In Defence of Marxism - Reply to Israel Shamir – Part Three

Shamir claims Stalin was not an anti-Semite, but all historical evidence proves the opposite. He also reveals a classical Stalinist approach to the Russia of today. He seems to have no problem with the return of capitalism to Russia. All he is worried about is the interference of “foreign” capitalists. If his nationalist approach were applied to Cuba and Venezuela this would spell disaster for the revolution in both countries. Alan Woods ends his three part article by appealing for a return to the traditions of genuine Bolshevism and not that of the Stalin school of falsification.

Shamir claims Stalin was not an anti-Semite, but all historical evidence proves the opposite. He also reveals a classical Stalinist approach to the Russia of today. He seems to have no problem with the return of capitalism to Russia. All he is worried about is the interference of “foreign” capitalists. If his nationalist approach were applied to Cuba and Venezuela this would spell disaster for the revolution in both countries. Alan Woods ends his three part article by appealing for a return to the traditions of genuine Bolshevism and not that of the Stalin school of falsification. (October 20, 2004)

Whale No. 3 Alliance with Jewish nationalism

Israel Shamir is a nationalist and obsessed with nationalism. He is himself, of course, an extreme nationalist – a Great Russian chauvinist, who has swallowed all the worst aspects of this most reactionary kind of chauvinism. He embraces enthusiastically all the reactionary ideas that have come flooding back into Russia along with the restoration of capitalism. And he pretends that this represents love for Russia – when in fact it is quite the opposite.

The liquidation of the nationalized planned economy and the switch to market economics has signified, as Trotsky so brilliantly predicted, a sharp decline of Russian culture. The capitalist counterrevolution has brought with it prostitution, drug addiction, AIDS, pornography, Great Russian chauvinism, the Black Hundreds, pogroms, anti-Semitism, astrology, superstition and the Russian Orthodox Church. These are the blessings capitalism has inflicted on the Russian people!

Lenin and the Bolsheviks swept away all the stinking reactionary muck of a thousand years of tsarism. Now it has flooded back and threatens to inundate Russian society, choking and poisoning every pore. What has Israel Shamir got to say about all this? He has no problem with capitalism, as long as the capitalists are good Russians and not Jews or foreigners. He is an enthusiastic advocate of Great Russian chauvinism and even that bastion of reaction the Russian Orthodox Church. He is also an apologist for anti-Semitism.

Attack is well known to be the best kind of defence. So to cover up for his own chauvinistic tendencies, he makes a most astounding assertion: “Despite his anti-nationalism, there is a sort of nationalism acceptable to Woods, namely, trans-national Jewish quasi-nationalism. A Woods communist would fight every nationalism save the Jewish one. For him, Stalin was bad, for he tolerated and utilised Russian nationalism and fought against Jewish nationalism.”

As usual, Shamir makes this incredible assertion without attempting to justify it. Not one quotation, not one fact is produced to show how, when or where Alan Woods defends Jewish nationalism. If it were not so serious it would be laughable. But enough of this clowning! The readers of are well aware of what our attitude to reactionary Zionism is, and always has been.

The real reason why Shamir makes such an outrageous accusation is to draw attention away from my statements to the effect that Stalin – Shamir’s idol – conducted a vicious anti-Semitic policy. I stated that one of the most repulsive features of Stalinism was its anti-Semitism. That is quite true and can easily be proved to be true. Shamir tries to bluff his way out of this:

“Does Woods mean that Stalin adhered to a racial theory of Semitic and Nordic races? Unlikely; this son of Georgia was not particularly Nordic.”

In the first place, anti-Semitism is not the sole prerogative of the “Nordic races” (whatever they are supposed to be). In the second place Stalin’s Georgian origin by no means signifies that he was free of national and racial prejudices. Quite the contrary, history knows more than one example of people coming from small oppressed nations who adopted the standpoint of the oppressor nations and became the most ferocious national oppressors.

Hitler himself was not German but Austrian, which did not prevent him from becoming the most rabid German chauvinist and imperialist. An even better example is Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a Corsican by origin and hence a member of a small nation oppressed by France. In his youth he even flirted with Corsican nationalism. But when he was installed in power in Paris he became an extreme exponent of French imperialism, militarism and bureaucratic centralism.

Stalin’s evolution was similar. Although he could not even speak decent Russian, he adopted the standpoint of the crudest Great Russian chauvinism – a fact that was understood by Lenin who denounced Stalin’s Great Russian chauvinism in the harshest terms and even broke off all personal and comradely relations with him.

