The BNP is usually described in the mainstream media as a party of ‘the extreme right’, ‘the far-right or even just ‘the right’. This annoys people like Dan Hannan who point out that much of the BNP’s policy platform is demonstrably leftwing.

However, the trouble with this is that if the mainstream right did succeed in getting the BNP re-designated as ‘far-left’, the mainstream left might start making excuses for it. After all, can you think of a single far-left intellectual, terrorist or despot that hasn’t had a faithful band of bien pensant groupies?

Of course, things aren’t quite as bad as they used to be – in particular, the inter-war years when Fabian luminaries like George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice Webb went on fawning pilgrimages to Soviet Russia. These days there are fewer apologists for Stalin in the Labour Party. Indeed, for many on the mainstream left, Stalin has become a convenient hate figure – someone who can blamed for leading the revolution astray.

That’s why it’s good to see the record set straight in the New Statesman – the house journal of the British left – where John Gray makes it perfectly clear that the original red tyrants were Lenin and Trotsky, not Stalin and Beria. He begins by quoting the semi-repentant Russian revolutionary, Victor Serge: 

  • "We revolutionaries, who aimed to create a new society, ‘the broadest democracy of the workers’, had unwittingly, with our own hands, constructed the most terrifying state machine conceivable: and when, with revulsion, we realised this truth, this machine, driven by our friends and comrades, turned on us and crushed us." 

The most famous early example of this machine in an action is the Kronstadt massacre – 

  • "…in which thousands of soldiers, sailors and workers were gunned down or captured and executed, following an order signed by Lenin and Trotsky threatening that the rebels would be "shot like rabbits", Serge wrote: "The truth was that emergent totalitarianism had already gone halfway to crushing us. ‘Totalitarianism’ did not yet exist as a word; as an actuality, it began to press hard on us, even without our being aware of it." Contrary to what countless western progressives have insisted, there was no shift from a fundamentally emancipatory regime to one that was essentially repressive. The totalitarian virus did not enter the Soviet state when Stalin took power. It was there right from the start, when Lenin and Trotsky were still in charge." 

The Kronstadt massacre was by no means an isolated incident: 

  • "Though [Serge] acknowledges that they "knew that in European Russia alone there were at least fifty centres of peasant insurrection", he hardly mentions the less well-known but far bloodier crushing of the Tambov peasant rebellion of 1920-21, which the Red Army suppressed by torching entire villages and using poison gas to kill off peasants who fled into the forests." 

Reviewing Serge’s memoirs, Gray comes to the following conclusion: 

  • "Totalitarian repression was not a regrettable departure from the high ideals of socialist philosophy – an unfortunate error of judgement on the part of the Bolshevik leaders. They had no alternative. Mass terror was a condition of their survival."  

Those phrases "no alternative" and "a condition of their survival" will, not doubt, be seized upon by some as an excuse for Lenin’s crimes (though we can be sure that John Gray does not mean them as such). Ensuring the survival of a dictatorship – of whatever political persuasion – is never an excuse, but a crime in itself.

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