An Israeli Socialist Responds to Haaretz Columnist: No, I Don’t Miss Stalin

Nehemia Shtrasler takes his arguments to the far reaches of North Korea and Eastern Europe because he doesn’t really have answers to what is happening here and now.

dov khenin
Dov Khenin
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gestures as he leaves after an EU summit in Brussels, June 26, 2015.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gestures as he leaves after an EU summit in Brussels, June 26, 2015.Credit: AP
dov khenin
Dov Khenin

Nehemia Shtrasler is in real distress. A clear indication of the weakness of his position is that he has abandoned the real arena of debate in order to spar against imaginary arguments rather than the actual ones.

That’s what happened to Shtrasler in his argument with me. In his op-ed “A dreamy trip to Greece – part three”, he puts “quotes” in my mouth that I never said and that bear no relationship to my real views, then he devotes himself to knocking down the false arguments he invented in order to win an easy victory.

Let’s start by setting the record straight. North Korea is irrelevant to this debate. Tarring me with North Korea is exactly like tarring Shtrasler with slavery in the United States. The socialism I’m talking about doesn’t seek to return to the past, and it has no nostalgia for the Soviet regimes in Eastern Europe.

As far back as 25 years ago I wrote, “The political and economic model that developed in the Soviet Union from the start of Stalin’s ascent, and which was later copied in other countries, was characterized from its inception by an extremely serious distortion. At its center stood a rigid, concentrated, bureaucratic system for managing economic and political life, which became a brake that impeded possibilities for development. This system was accompanied by a theory which held that it’s possible to establish ‘socialism without democracy.’ This was the theoretical core of Stalinism: depicting democracy as something ‘external’ to socialism, something that socialism could in principle exist without.”

The Stalinist model, I wrote then, was an abandonment of and stood in contradiction to socialist ideals regarding the fundamental questions of the system of government, the state, democracy and economic organization.

Shtrasler takes his arguments to the far reaches of North Korea and Eastern Europe because he doesn’t really have answers to what is happening here and now. He doesn’t really have anything to say about the Israeli reality of deepening inequality, about the global reality in which 300 billionaires possess more wealth than the poorest 50 percent of humanity, about the threatening environmental crisis created by an economic system that knows how to count nothing but financial profits, about the reign of the tycoons that has turned into a dictatorship.

Modern-day capitalism is indeed becoming more and more destructive. Just look at the steamroller pressure exerted on Greece, which dared to elect a government that sought a different direction. Greece was battered into submission so that everyone would see and be afraid, so that no one else would ever rise up and dare to challenge the dictatorship of capital. Indeed, the Greek crisis epitomizes the key contradiction of our times – that between the rule of the people and the rule of capital.

The truth is that there’s no need to go as far as Greece to discern this contradiction. Take a look, for instance, at our own natural gas issue – the attempt to close deals behind the closed doors of the diplomatic-security cabinet; the fear of letting the issue be decided by the Knesset; the avoidance of any public debate; the involvement of the U.S. secretary of state, who owns shares in the gas conglomerate, as well as of a casino and newspaper baron who supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

If so, what’s the alternative to the system that is threatening democracy? More democracy. That is the essence of socialism: expanding democracy beyond the realm of politics and applying it to the economy and all of society.

Is this possible? In reality, people worry about their health, their future, their children, the people they love. Most people care about what happens to others. People are willing to make sacrifices in both their economic and their personal lives if they are convinced that the sacrifice is necessary. In short, people don’t act to maximize profits, but to live and to feel better. Human beings have enormous ability, and also willingness, to change both the situation and themselves when the situation requires it.

It’s true that grand experiments in fixing society haven’t worked so far. That’s why the right, which claims that there is no other way, is supported today even by establishment social democrats who have given up the struggle in favor of integrating into the system. But are we really sentenced to continue living in a broken, unjust world?

To me, what stands out are actually the opposite examples – from the egalitarian and successful educational system in wealthy Finland, through the impressive public health system in impoverished Cuba, to public transportation systems at the expense of private cars and much more. I see the successes of knowledge-sharing platforms like Wikipedia, and above all, I see the enormous energy that has accumulated behind social protest movements.

The battle for social justice has accompanied humanity since the dawn of its existence. And despite the failures, it won’t be stopped, even if the oligarchs and their supporters want it to be. It won’t be stopped because this, Nehemia Shtrasler, is what would really contradict human nature.

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