Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gorbachev's Perestroika and the Consequences of Criticizing Stalin

The following article is circulating on the Maoist web. It was originally posted at The article is an analysis of the role that criticism of Stalin had in the dissolution of the CPSU and the collapse of the Soviet Union. As such it is a succinct synopsis of the fall of the USSR from a Chinese M-L-M perspective. The lesson to be learned is that the first step in the formal restoration of capitalism in Communist ruled socialist states is the delegitimization of the Party and its leaders. Once that is accomplished it becomes much easier to deconstruct the historical legacy of socialism in order to disillusion the people and turn them against the Party and the State. The argument goes as follows; once the Party loses its grip on power bourgeois democracy will become established and the socialist state apparatus will be demolished. It's then only a matter of time before full-fledged capitalist restoration occurs.

The implications for today's China are obvious. The clamor for "political reform," "democratization," "transparency," and "universal values" among "liberal" elements both inside and outside the CPC echoes the calls made by Gorbachev for "perestroika, democracy, glasnost and human rights" in the last years of the Soviet Union. Is China entering a similar period of "peaceful evolution?" While certain subjective factors may be similar, the objective conditions in China are quite different now then they were for the USSR in the late 1980s. The Soviet Union had just fought a losing war in Afghanistan, was burdened with maintaining a military, economic and political presence in Eastern Europe, had a non-competitive "command" economy which resulted in consumer discontent amongst the upper social strata, had experienced a profound ecological disaster (Chernobyl) and prior to Gorbachev had a sclerotic, moribund political culture. China has problems but they are quantitatively and qualitatively quite different. It has witnessed thirty years of unparalleled economic growth and development with a vibrant domestic market, has not engaged in an unsustainable military buildup and hegemonic contention with the U.S. and has a self-sustaining political culture.

Nevertheless, similar tactics can be used for the same strategic goals under a variety of circumstances and liberal attempts to discredit Mao and disparage the history of the PRC, as recently attempted by Mao Yushi and others inside and outside the CPC, mimic those of Gorbachev and his allies. Hence the alert sounded by this and similar articles to warn Maoists what to expect and arm them with the foreknowledge needed to combat these efforts.

Gorbachev's Perestroika (Restructuring) and the Consequences of Criticizing Stalin

Li Yan Liu Xinmin 

[Abstract]: During Gorbachev's perestroika (restructuring) the Soviet Union launched a movement in the ideological field to criticize Stalin. This was a movement led by Gorbachev to vilify Stalin and criticize the activities of other Soviet leaders. It severely tarnished the image of Soviet leaders, confused people's thinking and brought about a crisis of faith. Exposing  historical "blank spots" unleashed all sorts of social contradictions and was the main factor  leading to the Soviet Communist Party's lose of power and the break up of the Soviet Union.

During Gorbachev's perestroika the slogans were "democratization" and "openness (glasnost),"  which pushed forward a movement of criticism in the ideological field.  The spearhead of criticism was directed against Stalin, but also pointed to other early Soviet leaders. In essence, it targeted the entire Soviet socialist system. This campaign of criticism not only distorted history, but completely distorted the image of Stalin and other leaders of the former Soviet Union, and seriously damaged the prestige of the Soviet Communist Party.  It shook the ideological, social and political foundations of the Soviet state and was  an important ideological factor in the break-up of the Soviet Union .

Not long afterwards, Russian academic and political circles began to analyze the reasons for  the break up of the Soviet Union. A re-evaluation of history began, reflecting on the years of criticism of Stalin and other leaders. Before and after entering the new millennium, a re-evaluation of Stalin's social thought began in Russia. This re-evaluation was not just a personal re-evaluation of Stalin, but also of the history of the Soviet era, and a new look at the achievements and mistakes of the Soviet Communist Party. In a sense, it was a deconstruction of the destruction of social values by Gorbachev's perestroika

