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A One-PDF History of European Socialism and Communism
February 5, 2014 4:10 PM   Subscribe

A One-PDF History of European Socialism and Communism [via mefi projects]
posted by aniola (50 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really enjoyed reading Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station, which is a history of European Socialism and Communism up to the time of the Russian Revolution (the Finland Station in the title refers to the location where Lenin returned to Russian from exile in April 1917. Wilson has an incredible prose style. Most of his other books are of literary criticism. Wilson starts earlier than this document does, devoting several chapters to Michelet.
posted by larrybob at 4:26 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]


I misread this as "One page PDF". Now that would be a summary.
posted by anthill at 4:28 PM on February 5 [20 favorites]


I skipped to page 113.

However, Stalin's name today is more often associated with totalitarianism
than success.


A bunch of gobbledygook, then...

Could it indeed be otherwise? The overthrow of the old ruling classes did
not achieve, but only completely revealed, the task: to rise from barbarism to
culture.


Bunk.
posted by Mblue at 4:28 PM on February 5


Bunk.

Mblue: This is a reader and it's a thoroughly anti-Stalinist one at that, which can easily be seen by whose writings are selected (I suspect it's coming from a "Left Communist" perspective). It simply notes what many people at the time thought were and even now think are Stalin's successes. The rest of the short introduction to the "Stalinism" section is devoted to his crimes (also, actual Stalinists hate the term "Stalinism").

------

It's cool to have a reader with some pretty interesting choices that a lot of people haven't read, but the title for this FPP and the Projects page is misleading. This is not a history at all, but a chronological reader. And for a historical reader, perhaps it would have been a good idea to include some "Stalinists" (most people don't self-apply the term, as I said).
posted by Gnatcho at 4:50 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


I see their recommendation is to use the Reader in the following way (it's organized into weeks for a Study Group):

"Although the readings herein are rewarding to peruse in their own right,
they are more evocative when paired with a companion historical text which
provides greater insight into the context in which these texts were penned. For
this purpose, we recommend Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in
Europe, 1850-2000
by Geoff Eley (Oxford University Press, 2002). PDFs of
this text can be found online, for those who know where to look. For each week,
along with the required readings we note the corresponding Eley chapters or
other alternative readings that serve the same purpose. Further readings for
each week’s topic matter can be found at the end of the reader."
posted by Gnatcho at 4:54 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


Could it indeed be otherwise? The overthrow of the old ruling classes did
not achieve, but only completely revealed, the task: to rise from barbarism to
culture.


That's from Trotsky's (anti-Stalinist) "The Revolution Betrayed." You don't really have to agree or disagree with it or think it makes sense or doesn't make sense, but any serious student of the C20th is going to find it interesting and useful to understand "what Trotsky thought." Hence the usefulness of a reader like this.
posted by yoink at 4:58 PM on February 5 [5 favorites]


Man, I feel like I have to RFA before i can really comment!

Actually, this might be a great resource for a MeFi Red Book Club....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:07 PM on February 5


Revolutions take place on a grand scale, involving not just handfuls of revolutionaries, but millions of people acting in concert and conflict.

Unsettling.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:17 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Many self-described revolutionary organizations are dedicated to promoting
their worldview at the expense of others. A reader that refuses to consider
perspectives that do not align with the prejudices of the editors will be poorer
for it.


That's reassuring, but points out the fundamental flaw of the Left, accepting heterodoxy.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:21 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


Well, there's definitely a left communist tilt to it, with some flavor of autonomism and/or operaismo in the later readings. It's very weird in that it follows the communist left up through the '20s and '30s and then stops dealing with them for the postwar period, preferring to go to Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Situationists just for '68. It has Dauvé but not for anything related to communization; then it finishes on autonomist and operaista lines. It's definitely not a one-PDF history. It has a definite dilletantism with currents, picking them up when convenient but not following through or being thorough in its representation.

Probably the oddest thing is to skip from fascism - using pre-WWII writings - straight to '68. There's no attempt to deal with any of the second world war or its aftermath. That's a pretty huge failing.
posted by graymouser at 5:22 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


> Could it indeed be otherwise? The overthrow of the old ruling classes did
not achieve, but only completely revealed, the task: to rise from barbarism to
culture.

