Archive for the ‘Georgia’ Category

John McDonnell and Anti-Marxist Scaremongering on Thursday’s Question Time

September 18, 2016

I was talking to Mike this evening about John McDonnell’s appearance on Question Time last week, when all the other panelists, including Alistair Campbell, Soubry for the Tories and Dimbleby himself all tried to pile into him and attack himself and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. I didn’t see the programme, but heard from Mike that at one point someone attempted to score a point accusing McDonnell of being a Marxist. McDonnell said he was, and that as a Marxist he was overjoyed at the 2008 financial crisis, as this was the kind of massive economic crisis that is caused by capitalism. Mike took this McDonnell answering in the conditional: this is what he would believe, if he was a Marxist. But even if McDonnell is a Marxist – which is debateable – this still is not necessarily a reason why he should be feared or disqualified from government.

There’s a difference between Marxism and Communism. Communism is a form of Marxism, but as historians of the Soviet regime and political scientists will tell you, it is a form of Communism based on the interpretation of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. And I was taught by the tutor at College on the rise of Communism in Russia, that Lenin adapted and reformed Marxism as much as his ideological opponents and enemies in democratic socialism. I should point out here that before he began the course, he made a little speech stating that he wasn’t a Communist, and if, by some accident, he found himself in such a party, he would very soon find himself thrown out of it. This is pretty much true. The official ideology of the Soviet Union was Marxism-Leninism, and it broke with the ideas of the German Social Democrats, and particularly that of Karl Kautsky, as the leading European Marxist party. In 1910 the German Social Democrats (SPD) were world’s leading socialist party. They had 110 deputies in the Reichstag, the German parliament, 720,000 members and over 70 newspapers and periodicals. (See John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics, p. 27).

The party had been riven by ideological conflict in the 1890s over Eduard Bernstein’s ‘Revisionism’. Bernstein had argued that Marxism was wrong, and that far from impoverishing the workers in the operation of the ‘iron law of wages’, the workers were becoming more prosperous. He therefore urged a revision of Marxist socialism, abandoning the aspects that were no longer relevant. Instead of the Hegelian dialect, he urged instead that the party should incorporate and adapt the ideals of the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. This did not mean abandoning socialism or the nationalisation of industry. Indeed, he saw the emergence of joint-stock companies as the type of capitalist institution, which would gradually become transformed as society developed to produce the new, socialist society of the future. Despite widespread, and fierce opposition, Bernstein was not thrown out of the party. Lenin, who had previously been an admirers of the Germans, really couldn’t understand this. When he met Karl Kautsky, the Austrian leader of German and Austrian Marxism, during his exile from Tsarist Russia, Lenin asked him that question. Kautsky replied that they didn’t do that kind of thing. Lenin went berserk, called him a prostitute, and published a pamphlet attacking Kautsky and denouncing him as a ‘renegade’.

Kautsky was no enemy of democracy. I’ve put up various pieces from Marx, Kautsky and the French Marxist, Lucien Laurat, showing how they all supported, to a certain degree, parliamentary democracy. Marx never ruled out violent revolution, but was increasingly of the opinion that there was no need, as socialists were winning considerable concessions and advances through parliamentary politics. Kautsky and Laurat fully support parliamentary democracy. Kautsky himself despised the workers’ soviets as undemocratic, and bitterly attacked the Bolsheviks for their suppression of human rights. He hated the disenfranchisement of the bourgeoisie, their subjection to slave labour and how they were given the worst jobs, and were given the worst rations. He also attacked the Bolsheviks’ monopolisation of the press and their destruction and banning of competing parties, newspapers and publications. And rather than industry being nationalised in one fell blow, as the Bolsheviks had done, he argued instead that Marxism demanded that industry should only be nationalised gradually at the appropriate moment. This was when the various capitalist firms in a particular economic sector had merged to create a cartel. It was only then that the industries should be taken over by the state, and run in the interests of the working class and the people as a whole. After the Bolshevik revolution, Kautsky supported the Mensheviks, their ideological rivals, in the newly independent state of Georgia in the Caucasus, before that was finally conquered by the USSR.

