Mastering Bolshevism
Date:December 1968
Organisation: The Internationalists
Author:Joseph Stalin
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

21st July 2008

The term Stalinist is bandied around a fair old bit in further left political circles, sometimes correctly, sometimes not. But for an example of a truly ‘Stalinist’ document one need not look further than this, a reprint by the Internationalists of “Mastering Bolshevism” by Stalin.

The Internationalists, who when they grew a bit older became the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist Leninist) [of which more here] were founded by Hardial Bains who - it must be admitted - worked prodigiously to promote Maoism as an aspect of Marxist-Leninism, then when that failed the test during the Sino-Albanian split went with Hoxha and Albania. That such an exotic bloom should flower, albeit temporarily and in a very limited way, in Ireland is testament to Bains who apparently studied in Trinity College Dublin in the mid-1960s.

The political purpose of the Internationalists is evident in the quote on the cover from Stalin himself:

Trotksyism has ceased to be a political trend in the working class… It has changed from the political trend which it was seven or eight years ago into a frantic and unprincipled gang of wreckers, diversionists, spies and murderers acting on the instruction of the intelligence services of foreign states…(1937)

The then contemporary nuance is explained in a preface on the inside cover which argues that:

… The target of attack is modern Soviet Revisionism, the ‘revisionist’ parties in the imperialist countries and elsewhere, trotskyism [note the lower case ‘t’], ‘Castroism’ and various other shades of liberal bourgeoisie ideologies vying for influence in the revolutionary ranks, e.g.. ‘new left ideology’.

[To which the only answer might be that if this pamphlet is agin them then I’m for those new leftists and revisionists.] But during this period the ‘new left’ and attendant supporters was in the ascendant and this sort of gesture was presumably necessary by their lights.

That said the small issue as to whether Stalin’s (unbelievably repetitious) ruminations on Trotsky et al had any bearing at all on how socialism of whatever form should be progressed in Ireland in the 1960s seems to have escaped those who published and distributed this pamphlet.

The advert on the second last page promoting “Necessity for Change Progressive Books and Periodicals”, or plain old Progressive Books as we knew it later is interesting [although perhaps not quite as interesting as the question of how such a small group could afford a bookshop… Now that’s what I call dedication]. The term “Necessity for Change” came from a conference Bains had organised to found Marxist-Leninist parties, but it’s indicative of the propensity for sloganeering, something that carried on into the CPI (ML).

A small note: Oddly enough this is the only piece of material I’ve ever had any qualms in putting up due to the author of the content. But it’s an archive and reflective of the times, ideas and people involved…

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  • By: Garibaldy Wed, 23 Jul 2008 21:39:07

    No I’m sure you’re not suggesting an invasion. But I don’t think that we could have ruled out the possibility if the DPRK looked weak enough in the 1990s, or even more recently. Given the axis of evil speech was followed up with Iraq, and now Iran looks not impossible (and it’s amazing how much of the script for Iraq is being both followed and swallowed by large numbers of Americans), I don’t think we can put all Korean fears down to paranoia. I’m also far from convinced that some of the “inside footage” has been genuine.

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  • By: Mark P Wed, 23 Jul 2008 22:13:00

    What I find bizarre about this discussion is that the only argument Garibaldy – or to be fair anyone but the maddest hardline Stalinist – ever makes for the Stalinist Parties continued support for North Korea and the Kim dynasty as pioneers of socialism amounts to saying that we should defend it against imperialism, which may have unpleasant plans for the area. This is almost a perfect example of a non-sequitur argument.

    Nobody here supports an imperialist invasion of North Korea, or a blockade or sanctions or whatever. But only the nostalgic Stalinists somehow jump from that fairly unproblematic position to sending fawning greetings to Emperor Kim II, as the leader of the Korean people’s struggle for socialism. It’s demented stuff.

    North Korea is a hellhole. It is entirely undemocratic, to a degree that would have made the Sun King blush. It is ruled by a military oligarchy who keep their people almost entirely isolated from the outside world. Not only is there no free press, the only media available to North Koreans waxes lyrical about thunderbolts announcing the birthday of the God Emperor.

