Tony Greenstein is wrong about the nature of my criticism of his position. He writes: “Both Steve Cousins and Ian Donovan criticise me for not supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” (Letters, April 7).
Excuse me, but I didn’t criticise him for not supporting Russia! I criticised him for the utterly absurd juxtaposition of, on the one hand, unreservedly condemning “Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine”, while at the same time providing a million and one reasons why it should have carried out its ‘special operations’ in Ukraine! I criticised his analysis (if we can call it that).
I also pointed out that his is effectively a pro-Nato position, as what he is arguing is that Russia should simply accept US imperialist dominance, and its arming to the teeth of a Russophobic Ukraine, which has been murdering Russian-speaking civilians, and which historically has been used as a battering ram against Russia. Not to mention that this Russophobic Ukraine is the product of numerous coups instigated by the US empire and its client states!
And Tony Greenstein’s cover for this pro-Nato position is some guff about the Russian working classes, and more guff about revolutionary armies. In other words, he retreats to some other world to escape from taking a concrete position in this world. As much as I detest the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, at least they take a position.
He writes: “The purpose of my article was to combat the wave of nationalist hysteria and pro-imperialist social chauvinism spread by the mass media.” His article failed miserably then - not helped by the fact that in his very first sentence he simply echoed the nationalist hysteria and the mass media’s unreserved condemnation of “Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine”. Everything after that first sentence then became an absurdity.
“[The article’s] aim was to show how the responsibility for the Russian invasion lies squarely with Nato and the United States.” Then why is he unreservedly condemning “Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine” and not unreservedly condemning Nato? Why instead didn’t he say something along the lines of ‘Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may be brutal, but the blame lies at the hands of a rapacious Nato for the following reasons ...’
Next: “Putin fell into the trap that Biden and the west laid for him.” No, he didn’t! Nato really are arming to the teeth and courting a Russophobic Ukrainian nation that is murdering Russian-speaking people, and encircling Russia with military bases. While all this was going on, we have been subjected, for at least the last 10 years, to incessant anti-Putin rhetoric from the corporate media. This isn’t a trap: it is a strategic direction of the empire, and a declaration of hostile intent, which demanded and forced some sort of response from Russia. The response from Russia was probably long overdue. Putin’s mistake was to view the US and its client states as global partners. However, it is by no means clear yet who is the ultimate loser of this.
What is clear is that the empire will not tolerate anything but complete obedience to its interests and ultimately has its sights set on its main competitor, China. I am sure, when the time comes, Tony Greenstein will be on hand to unreservedly condemn China’s defence of its sovereignty in the face of a belligerent empire intent on retaining its global supremacy. And the cover for this absurdity will be all the usual other-worldly guff about how the working classes need to unite.
The current hatred for Russia, encouraged in the UK media, must be viewed as an element in a wider international strategy, founded on expansion of Nato and the wider growth of capital. Poland and Ukraine have devious intent - they both act like puppets of international capital.
The surge of anti-Russian propaganda vilifies the entire Russian people and includes bizarre bans on classical composers and literary giants. When young Russian soldiers are portrayed as human rights abusers we must stop and consider. Who defeated the greatest human rights abuser of the 20th century? The Third Reich led by Hitler effectively met its death in the broken streets and buildings of Stalingrad. Many so-called ‘civilised European’ nations, such as Croatia, Hungary, Holland, Finland, Spain and Norway, contributed ‘volunteers’ to the barbaric Nazi onslaught against the territory of the USSR.
The Red Army forces and partisans displayed courage at Stalingrad that defies belief. The young soldiers effectively liberated London and Paris, as well as the ruins of Stalingrad. My mother’s generation admired and respected the crucial military assistance provided by the USSR to Britain in World War II, but this sense of gratitude has gradually been assaulted by media careerists determined to win favour with capitalist politicians and business leaders. Communists must remind British workers of the honest intent and progressive nature of the USSR.
Did the same media forces denounce the civilian death toll in the American invasion of Iraq in 1991? (This figure is conservatively estimated to exceed 200,000.) Did Tony Blair and George Bush face such an onslaught of vitriol that now taunts Russia? Did the destiny of Vietnam, Nicaragua and Chile, as well as Cuba, deserve the vindictive interference of the American imperialistic war machine?