Lenin, by contrast, had argued in his 1905 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done, that the Russian socialist party should be led by committed revolutionaries, who would command absolute authority. Debate was to be strictly limited, and once the party’s leaders had made a decision, it had to be obeyed without question. Lenin had come to this view through his experience of the conspiratorial nature of Russian revolutionary politics. He was influenced by the ideas of the Russian revolutionary – but not Marxist – Chernyshevsky. He also adopted this extremely authoritarian line as an attempt to prevent the rise of factionalism that divided and tore apart the Populists, the Russian agrarian socialists that form Marxism’s main rival as the party of the peasants and working class.

Now I’ll make it plain: I’m not a Marxist or a Communist. I don’t agree with its atheism nor its basis in Hegelian philosophy. I’m also very much aware of the appalling human rights abuses by Lenin, Stalin, and their successors. But Marxism is not necessarily synonymous with Communism.

During the struggle in the 1980s in the Labour party with the Militant Tendency, the Swedish Social Democrats also offered their perspective on a similar controversy they had gone through. They had also been forced to expel a group that had tried to overturn party democracy and take absolute power. They had not, however, expelled them because they were Marxists, and made the point that there still were Marxists within the party. Thus, while I don’t believe in it, I don’t believe that Marxism, as opposed to Communism, is necessarily a threat.

It’s also hypocritical for members of New Labour to try to smear others with the label, when one element in its formation was a Marxist organisation, albeit one that came to a very anti-Socialist conclusion. This was Demos. Unlike conventional Marxists, they believed that the operation of the Hegelian dialectic had led to the victory, not of socialism, but of capitalism. The goal for left-wing parties now should be to try to make it operate to benefit society as a whole, rather than just businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Arguably, this form of Marxism has been every bit as destructive and doctrinaire as Militant. Blair seized control of the Labour party, and his clique swiftly became notorious for a highly authoritarian attitude to power. Events were micromanaged to present Blair in the best, most flattering light. Furthermore, the policies they adopted – privatisation, including the privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state, the contempt for the poor, the unemployed, the disabled and the long-term sick, who were seen as scroungers and malingerers, resulted in immense poverty and hardship, even before they were taken over and extended massively by Cameron and now Theresa May.

Traditional Marxists in the Labour party, as opposed to Communists and Trotskyites aren’t a threat. And neither McDonnell nor Corbyn are either of those. What has damaged the party is the pernicious grip on power of the Blairites, who have turned it into another branch of the Tories. It is they, who have harmed the country’s economy, provoked much of the popular cynicism with politics, and impoverished and immiserated its working people and the unemployed. All for the enrichment of the upper and middle classes. It is their power that needs to be broken, and they, who are responsible for acting as a conspiratorial clique determined to win absolute control through purging their rivals. It’s long past time they either accepted the wishes of the grassroots for a genuine socialist leadership, and made their peace with Corbyn, or left to join the Tories.

America and the Manufactured Revolution in Ukraine

September 8, 2016

I’ve put up several pieces commenting on how undemocratic the new, pro-Western regime in the Ukraine is. This came to power a couple of years or so ago, when the pro-Russian president, Yanukhovych, was ousted after a series of demonstrations in Kiev’s Maidan Square. Yanukhovych had just a signed a treaty for closer ties to the Russian Federation. So he was deposed, and fled to Russia. A new, pro-European government has been installed, which has signed treaties giving the country greater links with Europe and the US. The parapolitics magazine, Lobster, was sceptical from the start about the supposedly ‘democratic’ nature of the revolution. In several of their articles they suggested that Yanukhovych’s overthrow was less a grassroots insurgency, but a carefully orchestrated coup by the US through its various NGOs and associated companies, dedicated to spreading neoliberalism and ensuring the corporate takeover of nations around the world for American capitalism. George Galloway said something similar in one of the videos of his that I put up last week. He stated in one of his speeches that Britain and the Americans had also engineered the overthrow of a number of regimes through giving aid to dissident groups and using their resources to spread opposition to the regime.

The veteran critic of the American Empire, William Blum, has written a piece describing the using of its NGOs and business leaders to spread discontent in the Ukraine and engineering Yanukhovych’s overthrow in issue 16 of his Anti-Empire Report. This goes right down to the Orange clothes the protesters wore, which gave the protests the name the ‘Orange Revolution’. He writes

All the usual suspects were involved: the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Agency for International Development (AID), George Soros, Freedom House, et al.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States has undertaken a relentless campaign to bring Moscow’s former republics and satellites into the fold of globalization and American military outposts, and in some cases to be part of highly-prized oil pipelines. In the early 1990s, the governments of Bulgaria and Albania were overthrown for not appearing to be suitable enough candidates for such honors. 2 In 1999, Yugoslavia was bombed for much the same reasons. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Washington has used the weapons of political and economic subversion.

