti Nazismus” which had “die Masse der kleinen Nazis abgestossen und sich damit von der Bevoelkerung isoliert.” The NPDP sought to attract these layers by means of aggressive nationalist rhetoric: in the first edition of its “National Zeitung” it called for struggle “gegen die Verraeter an der deutschen Sache”!! By stressing the flaws in the supposed antifascism of the SED, lest I be misunderstood, in no way implies the Entnazifizierung was less thorough than on the other bank of the Elbe. The extra large dose of hypocrisy in the DDR came not from the extent of the deeds, but from the way in which “antifascism” was elevated to an official ideology with which subsequently to justify all manner of policies, including the blanket repression of resistance and the building of a Wall that was designed to restore the rate of exploitation at the expense of the freedom to move of citizens under pensionable age.

  8. Charles Dexter Ward on said:

    The GDR’s long gone and entirely unlamented, so who on earth gives a shit?

  9. martin on said:

    Its precisely because the DDR is long gone that the shit is being stirred. Andy has appeared to launch a Stalinist revisionist offensive on this Blog, with extracts from the Chinese Communist Party press releases praising China and an astonishing ‘defence’ of the DDR as a ‘Workers state’ His aim, I strongly presume, is to appeal for a perspective which emphasises ‘socialsism from above’ rather than ‘socialism from below’. Thats equivalent to saying goodbye and good riddance to the self-emancipation of the working class and hello to top down authoritarianism of a failing social democratic project.

  10. Gareth Dale: “the building of a Wall that was designed to restore the rate of exploitation…”

    What on earth are you talking about?

    Are you claiming that there was a secret class of East German capitalist company owners, raking in their multi-millions from profits derived from the labour of workers in the GDR?

    If so, please tell us.

  11. Charles Dexter Ward: “The GDR’s long gone and entirely unlamented”

    “Entirely”… except among the people who live in Eastern Germany.

    According to Der Spiegel (hardly a bastion of pro-GDR journalism:

    Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism

    Glorification of the German Democratic Republic is on the rise two decades after the Berlin Wall fell. Young people and the better off are among those rebuffing criticism of East Germany as an “illegitimate state.” In a new poll, more than half of former eastern Germans defend the GDR.

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,634122,00.html

  12. Gareth Dale on said:

    Noah. The proportion of the surplus appropriated by the owners of the means of production shot up after 1961. That received by workers went down.

  13. Gareth Dale on said:

    But you’re right, Noah, that against the bleak present, nostalgia for the GDR is likely to be rising. Nothing surprising about that. (See e.g. my article on “Ostalgie” in Debatte, a few years ago.)

  14. THe views of those criticising the GDR and other socialist states are entirely subjective, overtly cynical and totally hostile to socialism. The propaganda of the west has succeeded in demonising countries such as the GDR so much that anyone such as Andy who is quite accurately and correctly setting the record straight is accused of being a “Stalinist”! A hoary old term that the perpetrators of do not even understand (and neither do I)
    The GDR was a socialist state under siege from the imperialists from day one of its existence. It did not receive a dollar in aid from the US unlike Western Germany, (where former Nazis held top posts). The GDR fulfilled all its treaties to de nazify unlike the West.
    Life in the GDR was far more fulfilling than in the West. There was equality, especially for women, no one was homeless, no one was without work,there were fine universities, education was free, holidays were good and culture was promoted. I met a group of students from the GDR in the late sixties who were not brainwashed zombies. They were extremely aware, educated and happy. They told me that although they lacked much of the material possessions of western youth they preferred the GDR for its lack of self interest, greed and materialism. They had free education, many night clubs, youth clubs, sports facilities all run by themselves. Those who can’t wait to condemn the socialist GDR stay silent about the crimes committed against it by the Western powers.

  15. Gareth Dale #15: “The proportion of the surplus appropriated by the owners of the means of production shot up after 1961. That received by workers went down.”

    Except that all industry was public property. There was no separate class of capitalist owners. So any increase in the surplus left over after wages are paid went into improved public services & benefits, or better infrastructure & industrial equipment.

    Either way, not such a bad thing.

  16. If the current British left are happy to heap blanket criticism on the GDR, why are we still advocating similar policies for Britain now?

  17. What i wrote: “Decriminalisation and legalisation did not end discrimination”

    How gareth responds: “It’s true that after around 1968 formal legal discrimination was no longer so serious (and it’s the formal legal situation that Andy reads for reality), but the actuality was of systematic discrimination”

    Now it simply is the case that during the 1950s and 1960s discrimination against gays was worse in West germany than in East germany.

    And, of course discrimination against gays continued after formal legalisation – that is certainly our experience in Britain; including police harrassment, beatings, discrimination at work.

    It is simply incredible that you consider the legalisation of gay sex unimportant, because this was an important milestone in challnging homophboia in wider society.

    Now, it may well be the case that there was less homophobia in West germany by the 1980s than there was in the East;,but evolving social atttitudes from the mass of the populaton and how that is reflected in the police harassment etc; are not simplistically the result of government policy. Indeed as i have written about previously, there were high levels of racism in East germany, despite sincere offical anti-racism at the top.

  18. “The GDR’s long gone and entirely unlamented, so who on earth gives a shit?” – C D Ward. I have long noticed that the “smug liberal” tendency seem to have a completely cavalier attitude to history. The GDR provided the formative experiences for about a quarter of all Germans over the age of around 30. It was a society in which the population developed its own culture, it own ways of living and interacting – together with, bypassing, and in opposition to, the official structures. The fact that the state was ultimately unviable does not mean that the whole experience can just be written off. The phenomenon of Ostalgie is at least in part a reaction to the way that BRD institutions, ways of doing things and culture were imposed on the East. The GDR was certainly an authoritarian, relatively inefficient siege economy, but that does not mean that we should not recognise progressive features like a comparatively enlightened attitude to sexuality.

  19. Anonymous on said:

    “one mention in “Du und Ich” recommending that heterosexual women avoid marrying gay men. Which in its own terms is perhaps not bad advice”
    The “perhaps” is your get-out clause but this comment seems to me pretty homophobic (as does the advice) but I’m sure if Tatchell comes on here he’ll do a better job than me of demolishing this.
    Apologies for the anonymity but nobody knows me anyway!

  20. Speaking of societies which some parts of the left, to widespread revulsion, insist are progressive, Iran currently sure could use a Klimmer or a Tatchell. They probably have had such but for their efforts they were probably publicly hung from a crane.

  21. I would agree with every word in the article that reads, “Peter Tatchell is a very admirable man; I don’t agree with all his politics, and I sometimes think he chooses the wrong targets, but he has done a fantastic job at challenging homophobia, often at personal risk; and his inspiring bravery” i.e. attempting to undertake a citizen’s arrest on that tyrant Mugabe, and getting beaten by that thug’s goons.

    So I find it strange that there may be some implied criticism of him in the article, related to the linked article that he wrote on ‘Harry’s Place’.

    That article is a very interesting account of excellent (and brave) work, by him and others, raising gay rights in the face of thuggery of both German and British Stalinists in 1973. If only those to the Left of Peter had the gumption, planning and personal bravery that was displayed by Peter then.

