Our Happy Bygone Days
By Israel Shamir
"We lived in communist paradise and weren't aware of it." I have heard this sentence from many ex-citizens of the ex-USSR, from Russians and Tajiks, from Ukrainians and Balts, and I agreed with them wholeheartedly: Soviet Russia was a land of spiritual and educated men who loved their work, were proud of their country, despised money, were hospitable and kind. Stephen Gowans (Hail the Reds, http://www3.sympatico.ca/sr.gowans/reds.html ) has eloquently eulogised the lost paradise:
Over the seven decades of its existence, and
despite having to spend so much time preparing, fighting, and recovering from wars, the Soviet Union managed to create one of the great achievements of human history: a great industrial society that eliminated most of the inequalities of wealth, income, education and opportunity that plagued what preceded it, what came after it, and what competed with it; a society in which health care and education through university were free (and university students received living stipends); where rent, utilities and public transportation were subsidized,
along with books, periodicals and cultural events; where inflation was eliminated, pensions were generous, and child care was subsidized. By 1933, with the capitalist world deeply mired in a devastating economic crisis, unemployment was declared abolished, and remained so for the next five and a half decades, until socialism, itself, was abolished. The Communists produced social security more robust than provided even by Scandinavian-style social democracy, but achieved with fewer resources and a lower level of development and in spite of the
unflagging efforts of the capitalist world to see to it that socialism failed. Soviet socialism was, and remains, a model for humanity - of what can be achieved outside the confines and contradictions of capitalism.
Over thirteen years ago Soviet Communism was done in, and Anglo-American Liberalism won its third great victory of the century. These were hard years for the Russians - life expectancy dropped drastically, industry collapsed and the great achievements of Soviet days were reversed. But life of an ordinary man became
much worse in victorious Western Europe and the US as well, for the moneyed classes lost their great fear of a workers' revolt and alternative development. The social gains of the Western working class had been obtained thanks to this fear, and were taken back as Russia was turned into a middle-size country of little importance.
Stephen Gowans understood this; actually his essay is a complaint against 'gleeful' Howard Zinn and other Western leftists who provided the left flank of the anticommunist Cold War front. Howard Zinn is
not alone at his refusal to admit collaboration with the enemy. A British Trotskyite Alan Woods has now published a verbose tripartite article (http://www.marxist.com/Theory/reply_shamir1.htm , a response to my Celia in the Woods, see on http://left.ru/inter/2004/shamir.html in English and on http://www.left.ru/2004/15/shamir114.html in Russian, on http://www.rebelion.org/ in Spanish) equally full of glee.
Woods mentions that his guru Trotsky "always stood for the unconditional defence of the USSR against imperialism and
capitalism". But he and his kin rejected his advice. For him, Russian communists are 'Stalinists', and he gaily makes the following inquiry:
Let us begin with some awkward questions for our Stalinist opponents. The first question is: if we accept what you say, that the Soviet Union was a socialist paradise, then how come it collapsed?
The third question will be: if there was a genuine workers' democracy in the USSR, why did the Soviet workers not fight to defend the old regime? How does it happen that after over
half a century of what Israel Shamir calls socialism, they could re-establish capitalism without a civil war?
These are valid questions, and they should be answered.
It is a sad truth that people's minds may be manipulated. The vast majority of men and women will act against their own best interests if convinced that 'this is right'. I witnessed this recently in an Israeli kibbutz -- a rich, stable, prosperous enterprise. The average kibbutz member's share of communal property was worth close to a million dollars.
They went through the privatization and "income differentiation" scam and became paupers. Now many kibbutz members, yesterday's millionaires, survive by collecting leftovers in the fields. Their vast property went to a few well-placed families.
I asked kibbutz members: "The privatization was not forced on you. You accepted it, you voted for it. Why did you raise your hand for the scheme that was sure to ruin you?"
"We were told this was more progressive," they told me.