1.The Soviet Union's Criticism of Stalin during Gorbachev's reforms

Early in 1986, Gorbachev proposed the slogans of "democratization", "openness" and "diversity of public opinion." Among the central authorities, Gorbachev called for making material from the 1930's purges public, because “the party and society still do not know all the crimes of the Stalinist system, lessons drawn from the facts of that period must be accepted and the truth must be made public.” This began the opening up of a number of historical archives, and the establishment of a number of special committees for the rehabilitation of Stalin's victims. A large number of dissidents and political prisoners were gradually released from labor camps or internal exile. They became living examples of “political persecution.” At the CPSU Central Committee Plenary Session n January 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev proposed to expand glasnost. He further proposed that “there should be no forgotten personages or blank spots in the history of the Soviet Union.” Among famous historians, philosophers, and economists no one came forward to openly express dissatisfaction. Whereupon, there was a mobilization in those areas of a movement to criticize Stalin. To expand the propaganda offensive "Pravda", "Moscow News" and other mainstream newspapers had their editors replaced with liberal intellectuals. These newspapers published articles which went to great lengths criticizing Stalin. In the Report on the Commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution, Gorbachev severely criticized Stalin and Stalinism. From 1987-1988, the campaign to criticize Stalin reached a high tide. In July 1990, in a report given at the 28th Congress of the CPSU, Gorbachev once again severely criticized the "crimes of Stalin and his gang," and there were several statements calling for the abandonment of "Stalin’s totalitarian regime." A resolution formally adopted by the General Assembly clearly stated: "Stalin's totalitarian system was responsible for huge losses to the state, people, party, and socialist ideology, this system must be canceled." The criticism of Stalin continued after the break up of the Soviet Union. In this way, under the leadership of its top echelons the Soviet Union set off a frenzy of criticism to totally negate Stalin. According to some people all the Soviet Union's setbacks and mistakes were caused by Stalin, and all it's achievements and progress were made against his will. Stalin was seen as a bane who brought pain and misfortune to the people, "dictator", "tyrant", "conspirator", "murderer" became his common epithet
and so within a few years Stalin was completely demonized.

As the criticism of Stalin heated up it was only natural that the phenomenon of questioning and  criticizing other Soviet leaders came to the fore. After 1989, criticism of Stalin gradually extended to a critique and denial of Leninism, the October Revolution and Lenin himself. Initially, some articles explicitly or implicitly said that Stalin's errors were actually errors of Leninism and the October Revolution and that even Lenin himself was directly implicated. Others simply said, the reason why Stalin's "sins accumulated" was because Lenin had brought forth a "bad egg." In 1990, in preparation for commemorating the 120th anniversary of Lenin's birth, Gorbachev proposed to his subordinates that there should be "an end to the phenomena of deifying and worshiping Lenin” and an attempt should be made to relegate him to the ranks of other activists. He should be evaluated based on the “background of his times and he should be studied and understood in an objective and scientific manner,” whereupon the “fight was brought to” Lenin. The main argument used to demonstrate Lenin's “crimes” went like this: the October Revolution was not a social revolution of world-historic significance but a huge conspiracy, it was conducted by a small group of conspirators and adventurers helped by intelligence agencies in Western Europe, it was the 'German spy' Lenin and the 'Anglo-American secret agent' Trotsky who plotted to incite and organize a 'coup'. Writers openly declared that the October Revolution was simply unnecessary, "Lenin" was not a good person," but a "cruel revolutionary," Stalin was no more brutal than his mentor Lenin, who was in fact “yesterday's Stalin.” Since 1989, statues of Lenin have been pulled down and his portrait painted over throughout the former Soviet Union.

2.The origin and purpose of the criticism of Stalin and other Soviet leaders was to negate the validity of the Soviet socialist system

The criticism of Stalin and other Soviet leaders during the period of Gorbachev's reforms had an ideological origin and an ultimate goal.