Last but not least we have Israel Shamir, who lives in Jaffa and is presumably Jewish but has decided that he should defend the anti-Semitic policy of Stalin and denounce all his critics as “Jewish nationalists”. If it were just a question of Israel Shamir opposing reactionary Israeli imperialism, there would be no difference between us. That is a duty for any left wing or progressive person, whether Jew or gentile. But to go to the other extreme and try to excuse anti-Semitism, or at least find apologies for it, is frankly criminal. This kind of thing actually helps Zionism and discredits Communism. It is not Communism at all. It is only Zionism turned inside out.

Stalin’s anti-Semitism

Against all the evidence, Shamir denies that anti-Semitism existed in the USSR under Stalin. He protests indignantly:

“Does he [Alan Woods] mean that Jews were persecuted as a 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 to 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, among them Foreign Minister Litvinov, Home (secret services) Minister Yahoda, the foreign trade minister etc. Did Stalin ever expressed hatred or even acute dislike of Jews? No; he actually declared that every anti-Semite would be shot.”

This is absolutely incredible. It is common knowledge today that Stalin was a rabid anti-Semite. And as a matter of fact, the examples that Shamir tries to use prove the opposite of what he intends. More than anything else his attitude to this question reveals a completely reactionary standpoint, something absolutely alien to the traditions of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party.

The Bolshevik revolution gave freedom to the Jews, as the Cuban revolution meant freedom for the Afro-Cubans, on the basis of complete social, legal and political equality. After 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks even granted those Jews who wished to live in their own autonomous region, the area known as Birobidzan. This was a gesture on the part of the Bolsheviks to demonstrate that the new workers’ state was putting an end to all forms of discrimination. The vast majority of Jews did not take up the offer because they felt that their rights were now guaranteed in post revolutionary Russia.

But this was not to be the case under the Stalinist regime. Already in his struggle against the Left Opposition Stalin made use of anti-Semitism, stressing that Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev were Jews and that “the yids were causing problems on the Central Committee.” The leaders of the Left Opposition were all expelled from the Communist Party and arrested. Stalin had issued the edict: “It is no accident that the opposition is led by Jews. This is a struggle between Russian socialism and aliens.” Such remarks would have been a motive for expulsion from the Party when Lenin was alive. But for Shamir this was not only acceptable but praiseworthy, since there were “too many” Jews in the Communist Party!

In 1930 Stalin closed Yevslektsia, an official Soviet entity meant to expose anti-Semitic incidents, allegedly because the number of anti-Semitic incidents had declined. This was probably true. The Soviet working class was educated in an internationalist spirit by the Bolsheviks and would not tolerate racism. However, with the influx of raw peasants from the villages during the industrialization of the first five year plans the problem resurfaced and was encouraged from the top, first tacitly, then more openly.

The Bolshevik revolution began, as we have seen, with a campaign against anti-Semitism and promotion of the Yiddish language and literature. At one point, there were 400 Yiddish periodicals. By 1938, there were none. The Stalinists liquidated Jewish institutions, publishing houses, cultural associations and arrested their employees. The signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact gave the green light for the hidden anti-Semitism of the Stalinist bureaucracy to express itself more openly.

Shamir cites the case of Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs in the 1930s as proof that there was no anti-Semitism in Stalin’s Russia. What he fails to mention is that Litvinov was removed at the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact as a sop to Hitler. The Soviet Union could not send a Jew to talk to Hitler” This was not the only such “concession”.

During the Nazi-Soviet alliance from August 1939 to June 22, 1941, the Soviet media substituted the phrase “reactionary racism” for the word “fascism” which could no longer be mentioned let alone be criticized. Beria sent out a circular to the commandants in the prison camps forbidding them to call the prisoners “fascists” as an insult. It was ten days after the German invasion, July 2, 1941, before Stalin permitted any public criticism of Nazi Germany.

When the USSR was invaded by Hitler, anti-fascist agitation once more was permitted. In March 1942 the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAFC) was assigned the job of fund-raising in the United States for the Soviet war effort. Solomon Mikhoels, the talented actor and director of the Moscow Yiddish Art Theatre, and Itzik Feffer, a Yiddish poet, were sent to the United States in May 1943 on a six-month tour. It was highly successful.

However, the worst period of anti-Semitism came after the Second World War. Stalin was probably insane by this time and certainly paranoid. He saw enemies everywhere, particularly Jews. On November 20, 1948, the JAFC was officially dissolved. By January 28, 1949, some 100 committee members were in jail as “rootless cosmopolitans”. Later JAFC members were accused of being part of a Zionist-U.S. conspiracy against the Soviet Union.

Stalin ordered Solomon Mikhoels to be shot and then run over by a truck to make it appear he had died in an accident. The main authority for this revelation is Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, who heard her father in January 1948 telephone the order to liquidate the actor. There followed a great State funeral and a lavish obituary in Pravda mourning “the great loss”. This is absolutely typical of Stalin’s cynicism.