The standard operating procedure in a particular country has been to send in teams of specialists from US government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), American labor unions, or private organizations funded by American corporations and foundations; NED, AID, and the Open Society organizations of George Soros, American citizen and billionaire, are the leading examples. These teams go in with as much financial resources as needed and numerous carrots and sticks to wield; they hold conferences and seminars, hand out tons of material, and fund new NGOs, newspapers and other media, all to educate government employees and other selected portions of the population on the advantages and joys of privatizing and deregulating the economy, teaching them how to run a capitalist society, how to remake the country so that it’s appealing to foreign investors, how to fall happily into the embrace of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The American teams have been creating a new class of managers to manage a new market economy, as well as providing the capital and good ol’ American know-how for winning elections against the non-believers. They undertake to unite the opposition behind a single candidate to optimize the chance of unseating the government; they pass information and experience from one country to another; thus the Soros organization – which has offices throughout the former Soviet domain – had people from Serbia, who had been involved in the successful campaign to oust Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, share their experiences with people in Georgia who were seeking to oust Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003, and were likewise successful. This transfer of techniques, including an acclaimed video shown on Georgian independent television, was cited by participants in Georgia as playing a vital role in their toppling of Shevardnadze. 3 The demonstrations in Ukraine in protest of the flawed election and in favor of Yushchenko have laser lights, plasma screens, sophisticated sound systems, rock concerts, tents to camp in, and huge quantities of the orange clothing which has come to symbolize their protest movement; yet we are told that it’s all spontaneous by the Western media, which give the events extensive serious coverage. 4 Compare this to the coverage and treatment in the United States of those questioning the American election of last month.

He also points out that the new, pro-Western president, Yushchenko’s wife, Ekaterina, is an American. Galloway’s right, and I don’t think there can be any doubt that the Orange Revolution, far from being a democratic uprising, was very carefully and deliberately manipulated.

The article, and much other excellent deconstruction of the propaganda supporting the American Empire, can be read at: https://williamblum.org/aer/read/16

Counterpunch on the Putin’s Non-Existent Threat to the Baltic States

July 14, 2016

Anti-Nato Headline

Russian anti-US Cartoon

Anti-Nato Headline (top) and cartoon against escalating American militarism (bottom). Both from the Russian political magazine, Novoe Vremya, for 17th December 1982.

Last week, NATO began sending reinforcements into Poland and Estonia, and began a series of manoeuvres close to the Russian border. The supposed reason for this is to send a warning to Putin against a possible invasion of those countries. The Russians have been attempting to fly military planes over Estonia. Actually, this isn’t anything particularly new. They’ve been trying to do it to us every week since the beginning of the Cold War. Usually what happens is that we send a couple of our jets up to intercept them just as they’re approaching Scotland. The Russian flyboys then take the hint, and fly off back to the former USSR. It clearly ain’t a friendly gesture, but it’s been going on so long, that’s it not sign of an imminent invasion either. It’s just business as usual.

Except that the build up of NATO troops in eastern Europe clearly isn’t business as usual. It looks very much like a return to the Cold War of the early 80s, when Thatcher and Reagan ranted about the USSR being ‘the evil empire’, and the world teetered on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. There were at least three occasions before the Fall of Communism, when the world really was almost a hair’s breadth away from nuclear war. Nearly three generations of people grew up in it’s shadow. I can remember the way it terrified my age group, when we were at school at the time. Hence the two illustrations at the top of the page, taken from a Russian language magazine at the time. One’s a headline for an article attacking NATO, the other’s a cartoon against advancing American militarism.

The American left-wing magazine, Counterpunch the other day published an article attacking the supposed rationale for the NATO manoeuvres. These aren’t just in Poland, but also include Lithuania and Romania. According to the article ‘Putin’s “Threats” to the Baltic: A Myth to Promote NATO Unity’, by Gary Leupp, the manoeuvres are a response to the book, 2017: War with Russia, by the deputy commander of NATO, Sir Alexander Shirreff. Shirreff predicts that by May next year, Russia will invade the eastern Ukraine and Latvia. Leupp argues that the prediction of a Russian invasion of the Baltic states, with Latvia singled out as a particular target, comes from Putin describing the collapse of the USSR as a ‘catastrophe’ and tensions between the Russians and the now independent Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Putin, so it is believed, is a new Stalin aiming at the revival of the USSR. The also point to the Russian war with Georgia in 2008, and events in Ukraine two years ago in 2014, to show that the threat from Russia is real.