Bunk.


Oh, come on. I have no sympathy with communism and its apologists, but when I read writing from that tradition, I don't expect it to sound like a Wall Street Journal editorial, or whatever you might have been expecting. As yoink says, that's Trotsky in his 1936 attempt (already hopeless, but Trotsky never gave up) to redefine the direction of communism and show how it had gone wrong in the Soviet Union. He starts off talking about how "the democratic tasks of backward Russia ... could be achieved only through a dictatorship of the proletariat"—standard Bolshevik dogma—and continues:
Socialization of the means of production had become a necessary condition for bringing the country out of barbarism. That is the law of combined development for backward countries. ... [Russia is] still confronted with the task of 'catching up with and outstripping' ... Europe and America. She has, that is, to solve those problems of technique and productivity which were long ago solved by capitalism in the advanced countries.

Could it indeed be otherwise? The overthrow of the old ruling classes did not achieve, but only completely revealed, the task: to rise from barbarism to culture. At the same time, by concentrating the means of production in the hands of the state, the revolution made it possible to apply new and incomparably more effective industrial methods.
There's nothing strange or unintelligible about that, whether you agree with it or not. Trotsky was probably the best writer the Soviet leadership produced, and I recommend his History of the Russian Revolution and especially The Balkan Wars 1912-13, his superb book of reportage about one of the least-remembered important conflicts of the twentieth century. If only he'd stuck to journalism and left politics alone!
posted by languagehat at 5:26 PM on February 5 [10 favorites]


(also, actual Stalinists hate the term "Stalinism").

Honest questions: What do they prefer? Why don't they like the term Stalinism?
posted by Sangermaine at 5:46 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Generally Marxist-Leninist Sangermaine, if RevLeft is anything to go by.

It's a nice set of readings. I take graymouser's point, but to be truly comprehensive it would be double the length (I too misread it as one page, and was expecting one of those rock family tree type things), and as a marxist influenced anarchist it appeals to my biases: left/council communism, Dauve, Federici, autonomism...

Good work!
posted by spectrevsrector at 6:03 PM on February 5


Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in
Europe, 1850-2000 by Geoff Eley (Oxford University Press, 2002)

http://cdn.preterhuman.net/texts/history/europe/Forging%20Democracy%20-%20The%20History%20Of%20The%20Left%20In%20Europe%201850-2000%20-%20Geof%20Eley.pdf

Viva la communista!
posted by Dreidl at 6:08 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


RevLeft's not anything to go by, but "Marxist-Leninist" is the term Stalinists prefer for themselves.

My own tilt is Trotskyist, so the lack of any Trotskyist thinkers other than the old man himself and CLR James is disappointing to me, but this doesn't lean my way. I guess my problem is that it is good and thorough in the first few chapters but narrows and becomes sparser after 1921, which is just when things get interesting.
posted by graymouser at 6:18 PM on February 5


but points out the fundamental flaw of the Left

It takes a reactionary to identify problems applying to all political groups as fundamental flaws of the left.

Which isn't a big deal. Everyone's a reactionary these days.
posted by clarknova at 6:27 PM on February 5 [8 favorites]


Yeah - "Stalinist" is problematic for... well, I guess I'd be called one, considering I find comradeship in /r/communism, so "us"... One of the problems is that there is a belief that Stalin didn't necessary contribute anything new to Marxism-Leninism as a theory. Not that he didn't have certain writings that are of historical importance, but in the general scheme of things, he's not so much a thinker/philosopher as a literal bureaucrat (one of his nicknames, Tovarisch Kartotekov, means "Comrade Filing Cabinet"). He was an organizer.

The other reason Stalinist is problematic, apart from their not being any particular notable theoretical addition to Communist theory from Stalin is the use as an ill-defined pejorative against Communism in general, and specifically during his reign, and also painting "authoritarian" "socialist" regimes as all being "Stalinist". As if Mao Zedong Thought and Juche is just "Stalinism" as opposed to their own unique historical trends of development along particular lines.