His next victims were some 110 JAFC members, all accused of espionage, nationalist propaganda, and of seeking to establish a Jewish republic in the Crimea as a “bridgehead” for American imperialism. The trial of the top 15 JAFC members began May 8, 1952. Thirteen of the 15 were executed by firing squad on August 12, 1952.

Stalin accused the Kremlin doctors of trying to poison him. They were all Jews. They were brutally tortured to extract a false confession and some of them died under torture, but Stalin was not satisfied. He grew increasingly angry when the MGB failed to provide the confessions he wanted. In December 1952, a few months before his death, he ranted to the CC:

Here, look at you – blind men, kittens, you don’t see the enemy; what will you do without me – the country will perish because you are not able to recognize the enemy [...] Every Jew is a potential spy for the United States.” (p. 171)

Frustrated at his failure to obtain the confessions he needed, he instructed Ignatiev and Ryumin:

Beat them! Beat them with deathblows. What are you? You work like waiters in white gloves. If you want to be Chekists, take off your gloves.”

In July 1951 Stalin ordered an inquiry into corruption and mismanagement in the MGB, resulting in the expulsion of many leading personnel, most of whom were Jewish. 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. (p. 102) In 1952 Stalin told Ignatiev bluntly his opinion of the MGB officers:

Chekists can see nothing beyond their own noses [...] they are degenerating into ordinary nincompoops, and [...] they don’t want to fulfil the directive of the Central Committee.” (p. 134)

(Quotes from Jonathan Brent, Vladimir Naumov, Stalin’s Last Crime. The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953, Perennial, New York 2004)

The reason for the Doctors’ Plot was that Stalin was preparing a new edition of the Moscow trials. He planned to liquidate all those who had been his closest colleagues, like Vyacheslav Molotov. Shamir cites the fact that Molotov’s wife, Polina Molotov (P.S. Zhemchuzhina), was Jewish. Where was the anti-Semitism, he asks, and does not wait for an answer. He forgets to mention that Stalin forced Molotov to separate from his Jewish wife, and that she was exiled in 1949 by a direct vote of the Politburo, Molotov abstaining.

Molotov’s wife was charged with treason, when the campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans” was unleashed. According to Roy Medvedev: “The day of Stalin’s funeral, 9 March, was also Molotov’s birthday. As they were leaving the mausoleum, Khrushchev and Malenkov wished him a happy birthday, despite the occasion, and asked what he would like as a present. ‘Give me back Polina,’ he replied coldly, and moved on.” Two years later, Mikunis bumped into Molotov in the privileged Kremlin Hospital at Kuntsevo [where Stalin had one of his dachas]. “I went up to him and asked, ‘How could you, a member of the Politburo, let them arrest your wife?’ He gave me a cold look and asked me who I thought I was. I replied, ‘I am the General Secretary of the Israeli Communist Party, and that’s why I’m asking you’.” (Quotes from Roy Medvedev, All Stalin’s Men, New York, 1985, pp. 98-99, 102-3.)

These were the years of the massive press campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans”, which was a barely disguised code name for Jews. Between 1948 and 1952 thousands of Jewish intellectuals, scientists, political leaders, state security personnel, and other professionals were arrested, interrogated, imprisoned, or discharged from their duties.

On the night of August 12, 1952, twenty-four of the leading cultural figures in the Soviet Union were rounded up by the MGB and shot to death in the basement of Lubyanka prison. That same night, 217 Yiddish writers and poets, 108 actors, 87 painters and sculptors, and 19 musicians disappeared as well. Most were sent to the camps of the Gulag in Siberia as slave labourers. It was equivalent to a death sentence and many would not return. Among the twenty-four murdered was Peter Markish, considered the best Yiddish.

Also killed were the poet Itzhik Feffer, a friend of Lazar Kaganovich, and the writer David Bergelson, who was a friend of Polina Molotov. 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. Yet Israel Shamir can see no evidence of Stalin’s anti-Semitism!

Stalin and Israel

It is very surprising that Shamir does not cite one other striking piece of evidence to “prove” Stalin’s love of the Jews: his support for the setting up of the State of Israel. Presumably he does not want to mention this little detail because somebody might conclude that Stalin, and not Alan Woods, was the real Jewish nationalist. But since our friend in Jaffa seems to have lost his tongue for once, let us jog his memory.

In 1947 Andrei Gromyko (Ambassador to the United Nations) enthusiastically endorsed Jewish statehood in the UN. Even the Zionists were astonished by his unstinting support for their cause. In the UN debate, Gromyko stated, “The Jewish people had been closely linked with Palestine for a considerable period in history... As a result of war, the Jews as a people have suffered more than any other people. The total number of the Jewish population who perished at the hands of the Nazi executioners is estimated at approximately six million. The Jewish people were therefore striving to create a state of their own, and it would be unjust to deny them that right.”