    I think part of the reason for this self destructive behaviour on the part of the various Stalinist parties is a long ingrained political culture which has to look towards some existing state as the home of socialism. It’s the same kind of thing that led the Internationalists to hold Hoxha’s Albania in such comically high regard.

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  • By: Paddy Duffy Thu, 24 Jul 2008 07:16:57

    Mark P’s braindead Trotskyism is such that the facts are never an obstacle in his constant tirades against Marxism-Leninism.

    The Albania of Enver Hoxha emerged out of the national liberation war against the Italians and Germans. In the first General Elections of 1946 the communist got two-thirds of the vote.

    In March 1991 in spite of the influence of foreign governments the Albanian people in an election for the Peoples Assembly returned the Party of Labour of Albania with 162 seats in the 250 seat Parliament. The pro-capitalist Democratic Party came second with 65 seats.

    Subsequent elections and the increased influence of imperialism saw to it that the pro-capitalists eventually gained a majority – a process we are all familiar with in capitalist countries.

    The DPRK has defended the sovereignty of the Korean people who live in that part of the peninsula. The south is a prop for imperialism with many thousand of US soldiers based there.

    I recommend (with some minor reservations!) the books by Chris Cumings – especially ‘North Korea – Another Country’.

    Cumings is a professor of history at he University of Chicago – hardly a bastion of defenders of “hellholes”

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 24 Jul 2008 08:07:48

    Garibaldy, I think the idea that the footage is fake is untenable. By any measure the self-admitted actions of NK, from kidnappings, etc indicate a profoundly dysfunctional state. That socialists, good genuine socialists, would feel it necessary to defend that seems to me to be pointless.

    The idea that SK, for all its faults is somehow worse than NK is absurd.

    But beyond that, why would people pretend that NK was somehow worse than it was? What political objective is gained? No one bar a tiny tiny minority would look – the vast majority of left socialists included – to NK as a way of running any society. Even on its own terms it is the antithesis of what I and I’d guess most others believe to be socialism. So it’s not as if its some sort of way forward that the West feels it has to, at all costs, crush lest we all follow juche.

    And to be honest I seriously doubt you and Paddy would live there either given the choice. Which makes the stuff about SK simply odd, since SK is broadly speaking a liberalish democracyish. Not great, not awful. Better than some worse than others, and frankly the idea that it spread north would – to my mind – be certainly no worse than any other suggestion and might lead ultimately to some genuine socialism north of the DMZ rather than the distortion that we actually see.

    Paddy, a defence of Albania under Hoxha is a brave endeavour, but again a pointless one. That was yet another oligarchical state which besmirched socialism. There’s no getting around it. As for the 1991 vote… please. In some post Stalinist states post-Marxist parties did well initially, others not so well. Curiously the former seems to have happened most in the more Stalinist states. Now why would that be I wonder?

    The defence of sovereignty argument is great. But again, sovereignty only has meaning in the context of people, and I think that globally we can make fairly reasoned evaluations of how good or bad various regimes ‘treat’ their populations. Guess what my assessment of NK is?

    It really does come down to being able to distinguish between the reality and the pretence of socialism. I can’t also help but feel though that it’s a bit about power. States have power. States that claim to be socialist are implicitly superior, etc, etc and consequently can be evaluated on the most superficial terms where all faults are wished away supposedly because the alternative is worse. Well, since we live in the alternative – bad and all as it can be – that doesn’t seem to be accurate at all…

    Nah, I’m with Mark P, who, Just as G isn’t a Stalinist (but to paraphrase him on another issue is not entirely correct on this issue), isn’t a braindead follower of Trotsky…

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  • By: Garibaldy Thu, 24 Jul 2008 08:30:18

    Well there was footage of mobiles being used before they were able to be used there. And why would people lie about a state that most people already find objectionsable? Ask the Iraqis. But anyway, I don’t really have anything to add to what I’ve said before on the issue of why I think solidarity should be extended.

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  • By: ejh Thu, 24 Jul 2008 08:43:24

    There is an extraordinary line in this piece:

    Five years later, the US joined the Korean War and carpet-bombed the North until every man, woman and child was living in a tunnel or a cave.

    When I first read this, I felt sure this couldn’t be true. Is it? If it’s even close to the truth, it shouldn’t be impossible to imagine the sort of collective fear and paranoia that must have grown out of that experience, and which has never been given the chance to ease.