Leupp’s article argues that it is nothing of the sort. The Russians have denounced NATO expansion up to their borders and held manoeuvres of their own, but have also continued with offers of co-operation and referred to the NATO nations as ‘our partners’. He argues that the tensions with Russia in the Baltic states are due to the stripping of the Russian minority in these countries of their rights as an ethnic minority, and increased anti-Russian nationalism, after the states gained their independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Russia certainly sees itself as the protector of ethnic Russians elsewhere, including the Baltic and Ukraine, but points out that this does not mean that it is planning an invasion. It is also much smaller and weaker, militarily, than NATO. NATO forces comprise nearly 3 1/2 million squaddies, compared to Russia, which has just under 800,000. NATO spends nearly $900 billon on defence, while Russia spends $70 billion.

He also argues that the war between Russia and Georgia wasn’t a simple case of Russian aggression either. They went into defend South Ossetia and Abkhazia, small countries that had been forcibly incorporated in Georgia, and which wished to break away. He compares it to the NATO dismantling of Serbia, when Kosovo was taken out of Serbian control. This was against international law, but justified by Condoleeza Rice against protests from Spain, Greece and Romania.

He also states that the support the Russians have given to their ethnic fellows in the Donbass region in Ukraine, against the Fascist-backed Ukrainian government, hardly represents an invasion.

He also argues that the existence of NATO, and its supposed necessity is never discussed or questioned, with the exception of a recent piece in the Boston Globe by Stephen Kinzer, a senior academic at Brown University. He didn’t argue that NATO was unnecessary, only that we needed less of it. This was followed by a piece by Nicholas Burns, a member of George W. Bush’s administration, and now a lecturers in diplomacy at Harvard. Burns states that NATO is necessary for four reasons: defence against Russian aggression; the fragmentation of the EU following Britain’s decision to leave; violence from North Africa and the Israel-Syria region spreading into Europe, and to counter the lack of confident leadership in responding to these issues from Europe and America.

Burns and General Jim Jones, a military advisor to Obama, believe that NATO should station permanent troops in the Baltic, the Black Sea region, the Arctic and Poland, and be ready to send American forces in to help the Poles defend themselves. Burns also argues that NATO is needed because of the growing threat of isolationist forces – meaning Trump – in the US. He finally concludes that it seems to be an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, who has, in contrast to Trump, been very keen to bomb Libya, support the invasion of Iraq, and now wants to bomb Syria.

See the article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/12/putins-threats-to-the-baltics-a-myth-to-promote-nato-unity/

Meanwhile, the prospect of a real, lasting peace between the West and Russia, which began with the thaw between Reagan and Gorbachev, is now threatened by a new generation of militarists, including the hawkish Shrillary. It’s another reason, apart from her bloody legacy when she was in charge of Obama’s foreign policy, why she should not get in the White House any more than Trump should.

Thomas Sowell on Marx and Engels’ Support for Democratic Socialism

July 6, 2016

Sowell Marx Cover

For just about everyone born after the Russian Revolution, and particularly after the horrors of Stalin, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot and a myriad other dictators, who have claimed to govern on behalf of the workers and peasants, Marxism has appeared quite contrary to democracy. Marx and Engels stood for violent revolution, and their theories provided the basis for oppressive, oligarchies ruling through mass arrests, terror and murder.

Marx on Democracy

Thomas Sowell in his brief book on Marx and his theories, Marxism: Philosophy and Economics (London: George Allen & Unwin 1985) shows that while Marx and Engels certainly did not disavow violent revolution, and despite his sneers about it, like his quip that democratic capitalism was merely a case of ‘deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in parliament’, took democracy very seriously, and believed that Socialism could be achieved mainly through the victory of Socialist parties at the ballot box. He writes

To the French workers in 1870, on the eve of the uprising that produced the Paris Commune, Marx advised against an uprising as a “desperate folly” and urged instead: “Let them calmly and resolutely improve the opportunities of Republican Liberty.” He closed with the motto: ” Vive la Republique.” A quarter of a century later, Engels wrote in a similar vein that “the government came to be much more afraid of the legal than of the illegal actions of the workers’ party, of the results of election than those of rebellion.” In Britain, according to Marx, “the gradually surging revolt of the working class compelled Parliament to shorten compulsorily the hours of labour.”

