As Paul observed yesterday there's been something of a decline in the liberal commentariat of late. Latest evidence of the trend comes courtesy from Monday's Comment is Free and the pen of James Marson. He demands the left must face up to Stalin's evil.
Speaking for myself, I'm never seen on Stoke SP stalls without my Maoist overalls and bucketful of Stalin Society leaflets.
The core of Marson's argument is this:
There are three ways that people justify Stalin. First, he was a "successful dictator" in the second world war and the industrialisation drive; second, his record wasn't as bad as Hitler's; third, his ideology was more palatable.In conclusion, Marson argues the left is unwilling to face up to the devastation Stalinism wreaked on millions of lives. But if you ask me, Marson ought to get out more. Just like Andy Beckett's piece on the future of the left, it's completely clueless.
The "successful dictator" argument is more or less the line that the Kremlin follows, with its glorification of the victory in the second world war and glossing over of everything else. But it is ahistorical to separate the bad from the good – they are both part of one whole.
The numbers game ignores the often-quoted words of Comrade Stalin himself: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." Their ideologies may have differed, but Hitler and Stalin shared one thing in common – both were willing to sacrifice millions of individuals in the pursuit of their vision of perfection or harmony. Human life became a pathway to future aims; how many million sacrifices is indeed a statistic.
But what does it matter to those who died what Stalinism developed into? What does it matter to the dead and their families whether they were starved for being kulaks, shot for writing "nationalist" literature, thus impeding inevitable progress to socialist utopia, or killed for being Slavs and resisting the Nazis, thus making way for a perfect racial empire? It is surely less important why people were killed, than that they were killed. The fact that the apparent aim of Stalin's terrors – the socialist utopia – seems nobler to some than Hitler's vision of racial perfection, can offer no solace to those terrorised.
See, it's been many years since the far left in this country was dominated by Stalin's cheerleaders. If Marson had the slightest scintilla of knowledge about our movement, he'd know a sizeable chunk of Marxists were critiquing and condemning Stalin at the very moment his liberal left forebears were cooing over five year plans and Moscow show trials. If there's anyone who needs to face up to facts, it's him.
In fact the piece reads like a God that failed mea culpa. If it's the case Marson has just realised Stalin wasn't a very nice man and the regime he presided over was the antithesis of socialism, then he should be afforded a very belated welcome to the real world. But being dazzled by the light of truth is no excuse for assuming the rest of the left is as dim as he.