    Re: the Bolshevik model. It wqas a model designed for a certain place at a certain time under certain conditions. Even if we agree that it was appropriate then, to try and reproduce it in very different conditions is to misuse it. All it is likely to do (and does do, time and again) is to make adherents to the model unpopular with the rest of the left, since they will stick together far too closely to make working with them at all comfortable.

    It will also have (and does have) the effect of damaging the ability of those adherents to properly discuss, examine and change their own ideas and analyses. What will tend to happen in practice is that organisations will develop a largely fixed analytical scheme which will always ask much the same questions and always produce much the same answers. These will seem convincing to those who are already convinced by them, but will seem deeply unsatisfactory to everybody else. The convinced will then annoy everybody else by telling them that they don’t understand.

    It’s an “epigones” thing. Th great Mrxists, like other grweat thinkers, produced vast quantities of thoughts, ideas and schemes relating to all sorts of human and political problems. However, all of them were aware – as their followers are not – that only a very small quantity of those ideas were core, central, necessary. Everything else is just a development of those ideas, subject to revision, alteration and quite likely disposal when circumstances changed or when they realised they might well be wrong.

    The core is small: everything else is dispensable. We know (and need to know) very little for sure. We should probably not, therefore, try and build political formations based on the opposite assumption.

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  • By: Garibaldy Thu, 24 Jul 2008 09:25:22

    Thanks for that link EJH. A very interesting piece. One of the more interesting aspects of reactions to the DPRK versus Cuba is how people will make adjustments for the embargo on Cuba, but none for the situation of the DRPK. Hopefully seeing that type of info from a fairly objective historian will prove of use.

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  • By: ejh Thu, 24 Jul 2008 09:31:47

    It might be fair to observe that Cuba is rather less grim than North Korea as a place to live. And it might also be fair to ask whether “none” is an entirely accurate description.

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  • By: Garibaldy Thu, 24 Jul 2008 09:39:20

    That might well be true, but we don’t know a great deal about life in the DPRK. One of the more interesting bits of that article was the discussion of communal life (which seems to have been severely damaged by the famine as can be imagined), and I remember from the programme that dissident videos are passed around. I guess we wouldn’t often associate vcrs and TVs in households with our image of Korea. There are moves towards reform within Korea, which can only be a good thing. Hopefully economic improvement and an improved security situation will allow things to open up more.

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  • By: ejh Thu, 24 Jul 2008 09:56:20

    we don’t know a great deal about life in the DPRK

    You don’t suspect that if it were better than it is, we would know more?

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  • By: Garibaldy Thu, 24 Jul 2008 10:07:17

    well I’ve spoken to lots of people who’ve been there who did not find it the way people suggested, and any one from there I’ve met has not been the epitome of authoritarian brutality. It is far from a perfect society, but I would be careful about believing it was an undisputed hellhole as well.

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  • By: Mark P Thu, 24 Jul 2008 12:19:34

    The notion that people have to secretly pass around dissident video tapes because there is no free press and no other means of mass communication outside of the ludicrous propaganda pumped out by the God Emperor’s apparatus does not, strangely enough, help convince me that North Korea is a socialist state or that the God Emperor is leading the struggle for socialism.

    As for the the “lots of people who’ve been there”, on carefully organised and shepherded political visits, that’s almost beyond parody. The Webbs and many others made utter fools of themselves more than seventy years ago on much the same basis. And here comrades is tractor factory number 36, look at how the happy workers wave to you! Tomorrow it’s time to visit model collective farm number 174 where the happy peasants will recite to you the many blessings brought to them by Kim Jong-il’s control of the weather!

    I remember speaking to a member of the ISN, by the way, who had been sent on a visit to the place back in his Workers Party days. He was of the view that it was such a godawful place, despite the careful control of what they were allowed to see, that the visit was one of the first things that made him question the WP’s vision of socialism.

    As for Paddy’s “contributions” to the discussion, I’m actually enjoying them. It’s hugely entertaining to have this kind of throwback spout the kind of drivel that is normally missing from left wing discourse since his ilk mostly gave up or died off.