If that was the case for a few
thousand of well-educated and prosperous Israeli kibbutzniks, it was even easier to convince millions of innocent Russians that "state ownership is detrimental to development" as this idea was broadcast by a million voices from the West. The Trots played a prominent part in this ideological warfare as they glibly quoted from Marx in convincing the Russians that what they had was not socialism or communism but "nomenklatura rule".
Communism in Russia lost the Cold War, as it lost the war for discourse; anticommunism became an integral
part of every political or philosophical movement in Europe and the North America. Our Trotskyite friends formed the left wing of the anticommunist front, next to the Euro-communists of Berlinguer and the deconstructionist followers of Derrida. Eventually this united anticommunist front succeeded in undermining Soviet morale.
The anti-Stalinist campaign was a powerful ideological weapon in the war for discourse, for images of Lenin and Stalin were sacred to the Soviet people. Myopic Khrushchev thought he fights a war for
Stalin's legacy against Stalin's ministers; but instead he undermined the sacred structure of Soviet Communism and damaged it irreparably.
Looking back, we understand that the major share of the Western leftists' complaints against Stalin and against the USSR were without merit.
♦' Russian cruelty' and 'GULAG horrors' were Euro-centric racist slurs. Indeed, the US has a bigger jail population than Russia ever did. In a recent article ("The
Colonial Precedent" by Mark Curtis, The Guardian, Tuesday October 26, 2004) Woods can read all about your typical British brutality:
♦' "British forces killed around 10,000 Kenyans during the Mau Mau campaign, compared with the 600 deaths among the colonial forces and European civilians. Some British battalions kept scoreboards recording kills, and gave ?5 rewards for the first sub-unit to kill an insurgent, whose hands were often chopped off to make fingerprinting easier. "Free fire zones" were
set up, where any African could be shot on sight. As opposition to British rule intensified, brutal "resettlement" operations, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands, forced around 90,000 into detention camps. In this 1950s version of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, forced labour and beatings were systematic and disease rampant." Indeed, peoples of the Soviet-led world never experienced anything similar to the devastation meted by the Anglo-American forces within confines of their empire.
The GULAG positively pales in comparison with Israeli concentration camps for Palestinians; the biggest of them being the whole of Gaza Strip with its one million strong imprisoned population. 'Stalin's atrocities' could never compete with the US atrocities in occupied Germany, with nuclear bombardment of Hiroshima, with the fire-bombing of Tokyo or with millions of slain Vietnamese or Algerians.
♦' Soviet troops had foiled attempted coup d'etat in Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. The
Left bewailed it, but in the same period, the Americans fought pro-Communist insurgencies in Greece and Malaya, Nicaragua and Cuba, Indonesia and Cambodia. Mea culpa, I have to admit that as a young dissident I supported the Prague Spring when it was unfolding, but now I regret the Soviet Communists did not dare to do a "Tiananmen Square" in Moscow and arrest pro-American 'velvet putschists' in 1990s.
♦' The 'Afghanistan invasion' of 1980 was denounced by the West, from the Trots of Woods to
the American President. But was this criticism justifiable? The Soviet troops came into Afghanistan at the express request of the Afghan president in order to stop a CIA-led insurgency. Here is a short except from an interview given by Zbigniev Brzezinski alluringly titled "How the US provoked the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan and starting the whole mess" (Le Nouvel Observateur (France), Jan 15-21, 1998):
♦' Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [From the Shadows], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?
♦' Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to
induce a Soviet military intervention.
♦' Question: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?
♦' Brzezinski: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
♦' Question: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to
fight against secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?
♦' Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea.
It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, in substance: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for
almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.
♦' Practically every 'anti-Stalinist' and anti-Soviet claim can be countered.
People who denounced 'Russian cruelty' expressed in downing of the Korean airliner spent no tears over the fate of the Iranian Airbus gunned down by the Yanks. They regretted Sacharov's exile but ignored Vanunu's sentence.
In the Good Man from Sezuan (Der gute Mensch von Sezuan) by Bertolt Brecht, a good-natured whore is fleeced by her greedy acquaintances. In order to survive she invents a hard-nosed 'brother' who stops embezzlement and allows her to continue with good deeds. The USSR had this duality, too: its soft humanism was well protected by Stalin-built hard shell. The Western Left attacked the hard shell of Soviet Russia until the country was bereft of protection and collapsed.