Democracy was seen as a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for freedom. (p. 142).

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat Does Not Justify Dictatorship

He warns the reader not to read back into Marx’s discussion about the dictatorship of the proletariat – the period in which the working class will govern society before the achievement of true Communism – the all too real dictatorships of Stalin and its counterparts in eastern Europe and Asia. Sowell writes further

The Communist Manifesto described “the first step in the revolution” as being “to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.” In a preliminary draft for the Manifesto, Engels declared that a Communist revolution “will inaugurate a democratic constitution and thereby, directly or indirectly, the political rule of the proletariat.” the use of the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” – in Marx’s sense – is little more than a paraphrase of these statements

Between capitalists and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

In his correspondence, Marx asserted that “the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, which in turn represents a “transition” to a classless society. How is this compatible with “winning the battle of democracy,” as mentioned in the Communist Manifesto? Because “the democratic republic,” as Engels explained, is “the specific form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Just as in a capitalist state “wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely”, so in a workers’ state the numerical superiority of the proletariat turns democracy in form to a class dictatorship. Marx’s contemporary, John Stuart Mill, agonised over precisely this point. The democratic republic under capitalism becomes the arena in which workers struggle to wrest political control from the capitalists. Once this is accomplished, then under socialism it is the workers’ state that exists as long as any state is necessary -i.e. until the “withering away of the state”. (p. 143).

The Revolution Could Be Peaceful

He notes that Marx admired the Paris Commune, because he believed it had universal suffrage, an open society, freedom of religion and separation of church and state, and a non-militaristic viewpoint. (p. 144).

On revolution, he quotes Engels as saying ‘the abolition of capital is itself the social revolution’, and later, at the end of his life, that ‘the bourgeoisie and the government came to be more afraid of the legal than of the illegal action of the workers’ party, of the results of lections than of those of rebellion.’ (p.148). Engels was also aware that it was extremely rare for civilian rebels to overcome an army in street fighting. (p.149). He also believed that violence was more likely to be started by the capitalists than by the workers.

The irony of world history turns everything upside down. We, the “revolutionists”, the “over-throwers”, – we are thriving far better on legal methods than on illegal methods and overthrow. The parties of Order, as they call themselves, are perishing under the legal conditions created by themselves … And if we are not so crazy as to let ourselves be driven to street fighting in order to please them, then in the end there is nothing left for them to do but themselves break through this fatal legality. (p. 149)

Democracy Draws the Working Class into Politics

He also quotes Marx as admiring democracy under capitalism for drawing the masses into politics and political discussion:

The parliamentary regime lives [according to Marx] by discussion: how shall it forbid discussion? Every interest, every social institution, is here transformed into general ideas, debated as ideas; how shall any interest, any institution, sustain itself above though and impose itself as an article of faith? The struggle of the orators on the platform evokes the struggle of the scribblers of the press; the debating club in parliament is necessarily supplemented by debating clubs in the salons and the pothouses; the representatives, who constantly appeal to public opinion, give public opinion the right to speak is real mind in petitions. The parliamentary regime leaves everything to the decision of majorities; how shall the great majorities outside parliament not want to decide? When you play the fiddle at the top of the state, what else is to be expected but that those down below dance?

Rejection of Terrorist Conspiracies

Marx and Engels contrasted the democratic nature of the Communist League, which had elective and removable boards, which ‘barred all hankering after conspiracy, which requires dictatorship, with revolutionary secret societies of Louis Blanqui and his followers. He stated that such conspiratorial small groups – such as those which Lenin would later advocate in his book What Is To Be Done? were “the fantasy of overturning an entire society through the action of a small conspiracy.” (pp. 150-1). He also notes that Marx did not see the workers as being automatically paragons of virtue from the very beginning, or would have to be led by a group of elite leaders. (p.151). Again, this is very in contrast to Lenin and his theories in What Is To Be Done? Engels said

The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul. (p. 152).

