THE United Nations has published a report on living standards in Eastern Europe and Russia in the years since the Stalinist systems there collapsed. It makes grim reading. Life expectancy has fallen dramatically in most of the 23- countries surveyed - The average Russian man can now expect to live just 58 years.
It would have been a great deal better for the peoples of these states had Stalinism been replaced by socialism - that is, by democratic self-rule and an economy designed to serve the needs of the people and under their control.
In fact the old bankrupt Stalinist rulers chose to try and copy the capitalism of the West. Some of them and their relatives took vast swathes of the economy into their personal ownership as private property. The nearest thing to an entreprenurial bourgeoisie in Russia is, even a decade later, a network of gangsters and racketeers. In the resulting chaos, economic dislocation, disruption and disintegration have wreaked havoc with the lives of the people. Socialism would, indeed, have been better!
The Morning Star commented on the UN report as follows (2 August): "Unfortunately too many on the left were blinkered to the great achievements of the socialist countries and lined up with capitalist critics of their activities.
And, unfortunately, there are still those on the left who line up in criticising the Cuban government, which has made impressive strides under Castro's leadership."
The Morning Star practises what it preaches. Recently it gave its readers an especially clear example of what such policy means, applying it to rump Yugoslavia (Serbia) which is ruled by the Stalinoid "Socialist Party" of Slobodan Milosevic. During the war in the Balkans the Star reported everything strictly from the point of view of the Milosevic government. The Morning Star is a vulgar propaganda sheet for the "socialist" regime of Milosevic, systematically misinforming and misleading its readers.
Was the Serb state, with its state-mobilised para-military allies trying to drive out or kill 90% of the people of Kosova? "Kosova is purely an internal Yugoslavian matter!" The Kosova Liberation Army? "Just terrorists!..." And so on.
The Morning Star's pro-NATO equivalent during the recent war was the Sun and The Daily Star. (Its nearest pro-Milosevic equivalent was the "Trotskyist" Socialist Worker.)
US President F.D. Roosevelt in the '30s infamously said (privately) of one of the Central American dictators, Samosa: "he's a bastard, but he's our bastard". Milosevic? "He's a would-be genocidal mass murdering bastard, but he's our mass murdering bastard!" That in a candid moment would have to be the explanation of the Editor of the Morning Star, who simply could not but have known what was what in Kosova.
The Morning Star has existed since 1930 (until 1965 it was called the Daily Worker). For decades it supported every twist and turn of the USSR and its clones, client states and allies. The Morning Star's editors still think that was then, and is now, the right approach. They have forgotten nothing, learned nothing and understood nothing of what has happened in the former USSR and in its former East European Empire, and why. For, surely, the most striking thing for people with the Morning Star's outlook about the collapse of the old Stalinist system is that the working class in those states did not defend the "socialist" system and in some cases was in the vanguard against it? In Poland, for example.
Why was that? Because in the ex-USSR, even though the conditions of life were, on average, better than in the successor states now, the workers were held in the strangler's grip of a totalitarian state. They had no right to free speech, to publication of critical literature, to free assembly, free sexuality, to organise independent working class - that is, real as distinct form state-run - trade unions.
Socialism? That came to seem to the workers to be just another dirty lie in the mouths and publications of privileged hypocritical self-serving state bosse, the ruling elite who lived like Milosevic while the people went without essentials. Those who advocated the politics of Marx and Lenin, honest working class socialists, those who tried to organise real trade unions, were killed, jailed, sent to Siberia or locked up in asylums for the insane where they were force-fed mind-rotting drugs.
When, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, an attempt was made to cleanse and democratise the existing state in the name of "socialism with a human face", Russian tanks rolled in to crush the Czechs. They had done the same, very bloodily, in Hungary in 1956.
Yet, says the Morning Star, critics of this system should have been silent, and they should be silent now about Cuba. Ours is not to reason why, or describe what is: socialists should support the ruling elite. And the working class who lived in the USSR and live in Cuba and China now?
Of course the US trade boycott and blockade of Cuba is an outrage against the Cuban right to self-determination. In that respect, socialists denounce US policy and support Cuba. But no socialist should be "in solidarity with" the Castro regime politically. We should solidarise not with "Cuba" but with the working class in Cuba. That requires honest, necessarily critical, accounts of Cuba.
For Marxists, the working class is the protagonist of socialism, its active agent. Surely the central lesson of the USSR and Eastern Europe is that there cannot be any other agent of "socialism"? In the Morning Star's outlook, the bureaucratic state, not the working class, is the agency of socialism. No, it isn't!
The other lesson is this. Those who were and are silent about the oppression of the working class in Stalinist states, and about the destruction and outlawing of real labour movements there, and the absence of the most basic freedoms - these, like the Daily Work;er/Morning Star, bear part of the political and moral responsibility for those systems.
Stalinism so disorientated the workers it ruled over that when it collapsed, the working class was in no political state to ensure that democratic working class socialism rather than capitalist chaos replaced Stalinism in Eastern Europe.
In Cuba, the Castro regime has been in power for 41 years, no less. The state there is full-blown Stalinism, shaped by its relationship with the ex-USSR, which subsidised it for three decades (at the end the USSR was giving Castro $8 million a day). The regime has some popular support, but there is no independent labour movement: the state crushes any attempts to create one.
If the Castro regime, when Castro dies, or sooner, gives way not to working class democratic socialism but to capitalism, the Castroite suppression of real labour movements and of every socialism but the official "socialism" will be one of the central reasons why. In that sense, the Castro regime, whatever its intentions, works - because it stifles the development of the only consistent anti-capitalist force, independent working class organisation - for its own replacement not by working class socialism but by capitalism
Socialism is the great clean truth of history. For seven decades, Stalinism and Stalinist methods have made "socialism" into the dirtiest lie of the 20th Century. Stalinism murdered honest working class socialists more than any other regime in history, not excluding Hitler's. That era, of which the Morning Star's approach to truth and to the working class in Cuba is a foul remnant, is almost passed.
Authentic working class socialism is regenerating and rebuilding itself. Its truth is on the march again!
Ed S 2/10, 5-8-99