TO SAY that the people of the USSR have experienced ‘interesting times’ would be a prize understatement. In fact the times for a sizeable proportion of the citizens of the USSR were so interesting as to make them lose their lives in various interesting ways. By ‘interesting’, I mean horrific.
Most of the ‘interesting times’ took place during the leadership of Lenin and Stalin. Lenin, the Christ-like figure in world socialism, is somehow excused for all the murderous excess that took place under his rule. The only explanation for this can be that if the founder of the world’s first communist state was widely regarded as bloodthirsty despot no different from all the other genocidalists of the twentieth century, this would call into question the entire political philosophy of Marxism.
No such exoneration takes place for Stalin. The reverence the Georgian tyrant enjoys these days is due to a rose-tinted view of his rule exhibited by those who were not the victims of it. Anyone in modern Russia who survived Stalinism and is still living must clearly have been a net beneficiary of this dictatorship. There is also the romanticisation of Stalin’s role in the ‘Great Patriotic War’ that ignores the crass incompetence of Soviet policy to ally the country with the Bohemian Corporal and help illegally carve up Eastern Europe, as well as the abject failure of an egalitarian military policy that saw the communists surrender thousands of square miles of territory and millions of Soviet citizens to the execution squads of the Nazis.
The institutional reverence towards Stalin came to an abrupt end in 1956 as Nikita Khrushchev emerged to dominate the post-Stalin collective leadership, purging his rivals, such as Beria (sentenced to death), or Malenkov and his ilk, (sentenced to provincial obscurity). The defining moment was the so called ‘secret speech’ made during the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in early 1956. Stalin’s various crimes and failures were exposed and denounced. Commentary at the time suggested that the speech was hastily prepared and that it was only during the congress itself that the decision to make a break with the past was decided. In practice, the USSR had already broken with much of Stalinism, notably the repression, with millions already released from the Gulags and the power of the security services curtailed, including the notorious lists of those to be arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned, and executed with no hint of honest judicial oversight. During the 1930s the USSR’s policy of state terror had actually been encouraged and applauded by numerous socialists in the UK, including a disturbing number of Labour MPs.
Which all brings me to Jeremy Corbyn. It is perhaps no coincidence that a man who surrounded himself with numerous quasi- and actual Stalinists would eventually cause the Labour Party to be run in a Stalinesque fashion. There are quite credible reports that there was a culture of fear that permeated from the Leader’s Office to Labour Party staff and that some put-upon party employees contemplated suicide as a consequence. The most pressing evidence for neo-Stalinism infecting the very top of Labour has to be the party’s response to the BBC’s Panorama documentary on Labour’s structural anti-Semitism. While Labour could have taken an opportunity to rebut the accusations of the party’s reluctance to deal properly with the racists in its midst, showing successful case studies to offset the failures, the party instead resorted to the Stalinist play-book of attacking and denouncing the accusers by way of deflecting criticism. Only last month Ofcom rejected Labour’s official complaint about the programme, stating that that it was ‘duly impartial’ as Labour was given every opportunity to respond. No doubt all this will do is to fuel the paranoia of the Stalinists running Labour.
But Corbyn will soon no longer be leader of the Labour Party. What will the next leader do about the mess he* will inherit? How will he react when Corbyn on the back benches resumes his associations with every terrorist organisation and despotic regime he can find that will sustain his hatred of the USA and Israel?
The most obvious solution would be the one arrived at by Khrushchev in 1956. Keir Starmer will have to make his own version of a secret speech at the autumn party conference, if not sooner, denouncing Corbyn and Corbynism. If he retains any of Corbyn’s senior staff in any role, he will be regarded as a Corbyn puppet, as much as Corbyn was a puppet of McDonnell, Murphy, Milne, Murray and McCluskey’s ambitions. Starmer will have to perform not so much a U-turn on policy and process as a handbrake turn. It will be seen by a large number of the comrades as a great betrayal, but Starmer will have more interest in the opinions of over 30million voters rather than the half a million extremists who have infested the Labour Party.
And what of Corbyn himself? To be elected, Labour will have to decorbynise itself, and that will have to include mass expulsions. Starmer has a good opportunity to do this as the Equality and Human Rights Commission report, together with its mandatory recommendations, will be published in the late spring. Starmer could leverage this report to kick out the Corbynists, perhaps even Corbyn himself if he is feeling ambitious. If Starmer managed to split the party through mass expulsions, this would be a positive step to repairing the electoral damage caused by Corbynism. The expellees, perhaps after a court case or two, could go off and form their own socialist party, perhaps using Momentum as the basis, and then disappear into the obscurity they previously endured before Corbyn because Labour leader.
With the Conservatives enjoying the kind of majority last seen in the 1980s and Britain now out of a European Union whose leaders appear slightly deranged at this outcome, we are all experiencing ‘interesting times’ of our own, but not in the horrific fashion the Remainers promised for more than three years. Labour has been experiencing a quite horrific version of extreme Left-wing politics for more than four years now, but for the party and its members, the most ‘interesting times’ lie ahead of it. It looks as if it’s going to be like Kinnock on speed. Bring popcorn and soft drinks.
*Keir Starmer is at the time of writing the front runner. Why ‘the party of equality’ cannot attract women of equal talent and ability is a conundrum unless it is realised that no Warsaw Pact country ever had a woman leader or proportionate representation at politburo level.