He also notes that Engels did not abandon the possibility of armed revolution where the aims of the ‘workers’ party’ could not be achieved through democracy. And he also notes that Marx was quite happy for terror to be used against ‘hate individuals or public buildings that are associated only with hateful recollections’. Engels, however, had a much more critical attitude. He said

We think of this reign of people who inspire terror on the contrary, it is the reign of people who are themselves terrified. Terror consists of useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves. (p. 153). It’s advice that far too few self-confessed Marxist regimes put into practice.

What makes this particularly interesting is that Margaret Thatcher tried to have legislation passed to ban Marxists from having positions in academia. Furthermore, radicals like Noam Chomsky point out that America did have a tradition of working class, left-wing politics, under this was destroyed by the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War. In all fairness, Thatcher and the Cold Warriors had a point, in that the Communist Party founded by Lenin was based on the monopoly of power by a small, revolutionary coterie, who jailed and persecuted their enemies, with horrific brutality. But many Marxists actively opposed them. Rosa Luxemburg was bitterly critical of the Bolshevik coup and the suppression of political freedom in the USSR. So was Karl Kautsky, one of the leading figures of Austrian Marxism, who occupied the centre of the country’s Social Democratic Party, the main Socialist party, and which today roughly corresponds to the Labour party in Britain. Kautsky wrote pamphlets and articles attacking the Bolshevik coup, and supported the break-away Menshevik regime in Georgia.

There are very many problems with Marxism, ranging from its rejection of eternal, objective moral values, to its conception of history as based on the class struggle and the Hegelian dialectic, as well as its materialism. But it also provides material for a democratic socialism, as against totalitarian tyranny and mass murder.

Stalin, Ian Duncan Smith and Terror as Corporate Management Technique

January 28, 2014

Stalin

Iosip Vissarionovich Djugashvili, aka Stalin: Thuggish Dictator of the Soviet Union

Ian Duncan Smith pic

Ian Duncan Smith: Thuggish Dictator of the Department of Work and Pensions

One of the other books I’ve been reading lately is Alex De Jonge’s biography of Stalin, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1986). During his career Stalin is estimated to have killed at least 30 million Soviet citizens – though the real figure may be a high as 45 million or over – through a series of purges and artificial famines as he transformed the Soviet Union into the military and industrial superpower that was to dominate half of Europe and challenge America for world mastery for the next fifty years. From his boyhood Stalin was a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

The son of a drunken, abusive father, who used to challenge his son to knife him when beating him and a hard mother, Iosip Vissarionovich Djugashvili, grew up dirty poor in the village of Gori in Georgia, one of the countries in the Caucasus that had been absorbed into the Russian Empire. The family lived in one room of a two-room house. The other was occupied by their landlord. He was short, only 5’4” tall, with an elbow left permanently stiff through a childhood accident. The second and third toes on one of his feet were conjoined from birth, and his faced had been left pockmarked through smallpox. This and his family’s poverty gave him strong feelings of inferiority. He soon developed a deep hatred of anyone in authority above him, and his need to dominate and utter lack of any feeling for others were commented on by his fellow students at the Orthodox Christian seminary in Tiflis, in which his parents had enrolled him. One of them remarked on how he was never known to cry, and greeted the joys and misfortunes of his fellow students alike with a sarcastic smile. Most of all, the young Stalin already was alien to basic human altruism. He could not understand how anyone could act kindly or generously to another out of the sheer goodness of their heart, without some ulterior motive. At the seminary he joined a secret Marxist discussion circle set up by some of the other students. He managed to split this between his supporters and opponents through his absolute insistence that only his interpretation of Marx’s doctrine could ever be correct.

He was also already an advocate of absolute, ruthless personal government. One of the stories about Stalin’s time at the seminary is about an essay he wrote on the fall of Julius Caesar. The history teacher had set them the question ‘Why did Caesar fall?’ Stalin’s essay looked at the question from the perspective of the organs of state power, identifying weaknesses and filling in the gaps where these could be strengthened. He stated that Rome’s greatest dictator fell, because he had allowed another source of authority and resistance, the Senate, to continue uninterrupted. The provincial governors opposed him, because they feared his power more than that of the Senate. He also made the mistake of relying on the support of friends, rather than managers, who depended on him for power and who could be relied on to do his bidding. As a result, he was assassinated by his two friends, Brutus and Cassius. When he was asked if his essay was recommending absolute monarchy, he responded by saying that it did not. Absolute monarchy was the control of the state by a single personality. In Stalin’s view, his recommendations were the exact opposite: the strengthening of state power through a single personality.