The role of Britain in Ireland, India and Africa was not essentially benign. Huge loss of human life, as well as a profound distortion of national destiny, accompanied the British empire. Lenin spoke at length about the malign influence of imperialism, which creates a bloated sense of moral superiority in the leaders of the west.
American provocation underlined the previous coup in Ukraine and funds the current abuse of Donbas and Crimea. Are the Donbas and Crimean regions not permitted to identify with and celebrate their general Russian cultural heritage? The ‘war of lies’ has distorted the daily perspectives of English workers, as emphasised with enthusiasm by Keir Starmer.
In Palestine currently the Israeli state exercises such despotism that it even restricts the access to water supply for native Palestinians. Torture and repression defines the essential character of the Israeli state apparatus, firmly supported by America and Britain. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia bombs Yemeni insurgents with weapons sold to them by numerous European governments, including Britain. Why are these obscenities not vigorously condemned by the western media?
We must insist on repeating these important questions. I am unsure, however, if honest answers will punctuate the silence.
In his letter (April 7), Jack Howard asks me to substantiate the claim that Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century “has clearly evolved to the right”.
The answer is simple and can be found in the details provided in my original article about the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign (‘A toxic operation’, March 24). By supporting a campaign whose murky origins lay in various front organisations set up by the CIA in the 1980s and which continues to act in the interests of Nato and US imperialism, RS21 has openly gone over to social-imperialism - that is, support for imperialism and its interests - whilst parroting the language of socialism. Is that not a political evolution to the right?
Like others involved in the recent splits from the Socialist Workers Party, such as Counterfire and the International Socialist Tendency, RS21 claims to uphold a revolutionary position of opposition to imperialism and capitalism. However, in practice these various refugees from the SWP seek out allies wherever they can find them within the ‘mainstream left’.
With Counterfire, whose leading comrades play an important role in the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition, its drift to the right entails social-pacifism and an implicitly pro-Nato position. For RS21, its journey to the right has been much more open: in the name of ‘solidarity with Ukraine’ it makes its peace with imperialism and effectively lines up alongside those supporting US strategy directed against Russia.
Is that miserable political collapse not reactionary enough to be called rightwing?
Down the drain
There was some discussion at the CPGB’s April 10 online communist forum as to whether the British Labour Party might be going down the same drain as the Socialist Party in France and whether some working class people, especially amongst the young, might be willing to vote for the right.
The reason why the French ‘socialists’ have gone downhill so precipitously is because they are - to put it as politely as I can - bloody useless! Just as in Britain, Spain, Italy - and, of course, they are joined by Syriza in Greece. And, in France, as in so many other places, they are joined by the Communist Party.
A few years ago, I read a quote from an interview with an ex-miner from northern France - formerly a stronghold of the Communist Party - and he said, ‘We’re not fascists, but at least they listen to us’. Not a lot to hang on to, but apparently more than what was on offer from the left.
As readers know, there are many factors and policies that have drained these parties of any relevance to the working class - and hence of any further use to the ruling class either. Possibly the main reason for their near demise is their wholehearted embrace of ‘neoliberalism’. As Mrs Thatcher said, “there is no alternative” and social democratic, along with so many communist, parties have gone along with that.
In 1981 François Mitterrand became president of France, promising this, that and the other, but very quickly did a U-turn. As JK Galbraith pointed out soon after, Mitterrand realised that Keynesianism was over - the banks and the International Monetary Fund had made that plain.
Tony Blair was one of the most wholehearted embracers and he managed to lose the Labour Party nearly three million votes between 1997 and 2001 - and that was before he went to war on Iraq. In fact, that election was the first time that the UK turn-out went below 60%, or even 70%, since full female suffrage. But Blair was lucky for a while - the Tories were apparently even more bloody useless than Labour.
So what is neoliberalism and why are workers so unimpressed by it? ‘Neo’ means a return to good, old-fashioned capitalism. Labour-power is a commodity and, the cheaper it is. the better that is for ‘the economy’. So never mind the newly ‘old-fashioned’ welfare state, the NHS, affordable housing and so on. They can’t be dumped too quickly - there might be some unrest - but slowly, piece by piece (and accelerating, because, after all, where is the opposition?).
