Anti-Stalinist left

The anti-Stalinist left comprises various kinds of left-wing politics critical of Joseph Stalin, of Stalinism as a political philosophy, and of the actual system of governance Stalin implemented as dictator of the Soviet Union.

It may also refer to left-wing opposition to dictatorships, cults of personality, and police states, features commonly attributed to totalitarian Stalinist regimes, such as those of Kim Il Sung, Enver Hoxha, Walter Ulbricht, Bolesław Bierut, Mátyás Rákosi, Klement Gottwald, Georgi Dimitrov, Nicolae Ceauşescu (in later rule), and others.


A Diego Rivera mural (Man, Controller of the Universe) depicts Trotsky with Marx and Engels as a true champion of the workers' struggle.

Associates and followers of Leon Trotsky were organised in the Left Opposition within the Communist parties before they were purged in the Moscow Trials in the 1930s. Subsequently, his followers formed the Fourth International in opposition to the Stalinist Third International. Trotsky saw the Stalinist states as deformed workers states, where a political structure gave most workers very little power in decision making.[1]

Trotsky and his followers were very critical of the lack of internal debate among Stalinist organizations and societies and political repression enacted by Stalinist governments (i.e., The Great Purge); nationalist elements of Stalinist theory (the Socialism in One Country thesis, for example, adopted by Stalin as state policy), that led to a very poor revolutionary strategy in an international contest (and breaking with the internationalist traditions of Marxism); and its dictatorial, bureaucratic, obscurantist, personalistic, and high repressive methods (which Trotsky called "inquisitorial", in a speech that was read and broadcast in English). Less orthodox Trotskyists and other critics of Stalin have seen it as a new form of class state, called bureaucratic collectivism (James Burnham, Milovan Đilas, and Max Shachtman) or as state capitalist (Tony Cliff and C. L. R. James).

Left communism

The communist left was initially enthusiastic about the Bolshevik revolution, but lines of tension between the communist left and the leadership of the Communist International opened up very soon. Left communists such as Sylvia Pankhurst and Rosa Luxemburg were among the first left-wing critics of Bolshevism. Left communists see communism as something that can only be achieved by the proletariat itself, and not through the dictatorship of a vanguard party acting on its behalf. (See also council communism, Marxist humanism, ultra-left, luxemburgism.)


Main article: Deng Xiaoping Theory

A reformist communism, and a branch of Maoism, however it is often criticised by traditional Maoists. Heavily influenced by Lenin and Nikolai Bukharin's New Economical Policy, Dengists believes that the current productivity of the society is not strong enough to reform the society into pure public ownership stage of Socialism (see primary stage of socialism); we are not ready for it both technologically and culturally. In order to encourage and promote the advancement of the productivity by creating competition and innovation, we need to introduce a certain market element in a Socialist country. Dengists still believes that we need public ownership of land and raw materials, so a democratically elected government can make decisions on how to use them for the benefit of the country as a whole instead of the land owners. But at the same time, private ownership is allowed and encouraged in industries of finished goods and services. According to the Dengism theory, private owners in those industries are not bourgeois. Because as Marx teaches, bourgeois owns land and raw materials.[2][3][4] Therefore, in a Dengist country, private company owners are called "minyinqiyejia" (民营企业家 "civil run enterprises"). The People's Republic of China was the first country which adopted this belief. It boosted its economy and achieved the "China Miracle". It has increased the Chinese GDP growth rate to over 8% per year for 30 years and China now has the second highest GDP in the world. Due to the influence of Dengism, Vietnam and Laos have also adopted this belief, which allowed Laos to increase its real GDP growth rate to 8.3%.[5] Cuba is also starting to embrace this idea.

Dengists also take a very strong position against any form of personality cults which appeared in the Soviet Union during Stalin's rule and the current North Korea.


