re: Stalin, and the Vietnam War

Grover Furr (
Fri, 3 May 1996 10:08:46 -0400

Tony suggested there was some contradiction between my earlier posts on
Stalin and my later ones. I've reread them, and don't see it.

The question of Stalin is intimately connected to the main events
of the 60s, including the Civil Rights movement. But here I'll discuss
the Vietnam War only (even so the post will be rather long).

Many millions of people around the country and the
world admired the NLF and North Vietnamese for their opposition to
French and then American imperialism.

I vividly recall arriving at the huge (600,000 + -- maybe a
million or more) April '67 anti-war demonstration in Central Park with
some friends. One of them, whom I'd always respected for his
thoughtful approach to all issues, was Gordon. I'd met him in my
junior year at McGill, where he'd come from Amherst to take his
"junior year abroad". It was he who'd told me about _I.F. Stone's
Newsletter_, to which I'd subscribed, and which was the beginning of
political awareness for me.

At the demonstration I saw some US soldiers in uniform
demonstrating against the war, and said I respected them a lot.
Gordon's reply was, "Well, the people we should _really_ respect were
the VC", because they were REALLY standing up to the US onslaught. I
immediately saw he was right. A few minutes later a group of people,
utter strangers to me, came by carrying a "Viet Cong" (i.e. North
Vietnamese) flag. I told my friends I'd see them later -- I felt I had
to go march with this group. The only thing I remember about them was
that some were from Columbia University, where they had been
protesting military recruiting on campus. The University officials
told them they had to permit military recruiting as a "civil
liberties" issue. So, these enterprising students had asked to set up
a recruiting booth _for the Viet Cong_. Naturally, the University
refused, with some embarassment, because it would "alienate the

Naturally you didn't have to be a genius to figure out that, if
you respected the anti-imperialist struggle of the NLF and North
Vietnamese, you were really respecting the Vietnamese Communist Party.
A little further reading revealed that Ho Chi Minh, like many another
anti-imperialist, had gotten his inspiration, money, and organizing
help from the Comintern during Stalin's time.

So it was "Stalin the Monster" who was helping anti-imperialist
struggles all over the world! Something didn't add up! How was this
central problem to be understood? In other words: if the basic
impulses of the Russian Revolution were good, motives I could identify
with, where had "it all gone wrong"?

Because I was also demonstrating against the Soviet invasion of
Czechoslovakia in '68 AND against the French CP sellout of the French
worker-student rebellion of the same spring; AND at the same time
virtually the whole Princeton SDS chapter (I was a grad student on a
fellowship -- I couldn't have gone otherwise) joined the DuBois Club
two years earlier in solidarity with the CPUSA because they had been
put on "the Attorney General's List." In short I, and many others,
were not communist, but were "anti-anti-communist."

The Chinese contributions to the Sino-Soviet dispute were very
helpful here. In my view they are _essential_ documents to study.
Without them I don't see how one can begin to understand where the
USSR abandoned their egalitarian, or "communist" values. Djilas' _The
New Class_ gave a very static view of the resurgence of a ruling class
in the USSR, but the Chinese analysis was much more thorough, getting
into the relations of production and the re-emergence of profit -- of
capitalist relations -- within the USSR.

The Chinese had some sharp criticisms of Stalin, BTW. Don't
believe me -- read Mao's critique of Stalin's book _Economic Problems
of the USSR_. The Soviets had backed another wing within the Chinese
CP, because they distrusted the extent to which Mao relied on the
peasantry. The failure to build a base among the peasantry -- the
_distrust_ of peasants as essentially petty capitalists -- ran very
deep among the Bolsheviks, in Lenin, and in Marx himself.

But Mao also praised Stalin as, basically, upholding egalitarian
and revolutionary principles which Khrushchev and his colleagues were
now abandoning, and was pretty convincing in his argument. Around the
world, as you may recall, many people were very impressed by this
extended argument and the evidence the Chinese put together.

