Unambiguous pro-Stalinism


Michael Berrell on the 1956 Hungarian uprising

Bob Gould

Michael Berrell infers that I’ve verballed him, but this is what he said in a post on the Green Left Weekly disussion list:

The nature of the right wing protests including the incorporation of fascist flags and symbols does raise legitimate questions about the nature of the uprising in 1956. There certainly has been a lot of mythologising about the events of 1956 from all sides. I’m sceptical of the claim that that the uprising as claimed by Trotskyists such as the WSWS was aimed at bringing in genuine socialism. There was a programme broadcast a couple of weeks ago on Radio National which examined the events in Hungary in great depth and there seems no doubt to me, that the uprising was aimed at the overthrow of Communism and revolved around reactionary institutions such as the Catholic Church. The programme claimed that the singing of the Internationale was banned at the time and demonstrators deliberately removed Communist symbols from flags and buildings etc. This is what occurred in 1989 and my personal view is that the 1956 uprising was an attempted bourgeois revolution similar to what eventually did happen in 1989.

Berrell’s support for the USSR’s intervention against what he slanders as counter-revolution in Hungary in 1956 couldn’t be clearer.

In his recent post on Leftwrites he also hangs his hat on what he calls “official” accounts. Whose official accounts? Berrell relies on a scissors-and-paste job from the ABC’s Hindsight that conflates 1956 and 1989 in Hungary, which is clearly aimed peddling the story that reform socialism and reform communism had no chance in 1956.

This is essentially the same line that the Russians used to justify their invasion of Hungary, their smashing of the Bupapest workers’ council and their murders of Nagy, Maleter and hundreds of others.

The difficulty with this is that eyewitness accounts by socialists such as Peter Fryer, and by surviving reform communists such as Kopacsi, contradict that story completely.

As the post on Lenin’s Tomb points out, many Western commentators at the time, other than the most right wing, were forced by events to describe the reform socialist character of the uprising. Lenin’s Tomb quotes Western sources to that effect.

Berrell’s eccentric latter-day conversion to Stalinism mystifies me, given the enormous literature, including tens of thousands of eyewitness accounts, as to what actually existing Stalinism was like from the point of view of its victims, who were largely the proletarian and peasant masses, and the intelligentsia, in the Stalinist countries.

Berrell prattles about healthcare and free education in Stalinist states. Well, healthcare and free education are certainly good things, and to be defended, but to imply that they were dependent on the political superstructure of Stalinism is nonsense.

Even states influenced by Social Democracy, such as Sweden, Britain and Australia, had reasonable healthcare and public education at times, but it didn’t make them socialist countries.

Berrell’s latter-day Stalinist nostalgia is political poison from the point of view of reconstructing the socialist project. The overwhelming majority of the working masses, in former Stalinist countries and elsewhere, know that the Stalinist regimes were bureaucratised, centralised dictatorships.

Berrell hasn’t a clue about what is required for the construction of a modern socialist movement. One of these things, in my view, is a deep-rooted commitment to socialism from below, as the IS-tradition groups call it, and substantial proletarian democracy and democratic checks and balances to prevent the development of bureaucratic dictatorships.

If such arrangements aren’t clear, there’s no way in the world that the working class in most advanced countries will have a bar of a socialist development.

For about 50 years of my political life I’ve had the general view that the Stalinist countries were deformed workers states that required political revolution to sweep away the bureaucratic dictatorships. I still believe that view is correct, as far as it goes, as against the state capitalist or bureaucratic collectivist views held by most supporters of the IS tradition.

The weakness, however, in the general analysis, which was common to both workers statists and state capitalists, was that we underestimated the enormous damage that Stalinism had done to the cultural level of the masses, to the self-identity and consciousness of the working class, and ultimately to the productive forces, which are the basis on which progressive socialist developments must be based.

Both the workers statist and state capitalist currents had similar agitational slogans in 1989, calling for a self-managed kind of proletarian socialism. The problem was that the masses in the Stalinist countries wanted, at least for a time, to get as far away as they could from the Stalinist dictatorship that had been inflicted on them.

The upheavals in 1989 were unquestionably social revolutions, and no power on earth, including the Stalinists, had the slightest chance of crushing those upheavals because those regimes, and their social base, had become so corrupt that their overthrow was inevitable.

I recommend to Berrell that he see if he can find some old footage of the scene in the square in Bucharest when the massive crowd turned on Ceaucescu, and the angry incomprehension on the Maximum Leader’s face when he could no longer crush the masses.

The overthrow of Stalinism in 1989 in many countries was unquestionably a popular revolt, which socialists had to support, presenting the notion of reform socialism rather than capitalist restoration.

The capitalist restoration that took place was an almost inevitable outcome of the decay of Stalinism and the hostility of the massses to it on the basis of their own experience.

The socialist movement and the socialist program can be revived, but it’s highly unlikely to take the form of Berrell’s politically senile Stalinist fantasies. That chapter, the chapter of identifying Stalinist party-states with the socialist movement, is well and truly closed.

Some Stalinist parties still hold power, in China and North Korea, for example. To take the Chinese example, a Stalinist political regime of the most brutal sort is presiding over 19th-century-style capitalist development, and in constant conflict with the Chinese masses, to the point that the regime bans the labour that it trades overseas from joining unions in the country they are sold to.

Berrell has no political strategy for reviving the socialist movement, and his romantic cyberspace neo-Stalinism bears no relation at all to the tasks facing serious socialists in the 21st century.

On Mark’s point about my definition of Stalinism, I believe it is clearly explained in the article I cited, the whole article in context, not just the extract presented on Leftwrites.

Discussion, Discussion

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