In all his speech the Soviet diplomat never once mentions the little detail that the Land of Israel was occupied by millions of Arabs. Moscow’s approval in the UN Security Council was critical to the UN partitioning of Palestine, which led to the founding of Israel. This was not done out of concern for the Jews or Arabs, but purely as a manoeuvre of great power politics. At that time the Arab states were under the control of British and French imperialism. The Cold War was at its height and Stalin wanted to get a foothold in the Middle East at the expense of the Western powers. Israel was merely a pawn in this game.

Stalin’s policy on Israel was a disaster for the Communist Parties of the Middle East. In Damascus mobs looted the offices of the local Communist Party after Gromyko had made his speech in the United Nations in favour of the partition of Palestine. The Communist Party of Palestine had both Arab and Jewish members and had always supported the position of one state for two peoples. But because it was linked to the Soviet Union it also suffered a large fall in support. Traditionally it had had close contacts with the Communist parties and movements in the neighbouring Arab countries, such as Palestine, Egypt and the Lebanon, but these were now broken.

The establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine was a completely reactionary act, since the land was already occupied by the Palestinian Arabs. Trotsky said that this idea would be a cruel trap for the Jewish people. History has proved him right. The fact that Stalin backed the setting up of Israel in 1947 does not mean that he was pro-Jewish, but only that he placed the narrow national interests of the Moscow bureaucracy before those of the Jews, Arabs or the world working class.

Shamir on Russia

Shamir strongly disagrees with my criticism of Zyuganov’s “characterization of Russia today as a colony, oppressed by foreign capitalists” as “this analysis leaves the door wide open to a policy of collaborating with the ‘progressive national (Russian) bourgeoisie’ against the bad foreign capitalists.” He even tries to deliver me a lecture on this subject:

“Comrade Woods, Western capitalists are indeed bad for the health of Russians and other non-First-world nations. And real Communists – Stalinists to you – were for collaboration with the national non-comprador bourgeoisie against Western imperialism.”

Here we at last reach the heart of the matter! Shamir is not opposed to capitalism in Russia. He is only opposed to Western capitalists, not Russian ones. Moreover, he considers that the task of Russian Communists is not to fight capitalism, but to support the “national non-comprador bourgeoisie against Western imperialism”.

The dismantling of the nationalised planned economy in the USSR was a catastrophe for the working people. It has led to an unprecedented collapse of the productive forces and culture, a sharp decline in living standards and health and misery for millions of people. But for Shamir (and Zyuganov) the problem is not the absence of a nationalised planned economy but only the fact that foreign capitalists are involved.

The abandonment of Marxism-Leninism is here exposed in all its crudity. What we have here is precisely what I warned against in my last article. By presenting Russia as a “semi-colonial” country, the ex-Communists find an excuse to enter into a coalition with the Russian bourgeoisie against the interests of the Russian working class. This is what is undermining the CPRF and discrediting the very idea of Communism in Russia.

In the first place who are these so-called “national non-comprador bourgeois” of which Shamir speaks so fondly? Everyone in Russia knows that they are a bunch of thieves who are fighting among themselves to see who gets the lion’s share of the property that was looted from the people in the so-called privatisation (i.e. the plundering of state property). It is frankly a scandal that anyone calling themselves a Communist should support this counterrevolutionary activity in any way.

There is absolutely nothing to choose between any of these gangsters. Yet in the last elections the CPRF actually had more businessmen on its lists than any other party! That is why they lost so heavily. The workers were rightly disgusted at the spectacle of a party that calls itself Communist behaving in this way. Despite this, our friend in Jaffa defends the leaders of the CPRF against the criticism of Alan Woods. He advises them to continue along this road that will lead the Party from one disaster to the next. With friends like this one really does not need enemies!

The Communists of Russia are not little children, that they cannot understand simple questions. And the simplest question of all is this: that Communists must stand for the interests of the workers against the capitalists. Class collaboration is not the policy of the Communists! The CPRF, if it is to recover and play the role it ought to play, must decisively break with the bourgeoisie, fight against capitalism, and return to the revolutionary programme and policies of Lenin.

The Cuban revolution and internationalism

With the intention of achieving popularity in Cuba, Shamir also mentions in passing that in the Cuban revolution Castro “united Cubans against Yanks”. But wait a moment, Mr. Shamir! Don’t run so fast! Have you forgotten the small detail that Fidel Castro nationalised the economy and expropriated not only the foreign capitalists but also the Cuban ones? Do you not understand that had he not acted in this way, the Cuban revolution would never have succeeded?