The Western Left felt its belonging to the West more than its solidarity with the
Left in the East. Alan Woods and his Trots were committed to Western supremacy. This is not by chance: his essay describes Russia as "backward" 16 times. He wrote: "Russia, an extremely backward country,.. frightful backwardness, .. backward, semi-feudal country like Russia, a backward, Asiatic, peasant country like Russia, backward agrarian Russia, terrible backwardness", etc. What is this if not typical Western arrogance, Euro-centrism of most brutal kind?
Russia, the country of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, of Lenin and Florensky was one of the
most spiritually advanced countries. And communism is - if anything - a victory of the spirit. Woods and other Trots despised spirit and worshipped material progress, for only from this point of view could Russia be perceived as "backward".
Success and failure of communism in the East could not be explained within the confines of the vulgar-Marxist dogma. [Marx himself would have been able to understand it - the author of the Jewish Question, of Critique of Hegel's Philosophy, of Ode to the Virgin understood that Spirit is the alpha and omega of human development and he was quite disgusted with vulgar-materialist "Marxists".]
Communism won in the East - not because the East was backward, but because the East was the most spiritual part of the planet, less ruined by modernity and alienation. Communism was not successful in the West because the West was spiritually impoverished and subdued by latter-day Hobbesians.
In two words, the difference between the West and the East was not in amount of steel and electricity produced. The difference was philosophical and metaphysical. Carl Schmitt wrote that "all of the most pregnant concepts of modern doctrine are secularized
theological concepts." And the doctrinal differences of the East and the West fit this description to the jot.
In the Anglo-American West, Hobbes, who based his vision of society on 'Man-to-man-is-wolf' approach, won the day. Men are united only by common enemy, he wrote. In a way, he was right: an enemy is the only thing that unites men, unless they are united by Christ, or, better said: unless you are united in Christ, you will be united in the Enemy. And this is not a mortal enemy, but Enemy, that unites people who accepted that
The East preserved its traditional spirituality, and that is why Communism won in Russia and China. Communism made little progress in caste-ridden India, for Chairman Mao was right: caste structure is as evil as imperialism, as it prevents unification of people in God.
The Russian Communists eventually solved their material problems and created a care-free society, where everyone's livelihood was assured. But in order to advance materially, they accepted some Modernist ideas; uprooting and alienation struck home. The
USSR did not pay heed to Simone Weil's critique and to her call for a reversal of uprooting. Extreme materialists, the Soviet post-Stalinist leaders were convinced that as long as they produced enough material goods they could manage. The Church was suppressed; the Communists imported Christian morals in form of 'the Communist moral codex' but it was not sufficiently inspiring. The new sacrality of Lenin and Stalin was demolished by Khrushchev; and a desacralised society can't survive for long.
Practically speaking, Soviet Russia collapsed because
its elites betrayed the people. Uprooting creates a chasm between the people and the elites; uprooted and alienated elites were ready to take their money and shift to the Riviera. They sold the wealth of Russia to US companies, impoverished the ordinary folks and ruined the country. This collapse should be a lesson for all of us: the communists should fight alienation and uprooting as their greatest enemy; they should not allow the enemy to de-sacralise their universe; they should not be ashamed of the hard-nosed brother of the good man of Sezuan.
The Jewish question played an important role in rise and collapse of the Russian communism. The Western Left had very strong Jewish connections. Some of them were tainted with Jewish nationalism and turned their pens and efforts against communism when they perceived that the Russian communism eventually became predominantly Russian. In order to justify their betrayal they had spread the black lie of "Russian anti-semitism".
This false narrative is carried out by the Trotskyite writer Alan Woods. I wrote in my article: "Were Jews
persecuted as racial group under Stalin? Obviously not, for Stalin's daughter was married to a Jew; some of his best comrades and party leaders had Jewish wives (Molotov, Voroshilov) - or Jewish sons and daughters-in-law (Malenkov, Khrushchev). So much for racism. Were Jews discriminated against under Stalin? In 1936, at the pinnacle of Stalin's power, his government included nine Jews".