  22. Southpawpunch #25

    No criticism intended against Peter, i think his action at trying to commemorate gay victims at sachsenhausen was admirable.

    My complaint was with harry’s Place using it out of context.

  23. #10

    This gareth dale is a funny bloke, it is a bit like he is showing off, ,quoting large chunks of facts, without incoporporating it into an argument or an analysis.

    He argues that de-Nazification was hypocritical in the East, and by implication not much more thorough than in the west.

    And he then gives some examples of the SED taking a pragmatic approach to former low level nazis, and people who had patriotic sentiments.

    This is very poor argument on his part, becasue he omits from his account a comparison with West germnay where very senior nazis continued right at the centre of Adenaeur’s government; and he also omits how there was a thorough restructuring in society in the East that systematically smashed the power bases of the former nazis. It simply is the case that de-nazification was thorough in the East, but naturally they inherted a population that had had several years ofo Nazi experience, the Nazis were a mass party, and the majority of the population identified positively with the Nazi regime during the war years. Working to have some sort of reconciliation and rehabilitation of low level nazis was inevitable.

    Gareth also seems to subscribe to the SWP’s unique definition of “nationalism”, which holds that everyone but the most demented trots are “nationalist”. We have discussed before on this web-site the exellent contribution to marxist theory from gregori Dimitrov, who stressed how progressive aspects of national culture and history could be used as a reinforcement for anti-facsist ideology. Hence it would be entirely correct for the SED that building a better germany under socialism was able to draw upon specifically German qualities and traditions that Germans are roghtly proud of. That in not “nationalism” that is internationalism based upon pride in your own culture, and mutual respect for other people’s cultures.

  24. #15

    Gareth: “Noah. The proportion of the surplus appropriated by the owners of the means of production shot up after 1961. That received by workers went down.”

    Well the owners of the means of production was the state, so it is hard to know what gareth is getting at here.

    there seems to be a deep confusion of categories, whereby gareth believes that accumulated social wealth in the forms of the means of production, machinery factories, planes, ships and buildings etc, is by definition “capital”. Whereas in fact capital is a social category, dependent upon the system of wage labour whereby workers sell their labour power as a commodity , and surplus value is expropriated by the owner of capital, but this requires that to realise that capital commodities mst be traded and exchanged.

    Now if the workers as citizens of the state are owners of the means of production, and their labour power is not traded as a commodity, and there is no exchange based upon the market, then by definition we do not have capitalism.

    So we have to ask, is accumulating social wealth in the from of expanding the means of production a form of explotation? Clearly not, as the expanded power of production benefits the whole of society, including the working classes.

    For example, there was huge investemtn in a fleet of deep sea trawlers (investment that was sadly made redundant once many nations extended their territorial waters to 200 miles). In the West, the owners of that fleet would have had it on their balance sheet as fixed capital, they would have traded fish for the market price they could get for it, and they could at any time divest themselves of that capital and take the money to invest in something else.

    In East germany the fleet belonged to the whole of society, and put fish on people’s tables.

    So building a fleet of trawlers was not exploitation of the working class, it was self-help by the working class empowering themselves to diversify their diet.

    You have to ask, how gareth’s argument squares with the fact that working class living standards in the DDR were higher in 1989 than they were in 1961.

  25. #10

    Gareth Dale: “You wouldn’t think from Andy N’s post that the situation for gays was actually less oppressive in West Germany
    than in the East! ”

    Dagmar Herzog, author of “East germany’s sexual evolution”: “In 1957, the SED quietly instructed police and judges no longer to prosecute or imprison adult men engaged in consenual homosexual activity, and this certainly marked an important contrast to the ongoing coordinated criminalisation, replete with police raids and prison sentances in West Germany” in “Socialist Modern, Betts and Pence editors.

  26. The predominant editorial policy here at the moment is 100% for Labour and nostalgia for Stalinism. That’s weird in 2009.

  27. # 20

    John Green’s ‘Morning Star’ article is 100% right.

    The same hasty privatisation, followed by closures and dereliction, can be seen in Romania and Bulgaria.

    In the former USSR, productive industries collapsed entirely, with the men turning into pitiable drunks and the young women disappearing to work as bar hostesses, or worse, in Greece and Turkey and Dubai.

  28. Uncle Joe on said:

    More excellent work from Andy N and his tankie epigones.

    “Backwards to socialism, comrades!”

  29. Karl Stewart on said:

    The term “Tankie” is utterly meaningless – what on earth are you trying to say by the use of this phrase?
    And likewise the term “Stalinist” is simply used by people who are unable to explain their arguments.
    In 1956, the majority of world communist movement addressed the crimes of the Stalin period, condemned his crimes and the associated personality cult.
    Andy has also consistently condemned Stalin’s crimes and the personality cult – as do communists.
    So aside from this, what do people actually mean when they use this phrase?

  30. I find it hard to believe that the GDR was ever liberal in any respect. At Woodcraft International Camps most of the groups of adolescents from the Soviet Bloc were relatively free to mix with others. Two exceptions: those from the USSR (watched every minute), and those from the GDR.

    Still, when is Socialist Unity going to publish on the Soviet Union? A little birdie says that that too is long overdue a makeover.

    See: http://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/socialist-unity-from-soviet-union-to-the-gdr-and-the-peoples-republic-of-china/

  31. #34 There was a similar position in our student hostel in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. It was the most cosmopolitan place imaginable, we hung around with Afghans, Algerians, Bulgarians, Ethiopians, Hungarians, Poles, as well as students from all over the USSR. The one group that would have almost nothing to do with the British students was the (large) East German contingent. This was clearly a matter of policy, rather than simple aversion, as we were an amiable bunch and many of us could speak German.

    It’s not hard to see the reason: unlike the other nation-states of Eastern Europe, which had a national basis, the GDR was entirely a product of the Cold War. Its very existence depended on the maintenance of the frozen post-war settlement in Europe. The siege mentality was not an accidental feature of the GDR – it was an absolutely essential feature, the main basis of its entire raison d’etat. Once the Cold War ended, the state was doomed.

    That is not to say that some good things were not done in the besieged fortress that was the GDR. Wartime siege economies have often been quite good from a welfare point of view, as a brief study of the history of health care in Britain shows – or, for that matter, a study of that prototype of the 20th-century European siege economy, World War One Germany…

  32. Tankie refers to the support given to tanks being sent into eastern europe from the soviet union, from 1956 to 1968. It also refers to the belief that socialism could be inaugerated by the arrival of Soviet military forces as opposed to revolutions made by the working class.

    The term stalinist is used to describe the social system that emerged from the stalin era, and its continued use signifies disagreement that kruschev’s speech was in any way a systematic critique of that social system.

    Rather it was an attempt to blame everything on an individual. Hence it is unsurprising that those who do not accept that Stalinist system changed its spots on the basis of a speech by one of its leaders, persist in using the term.

  33. #33

    Karl Stewart should familiarise himself with what happened in the Warsaw Pact countries in the 32 years between 1956 and the collapse of the so-called ‘Communist’ regimes.

    One assumes he reads; all that’s necessary is to pick on just ONE of the Warsaw Pact countries and do a week’s sustained reading.

    In Bulgaria, for example, people had no real liberty and there was a literal ‘Iron Curtain’ manned around the clock to prevent unauthorised departure.

