Kiddie Stalinism

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Mike Harman
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Feb 23 2018 13:49
Kiddie Stalinism

Splitting discussion from https://libcom.org/forums/theory/why-do-we-assume-labour-movement-vehicle-strive-socialism-28012018#new

R Totale wrote:
Anyway, I would be interested to understand more about this phenomenon of kiddy-Stalinism that seems to have developed over the last few years.
I can completely understand why people look at Momentum or the DSA and decide "those people look like they're going somewhere, I want to get on board with them", but I am mystified by the appeal of contemporary " Marxism-Leninism". My main guesses as to what's causing it would be American influence, because I know Maoism was always more of a thing over there, and something about the destigmatization of "communism" as a word, but that's not much of an explanation.
I also don't really know much about what these folk actually do - are they actually joining vanguard parties, or just posting about gulags on the internet or what? Does anyone have any experience of working with them in campaigns or whatever?
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gram negative
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Feb 23 2018 15:59

i remember seeing meme-heavy, semi-ironic maoism and stalinism starting at least a decade ago, but it was definitely much more niche than it is now. i'd agree a big part of it is probably due to the influence of groups and individuals in the us.

the less specific factors that are making this more of a thing now is the general spread of leftist discourse on social media, and the trump bump starting in 2015. the reasons specific to why maoism/stalinism, i would say relate to: 1. racial politics in the us, 2. the imperial role of the us, and anti-imperialism in th us, 3. the general appeal of authoritarian organizations and traditions, 4. the aesthetics of maoism and stalinism, and the provocative appeal of publicly supporting them, 5. the relatively intransigent quality of both in comparison to social democratic politics and organizations.

Mike Harman
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Feb 23 2018 16:15

edit - I cross posted with gram negative and repeated some of their points, but yeah that

I haven't met any, but there's quite a few on twitter and it does seem to be a real phenomenon. I think there's a few things going on, some connected, some not, and it does seem to be mostly centred on the US so only addressing that here:

1. Since Ferguson and BLM, there's been a lot of people revisiting '60s Black radicalism and the Black Panthers specifically. Excavating that history for a new generation is great regardless of your view on it, but the problem is a lot of the history out there is superficial or frozen in time. If you look for a summary of the politics of the Black Panthers, you just get 'Black nationalist' or 'Marxist Leninist' or sometimes 'Maoist' - you have to go quite a bit deeper to get to ex-panthers like Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin or Russell Maroon Shoatz who've rejected Marxist-Leninism decades ago. The BPP represents the best known radical component of the late/post-civil rights movement, and doesn't have any European equivalent at all, so this is a uniquely US thing.

[This is my main theory for where non-aligned/heterodox Marxist Leninists are coming from].

2. You mentioned the DSA, while the DSA as an organisation, its leadership, and aligned magazines like Jacobin are pretty firmly social democrats, that's not a membership requirement, and there are both anarchists and tankies joining it (as well as left liberals and social democrats of course). This is a fair bit different from people joining Momentum which is much more explicitly tied to the Labour Party. So someone could be a DSA member but politically Marxist Leninist without the same contradictions that would pose in Momentum. This is fully compatible with [1].

3. The Workers World Party and Party for Socialism and Liberation (both descendants of the Sam Marcy Wing of the Socialist Workers Party, which split from the SWP in 1956 after supporting the USSR invasion of Hungary - almost unique variety of tankie trots) both engage in direct action. The Durham confederate statue take down was done by at least some IWW and WWP members, with one of the arrestees Takiyah Thompson being a student WWP member. Younger WWP and PSL members also appear to get involved in street antifascism, black blocs etc.
For example: PSL's description of taking part in a demo in Seattle: https://www.liberationnews.org/seattle-protests-trump-and-disrupts-alt-right-event/

Durham WWP stuff: https://www.indyweek.com/news/archives/2017/08/15/demonstrator-who-climbed-durhams-confederate-monument-arrested

This distinguishes them from trots like Socialist Action or the ISO, which are more likely to shop antifascists to the cops. Also there are no trots on twitter.

