Stalinism without Stalin

An article from Views & Comments, the publication of the Libertarian League, about the Independent Socialist League's analysis of the Soviet Union after Stalin's death.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on June 13, 2015

In spite of serious ideological and political differences with the Independent Socialist League, we have long considered their weekly paper, LABOR ACTION, to be one of the best radical publications in the country. The current series of articles by Hal Draper on “Stalinism Without Stalin” should be read carefully by every one interested in the recent switch inside the Soviet Union.

After giving considerable background material, much of which is already well known throughout the anti-Stalinist left, comrade Draper takes issues with those who see in the events in Russia changes of a fundamental nature in the regime itself. He declares that Stalinism continues intact without Stalin. He demonstrates conclusively, with a wealth of detail and examples coupled with sound reasoning, that the present “collective leadership” in Moscow is every bit as totalitarian as was the one-man leadership of Stalin. Numerous examples are given and the whole subject is done up brown – except for one important part, and this to us is decisive.

It is claimed that the essence of Stalinism remains and that there has been no return to Lenin’s policies which are referred to as being “democratic” etc. Anyone excepting a Trotskyite or ex-Trotskyite would by this time have come inevitably to the conclusion that the basis of Stalin’s repressive policies against oppositions within the party were but an extension of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s policies of repressions against opposition and dissident elements within the working class of Russia and the revolution itself. It was not “Stalinism” that destroyed the revolution, prepared the way for the madness of Stalinism. In this sense the “essence of Bolshevism” remained under Stalin and remains also today.

Our friends in the Independent Socialist League have come far in their ethical and social thinking since breaking officially with Trotskyism in 1939. They “stand for” the principles of democratic socialism and have renounced the discredited concept of the one-party dictatorship. We feel that in some respects these comrades are evolving in a generally libertarian direction. On the fundamental question of an evaluation of Bolshevism however they lag sadly. The umbilical cord has been weakened somewhat but is still there.

May we recommend to our ISL and YSL friends a careful re-perusal of the writings of Rosa Luxembourg and of the Russian anarchists who foresaw in Bolshevism the seeds that developed into what we know today as Stalinism.

(To those readers who are interested in examining the positions taken by the Anarchist movement in the Russian revolution, we recommend the following two books by Voline: 1917, THE REVOLUTION BETRAYED and THE UNKOWN REVOLUTION, reviewed in this issue. The latter deals in detail with Kronstadt and the Makhno movement. The can be purchased through V&C for $3.50 each).

Originally appeared in Views and Comments #13, May 1956, p 6.


View and Comments was published by the anarchist Libertarian League in New York City. The cover of #13 also features an ad for a “May Day Meeting” at the Libertarian Center in New York, which was billed as featuring “Speakers from the following organizations: Independent Socialist League, Industrial Workers of the World, Libertarian League, Solidaridad Internacional Antifascista, Young Socialist League and the War Resisters League.”

Little attention has been paid to the intersection between post-Trotskyist Schachtmanite Marxism and anarchism. The evolution of certain “Left Schachmanites” paralleled the evolution of other thinkers who originated in Trotskyism but moved to a libertarian socialist position. This trend was represented by groups such as the Johnson-Forrest Tendency (which included C.L.R. James, Grace Lee Boggs and Raya Dunayevskaya), Socialism ou Barbarie (which included Cornelius Castoriadis, Claude Lefort and Jean-François Lyotard) and Solidarity (UK) – as well as individual theorists such as Dwight Macdonald, Murray Bookchin and Daniel Guerin. Other non-Trotskyist Marxists were also moving towards anarchism, including Fredy Perlman and the Situationist International.

The majority of the ISL eventually entered the Socialist Party of America. However, some members (including Hal Draper) disagreed with this move, and later formed the Independent Socialist Clubs, which then became the Independent Socialists (IS). The Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL) split off IS in 1973. (Their program is posted here.) Over the years, the RSL became increasingly anti-Leninist as members moved towards anarchism, and it dissolved in 1989. Later, on the same day, a number of former members co-founded Love and Rage with a group of anarchists, in particular the Revolutionary Anarchist Bowling League. In 1993 Love and Rage split between those who favored a network and those who favored a more centralized apparatus (which included the RSL members), and the later became the Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation (LRRAF). A couple RSL members, including writer Wayne Price, passed through LRRAF and later entered the North Eastern Federation Of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC).

Another interesting element about the Schachmanite/anarchist intersection is the move of the Left Turn grouping towards anarchism. They came out of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the US, which had in turn emerged from the IS. In 2001, the Left Turn faction was expelled from the ISO and entered the anti-globalization movement; some members identified as anarchists. At the same time, the ISO was expelled from the International Socialist Tendency (IST), their international, for their failure to be sufficiently entryist in regards to the anti-globalization movement.

The expelled Left Turn members took over the ISO’s place as the IST’s US affiliate, and they held it until 2003. However, information is difficult to come by regarding this period; Left Turn members are extremely tight-lipped regarding, not just their relationship to the IST, but also their origins in the ISO. One of the only public documents regarding the split is a letter by Alex Callinicos, a Central Committee member of the UK Socialist Workers Party. (The SWP is the UK affiliate of the IST; it should not be confused with the US organization of the same name.) He identifies the parting of ways as tactical and not ideological: Left Turn was not going to form a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party, but instead wanted to participate in the ‘movement’ as such.

Of course, Left Turn’s politics – while they are decentralized – bare very little resemblance to anarchism intellectually. They are openly pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah, along with the usual uncritical support of national liberation movements that one sees so often in leaderless leninist groups. The influence of Pabloism and related notions developed in the Trostyist milieu is quite strong here, as opposed to the critique of authoritarianism that developed out of the RSL. In fact, Left Turn’s politics (in particular their support of antisemitic Islamist parties like Hamas) runs parallel to the RESPECT Coalition in the UK. RESPECT are a popular front group of moderate Islamists and secular leftists, and were launched by Left Turn’s former sister party – the SWP.

Originally posted: March 11, 2010 by Radical Archives