  34. Karl Stewart on said:

    But JohnG, the use of military force by the Soviet Union did not begin in 1956.
    The revolution itself in 1917, the civil war, the intervention in Poland, the defeat of the Kronstadt rebellion, the defeat of the Nazi invasion were all examples of military action.
    If those actions were right and justified, why are the two particular actions of 1956 and 1968 wrong?
    And you don’t define what you mean by “Stalinism” other than to describe it as the system under Stalin.
    The system did change after the communist movement addressed, faced up to and condemned Stalin’s crimes and the personality cult. The type of murderous and lunatic purges of 1935 onwards didn’t happen again. When Kruschev was voted out of power, for example, he wasn’t tried and prosecuted and shot. Collective leadership returned to the Soviet Union and became, once again, the communist norm.
    Personality cults of the Stalin type did occur elsewhere of course, in Mao’s China, and to an extent in Albania and Romania, and of course worst of all in North Korea, but these were outside of and opposed by the mainstream communist movement and were opposed by the Soviet leadership.
    To argue that nothing changed in the Soviet Union from the mid-1950s is in my view simply wrong.
    I think “Stalinism” could perhaps describe those maverick leaderships – Mao, Kim Il Sung/Jong Il, Ceaucescu/ Hoxha – but it cannot define a whole social/economic system.

  35. Karl Stewart on said:

    And Billy, yes I’m aware that the former Soviet Union and the former socialist bloc of nations were commonly referred to as “Iron Curtain” countries.

  36. # 41

    These days one can walk along the Greek – Bulgarian border and guess how much wire, concrete and steel – and effort – was put into erected hundreds of miles of a barrier mainly intended to keep Bulgarians safely coralled in Bulgaria and how that material and effort could have been put to far better uses.

  37. gareth dale on said:

    On point 27. Andy, yes, I was cutting and pasting too much text from my books plus unpublished stuff from way back. But the reason wasn’t, as you think, to show off. Rather, it seemed to b a debate worth intervening in, but one in which the very few people involved had very entrenched positions. So I didn’t want to spend much time responding, and cutting and pasting was a way round that. (It’s the first time I’ve heard of this blog, so perhaps I’m wrong — perhaps it does have lots of readers without entrenched positions; if I’m wrong, too bad.)

  38. Karl Stewart on said:

    How are things in Bulgaria now Billy?
    Is that steel and concrete being put to better use?

  39. The steel, poor as it may be, is thieved by Roma* every chance they get.

    The concrete poured by crooked contractors in league with crooked politicians crumbles like almond icing at the first frost and in a year or two it looks like it has suffered sustained mortar fire; the immense oblong parade-ground of Ploshtad Svoboda in the City of Dobrich is a fine example.

    Enough said?

    * Expressing sentiments of this sort here is called “antiziganism”

  40. non-partisan on said:

    38 * But JohnG, the use of military force by the Soviet Union did not begin in 1956.
    The revolution itself in 1917, the civil war, the intervention in Poland, the defeat of the Kronstadt rebellion, the defeat of the Nazi invasion were all examples of military action.
    If those actions were right and justified, why are the two particular actions of 1956 and 1968 wrong?

    Get a grip karl, you can’t seriously be arguing that because the revolutionary govt dfended itself from 1917 on through the civil war, then every subsequent use of military force is the same? so HUngary 1956? (just one example)

    And you don’t define what you mean by “Stalinism” other than to describe it as the system under Stalin.
    The system did change after the communist movement addressed, faced up to and condemned Stalin’s crimes and the personality cult. The type of murderous and lunatic purges of 1935 onwards didn’t happen again. When Kruschev was voted out of power, for example, he wasn’t tried and prosecuted and shot. Collective leadership returned to the Soviet Union and became, once again, the communist norm.

    Salinism refers not just to the system under Stalin, but to all the states who’s economies were socilaised, but where poltical and economic control was vested in a brueacracy, developed as an anti revolutionary force first by Stalin (hence the shorthand name ) but then spread through the geographic conquest of land subsequent to the defeat of facism, and politically through stalinised communist parties around the globe. stalinism, is shorthand for ‘bureacratic control’ and this is why it is used to describe an anti democratic political practice in the labour movement coming from the CP or not.

    To argue that nothing changed in the Soviet Union from the mid-1950s is in my view simply wrong.

    I don’t think anyone would argue that nothing changed from the 50′s, but what i do think a lot of people would argue is that the bureaucracy remained in control until the collapse of the SU, people like Putin and other EE leaders who were once part of the bureaucracy now happily act in the interests of Capital- a bit strange for ‘members of the mainstream communist movement’ don’t you think?

  41. Armchair on said:

    #45 The problem you have with refering to the revolution defending itself in one breath and “anti-democratric practices” in another is that democracy was being systematically eroded long before Stalin consolidated his control over the apparatus, and precisely in the name of the revolution defending itself.

  42. kenneth on said:

    BRAVO # 47 SUPER MUSIC AND SLIDESHOW OF THE OLD GDR !

    PURE BEAUTIFUL TEAR-JERKING ‘OSTALGIE’

    It’s a pity that the young lady shown at 0:50 was NOT the youthful Angela Merkel in her FDJ uniform

  43. Billy #44: “The steel, poor as it may be, is thieved by Roma* every chance they get [...] Expressing sentiments of this sort here is called “antiziganism” ”

    Sure. ‘Antiziganism’ is the attempt to foist the blame for the appalling social consequences of the re-introduction of capitalism in E. Europe onto the the Roma people. And your point is…?

  44. # 48

    No, Noah, no !

    The Roma in Greece and Spain have equal difficulty about trying to remember what belongs to whom.

    Actually I rather admire and envy them, despite the loss of a fairly new bicycle 2 years ago.

  45. To be perfectly cynical, the term “Stalinism” is chiefly used by people who like Bolshevism but don’t like its consequences. It serves to delineate the “good” Bolshevism of Lenin (or Lenin-and-Trotsky, according to taste) from the “bad” Bolshevism of Stalin and his successors. It allows them to romanticise 1917, with all its drama and heroism, while disassociating themselves from the grim reality of what actually happens in a country torn apart by revolution and civil war. This attitude existed in both Trotskyist and eurocommunist variants, only the former seems to remain today.

  46. Billy #49: “The Roma in Greece and Spain have equal difficulty about trying to remember what belongs to whom. Actually I rather admire and envy them, despite the loss of a fairly new bicycle 2 years ago”

    Clearly, hostility to the Roma people (of which you seem to be a rather active exponent) is not confined to Eastern Europe.

    Nor is bicycle theft a specific proclivity of the Roma. I have on two occasions been the victim of cycle thievery; both times in areas where there was zero Roma population.

    No doubt you are entrenched in your racist opinions and are thereby immune to either facts or argument. But nevertheless, the following must be said:-

    1) The E. European socialist countries, although their policies were far from perfect, did achieve a relationship between the Roma and the other ethnic groups which was far better than that of the succeeding capitalist regimes;

    2) It was not the Roma who put East European industry, and the workers in those plants, onto the scrapheap. It was the US and W. European capitalists, & their E. European proteges.