The only problem was -- China seemed to be following the Soviet
model in so many ways! The most obvious (after the early '60s) was the
"cult" of Mao, which seemed to surpass even that around Stalin. The
Stalin "cult of personality" was _one_ aspect of the Khrushchev
critique of the Stalin years that really seemed to stick. Well, the
"Cultural Revolution" soon surged up, and a little reading (it was
never explained in the media, of course) made it easy to see that this
was a movement, eventually a mass movement, against the same kinds of
anti-egalitarian, anti-democratic developments in China that the
Chinese had already criticized in the USSR.

My point here is: the question of the contradictions of the
period of Stalin's leadership was central to all of this. On the one
hand, the communist movement spread worldwide. This was the greatest
movement in human history defending workers' interests and
anti-imperialist struggles. On the other hand, by the 50s the Soviets
were doing less and less of this. Meanwhile, within the USSR in the
'20s and '30s especially there were _contradictory_ developments.

It's here that the recent (last 20 years) "revisionist"
historians' works are of some interest. I think their _main_ value,
however, is in showing the complete bankruptcy of the "Cold-War"
"Stalin-as-Monster" "USSR=Nazi Germany" story, widely accepted in the
West (and, now, in the USSR as well, copied straight from Western
sources). This stuff is really a barrier to understanding history.

In my view Stalin, the largest historical figure in the Comintern
history, and, behind him, the whole history of the Comintern and the
USSR at this time, is "demonized" by anti-communists as part and
parcel of their defense of exploitation, imperialism, and mass murder
-- period! It's interesting that many of the fabrications about this
period come straight from the Nazis, who had a special institute
devoted to inventing and peddling anti-communist propaganda. After
WWII, of course, the US had its similar institutes -- at Harvard and
Yale at first -- often with the same pro-Nazi scholars.

Setting aside all the baggage of the cult around Stalin, you can
see that, in the main, the same developments have taken place within
_all_ the Communist countries as took place within the USSR -- i.e. a
reversion to capitalism. YOu can certainly see this clearly in the
case of Vietnam and China, but it's true universally.

In short: the Bolsheviks and Comintern were able to overthrow the
ruling classes and, in places, get rid of imperialism. These were
titanic struggles, unprecedented in human history! Stalin is, of
course, closely linked to these victories, which are all victories
_for us_!

However, all the Comintern countries also eventually abandoned
the attempt to build a classless, egalitarian society, again as the
USSR did. The roots of this failure, like of the successes (and other
successes) mentioned above, are also to be sought in the "Stalin"

Another post like this one could, and should, be written about
the Civil Rights Movement in the US and its relationship with the
USSR, the Communist movement, and Stalin, too. People often say that
J. Edgar Hoover's suspicion that M.L. King was a "communist", and that
"communists" were "behind the Civil Rights movement", was paranoia,
etc. This is _not true_! Hoover knew -- and if you read history, you
will find out, too -- that the communist movement was the _leading_
anti-racist movement in the US after the 20s! There was no other force
basically worth mentioning that was fighting racism in the US -- the
CP was the only one! This was acknowledged by the support almost every
Black intellectual gave to the CP during this time. This would be a
great discussion to have -- the Communist roots of the Civil Rights
Movement. And, again, it is also the case that the Communists finally
dropped it.

Finally, we have neglected the Labor movement in the US, the
greatest victories of which were due in large measure to the Communist
Party. True, the labor movement was not as significant a force in the
'60s as the Civil Rights and Anti-vietnam War movement, but it was
important before that. And, again, the CPUSA and communist
international turned away from revolution towards reformism in this
area as well.

HOw about popular music? The Communist Party was responsible for
the rebirth of "folk music", a more democratic, though hardly
revolutionary, form of culture that typified the '60s. We could
discuss this too.

In short, the major movements of the '60s are centrally connected
with the role of the communist movement and the central figure of
Stalin (or, as I prefer, "Stalin", not to continue the "cult of
personality"; it was really the communist movement).

This is why it is vital to come to grips with the strengths and
weaknesses of the communist movement in order to grasp the underlying
forces which drove the 60s.


Grover Furr