COMMENT: by Raymond WatsonNews Weekly
Stalin's heirs live on ... in Australia
, August 10, 2002
Bill James's article, "That other Holocaust" (News Weekly, 29 June), was a timely commentary on the skewed preoccupations of much of the Western media, which quite rightly continue to remind us of the evils of the Nazi Holocaust of sixty years ago, but fail to highlight the Soviet gulags, Maoist mass murders or the more recent Khmer Rouge "killing fields", let alone call for Nuremberg-style criminal proceedings against their living perpetrators.
For all the supposed "triumphalism" of the anti-communist liberal democratic forces following the collapse or degeneration of Marxist regimes around the world, and about which the crestfallen and downhearted Marxist "true believers" bitterly complain, it seems the "victors" may have become complacent before they have consolidated their "victory".
Does it have to be reiterated that communists and totalitarians in democratic societies raise the slogan of "free speech" only in order to subvert it by peddling their authoritarian ideologies?
It is one thing to encourage boundless political debate, even to the point of providing access to the forum for opponents of open societies, but is it wise to offer die-hard totalitarians access on an equal footing ?
Even in the West, where there is still a mass of people who consider themselves politically disenfranchised and an "alienated" restive intelligentsia prone to Julien Benda's "trahison des clercs",
there is always the prospect of their attraction to Marxism or a proto-Marxist variant.
While anti-communists may have convinced themselves that Marxism-Leninism is "finished", Marxists are convincing themselves that the defeated Marxist regimes just "screwed it up" or "misapplied the ideology" and, after licking their wounds, are preparing for the next round of revolution, this time determined to "get it right".
Maybe "armchair anti--communists" should get out on the streets more? Melbourne and Sydney streets are dotted with young communist newspaper sellers who have reinvented themselves as "Green Left" or "International Socialist" activists, wearing Che Guevara t-shirts, conjuring-up the spirit of their teachers' or parents' radical Sixties revolutionism. If the comfortable, "armchair anti-communists" don't know what's going on down in the streets, they could refer to the 1 May edition of the Melbourne Age
, which ran a full-page article on who's who in the "new communist movement".
Geoff Strong writes of "a new different kind of left, bouncing back, invigorated by the 'global justice movement's' opposition to the power of globalised capital."
(Sure, it's as factionalised as the old communist movement, but as a veteran of radical Sixties communism, I can attest to the fact that ideological differences did not prevent us from uniting and effectively helping to build an "anti-war" movement that helped the communists take power in Indo-China in 1975. Such was our influence that we could invite a delegation of Vietnamese communists to Australia to personally thank us for a "job well done". The political paralysis of the so-called "fanatical anti-communists" was betrayed by the fact that the only opposition to the delegation's Melbourne "gig" came from a handful of "Vietnam Vets" waving placards, who were ushered away by the police!).
I recently asked one of the dozen or so Trotskyists manning the Saturday morning street stall outside Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market why he still believed in the viability of communist revolution, given that the Soviet version led to the slaughter of his comrades under Stalin.
"Stalin was a counter--revolutionary," he said. "Our revolution will be faithful to the true Marxism. We will exercise 'proletarian democracy'."
"Does this mean you will tolerate free speech, even for those who oppose your ideas?," I asked.
"No, we will repress counter--revolutionaries. Free speech will only be extended to genuine proletarian revolutionaries."
"But Stalin called the Trotskyists 'counter-revolutionaries'," I noted.
"Yes," he said, "but Stalin perverted Marxism. The Soviet Union wasn't a true Marxist society, it was a deformed workers' state."
A state full of "deformed workers"?
No, you see, "True Marxism" hasn't been tried yet. The Trotskyists and all the other Marxists, now relieved of having to pledge allegiance to any of the extant or recently dismantled Marxist regimes, are bound to "try it again" - and again, until "it works". The "old mole"? Or the "many-headed hydra"?
Many of the leaders of "S11",
the violent factions of the "Anti -Globalists", resurgent union militants, the "free the refugees" groups, and the new "anti-war movement" are left-over Trotskyists, Maoists disillusioned with modern China, or Marxist "refugees" from the dissolved Australian Communist Party seeking political shelter in some new radical cause.
is a case in point. Its spokesman, David Glanz, is leader of the "International Socialist Organisation", which played a leading role in the violent demonstrations on May Day in Sydney and Melbourne this year. The Melbourne Herald Sun
journalist Andrew Bolt raised the prospect last year of an alliance between "S11" and Islamic extremists (Herald Sun,
17 September 2001) and quoted Glanz from the "S11" Indymedia
"The September 11 suicide raids were born of desperation at the supreme arrogance and contempt of the rulers of the most powerful capitalist state on earth. Socialists do not deny the working class and the oppressed the right to use violence ... to rid the world of oppression and injustice requires not merely the assassination of particular ministers or the blowing up of military targets, but tearing up the roots of the capitalist system itself."