Stalin was eventually thrown out of the seminary for reading forbidden
books, like Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Marx. He demanded that the other members of the Marxist discussion circle should likewise resign, so that they could concentrate on revolutionary activities and propaganda amongst the people. They refused, offering the excuse that they didn’t want to disappoint their parents. So Stalin denounced them all to the seminary authorities, who threw them out anyway. On their expulsion, Djugashvili told them that they were now free to pursue their revolutionary activities amongst the people. After this, the young revolutionary became a kinto, the Georgian term for a semi-criminal street hustler. His revolutionary activities included a series of bank robberies used to fund the Russian Social Democratic Party, the parent Marxist organisation which produced the Bolshevik faction, that later became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

So the pattern of Stalin’s personality and rule were present from his childhood: feelings of inferiority, hatred of authority, utter ruthlessness and a need to dominate others, with a predilection for absolute power and the willingness to use violence to obtain it.

I can’t remember if it was De Jonge’s book, but I do remember that in the 1980s the Sunday Express reviewed one of the biographies of the monster. This was done as yet another of the ‘real truth about an icon of the Left’ that the Right-wing press runs every now and again in order to discredit anyone, whose views are to the left of Maggie Thatcher. In fact, Stalin had been discredited long before the 1980s. He had been out of favour in the Soviet Union ever since the ‘Secret Speech’ of 1953, in which Khruschev denounced his ‘cult of personality’. Moreover, the old thug’s fiercest critics included not only non-Communist democrats, but also dissident Marxists like Roy Medvedev, an historian and author of Let History Judge, which exposed not only Stalin and his crimes, but also his henchmen. The book’s Russian title is, if I can remember correctly, B Dvortse Istorii, which literally translated means In History’s Court, which might have a slightly different shade of meaning. Medvedev was a democrat. He presented to Brezhnev a 12-point plan drawn up by himself and other leading Soviet dissidents like Andrei Sakharov. Nevertheless, he was a Marxist, who founded the Socialist Party of Russian Working People in 1991 in opposition to the banning of the Russian Communist party after the coup against Gorbachev.

At first sight, there appears to be very little in common between Ian Duncan Smith and Stalin. Stalin was, after all, essentially a poor street thug, who cleverly manipulated others to make his way to the very top of Soviet hierarchy. IDS is like the rest of the cabinet, a creature of privilege, who owes his position to the British class system. Nevertheless, the two share certain psychological traits in common and their management styles are very similar. In the introduction De Jonge discusses Stalin’s style of government, and rebuts the suggestion that it is somehow strange or unusual in the West. It is in the traditions of democratic government. However, it is much less unusual, and even common, when it is compared with the aggressive and ruthless management style of some company directors. These also rule by fear, though this is simply that of being sacked, rather than being sent to a forced labour camp or shot in the back of the head by the NKVD. Such chairmen are also unwilling to take advice, capricious, and surround themselves with sycophants willing to do and say anything to gain promotion, including stabbing each other in the back. And like Stalin, these company directors can turn their corporations into highly efficient, successful companies. De Jonge states

‘At first sight the country over which he and they ruled strikes Western observers as alien, as indeed it is when judged by the standards and practices of Western political democracy. However, when considered from a different point of view, much that may seem strange at first sight will strike the reader as surprisingly familiar. My interest in Stalin began many years ago, when I was in a position to compare what I knew of him with the atmosphere in a large British corporation, ruled by a chief executive who believed in management by terror. Everyone, fr4om the board of directors to the lift man, existed under the continuing threat of dismissal without warning, while sackings appeared to occur on a virtually random basis. The chairman set ambitious targets based on his intuitions, seldom listened to advice and never admitted he had made a mistake. He was surrounded by an entourage of sycophants who passed his management style down the line, subjecting their own subordinates to the same kind of bullying, with the result that the corporation operated in a terror-laden miasma of politicking, backstabbing, misrepresentation of personal achievement and the sophisticated ‘management’ of company news. Nevertheless, the technique got results, and while the chairman’s intuitive methods produced some spectacular failures, they could also be spectacularly successful. It was a world in which the dangers were colossal, but in which the rewards were commensurate with the risks.