The best reply Woods could think of is "This is absolutely incredible. It is common knowledge today that Stalin was a rabid anti-Semite." A reference to "common
knowledge" is not considered to be an argument. Indeed, it was a common knowledge in England that women do witchcraft and that the nobles have blue blood. Today it is common knowledge that the da Vinci code tells us that the Holy Grail is Mary Magdalene.
Woods is strong on common knowledge (read: western prejudice) but weak on facts. He writes: "The Bolshevik revolution gave freedom to the Jews". As a matter of fact, Jews were always free - even when the vast majority of Russians, Poles, Ukrainians were serfs. All limitations on Jewish rights
were removed - not by Bolsheviks, but by the bourgeois February revolution. Woods writes: "After 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks even granted those Jews who wished to live in their own autonomous region, the area known as Birobidjan". Wrong again: this was done by 'a rabid anti-Semite' Stalin in 1934.
He writes: "In 1930 Stalin closed Yevslektsia, an official Soviet entity meant to expose anti-Semitic incidents". It was the other way around - Yevsektsia fought Jewish nationalism and was much hated by many Jews.
He writes: "On February 28,
1953 there were deportations to Siberia of a large number of Jews from Moscow. Plans were being made to commence mass deportations from other parts of the Soviet Union." This is another Jewish story of 'eternal persecution of Eternal People". There were neither deportations nor plans for deportations. The Russian historian Kostyrchenko proved in a research paper called Deportation or Mystification < http://www.lechaim.ru/ARHIV/125/kost.htm > that it was an urban legend promoted by a Jewish nationalist, professor Jacob Etinger of Hebrew University, a
man who admitted his "deep hatred of Communism".
Woods writes: "Members of JAFC (Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee] were accused of being part of a Zionist-U.S. conspiracy against the Soviet Union… all accused of espionage, nationalist propaganda, and of seeking to establish a Jewish republic in the Crimea as a 'bridgehead' for American imperialism".
Does Woods know of any reason to doubt that they sought to establish a Jewish Crimea on the ruins of Tatar villages, a sister state to Israel established on the ruins of Palestinian villages? Publications
in Russian post-Soviet and Israeli media indicate that the Jewish activists of JAFC supported expulsion of Tatars and envisaged the creation of a Jewish Crimean Republic. The mass immigration of Russian Jews to Israel in 1990s furnishes additional proof that Jewish nationalist propaganda was quite successful.
Woods writes: "[In 1953], Stalin ordered the arrest of all Jewish colonels and generals in the MGB, and a total of some 50 senior officers and generals were taken in to custody." Apparently "rabid anti-Semite" Stalin still had so many Jews in
the top echelon of the feared State Security after 30 years of his rule! Woods admits that the State Security carried out severe repressions, and immediately he objects to Stalin's campaign against chiefs of the State Security.
For Woods, Jews are always innocent. Whether they are involved in excesses of the State Security or promote mass deportation of Tatars, whether they bend towards Zionism or ally with the US - they can't be touched. He writes: "Molotov's wife was Jewish. Stalin forced Molotov to separate from his Jewish wife, and she was
exiled in 1949 by a direct vote of the Politburo, Molotov abstaining."
If he would read the memoirs of Golda Meir, the first Israeli ambassador in Moscow, he would learn that Polina Molotov embraced Golda, and tearfully called out: "Ich bin ein Yiddische tochter" (I am Jewish daughter). Such Jewish nationalist feelings were indeed dangerous for the Soviet state and made Mme Molotov quite unsuitable for her position of Deputy Member of Politburo. As I said previously, Woods is too tolerant of Jewish nationalism and too intolerant of the
nationalism of 'backward' Russia. Stalin's Russia treated Jews as equals - not as superiors like the US. If Jewish nationalism were treated in England and the US as it was in Moscow in the days of Stalin, the citizens of Baghdad and Teheran, Basra and Ramallah would be able to sleep peacefully in their own homes.