  47. 49 and 51 – the bicycle was nicked in Selo Pobeda, outside Dobrich. Enough said. Eyewitnesses credited one juvenile member of a local Roma clan from the Selo Pobeda ‘Mahala’.

    The clan has now gone [partly] legit and opened up a scrapyard.

    There was a joke ‘Albturist’ slogan in Italy: ‘Come to Albania; Your car’s already here’ – probably the same can be said about Selo Pobeda, although the scrapyard management DO insist on seeing some documentation..

  48. On changes in the post-Stalin period, here’s one I made earlier on the Tomb:

    For the orthodox Communist movement the Krushchev speech marked the over-turning of the “errors” of the Stalin period and the resumption of the road towards Socialism.

    For the non-Stalinist left it was simply an episode in the crisis of the Stalinist system, rapidly followed by tanks on the streets of Budapest, the Soviet-Chinese rift, and the subsequent unravelling of the myth of a monolithic world Communist movement.

    The Maoists believed that this was the product of the “revisionism” which begun with Krushchev and that the way foward lay in a return to the verities of the Stalin period.

    The non-Stalinist left, on the contrary, saw the seeds of this disintergration in the contradictions of the system which developed under Stalin: as opposed to, as Kruschev and Mao in their different ways did, refusing to develop an analyses of the kind of society this was, and attributing all problems to individual leaders: a rather neat trick which posited its own solution: better leaders, ie them.

    The working class did not figure in such an analyses, featuring only in May Day parades and interminably dull speeches: when it was not suffering vicious repression and being calumied as ‘fascist’ or ‘revisionist’ if it ever articulated any of its own demands.

    Hence the witty joke reputed to have been made by workers in Budapest in 1956: “the 20,000 aristocrats and fascists of the engineering works strike on”

    In terms of the British Communist movement the British Road to Socialism was a Stalinist document through and through, and provided the one unifying thread between that wing of the Communist Party that wanted to signal left by demonstrating its loyalty to the Soviet Union, and tack right in all practical matters of domestic politics, and those who began to think that signaling left might be a barrier to the successful achievement of that “British Road to Socialism”.

    The movement had a considerable future in front of itself after 1968, but as 1956 was to the Stalinist states in their entirety so was 1968 to the Communist movement in western Europe.

    On the one side the myth of a monolithic global communist movement disintergrating, on the other side the emergence of different kinds of Marxism associated with the new left, meant that inevitably the Communist movement would go into crisis. And this crisis pre-dated the collapse of the Soviet Union by decades.

  49. David G on said:

    The international Communist movement has indeed been in a period of recurring crises going back over 50 years or so. Yet when around 80 Communist and workers parties hold their next annual meeting, in Delhi in November, any one of about a dozen parties there will have more party members than all the Trotskyist groups in the world put together, some of them ten or 20 times more. And I’m not counting any of the parties in power.
    I can understand why the likes of johng are so keen to go on about “Stalinist” crises, failures, betrayals etc. But a sense of proportion about the utter irrelevance of organised Trotskyism around the world might come in handy. He and other anti-Communists here might like to consider why crisis-hit Communist parties are still far bigger and more influential than the sects which have spent 50 years trying to feed off their mistakes, weaknesses and set-backs. Organised Trotskyism has been one long crisis. Fortunately, this has had no impact on the workers’ and peasants’ movements in most countries, who have never found Trotskyist dogma, strategy or tactics to be of any value. Why is this? Any thoughts, johng and company? How about some modesty and reflection for a change?

  50. Plenty of thoughts on this. One of the attractions of Stalinist politics in developing countries was that they provided a model for rapid economic development in societies where the legacy of imperialism meant that this remained a key task for large sections of the population, and a particularly attractive model for the middle class which in such countries tends to play a disproportionate role in politics. Even with the disintergration of the official Communist movement in western countries, in the countries of the global south there remains a space for this kind of politics which does not exist here.

    It remains the case however that precisely the same fissures, if expressed differently, charecterise these mass parties (which are far larger then any radical left parties in western countries). So the Sino-Soviet split continues to define the internal relations of a host of Communist Parties.

    In India the Communist movement is split between the CPI(M), the CPI, and different, often mutually hostile Maoist groups, who remain wedded to the belief that armed struggle is crucial strategic task they confront (although internally there has been much friction).

    Of late in Bengal Maoists and the CPI(M) have been engaging in mutual fraticide following what was percieved to be the implementation of neo-liberal policies modelled on the Chinese model by the CPI(M).

    The left in that country is therefore in deep crisis. Its a crisis which has a different shape and revolves around different issues to the crisis here, but as so often, the search for pastures greener is a mistake.

    The further away somewhere is the easier it is to ignore the problem. The legacy of Stalinism hangs like a cloud over activists and militants the world over. Reading through left journals today in India is like reliving the crisis of 1956.

  51. James Smith on said:

    johng

    What news of the Naxalites these days?

    Occasionally we hear that they comtrol rural areas in 10 or 15 States between dusk and dawn and then there’s no news for months.

  52. #42

    ” it seemed to b a debate worth intervening in, but one in which the very few people involved had very entrenched positions. So I didn’t want to spend much time responding, and cutting and pasting was a way round that. (It’s the first time I’ve heard of this blog, so perhaps I’m wrong — perhaps it does have lots of readers without entrenched positions; if I’m wrong, too bad.)”

    Well my stats show that about 4000 people read that particular debate, and about 20 particiated in posting comments. It depends on what relative value you place on the 20 compared to the 4000.

  53. Karl Stewart on said:

    So no definition of “Stalinism” then JohnG.
    It’s just shorthand for “stuff I don’t like.”

  54. JohnG, whilst it is perfectly fine for you to emphasise your differences with other political traditions. It seems to me that, at least with respect to Maoism, you’ve mischaracterised those positions somewhat.

    The Maoists believed that this was the product of the “revisionism” which begun with Krushchev and that the way foward lay in a return to the verities of the Stalin period.

    Pretty much immediately this is wrong. Whilst it is evident that Mao and Maoists were in some sense supportive of Stalin and the Stalin period, it is also true that they were vocally critical of a whole host of different policies in this period. So, the obvious thing to note is the characterisation of the Stalin period as being ’70 percent correct’ and the numerous criticisms contained in e.g. ‘Critique of Stalin’s Economic Problems of Socialism’ and the ‘Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’.

    Given this, and given the very different approach that the CCP took towards various things (e.g. the peasantry) to characterise the position as being in one in favour of a return to the ‘verities of the Stalinist period’. There is clearly a more positive appraisal of this period than you would give it, but there is also no uncritical call to return to it.

    The non-Stalinist left, on the contrary, saw the seeds of this disintergration in the contradictions of the system which developed under Stalin: as opposed to, as Kruschev and Mao in their different ways did, refusing to develop an analyses of the kind of society this was, and attributing all problems to individual leaders: a rather neat trick which posited its own solution: better leaders, ie them.

    With regard to Mao it seems to me that again this isn’t true for a whole bunch of reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, Mao himself (and more strongly several Maoist theorists located in the Europe and America) posit that some of the problem of degeneration began in the Stalin period, and so argue that Khruschev is the result (and continuation) of certain problematic tendencies from the Stalin period.