Labeling something "Stalinist" tends to be a slur and it avoids taking a critical look at the historical situation to see what led to actions on the ground. It also negates the responsibility of those on the ground towards being one of Stalin's and only Stalin's. The "Great Actor" theory which goes against the ideals of socialism. It's the same reason we have a giant painting of George Washington becoming a deity in the Capitol rotunda... The myth of the singular great man/men of history, neglecting to take into account all the historical forces at play. The same could be said about Lenin and others, but the issue there is that Lenin did add some contributions to Marxism (the same way, you could say Luxembourg or Kautsky or Mao did).
posted by symbioid at 6:41 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Thanks, aniola, for publishing my project to the Blue! I'm glad people are finding it interesting and useful.

To address some of the comments/criticisms:

Actually, this might be a great resource for a MeFi Red Book Club....

I'm not sure exactly what you have in mind, but sure! Let's do it.

Probably the oddest thing is to skip from fascism - using pre-WWII writings - straight to '68. There's no attempt to deal with any of the second world war or its aftermath. That's a pretty huge failing.

As Gnatcho pointed out, the Eley text provides a lot of the historical background to the selected texts, and accordingly the reader focuses on philosophical disputes and positions rather than trying to convey history (other than the introductions, which are quite brief). Fascism is the philosophical trend that was largely responsible for WWII.

But I wonder if you had any texts in particular that you think we should consider if we put out another version or some such?

(And yes, in our defense, as spectrevsrector points out, we had to make a cut somewhere. We were trying to keep it to around 500 pages. Some justification for why we made the selections we did can be found in the intro.)

well, I guess I'd be called one, considering I find comradeship in /r/communism, so "us"

symboid, is there any work that forwards the theme "In Defense of Stalinism (or whatever you want to call it)" or is otherwise an exposition of your political viewpoint?
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 6:59 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


OK, so I did a little search on the reddit Communism subreddit and here's a few links. One of the main defenders is Grover Furr who considers himself a Communist. Another huge researcher is not a Communist, but a researcher who goes to the primary sources to find information, J. Arch Getty. Getty does a lot to refute Conquest's claims. He does not "defend" Stalin and readily admits the man had many problems (as should we all), but he does take a more rational look at the source material.

So, here's some stuff I found after a quick search... I have one of Getty's books in PDF form on my tablet, but not on my PC, apparently. (the one about the purges)

Stalin and the Struggle for Democratic Reform: Part One (by Grover Furr)

Here's Getty's page at UCLA

and here is Grover Furr's .edu page (yes, it's geocitiestastic)

This reddit thread has a zip of books on Stalin (though I haven't read any of them, so I can't comment on their quality)

Here's a book review of Ludo Martens' "Another View of Stalin"

I know there are better links and actual documents out there, but I don't want to link to PDFs that might be copyrighted, though I'm sure if you dig a little more you might find some things by these authors out there.

Bear in mind that I'm not saying I like the guy. I think he was very problematic, to say the least. Just that I think there's a lot more to Stalin and the circumstances in the Soviet Union around his leadership and the Party that requires a deeper looking into than the standard westernized propaganda.
posted by symbioid at 7:38 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


It takes a reactionary to identify problems applying to all political groups as fundamental flaws of the left.

Which isn't a big deal. Everyone's a reactionary these days.


I should hope so.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:39 PM on February 5


Bear in mind that I'm not saying I like the guy. I think he was very problematic, to say the least. Just that I think there's a lot more to Stalin and the circumstances in the Soviet Union around his leadership and the Party that requires a deeper looking into than the standard westernized propaganda.

uh... As far as I can tell, the bulk of "intellectual" output during the Stalinist period has about as much content as the last words of Dutch Schultz and much of the same moral ambiguity. Saying Stalin as problematic makes a certain statement, because to many people he was a mass-murderer who almost literally dressed himself up in a skin-suit cut from the bodies of 20th left-intellectualism. Sure, there was a lot going on, but it wasn't in the words.
Access to the history of revolutionary theory has typically been restricted to small cliques passing down their traditions, with their own associated reading lists, to acolytes. That is one of the main reasons we have put together the present reader: we hope it will enable people to undertake their own revolutionary education, on their own terms.
It seems like the basic problem is whether "communist" intellectuals can really purge all the "historical-materialism" clap-trap, the Maoist and Trotskyist cultism, the post-structuralist navel gazing, etc. To be truly "non-sectarian" you have to be willing to acknowledge that 20th century Marxism is largely a history of competing religious sects. In the 20th century Marxism became an ideology, or ideologies rather than what Marx thought.

