Doug Enaa GreeneJun 9, 2023
Stalinism and the Dialectics of Saturn
Anticommunism, Marxism, and the Fate of the Soviet Union
Lexington Books 2023
As capitalism’s popularity wanes and socialism’s popularity increases, there remains a massive shadow cast by the history of actually existing socialism, Stalin being the primary pillar. His violent rule in the form of secret police, staged trials, forced confessions and suppression of liberation for workers both in the USSR and internationally are regularly brought up as the inevitable endpoint of any political progress, socialist or otherwise. Environmental protections, affordable housing, universal healthcare or even a guarantee of a modest living wage and social safety net today; gulags tomorrow. This is the ‘dialectic of Saturn,’ a phrase that points back to Greek mythology in which Saturn devours his own children. This idea has been applied for over a century now to discuss and discredit revolutionary politics, whether from reactionaries seeking to protect private property, or even self-described socialists unable to imagine things playing out any other way.
But was Stalinism the inevitable product of the Russian Revolution? And are all revolutions doomed to eventually turn on themselves, losing all the gains they might make in a self-destructive race to the bottom of Saturn’s stomach? Douglas Greene argues that this dialectic is really a pseudo-dialectic, a false narrative that has been imposed for over a century in his new book Stalinism and the Dialectics of Saturn: Anticommunism, Marxism, and the Fate of the Soviet Union (Lexington Books, 2023).
Taking the dialectics of Saturn head on, he spends the first several chapters surveying the ways in which this narrative has been developed and applied, taking on a massive collection of figures, from the Frankfurt School to Winston Churchill and back to Domenico Losurdo, showing how a repressive totalitarianism is seen as the inevitable horizon of any revolutionary activity. The book then turns to the thought of Leon Trotsky, who offered a critique of Stalinism that managed to walk the tightrope of maintaining a materialist critique of Stalin that nevertheless continued to believe in revolutionary possibility.
Thoroughly researched and covering a vast swathe of historical and theoretical territory, the book not only tries to recover a lost political ideal, but brings to the forefront burning theoretical questions over the nature of history and reason, and whether or not we can ever escape our current moment in search of a new one, a topic that has been present in much of Greene’s writings, along with his collaborator Harrison Fluss, who contributed the foreword. Some of these related writings include:
- Marx and the Communist Enlightenment
- Enlightenment Betrayed: Jonathan Israel, Marxism, and the Enlightenment Legacy
Douglas Greene is an independent Marxist historian. His previous books are Communist Insurgent: Blanqui’s Poltics of Revolution and A Failure of Vision: Michael Harrington and the Limits of Democratic Soclialism. His writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including Left Voice, Monthly Review Online and Counterpunch.