    Secondly, the argument is not that things are about ‘individual leaders’. Schematically (and this idea developed), the idea is that during the transition period class struggle takes place within the communist party. This is because owing to the contradictions of a transitional state certain elements of the party of able to constitute themselves as a priveleged stratum, their relationship to state property is thus somewhat transformed, such that they constitute some variant of the bourgeoisie. The point is that Khruschev accelerated this process because he was a member of, and acting in the interests of this line.

    This also renders problematic your claim that:

    The working class did not figure in such an analyses, featuring only in May Day parades and interminably dull speeches: when it was not suffering vicious repression and being calumied as ‘fascist’ or ‘revisionist’ if it ever articulated any of its own demands.

    Because of course it does. The ‘revisionist’ problem is a manifestation of class struggle – a class struggle that finds itself located within the party. Also, turning to the Great Proletarian Cultural (people tend to leave this out) Revolution; whilst one can characterise it how one likes, it terms of analysis this seems to go against what you are saying. Class struggle from below was seen as the solution to the growth of the bourgeoisie within the party.

    On the one side the myth of a monolithic global communist movement disintergrating, on the other side the emergence of different kinds of Marxism associated with the new left, meant that inevitably the Communist movement would go into crisis. And this crisis pre-dated the collapse of the Soviet Union by decades.

    This does seem to conviniently efface the strong Maoist current within the new left.

    I often find this hostility to Maoism on the theoretical level on the part of state-caps to be odd, given that Maoists of course subscribe to some variant of this – even if the specifics are different and the point of transformation is located somewhere different.

  55. Karl,

    interesting question what “Stalinism” is. As opposed to being a scare word for anything people don’t like.

    I think that for me, the defining characteristic of Stalinised parties was the leader cult, combined with an aspiration to acheive political homogeneity within the party around a very text orientated official cannon of orthodoxy; i.e the creation of an almost faith like belief system which filtered reality.

    Incidently, perhaps the most theoretical justification of the leader cult was Tony Cliff’s Lenin volume 1, “Building the Party”.

  56. Karl Stewart on said:

    Good points Andy, I think I’d broadly agree with your definition, criteria which would include Mao’s regime and those of Ceacescu, Hoxha and Il Sung/Jong Il.
    Interestingly, your definition also includes the regimes of the various organisations which today still worship the Trotsky cult.
    They have more in common than they realise.

  57. Karl: “They have more in common than they realise.” Spot on. To paraphrase one of the protagonists, Stalinism and Trotskyism are not antipodes, but twins.

  58. The Stuart King is Dead on said:

    Stalinism is the placing of the interests of the apparatus above the movement. The subordination of means to ends. It is a police mentality juxtaposed to workers and party democracy. It is the only legal faction. It is the most counter-revolutionary philosophy in the workers movement. It is the butcher of the revolution. It is bureaucracy. It is death.

    It is the negation of Bolshevism and internationalism and Trotskyism is its implacable enemy.

  59. #67 – Your first paragraph is true enough. But those criticisms were made of Bolshevism as a whole by the Mensheviks and SRs, much earlier, and with much greater intellectual coherence than Trostky could muster. Why should anyone seek to learn about workers’ democracy from the man responsible for the butchery at Astrakhan’ and Kronstadt, to name but two of the better-known episodes in Trotsky’s civil war career?

  60. #68

    I think that while the criticisms in this early period, by the Mensheviks, SRs, and of course many others from Bertrand Russell to Kark Kauskey, and even Rose Luxenburg carry a lot of weight; they are general to the whole tribe of different “leninisms” .

    I think that the specific development that charactarised Stalinism as a distinct departure was the leader cult, and in its various national variants as well, for example the attempt to create a cult around Tom mann by the CPGB.

    The significance of the leader cult was that this was a person largely stripped of personal baggage, whose life was presented utterly dedicated to the cause of the party, and as such embodied in human form the party, giving the institution of the organisation an almost messianic teleological role. Because the party, in this world view, represents an indispensible agency for human progress, and becasue the leader personifies the party, then to be oppositionist within the party and to disagree with the leader is to stand against human progress – this is a powerful stigmatisation for anyone challenging the consensus within the party, and makes it very difficult to argue against the prevailing orthodoxy; it also makes it very hard to persuade the party about facts that contradict the current line.

    The big tragedies were the Ukraine famine of the early 1930s, the Chinese famine of 1959 to 1961, and the ignoring by Stalin of warning signs of Hitelr’s invasion; where the party simply refusued to acknowledge utter failure and failed to change course. For example, the CPSU’s myth of kulaks hoarding grain and only pretending to be starving in the Ukraine, or mao’s beleif that there were millions of tonnes more rice in the warehouses then were actully there.

    the little echoes and ripples, more farce than tragedy, are the somersaults that today’s Trotskyist groups go through to twist reality to prove that the party line is correct

  61. rob’s point at #63 about the Cultural Revolution misses something that I think’s critical about Maoism – the displacement of the real working class in favour of the virtual. Class struggle, in the Maoist sense, came to be what Mao’s supporters did (a moral category), rather than what flesh-and-blood workers actually did. So students and school students criticising/attacking their teachers was class struggle, but workers striking for hiogher wages or against poor working conditions were a black tide of economism.

  62. I think one of the most insightful descriptions of Stalin’s role is the one supposedly given by Stalin himself, when asked by his old mother what his position actually entailed:
    “Mother, you remember the Tsar in the old days?”
    “Why yes, of course I do!”
    “Well, it’s a bit like that.”

  63. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    Francis King’s point at #52 is true enough. There was the Cheka, the Red Terror etc. as early as 1918. I see this as inevitable – the stresses and strains of revolution and the threat of counter-revolution, plus developing civil war, are almost inevitably going to produce that. There is a world of difference between the Bolsheviks of 1918 and the rather gormless young people shouting outside Labour’s conference.

    I don’t see how “Stalinism” and Trotskyism can be twins, however. Twins implies equal size and significance. The former -ism refers to state power, sometimes in very large and powerful countries, and also to mass parties, sometimes even in countries where state power was not achieved. The latter refers to a bunch of small sects. Trotskyists fail to become proper tyrants because they are insignificant and have never achieved state power, not because they are nicer or more democratic.

  64. #70

    But chjh, would it not be true that today’s Trotskyist groups operate an abstract conception of the working class as well?

    in particular this is evident in the extra-historical almost magical significance granted to “workers democracy” or change “from below”; not only does this raise whole numbers of questions about who exactly is involved in this democracy, when most people simply want to get on with their lives without constant politicall activism; but the idea that being “more democratic” somehow addresses the material constraints and pressures that have often created the distortions and negative features of actually existing socialist societies is highly problematic.

    Certainly within the Trotskist movement we have the same substitutionist appraoch, and we don’t neen to necessaily look to James p cannons and the “stuggle for a proletarian party”, arguably the conceit that the SWP represented the “working class politics” in Respect is slightly ludicrous; and suggest that it was not actuall class position, but your nominal self-belief about your own politics that decided that your were the “working class ” element, and the mianly working class bengalis supporting George galloway in Tower hamlets somehow were “right wing witch-hunters”.

  65. Armchair on said:

    Why does anyone persist in talking about a “trotskyist movement”?

    It simply doesn’t exist.