First of all, the earliest criticism of Stalin can be traced to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. As we all know, at the 20th Party Congress Khrushchev made a  major criticism of Stalin's personality cult  which was a prelude to the adoption of a large series of "de-Stalinization" measures after the 22nd Party Congress. Gorbachev held a positive attitude towards this and saw it as a "re-evaluation of domestic and foreign policies, and an analysis of historical facts", but he felt that this kind of "re-evaluation and analysis" had to be  further "developed." During the Gorbachev reform period the exposure and criticism of Stalin's "crimes" not only deepened but broadened infinitely in scope.

Gorbachev called himself a "child of the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party.” He repeatedly praised the “courageous action of Khrushchev” and spoke highly of the "initial attack on the totalitarian system and the first attempt to democratize society" by the 20th Congress. However, Gorbachev felt that there was still a limitation to Khrushchev's revelations about Stalin, he was "unable and unwilling to reveal and attack the underlying basis of the phenomenon." Gorbachev pointed out clearly that the "underlying basis" was the "social system." So when he decided to implement “openness, democratization" and the "break from totalitarian bureaucracy" throughout the whole society, he naturally followed the practice of Khrushchev, and initiated attacks against Stalin and the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party

Secondly, the ideological root cause of Gorbachev’s and other's negation of the Soviet Union's history and leaders was that, from an ideological viewpoint, Gorbachev had no firm belief in communism. Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in a preface to a book: "from the beginning of reform, my major concern was policy. I thought there must be a thorough change  in the policy of the Soviet Communist Party, because it was leading the country towards a dead end and pushing the world towards a nuclear confrontation." It really was like that, from the beginning of reform, Gorbachev's "strategy of  quick development" was frustrated, he was not looking for the subjective reasons, but thought that it was the system itself that created barriers, so he rush started political change. He was very clear that in order to implement a program of democratic socialism, there must be a break from the old Soviet system, and the illusory capitalist "democratic" system must replace the "old system." Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the former Soviet Union A. I. Lukyanov, and former Soviet Defense Minister D. Yazov recalled in 2001, “Before 1987 Gorbachev acted as if he was very firm, but in fact he had already had his faith shaken. He privately said: "The communist ideology is obsolete for me." Later, he and A. N. Yakovlev together, organizationally engaged in anti-communist propaganda activities. First, they had control of Soviet propaganda, and under the pretext of "openness" and "democratization" they vigorously promoted democratic anarchism, and totally negated Stalin by exaggerating the Soviet Union's historical errors. By constantly harping on the existence of bureaucracy and corruption in the Party they created chaos in the thinking of party members and the masses, establishing the ideological and theoretical basis for the final betrayal.

To carry out reform of the Soviet Union, a correct evaluation of Stalin and the Stalinist model had to be made. It is right to sum up historical experience to promote reform and it is no doubt useful to explore new ways of building socialism, but the "re-evaluation of history" by Gorbachev et al. was from the beginning done with great subjectivity and one-sidedness, and step by step totally negated party leaders and the Soviet Union’s 70-year history of socialism.

Again, the essence of the criticism of Stalin and the Soviet leaders was directed at the Soviet socialist system.

The objective reason why the target of "Openness (Glasnost)" was directed against Stalin was that Gorbachev, from the beginning, gave reform the revolutionary objective of destroying the original system. "Reform” has a broad meaning, and is an extremely rich word. If, however, from it’s many synonyms a key meaning is selected that best expresses the essence of the word for Gorbachev, it can be said: “reform is a revolution (or counter-revolution, trans.).” Gorbachev et al’s, first mission was to completely repudiate the representative of this "incorrect" system - Stalin, but in fact they were eventually out to destroy the Soviet socialist state itself.

In the report given by Gorbachev at the 19th National Party Conference in June 1988, regarding structural reform of the Soviet government, not only were policy questions  of "democracy", "openness" and "media pluralism" addressed, but the question of renouncing the Soviet Communist Party as the core structure of the Soviet form of government was raised. This was the question of whether political power should be transferred from the Party to the Soviets. This was the first time Gorbachev clearly proposed that the objective of the reform was to replace the actually functioning socialist system (which he called totalitarian socialism) with a fundamentally different, "humane, democratic socialist" system. In accordance with the practice of "humane, democratic socialism" it was necessary to replace the basic set of Marxist theoretical ideas and transform the party's ideology towards the Western theory of Social Democracy and use this theory to transform the party and eventually abolish the party's ruling position. According to Gorbachev's statement "power must be removed from the exclusive hands of the Communist Party and handed to the freely elected Soviet representatives of the people as mandated by the Constitution"; he used this theory to transform the social system from socialism to capitalism.