Compare to this badjacketing by the ISO:

ISO wrote:
This small group of adventurists was doing about as much to provoke the police to attack as I've ever seen. Sometimes, weeks or years later, it comes to light that some of these people were actually undercover cops, deployed to stir things up and make the protest look bad, to make people afraid to participate, and/or to give the rest of the force an excuse to unleash.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/02/08/making-sense-of-what-happened

4. Senior WWP and PSL figures regularly appear on RT news - RT likes them because of their campism and support for Assad.
WWP's Sara Flounders on Ferguson 2014 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-mfaxB2KNs

WWP's Sara Flounders on Russia/Nato 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbJXsaY4ThE

PSL's Brian Backer has a regular show on Sputnik: https://sputniknews.com/radio_loud_and_clear/

More examples here of course: https://libcom.org/library/investigation-red-brown-alliances-third-positionism-russia-ukraine-syria-western-left

Not sure how much this has actually raised their profile but it's mainstream media coverage they otherwise wouldn't have got.

5. Syria itself. With a fair degree of success they've continually pushed the line that if you don't support Assad, you're supporting either the US or ISIS or both. To some extent this is campist ('the anti-imperialism of fools') politics (Rojava being an actual project of US imperialism as opposed to making temporary alliances with anyone who they think will keep them going, anything that Assad might have done is imperialist propaganda being manipulated to justify an invasion etc.), sometimes going off the deep end into full on conspiracy theories about the White Helmets using crisis actors, staging rescues etc.

A communist internationalist position on Syria doesn't give you much to latch on to - meaning the quantity of articles on Syria and general commentary/anti-war activism is much lower and it doesn't provide easy answers. Even with Rojava supporters it's focused on the internal changes rather than the geopolitics, so is not providing an explanation for people coming from a blanket anti-war/geopoliitcs position I think. Between all that, people who can give the impression of knowing a lot, with awful politics, are drawing people in.

6. The general 'collapse of the centre' where the right wing of the Democrats have moved from being a reluctant least-worst option to mostly a complete joke (mirrored by Corbyn's relative success in the UK) has also been accompanied by a lot of red-baiting (and this also happens from the right wing of the DSA). I think this red-baiting has to some extent benefitted all radical politics, but again Stalinist politics provides an easy riposte to US-style anti-communism:

- North Korea has a lower incarceration rate than the US
- the US has political prisoners who have been in prison for four decades and in solitary confinement for most of those decades
- the US police extra-judicially kills around 1,000 people per year
- the CIA has overthrown democratically elected governments all over the world, when has North Korea, Cuba, Syria or the USSR done this? etc. etc.
- Cuba has socialised healthcare despite sanctions, the US doesn't despite being the richest counry in the world
- the USSR was largely responsible for the defeat of Hitler etc.

etc. etc.

It's an easy segue from that broadly correct what-aboutism, and US-centrism, to 'if you don't support the DPRK you're supporting US imperialism' and 'Stalin did nothing wrong'. Also Trots would smear anarchists as individualists or whatever a decade or two ago which is easily debunked, tankies mostly call anarchists and ultra-leftists aligned with Hungarian fascists, Ukrainian fascists, the CIA etc. which... where do you even start?

7. Meme arms race - helicopter rides vs. gulags, Kekistan flags vs. hammer and sickle, not sure this is very important but it's not absent either.

The particular variant of online stalinism that points 3-6 deal with is closer to a conspiracy theory than a politics, which also means it's a lot more internally consistent than Trotskyism. Trotskyism mostly offered a route into a sect and getting stuck there via constant activity and fronts, or a route out of itself if you managed to read some non-Trot stuff (post-war Trotskyism mostly being a history of people breaking with Trotskyism and awful organisations everyone else hated including other trots).

Tankie conspiracy theories I see random twitter anarchists repeating too occasionally - because who wouldn't want to be against fascism and US imperialism? The popularity of conspiratorial politics since Occupy is a more general issue but it fits easiest into either fascist or campist politics.

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the button
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Feb 23 2018 16:45

I tend to see it as the left counterpart of the alt-right.