    I challenge any of the trot-baiters who post regularly on this blog to point to one policy that you don’t like of a “trotskyist” group where you won’t find another “trotskyist ” group taking a different if not opposite position.

    It’s actually more pointless than calling people “stalinists”.

  66. Armchair on said:

    Mark VS- if you think all the horrors of the Cheka and the Red Terror were ineviatable, and there are no lessons to be learned that can stop them from being repeated, then my sentiment, and I think that of most resasonable sensible people is “let’s not bother.”

    I believe, fortunately, that there are lessons to be learned.

  67. David G on said:

    I asked johng and other self-appointed “anti-Stalinists” to take a break from their incessant anti-Communism and anti-Sovietism and reflect upon the permanent crisis, dismal failure and – in most countries – utter irrelevance of organised Trotskyism. And to do so with just a little sense of perspective and humility.
    All johng could manage was yet more anti-Communism, this time in relation to India and the division between the orthodox Communist movement and Maoism.
    Whatever the divisions in India, Nepal, the Phillipines etc. my point still stands. Despite all the mistakes, crises and ‘betrayals’ of so-called Stalinism, which johng and co. can bang on about till the cows come home, both the orthodox Communist and the Maoist parties in these countries are many times bigger, and involved in struggle on an infinitely larger scale, than the Trotskyist movement which – we are invited to believe – alone possesses the light, the truth and the way. And the same is true for most other countries around the world.
    I have some sympathy with Armchair’s point, though. There are many competing sects claiming the Trotskyist inheritance, with conflicting positions on just about every question. This does make it a little incongruous to talk of organised Trotskyism as such, as though it were a movement. I just wanted to allow johng and others as wide a choice as possible when pointing to any Trotskyist group within that spectrum that they might claim as having any sigificance to match that of dozens of the word’s Communist Parties, almost any one of which is bigger and more influential than all the world’s Trotskyist organisations combined.
    I make that point not to dismiss Trotskyist groups in, say, Britain or France. Merely to indicate why a sense of proportion and modesty might be in order when castigating the crises and failures of ‘Stalinism’ – while skating over the permanent crisis and extreme marginality of Trotskyism.

  68. “Pretty much immediately this is wrong. Whilst it is evident that Mao and Maoists were in some sense supportive of Stalin and the Stalin period, it is also true that they were vocally critical of a whole host of different policies in this period”

    Well maybe so but anyone who has waded through dense indecipharable diatribes about ‘revisionism’ will know that they believed that the Soviet Union went over to the imperialist camp with Kruschev’s speech. Actually the term ‘belief’ is somewhat problematical as its hard to know whether the relationship of the cadre to these texts is captured by anything as straightfoward. Awe-inspiringly tedious I guess would be mine.

    Which is of course why the idea that a theory of state capitalism emerging from such a corpus would have the slightest thing to do with a theory of state capitalism which dealt with social relations is somewhat absurd.

    It was, I guess, somewhat in line with the more mainstream communist tradition in the global south of changing class analyses of a society quick as a foreign secretary reeled off a favourable speech about the Soviet Union.

    Of course those who subscribed to the Maoist tradition did produce more theoretically serious works occassionally. But ultimately the whole idea of the ‘class struggle in the party’ simply lifted ideology from any relationship to the actual social formation.

    In terms of the Naxelites it is true that they have succeded in parts of the country in building significant bases free of state control. But these tend to be in areas where the state is weak in any case. Recently there has been considerable scandal over the way in which their activists responded violently to peasents voting in the elections (they demanded a boycott).

    There are also constantly horrific human rights abuses committed by the state and landlords against their activists. And meanwhile fraticide between the CP(M) in government in Bengal and the Naxelites.

    However there are other groups stemming from the Naxelite tradition who are less militarist and they are an important part of the left.

    Its not a happy situation though overall. And you really don’t have to be a Trotskyist to think this. A large part of activists, in many organisations or none find the situation terribly depressing.

    And as I said the literature of left wing publications is extremely critical and self-critical at the moment.

    As it should be here as well of course.

  69. Nick Fredman on said:

    # 35: “The steel, poor as it may be, is thieved by Roma* every chance they get…* Expressing sentiments of this sort here is called “antiziganism”

    Somewhat, off topic (maybe not entirely), but I’ve no idea what the latter term means, though I assume the first sentence is a joke. Seems a poor one to me. In several places we visited in Europe last year we noticed a bit of casual racism toward Roma, including most relevantly Prague and Krakow.

    A good friend, formally involved with us in socialist politics in Australia and now resident in Barcelona, made a crack about the slightly unkempt and chaotic presence of our family on a suburban train being like a band of Roma. It didn’t sink in till later (perhaps all the decriminalised homegrown her boyfriend kept insisting I have) but she would have been the first to express outrage if anyone at home had said “Yous lot are as messy/drunk/lazy as a mob of Blackfellas”.

    Is anti-Roma the new acceptable racism? Back to topic, it’s pretty clear the collapse of “Communism” has been associated with a rise in racism, whatever your analysis of these societies.

  70. Stockwell Pete on said:

    77 “Whatever the divisions in India, Nepal, the Phillipines etc. my point still stands. Despite all the mistakes, crises and ‘betrayals’ of so-called Stalinism, which johng and co. can bang on about till the cows come home, both the orthodox Communist and the Maoist parties in these countries are many times bigger, and involved in struggle on an infinitely larger scale, than the Trotskyist movement which – we are invited to believe – alone possesses the light, the truth and the way. And the same is true for most other countries around the world.”

    Yes, but so what? The politics of the Stalinists and the Maoists are not primarily based on the self-emancipation of the working class (i.e. Marxism), are they? They are much more “statist” in their orientation i.e. they are much more a “top-down” form of politics rather than a “bottom-up” form of politics. And, of course, part of the reason that the genuine marxist tradition is so weak today internationally is that for many years, in certain parts of the world, many of its best elements were persecuted and even liquidated by the Stalinists.

  71. Karl Stewart on said:

    Isn’t “Maosim” basically the same as “Trotskyism” Pete?
    Wasn’t Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” essentially Trotsky’s “Permanent Revolution” in practice?
    Don’t both share a belief in a “great leader,” quoting his pearls of wisdom in an almost biblical style?
    Mainstream communism, on the other hand, has rejected this.

  72. #81

    Help me out here Pete.

    Imagine that a socialist government is formed after a rebellion by people “from below”, once thet are the government they start to bring in socialist legislation. Haven’t they now become “from above” ??

  73. #83 That depends on the political structure that exists in the state. There was an economic, structural and political difference between the workers state that existed under Lenin and the Bolsheviks and the state capitalism of Stalin and his bureaucrats.
    Without an analysis of these differences the tendency is to lump everything together as either a so-called “workers state” or “from above”.
    #82 This lack of analysis also results in mixing up Mao with Trotsky and misunderstanding Marxism.

  74. Ray, can you really say that there was a fundamental difference between, say, the Soviet state at the time of the Krondstadt rebellion, and the DDR at the time of the uprising in 1953?

    In both cases there was no direct democracy, restrictions on trade unions, and a socialist governing party ruling “on behalf of” the working class.

    I think the difference is more in your own head, than one that can survive an examination of the evidence.

