Russia: British Marxist debates Stalin and Trotsky

CWI represented in Moscow debate

It’s certainly the first time that the first speaker at a meeting in which the CWI participated was a Russian orthodox priest in full robe speaking through video link from St Petersburg. It’s also the first time for eighty years that a leading Trotskyist has spoken on such an important platform in Moscow.

The occasion was a debate organised by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti ‘s English language paper “Moscow News” to discuss “Stalin’s legacy for Russia”. Apart from “Archpriest” Georgy Mitrofanov, the conservative political commentator Yegor Kholmogorov, and Nikita Petrov, from the human rights organisation “Memorial” and Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the Socialist Party of England and Wales (CWI), spoke. Another speaker, a leading spin doctor from the ruling party “United Russia” pulled out.

Archpriest Georgy is supposed to be on the “liberal” wing of the Russian church. He lost no time, however, in disputing the title of the debate. He said we should be discussing the crimes of “communism”. Crudely lumping together all those who died from famine, hunger and war, he claimed that the revolution had cost the lives of millions. Ignoring the millions who had been slaughtered in the First World War, whose end was speeded up by the Russian Revolution, he painted a picture of an idyllic Russia that supposedly existed under the autocracy of Tzarism, a system in which, of course the church played a central role.

As two of the other speakers commented, it is a distortion of history to talk of twenty seven million being killed by Stalinism. Nevertheless, two to three million lost their lives in Stalin’s horrific purges. Slave labour for camp inmates was introduced to help push forward the accelerated industrialisation of the 1930s. But apart from Peter Taaffe, none of the speakers gave a coherent explanation of why Stalinism arose. However, the apologists for Stalin in the discussion said nothing about the benefits of the planned economy or socialism, merely defending the dictator as a strong leader, defender of Russian interests and war leader.

After defending the rights, even of archpriests, to comment, Peter explained how the legacy of Stalinism has been used against those who argue for democratic socialism, to frighten the people of Britain, Europe and the world against socialism. Defending the gains of the October revolution, he talked of how the planned economy took Russia from being the India of Europe to the second industrial superpower in the world, but when the Stalinist bureaucracy developed, it became a barrier to the further development of the plan. “And as Trotsky predicted,” Peter said, “the Soviet Union faced a choice with Stalinism, either a regeneration through the return to democracy as advocated by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, or Russia would collapse because of the fall of productive forces, and that would lead to a return of capitalism”.

He pointed out that the return to capitalism had been a disaster with a drop of nearly 50% in GDP in the 1990s. Now countries like Latvia are suffering from the world crisis, with half of its hospitals closing. “What we need today is to have a planned economy, not Stalinism but a democracy, a workers’ democracy, with workers’ control, the cut of the working day so the masses can be involved in the control of society” Peter continued.

A lively discussion followed among the youthful audience. Significantly a number of American exchange students were in the audience, having been radicalised by the current world crisis. One person’s absence however was barely noticed. Professor Bob Service had turned down the invitation to participate for no other reason than he was afraid to debate with a representative of the CWI, even in Moscow.

We hope to post a video of Peter’s speech in the next days

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