As on every other question, Shamir distorts and falsifies the history of the Cuban revolution in order to force it into the Stalinist scheme. But unfortunately for him it will not fit! As we have seen, the people who were in favour of class collaboration (“uniting all Cubans”) was not Fidel Castro and his supporters, but the Stalinist Blas Roca and his gang. Castro did not “unite all Cubans” but the revolutionary masses – the workers, peasants and revolutionary intelligentsia, who supported the revolutionary expropriation of the Cuban bankers, landowners and capitalists, along with their imperialist masters.

How does this represent “uniting all Cubans”? The Cuban revolution did not triumph under the reactionary, anti-Marxist banner of class collaboration and national philistinism – the banner of Blas Roca and the Stalinists. It broke radically with US imperialism, and therefore also with that section of Cuban society that was organically linked to US imperialism. This is not called “uniting all Cubans”. It is called revolutionary class struggle. On this basis the revolution succeeded. But if Fidel Castro had followed the policies of Blas Roca and Israel Shamir it would have been destroyed.

This revolutionary policy brought down the wrath of US imperialism on Cuba and led to the Bay of Pigs intervention. The workers, peasants and progressive sections of the intelligentsia rallied to the defence of the revolution. But the bourgeois elements and their hangers-on were all united against Castro – in Miami, where they remain to this day.

The patriotism of the Cuban masses is inseparable from their devotion to the revolution and their pride in its achievements. The fight against US imperialism has naturally been a central question for the Cuban revolution since the days of the great Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti and even before. But the fight against US imperialism was not won by handing over the leadership of the revolution to the so-called “nationalist non-compradore” bourgeoisie. That was the bankrupt policy of the Cuban Stalinists, as we have shown.

Che Guevara’s internationalism

The Cuban revolution from the beginning was inspired by revolutionary internationalism. This was personified by Che Guevara, that outstanding leader of the Cuban revolution. Che was born an Argentinian and fought in the front line of the Cuban revolution. But in reality he was a true internationalist and a citizen of the world. Like Bolivar he had the perspective of a Latin American revolution.

After his tragic death there have been many attempts to turn Che Guevara into a harmless icon, a face on a tee-shirt. He is presented by the bourgeois as a well-meaning romantic, a utopian idealist. This is unworthy of the memory of a great revolutionist! Che Guevara was not a hopeless dreamer but a revolutionary realist. It was not an accident that Che attempted to extend the revolution to other countries, not just in Latin America but also in Africa. He understood very well that, in the last analysis, the future of the Cuban revolution would be determined by this.

From the very beginning the destiny of the Cuban revolution has been tied to events on a world scale. How could it be otherwise when the revolution was threatened at birth by the most powerful imperialist state on earth? The Cuban revolution – like the Russian revolution – had a tremendous international impact, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. That remains the case even today. Che tried to light a spark that would set the whole continent ablaze. Maybe he made a mistake in how he went about it, but nobody can question his intentions and his fundamental idea was correct: that the only way to save the Cuban revolution was to spread it to Latin America.

Unfortunately, some erroneous conclusions were drawn from the Cuban experience. The attempt to export the model of guerrilla war and “focos” led to one terrible defeat after another. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, the Cuban insurgency had taken US imperialism by surprise. But they soon learned the lessons and every time a “foco” appeared, they crushed it immediately before it could spread.

A more important fact was that the majority of the population in Latin America already lived in towns and cities. Guerrilla war is a typical method of struggle of the peasantry. Therefore, while it can play an important role as an auxiliary, it cannot play the main role. That is reserved for the working class in the towns. And tactics must be adapted accordingly.

This is shown by the experience of Venezuela, where the attempt to organize a guerrilla war was a complete failure. The Venezuelan revolution is unfolding as an essentially urban revolution, based on the masses in the towns and cities and supported by the peasantry. The Bolivarian Movement of Hugo Chavez has used the parliamentary struggle very effectively to mobilize the masses. But it has been the movement of the masses that has defeated the counterrevolution on three occasions.

The destiny of the Cuban revolution is now organically bound up with that of the Venezuelan revolution. They will determine each other. If the Venezuelan revolution is defeated, the Cuban revolution will be in the greatest danger. Every effort must be made to prevent this. But here we must learn from history. The Venezuelan revolution has accomplished miracles, but it is not yet finished.

Like the Cuban revolution, the Venezuelan revolution has begun as a national-democratic revolution. The programme advocated by Hugo Chavez is the programme of advanced bourgeois democracy. It goes without saying that the working class must fight energetically for every democratic demand that retains its force. But experience has already shown that the oligarchy and imperialism are the mortal enemies of democracy. They will stop at nothing to destroy the revolution.