3. The criticism of Stalin led to the negation of the  Soviet Union’s history and had far-reaching negative social consequences

The end result of the use of various media tools to produce a high-profile criticism of Stalin and the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party was to deny the legitimacy of the Soviet socialist system, it was a total negation of Soviet history and brought ideological confusion to society, giving rise to a series of ideological and social problems.

First of all, it seriously damaged the image of the Soviet leaders and led to ideological confusion that brought on a crisis of faith.

The overwhelming criticism of Stalin and the re-interpretation  of some historical problems that went along with glasnost or "openness" caused a great amount of academic and intellectual confusion. Stalin became the "devil", Lenin became a "rogue," the entire history of the CPSU and the Soviet Union was sinful and evil, the socialist October Revolution brought only disaster, while in their minds capitalism had become a heaven of freedom and prosperity. A misguided sense of social thinking, had turned everything upside down. As one Russian scholar summed it up "the reform led to the destruction of the Soviet ideological mechanism which had done a lot of work forming the historical collective memory of society, the symbols of the country's history and it’s milestones had been cast in Black and  ridiculed, black and white were reversed."At that time, not only was Stalin's personal image seriously distorted, since he had led the party, the socialist Soviet Union's image was badly damaged, it destroyed socialist values and the people's faith in the Communist Party and led to the decline of socialism. By 1991 the mainstream media had repeated thousands of times that the Soviet Union and the Soviet practice of socialism were failures, a variety of media had created the image of implacably dark party leaders, who had lied and spread fallacies to party members and the people. When the Communist Party was dissolved and the socialist system overthrown who was there to stand up for the Communist Party and socialism?

Second, The criticism of Party leaders led to the heightening of social contradictions and was a leading ideological factor in the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Ideological confusion exacerbated the economic deterioration in 1988, the climax of criticism of Stalin occurred in 1989, the Soviet economy for the first time in decades experienced "negative growth," the instability of society heightened, ethnic centrifugal tendencies strengthened. After the convening of the first People's Congress in 1989 the Soviet Union fell into a state of total confusion: nationalist sentiment was seething. On the eve of a large-scale civil conflict that occurred in Nagorno - Karabakh hundreds of trains were stranded in the Transcaucasus.  In Kharkov, the "Peoples Movement of the Ukraine” claimed that its "ultimate aim” was to establish an independent Ukraine. In February 1990, 250-300,000 people demonstrated in Moscow, people not only shouted slogan’s such as  "Down with Ligachev,” " Down with "Gorbachev" but also "Down with the entire CP
SU" and the KGB, demanding that everything be overthrown, leaving the regime in ashes.

Under conditions in which the image of Communist Party leaders was trashed and public opinion became muddled, centrifugal tendencies within Party organizations of  the Soviet Union’s constituent Republics began to gain strength. Beginning in 1989 Communist Parties in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and some other former republics of the Soviet Union raised demands that they separate or become independent of the CP
SU. Despite opposition and discouragement from the CPSU  on December 20, 1989 during its 20th Congress, the Lithuanian CP adopted the "Lithuanian Communist Manifesto" and based on "the decision on the status of the Communist Party of Lithuania", declared that the Communist Party of Lithuania had broken away from the Soviet Communist Party, and would maintain a comradely  "equal partnership" with it. So-called "democrats" in the Communist Party took advantage of this situation, and together with ethnic separatists outside the Party began to work closely together to split the CPSU and engage in activities that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Third, at the same time that the socialist system was being criticized Western “Democracy” was being "beautified." This opened up opportunities for the implementation of the Western strategy of "peaceful evolution."