Anarchists like Emma Goldman were initially enthusiastic about the Bolsheviks, particularly after dissemination of Vladimir Lenin's pamphlet State and Revolution, which had painted Bolshevism in a libertarian light. However, the relations between the anarchists and the Bolsheviks soured in Soviet Russia (e.g. in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion and the Makhnovist movement). Anarchists and Stalinist Communists were also in armed conflict during the Spanish civil war. Anarchists are critical of the statist, totalitarian nature of Stalinism (and Marxism-Leninism in general), as well as its cult of personality around Stalin (and subsequent leaders seen by anarchists as Stalinists, such as Kim Il Sung or Mao Zedong).

Democratic socialism

A significant current of the democratic socialist movement has defined itself in opposition to Stalinism. This includes George Orwell, H. N. Brailsford,[6] Fenner Brockway,[7][8] and the Independent Labour Party in Britain (particularly after World War II). There were also a number of anti-Stalinist socialists in France, including writers such as Simone Weil[9] and Albert Camus[10] as well as the group around Marceau Pivert. In America, the New York Intellectuals around the journals Partisan Review and Dissent saw Soviet Communism as a form of totalitarianism in some ways mirroring fascism.

Right Opposition

Another major split in the international Communist movement was that between Stalin and the Right Opposition. In several countries parallel Communist parties were formed that either were rejected by the Comintern or distanced themselves from it. Their criticism did in some ways become similar to positions raised by the Trotskyists, but as a tendency they were far less coherent. The Right Opposition developed contacts with other groups that did not fit into either the international Social democracy or Comintern, such as the Independent Labour Party in Britain. This tendency largely died out at the time of the Second World War. In other cases dissident Marxist trends developed outside of the established Communist movement, such as the Anushlian Marxists in India.


At first, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and the regime it established through the successful war of liberation against the Axis invaders by the partizans was modeled on that of Soviet Union, and Tito was considered to be "Stalin's most faithful pupil". However, in 1948, the two leaders broke apart and Tito's aides (most notably Edvard Kardelj, Milovan Đilas, and Moša Pijade) began a theoretical effort to develop a new brand of Socialism that would be both Marxist–Leninist in nature and anti-Stalinist in practice. The result was the Yugoslav system of socialist workers' self-management, also known as Titoism, based on the organizing of every productive activities of society into "self-managed units".

Đilas, particularly, wrote extensively against Stalinism and was radically critical of the bureaucratic apparatus built by Bolshevism in the Soviet Union. He later grew critical of his own regime as well and became a dissident in Yugoslavia. He was imprisoned but later pardoned.

Non-Communist Left

"Non-Communist Left", or NCL, was a designation used in the U.S. State Department and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) referring mainly to leftist intellectuals who had become disillusioned by Stalin.[11] Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. highlighted the group's growing power in a popular 1948 essay titled "Not Right, Not Left, But a Vital Center", making a case for a permanent end to the Left as a unified bloc.[12] Another key publication was The God that Failed (1948), a compilation of essays from six former communists.

A major international strain of anti-Stalinism was sponsored by the CIA

Winning over and harnessing the power of the NCL became central to the US propaganda struggle against the USSR during the early Cold War.[13] This strategy directly inspired the creation of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), as well as international journals like Der Monat and Encounter; it also influenced existing publications such as the Partisan Review.[14]

Under these auspices (and consequently in fashionable intellectual circles in the US and Europe), anti-Stalinism became "almost a professional stance", "a total outlook on life, no less, or even a philosophy of history."[15] Prominent figures in this group include Arthur Koestler, Melvin J. Lasky, Dwight Macdonald, Sidney Hook, Stephen Spender, Nicolas Nabokov, and Isaiah Berlin. (The NCL notably excluded Jean-Paul Sartre because it could not accept his individualistic existentialist views.)[16] Key organizers of the CIA's Non-Communist Left operation, titled QKOPERA, included Frank Wisner, Lawrence de Neufville, Thomas Braden, C.D. Jackson, and Michael Josselson.[17] (Other supporters within the intelligence community included George F. Kennan, W. Averell Harriman, and General Lucius D. Clay.)[18]