Gone are the days when doctrinaire Marxists indulged in internecine sectarian squabbles over "ideological purity". The "united front" now dictates support for any and every revolutionary action that can be construed as an attack on the capitalist system. Like their Communist Party forebears, they continue to support violence as a political tool and they continue to oppose democratically- elected parliamentary government.
The Marxist "leopard" hasn't changed its spots, it's just changed its name in the time-honoured tradition of hiding behind "socialist" or progressive-sounding euphemisms.
The "beauty" of non-party Marxism is that they no longer have to carry "party" political baggage or subject themselves to "party discipline, party rules or party identification", making it easier to attract "fellow travellers" and what Lenin called "useful idiots".
The post-party Left's "long march through the institutions" has resulted in a large degree of sympathy for their cause within the media, the universities and public service bureaucracies, facilitated by the fact that leftist journalists, intellectuals and euphemistically- described "community activists" can safely say, "I am not, nor have I ever been a member of the
And so? This long preface is my grounds for some unease over a letter published in Quadrant.
In the January-February edition of the magazine, I had published an article, "Never Speak Ill of the Dead?" This was a fairly scathing critique of an obituary for the recently-deceased communist activist, Dave Rubin, which appeared in The Age
of 19 October 2001.
The obituarist, David Langsam, while conceding that Rubin was a communist who "remained pro-Stalinist long after it was fashionable", nevertheless wrote what can only be described as a panegyric to the memory of Rubin, concluding that he "fought for human rights and against injustice."
I had presumed that Quadrant
readers would understand the howling contradiction involved in calling a supporter of Stalin's murderous regime a "fighter for human rights and justice". Quadrant's
editor apparently thought the point worth making by publishing my article.
In the April 2002 edition of Quadrant,
there appeared a letter to the editor from a Marxist academic, Barry York, who accused me of being "morally no better than those who attack the dead of September 11" for disparaging the memory of Rubin. Ipso facto he also groundlessly insinuated that I would disparage Rubin's "opposition to fascism", and took it for granted that I was also opposed to "Aboriginal rights" and the "right of workers to take industrial action". It was a real hatchet job, worthy of Stalin or Zhdanov.
I immediately sent a letter of response to Quadrant
"Letters" page - in April - but as of July, it has not been published.
I'm prepared, if it seems I must, to debate with Marxist apologists for Stalinism in the letters pages of Quadrant,
but I find it incongruous that there wasn't a more edifying letter to fill the space taken up by a Marxist totally hostile to the magazine's values.
Reading the editorial in the April issue, however, I found myself in some confusion about what those values actually are.
The editor, P. P. McGuinness, writing about the current hysterical attacks on Prime Minister John Howard, compared them with "McCarthyism" during the Cold War. The introductory section of the editorial set me back on my heels: "The unsavoury nature of communism was almost matched, and in domestic terms (in the USA, Australia and most other democracies) often more than matched, by the fanaticism and irrationality of the anti-communists."
"The unsavoury nature of communism" - at the time evidenced by the brutal occupation of Eastern Europe, the gulags, the Berlin Blockade, the North Korean invasion of South Korea, the crushing of the Hungarian Revolt, and in Australia, crippling industrial strikes by communist-led unions - was "more than matched" by the anti-communists' "fanaticism and irrationality"?
Watching Bob Santamaria's Point of View
might have been a trial for some, but it wasn't compulsory viewing and I doubt they'd have preferred Stalinist "show trials" and the gulags.
I am reminded here of "anti-anti-communist" Henry Rosenbloom's rejoinder (Quadrant,
October 1994) to Robert Manne's The Shadow of 1917
. Rosenbloom acknowledged (in ironically "vociferous" language reminiscent of Stalinist abuse), that "the true story of the barbaric nature of Stalinism and other communist regimes, and of the accompanying apologetics trotted out by stooges and henchmen in the West, needs to be told now and again and again, to new generations."
My decision, 20 years ago, to leave the communist movement and re-embrace liberal democracy, I largely credit to reading Quadrant.
The inference that a centrist position between the "extremes" of anti-communism and appeasement of communism was the rational stance seems perilously close to a "moral equivalence" that sees no difference between the two political systems, despite one being, for all its faults, a political democracy, and the other, a political dictatorship.