Which isn't to say that Marxist ideology hasn't been an organizing force, but you can't have an honest intellectual dialogue with, say, Hare Krishnas or Jehovah's Witnesses and, more importantly, those sects can't really talk to each other.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:12 PM on February 5


Which isn't a big deal. Everyone's a reactionary these days.

Curiously, the neoreactionaries less than many. Or at least they're reacting to the whole thing rather than playing out obsolete bit-parts.

So I read this thing about Communism, like Lenin's pretty serious about reforming Russia, he dies, three guys argue about what to do with Communism. Stalin is like, let's forcibly collectivize everything in Russia, millions of people will die. Trotsky is like, let's foment revolutions everywhere, millions of people will die. This third guy is like, let's continue on Lenin's sober & difficult path of limited free markets with nationalized industry and slowly lead Russia to a glorious socialist future, everyone will live. Now I hear about Trotskyites all the time, and enough people will come out to apologize for Stalin, but that third guy, I can't even remember his name.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:44 PM on February 5 [6 favorites]


You're thinking of Nikolai Bukharin (link goes to his Marxists Internet Archive), who's a pretty interesting guy and was killed during Stalin's purges.
posted by Gnatcho at 9:07 PM on February 5 [6 favorites]


Among other things, he wrote The ABC of Communism, an introductory textbook, Economic Theory of the Leisure Class against neoclassical economics, and an only recently published (obviously) collection of philosophical writings in Lubyanka Prison before his execution, Philosophical Arabesques.

Bukharin came up as a Bolshevik to possibly popularize during Gorbachev and Deng's reforms, I believe.
posted by Gnatcho at 9:15 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


Oh yeah, and he drew caricatures of other political leaders in the Soviet Union.
posted by Gnatcho at 9:19 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


Did he put Veblen and Communism together? And didn't want everybody to die - Sounds like my kind of communist.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:22 PM on February 5


Not as far as I know, but when I wanted to figure out if neoclassical was the term at the time Bukharin wrote that book, I discovered Veblen invented the term in 1900 according to Wikipedia. I haven't read Veblen, but I think Bukharin was just playing on the title, with a possible reference to "idle rentier bourgeosie" who had the time to put together the neoclassical edifice or something like that.


Unfortunately for "not wanting everybody to die" * and historical what-ifs, I think that a lot of the Chinese approaches including Mao and Deng follow Bukharin more than Stalin and Trotsky. Stalin and Trotsky both thought the peasants were more of a problem, for one thing and wanted to impose collectivization.

* Saying that even though I have opinions about intentions and death tolls and famines and assessing that era in that I disagree with most mainstream characterizations of Maoist China while not idealizing or erasing the problems

posted by Gnatcho at 9:51 PM on February 5


What, no Leftwing Communism: an Infantile Disorder?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:09 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


But seriously, judging from the contents list, this is a serious resource, if of course limited by necessity. Should be linked to on Marxmail or leftist trainspotters.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:11 PM on February 5


I found David Priestland's history of Communism, The Red Flag, quite informative; it goes on from proto-Communist ideas such as in revolutionary France and the Paris Commune through to the Russian Revolution, the USSR, Maoism, Latin American Communism and the New Left, the decline of Marxism after the fall of the USSR and the question of whether now, after the financial collapse, some kind of neo-Communist ideas may return to discourse. The main new thing I got from it was Priestland's identification of three threads in Marxism: the Radical, the Romantic and the Modernist as he terms them, and how the conflict between these often contradictory impulses shaped the history of Communist states.