The NCL began to lose its cohesion and its appeal to the CIA during the radicalism of the late 1960s. Opposition to the Vietnam War fractured the coalition, and 1967 revelations of CIA funding (by Ramparts and others) were embarrassing for many of the intellectuals involved. Soon after the story broke, Braden (with tacit support from the CIA) wrote an article in the Saturday Evening Post which exposed CIA involvement with the Non-Communist Left and organized labor.[19][20] Some argued that this article represented an intentional and final break of the CIA with the NCL.[21]

The New Left

The emergence of the New Left and the new social movements in the 1950s and 1960s led to a revival of interest in alternative forms of Marxism. Figures associated with British cultural studies (e.g., Raymond Williams), Italian autonomism and workerism (e.g., Antonio Negri), French groups like the Situationist International (e.g., Guy Debord) and Socialisme ou Barbarie (e.g., Cornelius Castoriadis) as well as the magazine Telos in America, were examples of this.

Notable figures in the anti-Stalinist left

See also


  1. "Class Nature of Eastern Europe" Resolution Adopted by the Third Congress of the Fourth International—Paris, April 1951
  6. F. M. Leventhal, The Last Dissenter: H.N. Brailsford and His World, Oxford University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-19-820055-2 (pp. 248–49).
  7. "Brockway ... sought to articulate a socialism distinct from the pragmatism of Labour and the Stalinism of the "Communist Party".David Howell, "Brockway, (Archibald) Fenner, Baron Brockway" in H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds.) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000. ISBN 0-19-861411-X (Volume Seven, pp. 765–66)
  8. Paul Corthorn, In the shadow of the dictators: the British Left in the 1930s. Tauris Academic Studies, 2006, ISBN 1-85043-843-9, (p. 125).
  9. "In August 1933 Weil carried these reflections further in a widely read article in the avant-garde, anti-Stalinist Communist review Revolution proletarienne... John Hellman, Simone Weil:An Introduction to her thought. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1982 ISBN 0-88920-121-8 (p.21)
  10. "From well before the Algerian war the Communists in particular held against Camus not so much his anti-Stalinism as his growing refusal to share political "positions" or get into public arguments..." Quoted in Tony Judt,The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century. University of Chicago Press, 2007 ISBN 0-226-41419-1 (p. 92)
  11. Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), pp. 62–63. "The Agency had been toying with an idea for a while now: who better to fight the Communists than former Communists? In consultation with Koestler, this idea now began to take shape. The destruction of the Communist mythos, he argued, could only be achieved by mobilizing those figures on the left who were non-Communist in a campaign of persuasion. The people of whom Koestler spoke were already designated as a group—the Non-Communist Left—in the State Department and intelligence circles."
  12. Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M. (4 April 1948). "Not Right, Not Left, But a Vital Center". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  13. Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p 63.
  14. Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), pp. 162. "The headquarters of 'professional' anti-Stalinism was the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, and the magazines whose editors who sat on its board, namely Commentary, the New Leader and Partisan Review."
  15. Philip Rahv, quoted in: Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), pp. 161–2.
  16. Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p 121. "Sartre was the enemy not just because of his position on Communism, but because he preached a doctrine (or anti-doctrine) of individualism which rubbed against the federalist 'family of man' society which America, through organizations like the Congress for Cultural Freedom, was promoting. (The Soviet Union, by the way, found Sartre equally uncongenial, branding existentialism 'a nauseating and putrid concoction.')"
  17. Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), pp. 99.
  18. Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), pp. 66.
  19. Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), pp. 401–402. "Richard Helms, who was now director of the CIA, was, according to Rostow's memo, aware of the article, and conceivably of its contents also. The CIA had ample time to invoke its secrecy agreement with Braden, and prevent him publishing the piece."
  20. Braden, Thomas (20 May 1967). "I'm glad the CIA is 'immoral'". Saturday Evening Post. pp. 10–14. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  21. Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), pp. 398–399.
  22. "Introduction". The Third Way: Marxist-Leninist Theory & Modern Industrial Society. 1972.

Further reading

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