  75. Well I think that any evaluation of the immense social changes in Eastern germany after 1945 would have to say thet there was a social revolution, with the complete expropriation of the capitalist class, collectivisation of the land, preferential discrimination in favour of working class and poor children in the education system, etc, etc.

    What we are arguing about surely is the nature of that revolution, not the fact of its occurance.

  76. David Ellis on said:

    #82 Karl Stewart: you make dumb look clever.

    `Wasn’t Mao’s Cultural Revolution the same as Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution in practise’, you ask.

    No, the cultural revolution was analagous with Stalin’s programme of forced collectivisation. It sprang from the same imperative. A workers state surrounded by peasantry where the cities couldn’t produce the goods to induce the peasants to hand over their grain. It was necessary to go into the country and fetch it or face starvation and the collapse of the regime. Of course, Trotsky explained this logic and used it to demonstrate how socialism could not be built in one country. However, he did not thereby say we must give up on the revolution but the workers state must turn industry to face the country and produce the products that could be exchanged for food and grain instead of just living on exporting raw materials to the West for short term gain whilst still pushing for the world revolution.

    The logic of your position is to hand power back to the bourgeoisie in every instance in `developing’ economies. It is a counter-revolutionary position normally but in your case probably springs from some kind of third period ultra-left misguided bollox.

  77. David Ellis on said:

    Francis King: this is a socialist site so your anarchist attack on Bolshevism hopefully won’t have too much purchase here. Trotsky and Lenin did the right things in the Civil War to defeat counter-revolution.

  78. Karl Stewart on said:

    Hi David, sorry but I think you’re mixing up the “Great Leap Forward” – which could be compared to early Soviet collectivisation in some respects – with the “Cultural Revolution” – which was, on the surface a political campaign against “bureaucratism,” although in reality it was Mao mobilising against his own political rivals.

  79. Karl Stewart on said:

    However, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” does find an echo in Trotsky’s policy of militarisation of labour doesn’t it?
    But my main point of comparison was with Trotsky’s call for a political revolution against “the bureacracy,” with Mao’s “cultural revolution.”
    In both cases, a “great leader” who has been marginalised by “the bureacracy” and wants to fight back to restore his position.
    The difference being Mao didn’t leave China.

  80. David Ellis on said:

    a faction fight in the bureaucracy is not a political revolution. It is part of the necessary zig-zagging of any bureaucracy.

    Labour is always militarised in a tight war situation. Ever heard of the Bevan Boys or the Land Girls?

  81. #90. David Ellis. If you imagine that Bolshevism is the only form of socialism in existence, either in 1917 or now, I would strongly recommend that you study some history. You would probably find it generally beneficial.

  82. Karl Stewart on said:

    David, my understanding was that Trotsky advocated the militarisation of Labour after the civil war had been won, as an alternative to NEP.
    Yes, Trotsky was exiled, but why did he meekly accept it and not try to return?
    Do exiled revolutionaries sit and wait to be invited back by their enemies?

  83. David Ellis on said:

    Trotsky meek? Karl get serious. The danger of civil war was still very much imminent and unlike those who were content to sit back and live off the receipts from the sale of natural resources to the West Trotsky was concerned to get industry moving so that it had something to exchange with the peasantry for their grain otherwise civil war was inevitable. NEP provided breathing space but the STalinists of course having allowed the situation to get out of hand one way massively over-reacted in the other. Every bureaucratic policy is a reaction to its last policy which is why they proceed along a zig zagging course.

  84. #96 To be fair to Trotsky, Karl, if he had attempted to return to the USSR after 1929, he would almost certainly have been shot. And while Trotsky had had few qualms about demanding that punishment for others in his time, he was understandably not too keen to be on the receiving end of a Cheka pistol himself.

  85. David Ellis on said:

    Francis King: No Bolshevism is not the only form of socialism but it is the only scientific, marxist form and so therefore ultimately the only form.

  86. David Ellis on said:

    Francis King: more slander on Trotsky. He was exiled and therefore attempting to return was not an option any more than leaving house arrest is an option for that Burmese lady.

  87. David Ellis on said:

    Francis King: Trotsky never committed any war crimes unlike those who bombed civilians during the Second World War of both sides.

  88. David, David… Your defence of your untarnished idol is touching – but ill-informed. If you look at the suppression of the Tambov peasant rising in 1922, you will see that Tukhachevsky (answerable to War Commissar Trotsky) used phosgene gas to flush out the rebels. Is that not a war crime? The gunning down of worker demonstrators in Astrakhan’ in February-March 1919, and according to some accounts, the subsequent drowning of prisoners in the freezing river by Trotsky’s placeman Mekhonoshin. Not a war crime? Not to mention the suppression of Kronstadt, which presumably is why you (incorrectly) identified me as an anarchist. “Defence of the revolution” could be used (and was used) to justify almost anything. And repression, once it gets going, has a logic of its own. There is no logical reason why a machine for rooting out and neutralising oppositionists should shy away from dealing with oppositionists within the ruling party.

    You may imagine that your version of Marxism is scientific, indeed the “only scientific” version, but so far as I can see, that is just your profession of faith – a sure sign that your thinking is not scientific, but religious.

    If you are interested in reading a defence of socialist principle from a real Marxist for whom the ends did not justify the means, I’m happy to recommend Yuliy Martov’s denunciation of the death penalty from 1918 on my translation site:

    http://www.korolevperevody.co.uk/korolev/martov1.htm

  89. The reintroduction of the death penalty in 1918 was a turning point in my view, as it effectively amounted to a conscious substitution by the Bolsheviks of their own party power as the sovereign basis of the Sovite state, rather than basing the soversignty of the state on the elected soviets, and the people who elected them. In a sense this was a revolution in its own right transfering political power from the soviets to the Bolshevik party.

    I know that SWP members in particular continnualy oppose my arguments based upon constitutionality, but I think that contempt for the rule of law, and acting beyond the powers delegated to you, encourage the sort of arbitrary abuse of power that leads to terror.

  90. David G on said:

    My earlier point about the relative sizes and influence of Communist and Trotskyist organisations was not to claim that this proves who is politically right or wrong.
    It was part of my invitation to those like johng who see mistakes and betrayals in everything that Communist Parties have done everywhere, since 1925, to explain why they continue to be 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 times bigger than the Trotskyists in most countries around the world.
    Is it because the more advanced workers and peasants in so many countries are unremittingly stupid? Or could it be that the Communists have not misled, betrayed, sabotaged etc. every struggle? Or could it be – I hesitate to spread horror and alarm – that Trotskyists have made some serious mistakes, despite their uniquely saintly commitment to the revolutionary cause?
    Unfortunately, modesty, self-criticism and a sense of proportion do not appear to be some comrades’ strong points.

  91. #103 Andy – It’s an interesting question – when and how did this substitution begin? I have never discovered any mechanism by which the Council of People’s Commissars was ever really answerable to the Central Executive Committee of Soviets, which has led me to conclude that the usurpation of the Soviets started on 26 October 1917. But we have drifted rather far from the subject of gay rights in the GDR… :)

  92. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    Well, it is indeed far from the original topic, but I want to come back on a challenge from Armchair.