At the same time that Stalin and the Soviet socialist system were being criticized the Soviet media was touting Western democracy, freedom, human rights, and ideological equality, launching an enormous attack against the Soviet Union’s original ideological beliefs and moral values. The criticism of the socialist system, and the propaganda for Western democracy and freedom, greatly influenced the Soviet people, especially the political orientation of intellectuals. Towards the end of Gorbachev's perestroika, the original so-called "firm Leninists" had gained a new lease on life as fighters against "totalitarianism," they supported a "radical tide of thought" that spread everywhere, in the universities courses in Marxist philosophy became the object of ridicule, throughout the country a large number of teaching centers and research institutes devoted to the study of scientific communism almost overnight turned into bases for the spread of Western political science. A considerable number of intellectuals worshipped the Western model and were disgruntled with the history and current situation of the Soviet Union, among which a small number of intellectual elite ultimately became “pioneers” advocating the collapse of the Soviet Communist Party and the destruction of the Soviet socialist system.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, reflecting upon the upheaval that had occurred, a considerable number of Russian scholars recognized that: "The break-up of the Soviet Union was the result of a conscious policy by Western imperialism which drew support from people in the Soviet Union who were bought and paid for, a corrupt gang that directly implemented its aims.”

4. Reflections on the  Lessons of History

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, upon reflection of the historical course of events, the  historical facts surrounding the criticism of Stalin gradually became clarified. In recent years, there has been a prominent current of thought among Russian scholars and people re-evaluating Stalin. On March 5, 2003, during the 50th anniversary of Stalin's death, this current of thought reached a peak, as "Izvestia" said: "During the 50th anniversary of the death of the people’s leader Stalin, calls for his full rehabilitation have become an organized movement." Most representative were those who once had a critical attitude towards Stalin or even had dissident views. The Russian “Red Patriot” author Yuri Bondarev once criticized Stalin as being "cruel, cunning, strong willed and full of contradictions." In the late 90's, his viewpoint underwent a great change. At the end of 1998, he said in a speech that Stalin was "a person unparalleled in human history." He recognized that Stalin "transformed Russia,” and established a unique and unrivaled highly developed society." In notes published in 1999, he put Stalin side by side with the outstanding statesman in world history and fully endorsed the meritorious service of Stalin in the Great Patriotic War. The reappraisal of Stalin is a reflection of the existing social crisis in Russia and also reflects the hope of the Russian people for a stable social order, because in their minds Stalin was a
really firm leader who combined together "stability" and "order."  Government and national leaders should have "a strong hand" like Stalin.

In those years criticism of Stalin and other Soviet leaders made them out to be the epitome of evil. The Soviet socialist system was denounced as a "totalitarian regime," while at the same time bourgeois democracy and freedom was vigorously promoted even to the extent of destroying the national image and national interests. The pursuit of so-called liberal democracy, completely destroyed the image of the Soviet leadership, destroyed the people’s trust in the Communist Party of the Soviet and belief in socialism, even the basic system of societal values was rejected and denigrated. The re-evaluation of Stalin and the history of the Soviet Union in today's Russia has stressed Stalin's nationalism, and great power thinking. It is aimed at rebuilding a system of societal values based on themes of patriotism, collectivism, social morality and national dignity, social values, which after the break up of the Soviet Union and under the conditions of a deteriorating economy are important steps in rebuilding national confidence in the Russian government. From this perspective, the real meaning of the re-evaluation of Stalin and Soviet history is to rebuild Russian society and it’s main body of values, because any society needs to have the correct set of values for there to be a healthy body and a stable value system. Only by maintaining a set of stable social values is it possible to have a social consciousness that guarantees the legitimacy of government action and rationality in order to consolidate the ideological foundations of the country. But, destruction is easy, reconstruction is very difficult, this is the profound lesson for people to learn left behind by Soviet history.

("Global Vision" No. 375, taken from the 2010 10 "theorists")

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