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  • By: Dunne and Crescendo Thu, 24 Jul 2008 16:19:19

    In the 1930s there were no shortage of people who claimed that what was being said about the USSR and the purges etc were lies. Lies invented by the capitalist press, including fake photographs of Ukrainian famine victims etc. Lots of honest socialists wanted to believe that the reports were lies. Some went to the USSR, thought something was wrong but felt it would be betraying their beliefs to say so. Ever hear of Harry Pollit? The 1930s CPGB leader was a decent guy by all accounts. He knew that his sweetheart Rose Cohen had been falsely accused and then executed by the regime in Moscow. He accepted it for the greater good! That was tragic but in someways in the context of its time understandable (if wrong).
    Defending the lunatics who run the DRPK in this day and age is just sad.
    By the way, there was a revolution in Cuba, but the Kim gang were put in power by the Red Army, not by popular struggle, though the Koreans are told that Kim invented guerillia warfare, along with everything else. In my view the greatest single obstacle to socialism in western Europe was the fact that it was associated with dictatorship.

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  • By: ejh Thu, 24 Jul 2008 17:19:07

    In my view the greatest single obstacle to socialism in western Europe was the fact that it was associated with dictatorship.

    I’d like to believe that, and to some extent I do – it may well be what prevented the Italian and French CPs, for instance, from gaining great electoral success. But I wonder if it’s not also true that over the period when socialists and their organisations have become more distant and hostile to Stalinism, their public support has also declined: to the point, now, where both Stalinists and public interest in socialism are largely invisible.

    It’s a complex story,and I know we could cover it by saying “well, it’s because the damage was done in the Stalinist years” but to be honest I think that would be a thesis serving a purpose rather than one answering to the facts. The truth is that there’s very little belief, currently, that egalitarian ideas are either more economically productive than the free market, or more productive of social freedoms. I don’t agree with that, but it’s a view that comes out of the real experiences of people largely younger than myself in the societies in which they’ve grown up, and while those societies remain reasonably civilised, democratic and economically productive, it’s a view that will continue to be hegemonic (if I may) and will arguably deserve to be.

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  • By: Dunne and Crescendo Thu, 24 Jul 2008 18:01:41

    Maybe so. But I can remember on dozens of occasions;
    ‘if socialism is so great, why can’t the people travel?’
    ‘if socialism is so great why do people want to come here?’
    ‘If socialism is so great why did they build a wall to keep them in?’
    ‘why are the party leaders allowed travel where they want?’
    ‘why don’t they admit those plane crashes?’ etc, etc….

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  • By: ejh Thu, 24 Jul 2008 18:14:45

    Plane crashes?

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  • By: ejh Thu, 24 Jul 2008 18:18:42

    (Of course I heard the same things myself, many times, growing up in England in the Seventies. But the people who said them almost always voted Labour and if they’d been asked to define their politics would likely have called themselves socialists.)

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  • By: ejh Thu, 24 Jul 2008 18:29:38

    (What I’m trying to say, perhaps a bit clumsily – and I apologise for posting again, but I’m about to go out – is that I think the collapse of the USSR was really important in forming people’s views about socialism, but not, really, because Western socialists had been closely identified with Stalinism. They hadn’t, not for two generations, and I think people by and large understood that. But I do think people felt something to the effect that if there was socialism, it might very well turn out like that, regardless of the wishes or intentions of the socialists. To that degree it didn’t matter how much we did or didn’t distance ourselves from Stalinism, it couldn’t have changed anything.

    Old ways seemed not to work: new ways seemed better. That’s been the real story, I think.)

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  • By: Dunne and Crescendo Thu, 24 Jul 2008 19:40:59

    Re plane crashes; there were always rumours that Soviet airliners were crashing and the government covered them up, some of which has been proven correct. I worked for a while with a CPI member from Ballymun, who was fairly cynical and when I asked if he was going to go on one of the party’s trips to the USSR said ‘no fucking way, the planes are shite and if I’m killed over there they won’t tell anybody.’ His tongue was firmly in his cheek but when CPI members talk like that you know you have PR problems.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 24 Jul 2008 20:11:23

    Aeroflot had a woeful safety record. That much is entirely factual. Indeed it was the freeish market which smartened it up.

    ejh, your last point in 93 tends to be unfortunately close to my view as well.

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