Why is US imperialism so determined to destroy the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions? It is because of the effect they are having on a continental scale. The imperialists are terrified that Cuba and Venezuela will act as focal points. Therefore, they are determined to liquidate them.

The idea of Che was to open up twenty Vietnams in Latin America. That was not a bad idea, but it was not possible at that time, partly because the conditions had not ripened sufficiently, but mainly because of the false model of guerrilla war that was followed. But now things are different. The crisis of capitalism has had devastating effects in Latin America, and this has had revolutionary consequences.

The conditions for revolution are maturing everywhere. In fact, at the present time there is not a single stable capitalist regime from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande. With correct leadership, there is no reason why successful proletarian revolutions should not occur in one or several Latin American countries in the next period. What is needed is not nationalism and blocs with the reactionary bourgeoisie, but a revolutionary socialist programme and revolutionary proletarian internationalism.

Incidentally, the slogan “Patria o muerte!”, far from being anathema to me in this case is perfectly acceptable. Once the revolution had been carried out, once the landlords and capitalists had been expropriated, it was (and still is) necessary to defend the Cuban revolution by every means against the aggressive policies of US imperialism and the plots of domestic counterrevolutionaries.

The objective content of the slogan “Patria o muerte!” is therefore defence of the revolution. That is how it is understood by the Cuban masses. And this is how we understand it also. And since we consider that it is the duty of all Marxists to advocate the unconditional defence of the Cuban revolution against imperialist aggression and internal counterrevolution, this slogan presents no more problem for me than the slogan: “Defend the Soviet Republic!”

Our attitude to this slogan is not determined by nationalism but by revolutionary considerations. Defence of Cuba means defence of the gains of the Cuban revolution. But if capitalism were to be restored in Cuba – something we totally oppose – would it be correct to continue with the same slogan and to support a particular section of the capitalist counterrevolutionaries, helping them to loot state property, on the grounds that they were “good Cuban capitalists”? To pose the question is to answer it.

False friends

Israel Shamir poses as a friend of Cuba. Before he and many like him posed as “friends of the Soviet Union”. They sang the praises of the USSR in an entirely uncritical way. They denied that there were any problems in the “socialist paradise” – until it collapsed about their ears. They must therefore be held partly responsible for the catastrophe.

Shamir’s “loyalty” is completely worthless. It is like the “loyal” sailor on the Titanic who told people who said there was an iceberg to shut up and go back to their cabin. Everything was perfect! The people of Cuba are not fools that they believe in fairy tales. And those members of the Cuban Communist Party who remain loyal to Communism (and there are many) are not interested in sugary illusions, false flattery and lies. They want to know the truth.

The truth is that in Cuba, as in the USSR, there are elements who want to go back to capitalism. It is not necessary to say that a return to capitalism in Cuba would be a terrible disaster, not just for the people of Cuba but for the workers and peoples of the whole world. This must be prevented by all means! But it will not be prevented if we deny that the threat exists. Moreover, the most dangerous pro-capitalist elements exist within the upper echelons of Cuban society, the state and even the Party.

To his great credit, Fidel Castro has remained implacably opposed to a return to capitalism. He firmly rejects the privatisation of the means of production and the dismantling of the planned economy. He has courageously stood up to the pressure and bullying of imperialism. This stand deserves support. But in itself it is insufficient to save the Cuban revolution.

What will happen when Fidel finally leaves the scene? We know that there are sections who are waiting in the wings, ready to push through a capitalist programme and seize the privatised assets as they did in Russia. And as in Russia, a large number of these elements call themselves “Communists”. They hold privileged positions and will use these positions when the time comes to plunder the property of the state and turn themselves into private capitalists.

The only hope is to trust in the Cuban workers and peasants and the revolutionary sections of the youth who have no interest in returning to capitalism. In the last analysis, however, the only real guarantee for the Cuban revolution is the extension of the socialist revolution throughout Latin America.

The most pressing need is to strengthen the proletarian vanguard and reinforce that sector that wants to fight to defend the nationalized planned economy and remains loyal to the ideas of Marxism Leninism. It is necessary to open up a serious discussion about the perspectives for the Cuban and Venezuelan Revolutions and for the Marxist movement on a world scale. Such a discussion would be incomplete without the participation of the Trotskyists, who are the firmest defenders of the Cuban and Venezuelan Revolutions.

A crude caricature

At this point our friend in Jaffa is beginning to foam at the mouth. Having run out of arguments, he resorts to crude abuse. His obsession with Trotskyists creates such a dark picture that will be enough to send a tingle of fright down the spines of the handful of old babushki who still parade up and down Red Square carrying portraits of Stalin:

“The saga of Woods is a timely reminder of present-day Western Trotskyism’s sorry state. The Western Trots keep themselves at arm’s length from other comrades; sabotage local revolution in the name of ‘world revolution’; they are anti-patriotic, anti-nationalist, unable to attract the masses, and are often connected to Jewish nationalist circles. Their slogans are attuned exclusively to minorities; they think of gays and immigrants, Jews and single parents; but the majority is of no interest for them. This explicit and obsessive attraction to minorities is a non-communist, even anticommunist trend. Communism is for majority against minority; for dispossessing the minority in the name of the majority.”

