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Stalin: Not Such a Bad Chap Really

17 March 2011

2:37 PM

17 March 2011

2:37 PM

That, anyway, seems to be one of the things to come out of Terry Eagleton’s new book, Why Marx Was Right. It’s not published until May but Tyler Cowen reports that it contains these winning arguments:

But the so-called socialist system had its achievements, too.  China and the Soviet Union dragged their citizens out of economic backwardness into the modern industrial world, at however horrific a human cost; and the cost was so steep partly because of the hostility of the capitalist West.
[…] Building up an economy from very low levels is a backbreaking, dispiriting task.  It is unlikely that men and women will freely submit to the hardships it involves.
[…] There is a paradoxical sense in which Stalinism, rather than discrediting Marx’s work, bears witness to its validity.
[…] Revolution is generally thought to be the opposite of democracy, as the work of sinister underground minorities out to subvert the will of the majority.  In fact, as a process by which men and women assume power over their own existence through popular councils and assemblies, it is a great deal more democratic than anything on offer at the moment.  The Bolsheviks had an impressive record of open controversy within their ranks, and the idea that they should rule the country as the only political party was no part of their original programme.

I should note that Tyler says Eagleton does a fine job in debunking or correcting some mistaken interpretations of Marx and his work but, really, when you wish away the deaths of millions – to say nothing of the apparatus of the totalitarian state – as a mere detail that, however unfortunate it may have been, is, implicitly anyway, a price worth paying for the socialist system’s "achievements" and when you do this in 2011 then your moral compass is, um, malfunctioning.


I suppose one will have to read the book to discover quite how deliciously paradoxical* it is that Stalinism "bears witness" to the validity of Marx’s work. 

Revolting, really.

*Patricia McKelvey makes a good case in the comments that Eagleton’s sense it likely to be that by abandoning Marx Stalin showed how Marx was actually correct. Or something like that. Maybe. I don’t however, subscribe to the notion that the Bolsheviks were well-intentioned types who tragically went off the rails once they’d grasped power for themselves.

[Hat-tip: Marbury]

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