I wouldn't mind finding a similar book about Fascism and its ilk: there'd be room for antecedents (Napoleon, Imperial Rome, the church-led feudal hierarchies of pre-Enlightenment Europe), mutually contradictory impulses (iconoclasts such as the Italian Futurists, traditionalists, various revanchist and radical strands), the different movements, syncretic movements (like Pinochet's neoliberal Chicago-school Iberofascism), fellow travellers and sympathisers (was Reagan/Thatcher a fascist at heart?) and possible neofascist movements (the parts of anarchocapitalism which insist that economic freedom requires the "freedom" of the indebted to sell themselves into slavery because property rights, the "Dark Enlightenment").
posted by acb at 2:24 AM on February 6


Via Zompist, a pair of possible starting points: Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism and David Neiwert on modern strains, building on Paxton. Not exactly the same, as it tries more to ask what fascism is, rather than attempting to be a comprehensive history, but might nontheless help.
posted by frimble at 2:43 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


I skipped to page 113.

You forgot the "merrily".
posted by srboisvert at 4:20 AM on February 6


What, no Leftwing Communism: an Infantile Disorder?

Check out Week 6, Left-Wing Communism. It's in there.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 4:44 AM on February 6


Not so much on the Trotskyist end of things, but one can find quite a few primary sources through the libcom.org library.
posted by eviemath at 5:38 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


That is, more sources, for those upthread who were asking. Not with an accompanying or replacement reading guide from that in the fpp.
posted by eviemath at 5:42 AM on February 6


I just came here to say that I wish people who release 512 page PDFs into the wild would also release them in some sort of ebook format. Calibre did a lousy job with this.
posted by lordrunningclam at 6:08 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I always smile a little bit when I see a document typeset in LaTex. Like an old friend...or comrade.
posted by whittaker at 7:21 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Speaking of LaTeX + communism(ish), I just learned recently that the Bourbaki Brigade was a thing!

(In this century, that is: a quick web search reveals an entirely different Bourbaki Brigade from the 1850s.)
posted by eviemath at 7:45 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


> Getty does a lot to refute Conquest's claims.

Hahaha! Really, people are still trying to "refute Conquest's claims" after everything that came out following the fall of the USSR? Conquest didn't actually want to title the new edition of The Great Terror “I Told You So, You Fucking Fools,” but he could have done so with perfect justice. I personally find it hard to stomach people justifying Stalin's brutal rule in any way, but you can certainly at one and the same time give him credit for industrializing the country so that the Soviet Union was able to fight off Hitler's invasion and admit that he butchered millions of people with no cause other than his own power-crazed paranoia. If you're too soft-hearted to want to deal with the latter, well, Lenin would have laughed at you and said you had no business trying to deal with serious politics.
posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Thomas Friedman could probably milk this for fifty op-ed columns. Is Joseph Stalin the way he is because of Russia, or is Russia the way it is because of Joseph Stalin?
posted by bukvich at 11:42 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


So - let me ask you, languagehat. Since you're so set on certifying that Conquest is right, and laugh off any actual research into the matter (Getty has direct access to the archives, it's not just some random philosophical debate, he's looking into the records, he shows where Conquest skews his statistics, etc...)

By no means am I trying to defend Stalin as some sacrosanct leader. Stalin did engage in some terrible acts, so, let's not pretend I'm saying the guy was an angel.

The fact is, though, that we've gotten fed, over and over and over stories about Stalin being this bloodthirsty monster who had no complexities to his own ideologies, no changes based upon historical factors, just a one-track minded fuckhead.

There absolutely ARE things to criticize Stalin for, and there are things that he gets blamed for, personally, that are much larger than him. This does not excuse him for the things he is responsible for. Dekulakization was a pretty brutal policy. Liquidation of his political enemies without a fair trial (kangaroo courts much?). I'm not keen on the idea of Labor Camps.

Getty points out that most people who were sent to labor camps were released early (IIRC, been a while since I was reading the book of his that I have - it's pretty damn dry and academic, so hard to digest. It's definitely not a book meant for the masses...)