And so with greater and greater arrogance the dumping on the working class continues: in the UK, overpriced health contracts for buddies, stealthy NHS privatisation, fire and hire (oh dear - not too abruptly).
All so familiar to Weekly Worker readers, along with most other people. But what’s the answer? Again so familiar to readers, if not to so many others: a mass party of the working class to get rid of them for good.
I thought readers might be interested in the results of extensive research into the files of what happened in the Kirov region of the USSR during the so-called Great Purge. This research was conducted by a colleague who currently lives and works in the region. It is one example of quite a number.
Grigorii Ivanovich Plaksin, the former Raikom secretary of Kiknurskii district, was arrested on October 26 1937. He spent two years in custody. According to Plaksin,
“For not pleading guilty, I was forced to stand on my feet and I stood for 300 hours with short breaks. Later, investigator Krupenin began to beat me, inflicted continuous interrogations, and for 26 days I hardly slept, while on the so-called ‘conveyor’ [a chair used to put people in stress positions, while they were sleep-deprived]. In front of my eyes, a warrant was issued for the arrest of my wife, who had four small children to care for. I was kept in solitary confinement.
“As a result I had a mental breakdown and spent several months in a psychiatric hospital. As a result of the same measures of physical pressure on the part of the persons who were in charge of my case, I was forced, under the dictation of the investigators, Lebedev and Krupenin, to write testimony with fictitious confessions and facts that in no way correspond to reality.”
He admitted to forming a terror cell to destroy Soviet power.
According to my colleague, when Plaksin’s case was reviewed by the closed court session of a military tribunal, the charge that he was a member of a counterrevolutionary organisation was not confirmed and the court ordered him to be freed. The tribunal also noted that the materials provided by Plaksin during the re-examination of his case showed a serious violation of procedure.
Plaskin became a major and in 1941 was sent to the front. He was awarded the order of the Red Star in 1943. He was wounded in 1944 and was absent from the records my colleague was able to find, but is not listed among the war dead either.
In response to my colleague’s question as to what persuaded the tribunal of Plaksin’s innocence, there is this answer:
“They did extensive interviews with him and with witnesses. I read through the whole transcript. And if you read his interrogation it is insane, so its clear something was up. In Kirov almost all of the accusations against district-level officials were overturned by the courts. It seems they were a slow but effective bulwark against the NKVD in these cases.
“The NKVD, and in this case particularly Krupenin - who has showed up in other materials of mine, described as a sadist who enjoyed beating prisoners - grossly overstepped, but you also see the courts step in, do their own independent investigation that has a much more reasonable outcome and you see they condemn the treatment Plaskin received and request an investigation of the interrogators. And people like Plaskin went right back into leadership positions and fought for the country in which they had been wrongly imprisoned. Its deeply complex and the traditional view of repression does not reflect that.”
I agree. It is perhaps ironic that all this took place in the Kirov region - we can’t vouch for other regions of the country. Of course Kirov’s assassination was at the heart of the Menshevik/CIA/Trotskyite pretend/cover conspiracy theory that he was a rival to Stalin and headed a “moderate, consolidationist opposition” and that was the reason for the “Great Purge 1937-38”.
No. There were significant conspiracies aimed at overthrowing Soviet power in the 1930s. These involved the very Mensheviks and Trotskyists who had always opposed the consolidation of socialism in the USSR, represented by rapid industrialisation and mass collectivisation (‘Stalinism’!). They were often from or allied with the overthrown classes of landlords and capitalists, who were finally routed and dispersed by this ‘Third Revolution’: ie, the full consolidation and defence of socialism in the USSR.
I have always acknowledged that there were excesses in these special operations conducted by the NKVD and other state organs to root out and destroy these counterrevolutionary conspiracies, that innocent people were falsely fingered, arrested and some wrongly executed - genuine tragedies and damaging to the cause of Soviet socialism.
But the above and other examples surely also show the sheer strengths of Soviet institutions in successfully defending socialist legality and principles, even against the state security services in full flow, where the latter on occasions exceeded or outright violated them.