Wallace's Corner

A socialist perspective on today's events

The Misnamed "Black Book of Communism"

11 January 2000

In October, 1917, when the Bolshevik coup d'etat was pronounced before the Second Congress of Soviets, members of a faction, Menshevik-Internationalists led by Julius Martov walked out. Leon Trotsky turned to him and sarcastically urged him to "Go where you belong from now on - into the dustbin of history." (Leon Trotsky, "History of the Russian Revolution")

The Marxist historian Boris Nicolaevsky recalled how Martov was jeered and taunted by Bolshevik supporters and his reply to them:

"Martov walked in silence and did not look back - only at the exit did he stop. A young Bolshevik worker in a black shirt and a broad leather belt, standing in the shadow of the columns turned on Martov, when he reached him, with unconcealed bitterness: 'And we amongst ourselves had thought, Martov would at least will remain with us.' These words stung Martov. He stopped and in a characteristic movement tossed up his head as if making ready to reply but then said only: 'One day you will understand the crime in which you are taking part,' waved his hand wearily and left the hall . . ." (Nicolaevsky, "Pages from the Past")

Trotsky, who determined that no individual could be right against the Bolshevik party, was himself murdered on the orders of party member, Joseph Stalin.

From its inception, Socialists were critical of the Bolshevik Revolution in the Russia of 1917. They pointed out that supposedly revolutionary vanguards imposing a party dictatorship in a country where the working class was but a small segment of the general populace was a recipe for disaster. It was Karl Marx who had first said (years before) that Socialism could not be installed by "bold leaps" or by "legal enactments".

Socialists always noted the perfidy of the bureaucrat/party dictatorship within Russia, functioning as a new ruling class building state capitalism under the mask of Marxism:

"Finding power sweet, they develop the century-old technique of intrigue, deception, bribery, and arbitrary violence in order to keep themselves in power. Unable to give the reality of socialism, they learn a new propaganda, which consists, crudely put, of calling unregenerate capitalism by a new name - socialism." (Socialist Standard, November, 1934)

That is why, unlike many, I cannot become excited at the new English translation of "The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression" by Stephane Courtois, Nicholas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek and Lean-Louis Margolin, published by Harvard University Press.

First published in France, the book is a new weapon in the arsenal of former Maoists/Stalinist left-wing "revolutionaries" who turned into staunch apologists of free market capitalism. In the wake of the breakup of the old USSR, and the emergence of a China wanting to join the WTO, the book is being used as a new ideological weapon in the ranks of the political right proclaiming all "communism" as inherently evil. And it has caused much consternation in the ranks of leftist Leninists, Trotskyists, and Maoists forced to apologise for so-called "excesses" of Leninist styled dictatorships.

The authors charge that "Communism" (describing every regime from the USSR, to the Eastern European state capitalist "people's democracies", the Ethiopian military dictatorship, Cambodia's Pol Pot, leftist regimes, China, Cuba, etc.) were responsible for the deaths of 100 million people. They also argue that since the these "communist" regimes were in power for over 60 years and killed more people than the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler, then the former were just as bad, if not worse.

The authors hold that while Naziism installed racial oppression and the elimination of people on the basis of race, the crime of "communism" was class oppression and violence. What they overlook is that, for the most part, as in all capitalist states, it was the working class and peasant class that suffered the most as impoverished peasant economies were forced onto the global capitalist stage.

They believe the that crimes of "communism" must be judged harshly.

But the book is misnamed because the regimes referred to by the authors as "communist" were in fact state capitalist. The essential form of capitalist production, accumulation under a bureaucratic class rule was imposed upon a working class still dispossessed of anything but their labour power. The exploitation of the working class was maintained by a rigid and repressive political authority of the state power.

But the authors have lost sight of this. Each one of them was either a member of a Leninist group or admirer at one time. Is it surprising that they were? No, because Leninist-Stalinist state capitalism of any type is just the other side of the capitalist coin. They made an ideological shift from one capitalist ideology to another.

The crimes of this so-called "communism" are immense. The suffering of the working class in the USSR, Cuba, China, the satellites of Eastern Europe was the continuance of the suffering of the working class in continuance throughout the development and history of capitalism.

Rising capitalist enterprise led to the colonisation of the world and the slaughter of whole indigenous peoples. Any attempts by peasants, workers to revolt against the onslaught of capital was met by the most repressive and bloody of measures - even by those governments who deigned to label themselves democracies.

20th century Naziism itself was brute force capitalism, maintaining special dealings with western corporations such as Ford Motor company, traded with capitalist neighbours, rendering a politically powerless German working class to be fully exploited by that country's capitalist class. The Nazis learned their methods of social control, military repression from those already utilized by capitalist England and the United States. The economic and political policies of Adolph Hitler were admired by the likes of England's Winston Churchill, the Fabian George Bernard Shaw, Canada's Prime Minister Mackenzie King.

Two world wars and a countless series of smaller wars around the globe with the resulting massacre of working class men, women and children as combatants and civilians was the work of capitalism - both private enterprise and state capitalist.

Repression of the working class, from the European revolutions of the 1840s, through the Paris Commune continued through the next century with the violent suppression of unions, from the Shanghai massacre, to South Africa's apartheid continue today in the atrocities against workers by right wing death squads in South America.

Capitalism is responsible for the deaths in Kosovo, the massacres in Rwanda, the Persian Gulf War and the bankrupt western government sanctions upon Iraq that still ends in the deaths of thousands of civilian men, women and children..

Capitalism was responsible for the Irish famine of the 1840s, the enslavement and working to death of the new industrial proletariat of Europe, as it is for the enslavement of child labour in developing countries today.

As Karl Marx noted, capitalism came onto the world historical stage dripping with blood and it continues to do so on a worldwide basis.

The driving force of capitalism is the urge to accumulate, accumulate, accumulate. The result being a history of violence and suppression against the working class.

If there is an indictment to be made, let it be the indictment of Capitalism, be it in its state or private form. The working class has nothing to gain from either form.

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