As a person who identifies as a Communist in some way, and who sees that there might some day come a "class war" of some sort (doubtful (and not necessarily desirable, even) that it would come in his life), does it not behoove him, and those who want a specific outcome in this said class war to study history, observe historical trends that might occur as a pattern in the future.

And if this pattern seems to be repeating towards a negative approach to "installing a dictatorship of the proletariat", and the desire is to create an intermediary "Socialist" government on the way to FULL COMMUNISM, and to do so with as little harm to the majority of people as possible, with the most amount of freedom as possible, would it not be wise of the people who have studied this history to see these trends and try to head off this tendency towards aggrandizement of one individual having such an overbearing amount of power over "The Party"?

And what of things that were not necessarily brutal dictates to punish his enemy, but that were mistakes that ended up aggravating an already serious situation? Famine exacerbated by poor policies. Those who castigate Stalin as the ultimate madman (if you're right-wing) or secondary or tertiary ultimate madman (if you're more more moderate) would lay all blame for all deaths that occurred under his watch at his feet, but do little to lay the blame for famines that occurred, for example, under Capital's watch. This is not an attempt at a tu quoque argument, but rather a demand for consistency when applying numbers, if this is going to be a numbers game.

So in the end, Stalin was not a super nice guy. He did some nasty things. He did some horribly flawed things that exacerbated already difficult situations. He also did some good things (as you mention - industrializing the Soviet Union which got them to the point where they could fend off, and then march into, what is one of the greatest threats the world has ever known). Just as he cannot take credit for all the negative things, nor should he take all the credit for the "good" (I use good here in quotes, because even the "good" things are very bittersweet).

I guess my main point is: I'd rather study history from a variety of sources and angles, and I'd like to ponder the non-orthodox version of events (especially if done with more rigorous study than, say, Alex Jones or some such bullshit), I'd like to look at the arguments for and against the historical events and interactions between players on the field of history. I'd like to see how that correlates to my world view, what can I learn via these events, what can I try to avoid? What patterns are similar to patterns that are occurring today? What makes these patterns different? What about the personalities involved? These are not easy questions, but I believe trying to approach these questions with as much sincerity towards having an open and honest act of questioning as opposed to swallowing doctrine and propaganda hook, like and sinker, is really to the benefit of all. The more we discuss and debate these things, the more we can try to act properly when the time comes to do so. It's easy to armchair coach a future revolution, but to lead a revolution in reality is a much more difficult and complex matter. If you don't like revolution and wanna sit it out? I don't blame you, I personally would like to, too.

But if something ever DOES happen and people need to know about historical antecedents, I'd rather they have taken the time to be informed and work towards an honest application of knowledge to hopefully help steer the revolution towards as democratic and free a path as possible.

(I haven't even touched upon the fragile connection between individual vs collective roles of leadership/functioning and how there might even be a potential weak point in my argument that I see as I type this ... I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader to point out ;))
posted by symbioid at 12:05 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


> I guess my main point is: I'd rather study history from a variety of sources and angles, and I'd like to ponder the non-orthodox version of events

Absolutely, and I'm right there with you. If the FBI ever decided to go after me, I might just as well hold out my hands and say "Put on the cuffs!": I've got a whole shelfful of Marxist/Communist/Maoist literature, Islam and Revolution by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the S.C.U.M. Manifesto ("Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex"), and Hitler's Table Talk, not to mention my own comrade anarchists.

As for the point at issue, I know Getty has worked with the archives, and he's a respectable historian, but he has his biases (as do we all) and I think his systematic attempts to downplay the Terror are, well, unfortunate. I can understand someone who believes in the basic goals of the CP and admires the achievements of the Soviet Union wanting to counteract the cartoon image drawn of it by right-wingers (and I have done so myself, here and elsewhere), but to me, that has to stop short of justifying Stalin. If it makes you uncomfortable to hear people say Stalin was a monster (which he was), you should think about why it does. One can believe various US presidents were monsters without giving up on the ideals of America, and the same principle applies. Sure, the idea of "Stalin being this bloodthirsty monster who had no complexities to his own ideologies, no changes based upon historical factors" is ridiculous, but that's no reason to go overboard in the other direction and start trying to find ways to minimize his awfulness. If you believe in the Hegelian dialectic of history, you can just say that at that point in time the vectors of the Russian past and the Bolshevik present threw up this particular embodiment of historical necessity, with all the violence and impatience that implied. But unless you believe that human beings are nothing but vectors of historical necessity, you have to judge Stalin as a person entrusted with the awful responsibility of supreme power, and I think you have to judge him harshly, regardless of the fact that your political enemies judge him similarly.