I suppose, in a way, this represents progress. In the past, people like Shamir wrote about Trotskyists as agents of Hitler and the Gestapo. Nowadays this is rather difficult, especially as the investigators into the Nuremberg War Trials had access to the files of the Gestapo, where they found no trace of any contact with Trotsky and his followers but quite a lot of contact with Stalin’s GPU, at least prior to the summer of 1941.

So our friend must make do with lesser calumnies. It seems that, apart from being all Jewish nationalists, we are attuned exclusively to minorities, and think of gays and immigrants, Jews and single parents. If the implications of all this were not so serious, it would be funny. If comrade Shamir would care to glance at he would be very hard put to find anything that remotely resembles this description. Naturally, he has not bothered to look, so he has not the slightest idea of what he is talking about.

As a matter of fact, the tendency to which I have the honour to belong is based on the workers’ movement. We fight for socialism nationally and internationally. Since we are not racists but internationalists we have no more connections with Jews than we do with Roman Catholics, Protestants or Flat Earthists, and probably less. In any case, unlike Israel Shamir, we do not consider people from a racial, religious or linguistic standpoint, but exclusively from the class point of view.

We do not have the position of single-issue politics that Shamir attributes to us, and never have had. We have waged an implacable struggle against bourgeois and petty bourgeois tendencies such as feminism. But when Israel Shamir states: “Communism is for the majority against the minority; for dispossessing the minority in the name of the majority” we have to say that this is just a crude caricature. He further says: “Preoccupation with minorities is, therefore a sign of anticommunists. Trots, indeed, provide imperialists with support from the left.”

Communists are for the interests of the working class, which in most countries today is the decisive majority of society. But Communists also understand the need to fight to defend all oppressed minorities. If that were not the case, the Bolsheviks would not have defended the Russian Jews – which they did – arms in hand, against pogroms organised by the Black Hundreds, extreme Great Russian chauvinists, who claimed to speak for the majority. This crude (and absolutely typical) distortion of Shamir is an absolute disgrace, which has nothing in common with Leninism.

During the Russian Civil War, the Whites accused the Bolsheviks of being “a gang of marauding Jews”. The same accusation was made many times afterwards by Hitler and his propaganda machine, and is now commonly made by fascists in Russia and other countries. It is frankly a scandal that anyone who claims to be close to the Communist movement should repeat it. But Israel Shamir does just that. Is this not simply disgusting?

Yes, we are unconditionally on the side of any oppressed minority. The difference between Communists and petty bourgeois Liberal tendencies is that we fight with the methods of the proletariat, we do not mix our banners with any section of the bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie, and we explain to the oppressed that the only real solution to their problems lies in the socialist transformation of society.

One of Lenin’s first state addresses was to mark the “emancipation of Jews” from tsarism. Lenin delivered a state address “on the pogrom slandering of the Jews” on a gramophone disc following the October Revolution. But Israel Shamir indulges precisely in that. His diatribe against the Trotskyists is tainted with a racist slur. It is a clear case of “pogrom slandering” in the best traditions, not of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, but of the crudest Black Hundred Russian chauvinism.

We stand for the Leninist policy of class independence and revolution. Shamir stands for national unity, that is unity of the working class and the bourgeoisie – not just the so-called progressive bourgeoisie that Lenin particularly detested, but with Black Hundred reactionaries against whom the Russian Bolsheviks fought to the death. This represents the complete abandonment of revolutionary class politics and their replacement by class collaboration, that is the complete renunciation of Marxism-Leninism and the total liquidation of the Communist Movement everywhere.

Trotskyism and the future of the Communist Movement

Our critic says the Trotskyist movement in the West is in a “sorry state”, although he clearly has no knowledge on this subject either. But as the Bible says: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considereth not the beam that is in thine own eye?”A sorrier picture than the one we have just seen in the writings of Israel Shamir is impossible to imagine. It is the picture of shameless Stalinism in the last stages of its senile decay. In the words of our great national British poet William Shakespeare (of whom I am immensely proud), it is “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Shamir says we cannot influence the masses. But the Stalinists in Britain long ago lost all the influence they once had and have collapsed. The Communist Party actually voted to dissolve itself! In all other countries we have seen a series of crises, splits and decline. In Shamir’s own country the CP is a shadow of its former self and is on the brink of a split. In Austria it is the same story. And in Russia the CPRF is in a deep crisis following its defeat at the polls.

