Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Friday, November 11, 2005

Stalin on Cromwell



STALIN: 'The Communists base themselves on rich historical experience which teaches that obsolete classes do not voluntarily abandon the stage of history. Recall the history of England in the seventeenth century. Did not many say that the old social system had decayed? But did it not, nevertheless, require a Cromwell to crush it by force?'

HG WELLS: 'Cromwell operated on the basis of the constitution and in the name of constitutional order...'

STALIN: 'In the name of the constitution he resorted to violence, beheaded the king, dispersed Parliament, arrested some and beheaded others!'

HG Wells interviews Stalin in Moscow, 1934

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7 Comments:

At 10:26 am, Anonymous David Duff said...

I'm not looking for a fight here, honestly I'm not, but I've puzzled over that extract and still can't quite see what point you are making. Please enlighten me.

 
At 11:49 am, Blogger Snowball said...

I am not really trying to make any point here - least of all I am wanting people to go away thinking Stalin is some sort of trustworthy historian - I just think it is quite an interesting little exchange. I suppose it does highlight how English bourgeois intellectuals prefer to forget about how a revolution was needed in order to establish parliamentary power.

 
At 11:42 am, Anonymous David Duff said...

"I suppose it does highlight how English bourgeois intellectuals prefer to forget about how a revolution was needed in order to establish parliamentary power."


Yes, I suppose so, in much the same way that Marxist intellectuals need to be reminded that it took another revolution to restore the monarchy afterwards. Also, it's worth remembering that some huge changes in British society have taken place without any revolution, in the traditional sense of that word, at all.

The notion of revolution seems to me to provide British Marxists with a problem. Most of them, despite their fervour, being British, are somewhat reluctant, or at least, unenthusiastic at the thought of our streets actually running with blood. (Even the 'revolution' your refer to above, was a mild-mannered punch-up when compared to our continental neighbours!) The fact is that the chances of a Marxist regime being *voted* in, in present conditions, are similar to a snowball's in hell. Thus, it seems to me, the only way for Marxists to have a chance for power is to work to change conditions *for the worst*. Only if you can succeed in impoverishing everyone and create chaos, hopelessness and despair, will your conditions for revolution be in place. That is a thought I cling to whenever I listen to the honeyed words of, say, the SWP assuring me that the interests of the people are their sole concern. Yeeeees, quite, as the 'Paxman might say!

 
At 11:44 am, Anonymous David Duff said...

Oooops, sorry, I didn't mean anything personal by my inadvertant reference to a 'snowball in hell'.

 
At 1:01 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Yes, I suppose so, in much the same way that Marxist intellectuals need to be reminded that it took another revolution to restore the monarchy afterwards.

Actually it took a counter-revolution to restore the monarchy afterwards, and that Restoration was also quite bloody.

Also, it's worth remembering that some huge changes in British society have taken place without any revolution, in the traditional sense of that word, at all.

Yes, but they often been made in order to avoid risking having a revolution on their hands. So after WWII, Lord Hailsham said 'if we do not give the people social reform, they will give us social revolution' - the NHS was set up.

The notion of revolution seems to me to provide British Marxists with a problem...the only way for Marxists to have a chance for power is to work to change conditions *for the worst*. Only if you can succeed in impoverishing everyone and create chaos, hopelessness and despair, will your conditions for revolution be in place. That is a thought I cling to whenever I listen to the honeyed words of, say, the SWP assuring me that the interests of the people are their sole concern. Yeeeees, quite, as the 'Paxman might say!

On the contrary - impoverishment and despair does not in itself a revolutionary situation make. In fact, a major economic disaster would lead to mass unemployment, a further attack on the rights of those workers who do still have jobs, etc. etc. Working class confidence would therefore probably go down - as the working class would be more divided. So in Germany during the Great Depression, Hitlers Nazis went from a fringe bunch of misfits to a party able to poll huge numbers of votes from the unemployed - and then take power in 1933. So that is why Marxists do fight for better wages and conditions and for the right to work at times of mass unemployment.

 
At 9:49 am, Blogger Caliban said...

One thing I am not quite sure is how far you consider Cromwell to be revolutionary. Admittedly my knowledge of the period is scratchy, to say the least - but Cromwell's record in Ireland, at least, seems hardly that of a revolutionary. Does the fact that he abolished the monarchy in itself make him 'support-able' for revolutionary socialists?

 
At 12:29 am, Blogger Snowball said...

A good question, and Marxists are divided on this question. I think the quote from Stalin above which is very full of praise for Cromwell is interesting as it shows that in a sense, Stalin in 1934 was thinking of himself as playing the same sort of role in the Russian revolution as Cromwell did in the English revolution - ie create a 'revolutionary dictatorship'.

Cromwell was indeed a butcher in Ireland, and put down the Leveller revolt, etc., etc. - just as Stalin's Terror massacred the Left Opposition etc, and the USSR later invaded other countries.

However, I prefer Trotsky's view of Cromwell - which accepts that Cromwell was a bourgeois, but also recognises that not only did he abolish the monarchy - the English Revolution he led tore the head off feudalism for once and for all.

See: Trotsky's 'Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism' (1926) here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/britain/ch06.htm

'That Oliver Cromwell was a pioneer of bourgeois and not socialist society there would appear to be no need to waste more than two words in proving...Nevertheless British workers can learn incomparably more from Cromwell than from MacDonald, Snowden, Webb and other such compromising brethren. Cromwell was a great revolutionary of his time, who knew how to uphold the interests of the new, bourgeois social system against the old aristocratic one without holding back at anything. This must be learnt from him, and the dead lion of the seventeenth century is in this sense immeasurably greater than many living dogs.'

 

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