    People on the left have been reformists because they thought that revolution would inevitably lead to a bloodbath, authoritarianism, social disruption etc. Perhaps the classic example is Friedrich Ebert, who hated social revolution “like sin”, so he worked with generals and Freikorps to dismantle the 1918 one in Germany.

    Absent from Armchair’s consideration, it seems to me, is how ruthless and cunning ruling classes have been, are and will be throughout history. They can’t even bear the Zelayas and the Allendes, much less the actual revolutionaries. That is the lesson I have learned. Revolutions have to defend themselves, but that might, indeed almost certainly will, involve a Cheka and considerable ruthlessness.

    The Paris Commune were saints compared to their opponents, but it was the opponents who won and launched a bloodbath. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were determined not to go down the Commune’s path. But it takes unrelenting vigilance. Shakespeare wrote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. That could be turned into “uneasy lies the head that makes a revolution”. Because the counter-revolution, relying on everything from internal disunity and coups to external invasion and intervention, will constantly be trying to return to what the ruling class fondly believes to be the natural order of things. You may kid yourself that you can have a revolution of flowers, and all will be fine. History suggests that instead, the Thiers, the Pinochets, the Horthys etc. will seize their chance, if you are naive enough to let them. However virtuous you think you may be.

    As to “reason” and “sense”, revolutions do not happen against such a background. Both 1917 revolutions happened in the third year of the then most destructive war in history. The French Revolution became radicalised against the background of the “Great Fear”, with people seeing foreign armies everywhere.

  93. Anonymous on said:

    Well yes David G Trotskyists have made very serious mistakes. Apart from anything else though its a bit like comparing the mistakes of a small political group with the mistakes of social democracy. Its not as if it is only Trots who are critical of social democracy, and its not as if its only trots who are critical of the record of ‘actually existing socialism’ or the behaviour of what is in some parts of the world, the left establishment in the era of neo-liberalism.

    The question is what ideological and intellectual resources exist for those who are faced with this situation and recognise that there is a problem.

    If you don’t recognise a problem fair enough.

    But then its a very different kind of discussion.

  94. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    As to Trotsky not committing war crimes, the Russian Civil War was generally free from any form of legal or moral restraint on the part of its participants. All sides routinely killed their prisoners, assuming they took any in the first place. Memoirs from participants convey this, as do the novels of Pasternak and Babel.

  95. Armchair on said:

    Mark VS – you can use the “need to be ruthless argument” to justify anything if you want to.

  96. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    You can use the “violence breeds violence” argument to justify your own slavery, and everyone else’s.

    How many 19th century black slaves in the USA can you name? If you can name any at all, I would bet one of them is Nat Turner. He led an uprising of slaves which took the lives of quite a few defenceless whites. The reaction took the lives of far more blacks, many unconnected to the rebellion. However, Turner is remembered, all those slaves who never rebelled are forgotten – Uncle Tom, their literary embodiment, is a term of abuse.

  97. Armchair on said:

    The Bolsheviks did not need to adopt all the brutal policies they used, and yes Mark, I am fully aware of the brutality of the bourgeoisie.

    But the Commune for example wasn’t defeated because they didn’t commit mass slaughter of their opponents, but because they were isolated. The fact that they behaved in a far more civlised fashion than their class enemies provided them with moral authority.

    THe Sandinistas of the 1980s provices an example of how it was possible to prosecute a firm military struggle without decending into barbarism.

    And I tend to think that sense and reason (which “in revolt now thunders”) are always something to struggle for in spite of the prevailing conditions.

  98. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    The Commune had moral authority among workers. The fact that it executed some hostages in the last days, including the archbishop of Paris, caused outrage among the bourgeoisie and pious Catholics, though overall the Versailles:Commune kill ratio was something like 20 to one. The Sacre Coeur church was built as a supposed expiation for the “sins” of the Commune. Left and liberal French despised it for that reason, but the bourgeoisie remember things their way and have the means to make their version the official ideology, or “moral authority”, if you like.
    The Sandinistas were a lot kinder than the death squads in El Salvador, but again, this isn’t the story being told in the USA, where there would be howls of outrage if the Sandinistas even looked like closing down the gusano La Prensa newspaper. The Sandinistas eventually lost power after an election, probably because a lot of their support base was war-weary. I don’t think they should have allowed the election to go ahead, since in wartime conditions even bourgeois governments postpone elections. But that’s just my view.
    Anyway, whose “sense”? Whose “reason”? The bourgeoisie see their system as the only possible sense and reason. An SS commandant of Dachau concentration camp told an English visitor to the camp (before WW2) that the inmates (then mostly KPD and SPD) would be released when they acknowledged that only Nazism was a workable way of life in Germany, not Marxist theories. That was his “sense” and “reason”…

  99. Armchair on said:

    Mark- I think I can see where you’re going with this.

    Basically count me out of your particular revolution (sorry, bloodbath).

    I don’t smoke, so I won’t need a last cig.

  100. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    I just know the lessons of history, and am prepared to match bullet with bullet. The bourgeoisie know what they want and will do anything for it. Let’s just say I am equally single-minded.
    It doesn’t have to be a last ciggie, you know. A last meal, a glass of beer… :)

  101. Stockwell Pete on said:

    #83 Sorry for delay in replying, Andy – it’s been a long day at work. Basically, I agree with what Ray has posted. The crucial thing is whether the worker’s state remains controlled by the working class i.e. there are democratic congresses and democratic decision-making, the right of recall of delegates, the freedom to form platforms and factions around specific political positions etc. So if all those democratic elements pertain then I think we are looking at a genuine worker’s democracy – this is what I mean by “socialism from below”.

    I think that you have a point when you talk about the worker’s state in Russia at the time of Kronstadt (1921). I don’t mean by comparing it to Stalinist East Germany in 1953 though, but it is clear that the impact of the civil war and foreign invasion (1918-21) had led to the severe emasculation of working class democracy in Russia. Lenin clearly recognised this and he talked about Russia having “a dictatorship FOR the proletariat” rather than having “a dictatorship OF the proletariat”. That is to say, Lenin described the political system that he was leading as “socialism from above”. Of course, this was not what the Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries had intended – it was a consequence of the political and socio-economic situation that they were forced to operate in at the time.

  102. #8

    Sometimes JOhnG does really come over as a stupid hack, this is what he wrote above at #8

    A far more balanced approach is provided by Gareth Dale in this months IS:

    http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=581&issue=124

    I have now had a chance to rwad this, and no-where does the article he refers to overlap with the contents of this one, so it is not “more balanced”, it is simply about a different topic.

    Gareth Dale, the author of the article JOhnG refers to also describes the restoration of capitalism into Germany using terms like “magnificent victory” and “historical gain”, which in my view is an explicitly anti-socialist, anti-working class position

  103. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    I notice the latest (October) issue of the “BBC History” magazine has an article on persecution of Roma in Europe. It notes that many considered the Red Army to be liberators in 1945, not least because they ended the Nazi genocide of the Roma people, the systems in place after 1945 in Eastern Europe were relatively “pro-poor” and this favoured the Roma, while their situation has deteriorated after the triumph of “freedom” and “democracy” in 1989, with fascist and right-wing demagogues targeting Roma and blaming them for social ills.
    I was a little surprised to see this admission in a BBC-related magazine. Worth thinking about…