“Woods speaks disparagingly of the five-hundred-thousand-strong Russian Communist Party; I doubt whether his organisation has even five hundred members,” he growls.

When Trotsky criticised the abominations of Stalin and the bureaucracy, this was presented as an attack on the Soviet Union. That was a lie. Trotsky always stood for the unconditional defence of the USSR against imperialism and capitalism. It was the bureaucracy and the Stalinist leadership of the CPSU that undermined the planned economy and destroyed the Soviet Union.

People like Shamir always defended the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR against the criticisms of the Trotskyists. He must therefore accept responsibility for what happened to the Soviet Union. Now he does not want to talk about the past (let it rest in peace!) but has transferred his affections to the CPRF, or more correctly to its leadership. But just as the Stalinist bureaucracy was not the same as the USSR, so the CPRF is by no means the same thing as its current leadership.

Let me make our position clear: We by no means wish to disparage all members of the CPRF. I am convinced that in the ranks of this Party and its supporters there are many honest and dedicated Communists. But the leadership of this Party has abandoned the Leninist line and consequently has led the Party from one defeat to another. The way forward is to rearm the Party by returning to the ideas, programme and policy of Lenin. The first prerequisite for this is a radical break with Stalinism and those who defend it.

It is not a source of satisfaction to us that the forces of the Left have been so drastically weakened. But it must be honestly admitted that this situation is the result of decades of incorrect policies that has undermined the Communist Movement. It must also be stated that the origin and source of these false policies was nothing else but Stalinism and the influence of the Moscow bureaucracy that discredited Communism in the eyes of the masses. In order to reverse the decline a fundamental reappraisal is necessary.

As for the forces of genuine Marxism (“Trotskyism”), we have every reason to look to the future with confidence. As a matter of fact, even our friend in Jaffa has confidence in us, for otherwise it is hard to see why Israel Shamir should waste his precious time attacking us. Surely, a movement that is in such a sorry state should just be allowed to wither away of its own accord?

No. It appears we are having some success and that the Stalinists (the few of them who are still left) are rather worried about our success. With the collapse of Stalinism, the ideas of Trotskyism are attracting ever-increasing interest on a world scale. The fact that comrade Celia Hart has openly defended Trotskyism is not an accident. Nor is this an isolated case. It shows a natural tendency for those who have the interests of Communism at heart to find out the truth.

I have just received a copy of a most interesting article from Havana, written by Ariel Dacal Díaz, the editor in chief of the journal of the Social Sciences Publishing House of Cuba (la Editorial Ciencias Sociales de Cuba). The subject of the article is the cause of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Among other things the author writes:

“Stalin was the visible face and representative of the bureaucracy that gradually broke the link with the essence of Bolshevism and that did away with the weak mechanisms of political participation of the masses.”

The author continues:

“The soviet bureaucracy was formed out of a complex process that lies outside the historically known norms. Later it took power, dominated all knowledge and its dissemination, controlled the means of production of ideas, guaranteeing its reproduction for decades. The process of bureaucratisation had its origins in the very beginnings of the Revolution, but it was confirmed as the dominant sector of society in the 1930s.

“Lenin explained the emergence of the bureaucracy as a parasitic and capitalist excrescence on the workers’ state, born out of the isolation of the Revolution in a backward and illiterate peasant country [3].”

“Writing about this new group of leaders, who had their own ideas, feelings and interests, Trotsky emphasised that, ‘these men would not have been capable of making a revolution, but they have been the most capable of exploiting it’.”[4].

These lines are absolutely correct. They show that the most thinking sections of Cuban society are carefully pondering the lessons of the fall of the USSR and are seeking answers to their questions. I note with pleasure that among the sources cited by the author is the book I wrote together with Ted Grant in 1969, Lenin and Trotsky: What They Really Stood For.

The days when debates were settled by the ice picks of the GPU, the days of closed sections of the archives and prohibited indexes of books are long gone. Only hardened reactionaries like Shamir will mourn them. Now is the time for genuine Communists everywhere to participate in an open and honest discussion about the past, the present and above all the future of Communism.

Free debate is for the Communist movement what oxygen is to the human body. Without it there is no life. For too long, debate was stifled and criticism banned. It is time to listen to what other people have to say. If you have opinions you wish to discuss, please let us discuss them. Only let us not resort to falsifications and calumnies. Let us discuss together as Communists, in the Lenin school! What have we got to lose by that?

What is required is an honest and democratic debate involving all shades of Communist opinion, including Trotskyism. The genuine tradition of the Bolshevik Party was a tradition of democratic debate. That is the tradition that must be revived. That is the only way the Movement can be strengthened and its future guaranteed.