For many years I had supposed this style of management to be unique and that those who had had the misfortune to know it were exceptionally unfortunate. However, I have come to understand that in the world of the nontenured, administration by fear, with the firing squad replaced by instant dismissal, is closer to the rule than the exception. Indeed, it appears to be the norm for any organization in which the administrators are not accountable to those under their authority and in which there is no job security. Academics tend to tr4eat STalin’s Russia as a savage and alien society that requires sophisticated analytic techniques to understand it, because tenure protects them from that perpetual threat of job loss that, with all its attendant office politics, drawn daggers and smoking guns, is part of the fabric of most peoples’ daily lives. They fail to appreciate that Soviet reality ‘begins at home’.

Now this reminds very strongly of IDS’ DWP. Let’s see, run by a bully, who governs by his own intuitions untrammelled by facts? Check. An atmosphere of fear of dismissal, with the subordinates passing this down the line to those under them? Check. Carefully managed news? Definitely check. Backstabbing? Absolutely. Furthermore, like Stalin the ultimate use of terror is the benefit sanction, in which the victim is denied state support. You can compare this to the artificial famines Stalin and his subordinates created during collectivisation, and which devastated the Ukraine in what has become known as the Holodomor. And people are similarly starving in Britain through Smith’s policies, and have died as a result. See the blog entries by Stilloaks, Mike, The Void, DEAP and Jayne Linney for this.

As for the personal psychology of the two, like Stalin IDS also appears to have an inferiority complex. There is, after all, considerable doubt whether he was actually an officer in the British army. IDS also seems to share Stalin’s intellectual vanity. Stalin became General Secretary of the Communist Party as the other Bolsheviks thought that he was too thick to present much of a threat. They believed that a Napoleonic dictator would arise after the Revolution to rule by fear. Unfortunately, they looked in completely the opposite direction, and thought it was Trotsky. Trotsky was, after all, the head of the Red Army during the Civil War, and was a far more sophisticated thinker than Stalin. And so they were looking in completely the wrong direction, while Stalin was under their noses carefully using his position to throw out anyone, who was not absolutely loyal to him. From being a thicko, who didn’t properly understand the niceties of Marxist doctrine – in the 1930s he was still supposed to be taking lessons in Dialectal Materialism – Stalin suddenly became the greatest genius of all time and all humanity, who not only understood Marx thoroughly, but had also personally solved certain problems in Plato. IDS similarly claims an intellectual ability he doesn’t possess. He has, after all, claimed to have a degree from an Italian institute of higher education, which actually doesn’t issue them.

As for spin and backbiting, it was IDS, who appears to have blamed one of his subordinates for his own mistakes. He regularly refuses to release the figures on how many people have died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by ATOS, and delayed appearing before the Work and Pensions Committee for as long as possible. Like Iosip Vissarionovich from Georgia, he also believes himself to be above the law.

And like Stalin, IDS personally likes to appear surrounded by armed thugs. When he appeared before the parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee, he was surrounded by bodyguards and armed policemen, who kept their guns trained on the public gallery, including disabled visitors and their carers. So IDS also has the old brute’s absolute contempt for the poor and most vulnerable in spades.

There are, however, some differences between the two. So far, Ian Duncan Smith and Cameron are not following Stalin in demanding mass arrests, and deportations to forced labour camps, although there are extremely ominous signs of something like them in Osborne’s plans to expand workfare. But the main difference is in success. Stalin was ruthless, but he turned the Soviet Union into the world’s second superpower. During the 1930s the country had an economic growth rate of something like 30 per cent. Vast industrial combines, such as those in the Donbass, virtually appeared overnight. The Tories, on the other hand, have consistently wrecked Britain’s industrial, manufacturing base. Osborne is claiming that we are well on the way to recovery, but this is only through a very clever manipulation of the statistics.

So IDS and his Tory party comrades have all of Stalin’s defects – the murderous ruthlessness, with absolutely none of the old psychopath’s capacity for turning the country into an industrial giant. And this is the man, who, as head of the Department for Work and Pensions, is in charge of the lives of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Way back in the 19th century liberal Russians cried ‘Who can be happy in Russia?’ Under Cameron, the question can be put this side of the Baltic. ‘Who can be happy in Britain?’