Monday, April 22, 2013

Notes on Stalinist Humanism, Italian politics and the 'Grillini'

I realized recently that it was hard to accurately name a certain type of 'communist' (an unusual situation in itself) that I regarded as having a retrograde effect in today's political arena, specifically in Europe. But now I think I've nailed it: Stalinist-humanists. These communists (or 'communists', it depends) come from the history of the notion of 'actually existing communism' and its post war social imperialist past, particularly the Soviet Union.

The idea that 'communism existed' was an error or at least a deviation from Leninist theory, given that what actually existed was socialism and continued class struggle (excepting with the previous main class relations inverted). - Post WWII Stalinism tended to assert that the class struggle was concluded for it. This state position was combined with the cult of personality and a socialist-but-imperialist foreign policy. - Both of these positions also deviated from Leninism. It is possible to trace the roots of this deviation but I shall not here, suffice to say WWII had a big effect (which is of course an understatement).

There are certain parties in Europe that owe their existence to a past allegiance to the Soviet Union, as is natural, and these often had or have a peculiarly fusty, conservative flavor which seems, today, extremely anti-radical, promoting a sort of humanist gradualism and compromise with, even fondness for, almost any fixed authority, even while being able to propagate classic Marxist critical analysis. One traditional reaction to this co-option with the state is to counteract this, 'within the fold' so to speak, through Trotskyist anarchism directed from outside the traditional corridors of bourgeois power, i.e. with an extreme 'militancy'.

The current European 'communist' movement is split by this division between Stalinism and Trotskyism, as played out in the political arena. It is, I suggest, a false dialectic that actually represents a threat to Marxist theory and practice in the day-to-day struggles we currently see in the severe global capitalist crisis. It is fairly apparent the bourgeois media enjoys this agonistic situation. 

- Not that I wish to create some kind of 'grand unity' here, and I recognize that often the arguments between factions are productive, and this isn't ever a pure thing, but what I suggest this represents, basically, is the repression of the Bolshevik position within current revolutionary communist politics and the splitting of an old Menshevik type position into two essentially humanist tendencies: Stalinist humanism and Trotskyist humanism.

Bolshevik versus Menshevik was an old struggle in revolutionary Russia that most comrades will know about. I am unable here to go into the details of the historical differences between them, but the Menshevik position tended to represent bourgeois reformist 'Marxism' in a more social democratic flavor, seeking to stick with the then existing bourgeois state structures. The Bolshevik position was that of the early revolutionary Soviet Union, one of its famous slogans was "All Power to the Soviets" (worker councils). 

In the S.U. the New Economic Policy and the war tended to reduce the impact of Bolshevism, even though Lenin was a revered Bolshevik figure. The embalming of Lenin's body after he died represents, I think, a stage in the eventual victory of this humanism, and reveals a resort to political social democracy within (a denegated) socialism in the Soviet Union's state apparatus - to cut a long story short of course.

We all recognize, even when we are sympathetic to the Soviet war-time experience, that the Soviet Union began at some stage in its later social evolution to resemble the more rightist type of authoritarian state, particularly in its superstructure and culture. It is a matter of irony that this statism derives from the return of humanism and social democracy, exactly what the external bourgeoisie decried as missing in such an 'authoritarian' or 'totalitarian country', but this is, I submit, the case. What else could it be? After all the normal bourgeois answer boils down to the idea that there is something innately wrong with all socialists.

Stalinist humanism is a bourgeois ideological variant of Marxism. As such it is a reversion to the Menshevik position, which is as I have described dualistic. It does not just contain Stalinism: the dualism derives from the way the Menshevik humanist position acts on the current political stage. Its gradualism and Statist reformism corresponds to the fondness for stability and authority that we see today among the 'communist' parties that cooperate within the European bourgeois parliamentary systems, while the sometimes sudden and forced realization that this is obviously not producing the desired social results ('actually existing communism') leads to, as it were, an extreme reaction that goes the opposite way: to a rejection of all gradualism, reform, and authority, even in socialism.

We should be quite familiar with humanist dualism as a bourgeois philosophy, it is a source of a lot of cultural angst, anguish and stress, the constant swinging from love and peace to extreme violence and hatred, because of its belief in and sometimes abandonment of (in disgust) the 'human spirit' and God; it goes back to Descartes at least and is tied into religion. Indeed it is to a large extent a religious attitude and aesthetic more than a strict ideological system and corresponds to the feelings of alienation that are not eliminated by the socialist state merely asserting that those problems have evaporated.

The Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser addressed in his work the subject of Marxist humanism and critiqued the phenomenon of cult of personality and Stalinism, but not from the standard rightist position, in fact he demonstrated that the rightist critique was actually the same position (theoretically) as Stalinism. It is also possible, though, as I think the above shows, to extend this critique into the modern political arena, for example the career of Giorgio Napolitano the Italian politician who has been the 11th President of the Italian Republic since 2006 and who has just been re-elected (April 2013) due to a political deadlock. He was a long-time member of the Italian Communist Party but later the Democrats of the Left, and served as President of the Chamber of Deputies from 1992 to 1994 and as Minister of the Interior from 1996 to 1998. The current radical intervention into parliamentary politics of Beppe Grillo's party has upset the old established left and right political cartel and false dialectic, but it has also discredited, thankfully, much of the Stalinist humanist conservative communists. At least at the moment M5S is more communist than the communists.

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