Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Stalin and the Red Scare

There were a series of events that provided grist for the mill of rabid anti-communism that happened post World War II. Namely, the betrayal of the concept of Popular Front governments in zones of Soviet occupation. The Popular Front was a tactic of coalition between Communist, Socialist, and Liberal forces formulated for fighting fascism while also providing a possible alternate route to a socialist society. The ground rules of participation in a Popular Front coalition included being agreed on a socialist direction of movement in politics. What it offered was non-dictatorial, multi-party reforms based on wide spread participation. All the countries of post-war Europe that either had large Communist components in the Resistance or who were occupied by Soviet forces saw a push towards establishing a new society based on these principles. But all things weren't equal.

While France and Italy, and Yugoslavia, had substantial Partisan forces backed by the Communists who played very large roles in the liberation from fascism, some of the other countries, like Romania, had either no or almost no Communist party apparatus either before occupation by the fascists, during the occupation, or after. Yet officially the Popular Front form of government was promoted there as well. What happened next is that Stalin and the Soviets manipulated the electoral and labor systems in the countries they occupied to produce artificial Revolutions where supposedly the people rose up in places like Czechoslovakia and Hungary and demanded a transition to a full Communist government. The Soviets, obligingly, responded by putting such governments in place. Although the amount of support for socialism and for a workers' form of government in these countries after the war has been underestimated, the fundamental dishonesty in the establishment of these Soviet controlled governments remains intact. This was seen and commented on by people around the world, particularly in the United States.

The idea that Communists were secretly infiltrating American society, posing as agents of benevolent change but having a hidden agenda of authoritarian dictatorship was officially established because of these events. Unofficially of course this fear and paranoia about radical groups in the United States had been present in many forms for decades, and had lead to a near fascist crackdown on all radical leftists following World War I and the Russian Revolution. The ultimate reason for the duplicity of the Soviets in Eastern Europe wasn't socialism but Stalin.

Before the Nazis took power in Germany Stalin was riding high in both the international scene and in his own country. What was being promoted outside of Russia by the Communist parties was a form of Communism that was highly purist and uncompromising. Germany was where the most funds were directed to effect revolution, partly because it was where the Marxist movement had really started and because it was the place designated as most ripe for the Revolution. During the 1920s and 1930s the Communists gained popularity and power there--but along the way completely underestimated the actual threat of fascism coming to power. Instead, the attitude they affected seems to have been one of complete condescension towards all other left groups, up to and including the Social Democrats. At one point the Social Democratic Party proposed an alliance against the Nazis and the Communist Party of Germany responded with a set of demands that would basically have turned the Social Democrats into Communists, something so absurd that it was immediately rejected. There was no need for compromise because the Soviet Union was on the wave of the future. After 1933 it was a different story.

With the loss of Germany the Soviet Union rethought its position to world revolution, conceding that the defeat of fascism, a necessary step on the way to socialism, could be effected through a coalition of like minded forces. Not just anyone, or any party, but parties and groups that supported the basic thrust of progressive movement against conservative reaction. So, the Popular Front concept was born. After the war, Stalin sought to dismantle the Popular Front concept and to replace it with the same fundamentalist interpretation of socialism and of socialist organizing that predated the rise of Nazism in Germany. In the process, the idea of radical socialism as a possible and positive force in societies took a beating, and the Cold War doctrine of Communist subversion was born.

It's tempting to wonder what the confrontation between the capitalist powers and the socialists would have looked like if the Soviets had maintained true to their promises, and if a move against Stalinism in the Soviet Union had succeeded instead of being overthrown. It would have meant a confrontation between two ideologies in a pure form and not in a debased one. It would have been harder to explain away socialism in that case.

*on edit: it's interesting that the removal of Khruschev didn't signal a return to hardcore Stalinism but instead to a kind of holding pattern between it and more reform minded pathways. For a country purporting to be the vanguard of social justice, stasis and careerism isn't exactly the thing to fire up people about the justness and need of your cause. With Brezhnev the Soviet Union as a truly revolutionary force in the world came to an abrupt halt.

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