I'd like to thank you for such a thoughtful and friendly response to my rather provocative comment!
posted by languagehat at 12:48 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


> I've got a whole shelfful

Not so very long ago there was a very fine gander. He was strong and smooth and beautiful and he spent most of his time singing to his wife and children. One day somebody who saw him strutting up and down in his yard and singing remarked, "There is a very proper gander." An old hen overheard this and told her husband about it that night in the roost. "They said something about propaganda," she said. "I have always suspected that," said the rooster, and he went around the barnyard next day telling everybody that the very fine gander was a dangerous bird, more than likely a hawk in gander's clothing. A small brown hen remembered a time when at a great distance she had seen the gander talking with some hawks in the forest. "They were up to no good," she said. A duck remembered that the gander had once told him he did not believe in anything. "He said to hell with the flag, too," said the duck. A guinea hen recalled that she had once seen somebody who looked very much like the gander throw something that looked a great deal like a bomb. Finally everybody snatched up sticks and stones and descended on the gander's house. He was strutting in his front yard, singing to his children and his wife. "There he is!" everybody cried. "Hawk-lover! Unbeliever! Flag-hater! Bomb-thrower!" So they set upon him and drove him out of the country.

Moral: Anybody who you or your wife thinks is going to overthrow the government by violence must be driven out of the country.


- James Thurber (1939)
posted by jfuller at 1:33 PM on February 6


Thanks for the thanks, lh :P

I see your point, and I don't disagree with you. I think what's ironic is that some of my own statements come not so much from whether or not I agree with Stalin but that on /r/Communism the goal is "non-sectarianism" so you do not talk shit about other groups, period. You can discuss specific circumstances and critique things as they are, but you can't yell out about "those Trots" or "Stalinist dictators" or "3rd worldist Maoists aren't *really* Marxist" etc... I sort of get caught up in that mindset and trying to over-correct things.

I liked your analogy of the U.S. Presidents, if we're gonna talk consistency. So fair enough :)

So I think in some ways we agree, and it's more an issue of how can we discuss historical contingencies while not overlooking the actual brutalities that occurred and not try to minimize blame from those who did have a role in it, regardless of whether or not they were 100% the cause... If that makes sense (sorry I've not been feeling well lately, so if I'm not particularly clear, that's one element of why).
posted by symbioid at 2:16 PM on February 6


> So I think in some ways we agree, and it's more an issue of how can we discuss historical contingencies while not overlooking the actual brutalities that occurred and not try to minimize blame from those who did have a role in it, regardless of whether or not they were 100% the cause... If that makes sense

It certainly does. And just as a point of interest, I always make it clear that I don't support the idiots who call themselves anarchists and use it as an excuse to break windows and get people tear-gassed; I don't worry about whether I'm giving aid and comfort to conservatives, because the truth is mighty and shall prevail.
posted by languagehat at 5:22 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Now I feel stupid, what is a "reader"?
posted by zouhair at 5:31 PM on February 6


A "reader" is a collection of "readings" around a given subject, i.e., of significant, formative works in the field. You might have a "Reader in Psychoanalysis" for example that would include seminal works by Freud, Klein et al.
posted by yoink at 5:46 PM on February 6


Thanks a lot, in french we say "Traité" or "Monograhpie".
posted by zouhair at 6:24 PM on February 6


No, a reader is a recueil de textes. A traité is a treatise, and a monographie is a monograph (and hence pretty much the opposite of a reader).
posted by languagehat at 8:40 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


lordrunningclam: here's the epub
posted by aniola at 1:43 PM on February 13


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