* Intentional edginess -- check
* Using your opponents' rhetoric against them ("Lenin was a person of colour") -- check
* Shared enemies, real or imagined ("the white left") -- check
* Generally being pricks -- check

the button's picture
the button
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Feb 23 2018 16:58

Also, it's probably easier to have this conversation:

"So you're a communist, YOU MEAN LIKE IN RUSSIA?"
"Yep, that's 100% it, the Soviet Union was amazing, and anyone who says it wasn't is a CIA shill"

..... than it is to have this conversation:

"So you're a communist, YOU MEAN LIKE IN RUSSIA?"
*sigh* "Well, no, not at all really..... [continues for some time]"

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gram negative
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Feb 23 2018 18:22

is this starting to pop up across the pond, or in europe in general?

mike made a lot of good points, especially around the appeal of the direct action of some WWP/PSL groups; i'd also add the maoist groups that have been bringing guns to actions over the past two years, like the red guard in austin, texas.

DevastateTheAvenues
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Feb 24 2018 01:02

I'm looking at this in relation to the revival of competing imperialisms centered around US and Russia. This immediately calls to mind the Cold War, but now instead of the USSR (with at least a claim to being socialist) to counterpose against the capitalist West, you just have two increasingly authoritarian capitalist states. It's kiddie-Stalinism without any real Stalinists, in a time where all the surviving regimes descended from Lenin and the Bolsheviks have more or less buried their dead. The shitfights they've resurrected from the 20th century sound just like the wailing of mangled ghosts straight out of the 18th Brumaire. First as tragedy, then as farce, Marx said. But I guess the Stalinists don't read Marx.

The focus on imperialism really leads to a proliferation of naive anti-colonialism, for which Leninism and Stalinism readily offers a politics, and the hard questions of intra-national class relations can be shoved aside for the "woke" politics of national liberation. Alongside this is an acceptance of really quite reductive forms of identity politics. And it's weird, because you can tell that they can't really reconcile their "wokeness" with the actual legacy of Leninism and state capitalism. The hullabaloo over the order by Lenin to shoot and deport sex workers is just one example of that. The only way they get around it is by outright denial or multiple layers of irony.

But hell, maybe it's just social media, where the reward system is set up such that one is rewarded for either the most tepid, inoffensive positions; or for the outright polarizing. To be fair, however, that seems to apply to everyone. I thought the Leninist joke about anarchists supporting "decentralized death squads" was actually just a joke, but then I've come across random self-proclaimed anarchists whose beliefs end up just short of that. In any case, I've never met anyone in real life who took an uncritical line towards, say, the DPRK, and yet they seem to be everywhere online.

Dannny
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Feb 24 2018 10:49

Some good points above, relatedly there's the appeal of 'hardness' - perhaps this is a kind of pendulum swing away from the 'softness' of consensus decision making, 'acting locally' and that kind of thing - and is also linked to the collapse of the centre...

I also think the rise of a few communist celebrities has provided a kind of intellectual cover for the tanky youth: Zizek, Badiou, Jodi Dean (a member of the PSL..)

redschlog
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Feb 24 2018 11:25
DevastateTheAvenues wrote:
The focus on imperialism really leads to a proliferation of naive anti-colonialism, for which Leninism and Stalinism readily offers a politics, and the hard questions of intra-national class relations can be shoved aside for the "woke" politics of national liberation. Alongside this is an acceptance of really quite reductive forms of identity politics. And it's weird, because you can tell that they can't really reconcile their "wokeness" with the actual legacy of Leninism and state capitalism.

The remarks above about 'national liberation' and identity politics apply just as much to on-line and some real 'anarchists' and ' left communists'. Personally I am beginning to have difficulty distinguishing them from Stalinists. As mainstream discourse shifts ever rightwards, everyone on the fringe left is taking big leaps to the right to compensate.

Battlescarred
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Feb 24 2018 18:29

Not everyone

redschlog
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Feb 24 2018 21:20

True. Older people are less malleable. Also people who have opted out of the system. But generally? Can you honestly say that the average lefty you come across these days is more 'progressive' than back in the '80s or '90s? Presuming, obviously, that you have that experience. Reflection of the fact that we live in the most reactionary period in modern history.

redschlog
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Feb 25 2018 14:54

Mind you there was a lot of right communists back in the day too. Never thought I would see a left communist posting about the benefits of hard work though. Saw that recently. Stakhanovism anyone?