Video: Boots Riley, Andrew Kliman, and Rick Wolff Debate Morality of Stalinism and Western Capitalism

by MHI
Filmmaker Boots Riley, Marxist-Humanist thinker and economist Andrew Kliman, and Richard D. (“Rick”) Wolff, co-founder of Rethinking Marxism, recently participated in a panel called “A Discussion on Leftism, Morality, and Community Growth.” The event took place on April 23, on George Mason University’s Fairfax (Virginia) campus. It was sponsored by the campus Students for a Democratic Society, along with other groups.

Kliman vigorously condemned the crimes of Stalinism and “leftist” support and apologetics for them, saying that they have besmirched the cause of genuine socialism, setting it back decades–if not permanently. Riley said that “mistakes” had been made, but he refrained from condemning Stalinist regimes. Wolff also refrained from even the slightest condemnation of them, attacked Kliman personally, and alleged that leftist opponents of Stalinism had done the most harm to the cause of socialism (presumably more than Pol Pot’s killing fields, the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution, etc., etc.). A fourth speaker, graduate student Bennett Shoop, also put forward a pro-Stalinist line.

The video was recorded live before a Stalinist audience. The full video, including discussion from the floor, is below.

We welcome comments on the video below this article. Also, in the coming weeks and months, With Sober Senses will have further coverage of the resurgence of Stalinism, so please continue to look for it.



GMU panel screenshot




  1. “Wolff… alleged that leftist opponents of Stalinism had done the most harm to the cause of socialism”

    It wasn’t Dunayevskaya who carried out the great purge, it wasn’t Fromm who set up the Gulags, it wasn’t EP Thompson who oversaw the Soviet invasion of Poland, etc etc etc. I’m genuinely not sure how anyone could say something like this in good faith. This isn’t even just wrong, it’s bordering on non-sensical.

  2. A good defence of what socialism could be from Kliman if only the other contributors to the debate could get away from the outmoded form of philosophy and organisation that is vanguardism. I think that a tragedy post 1917 is that what was forced on the Russian working class, making a revolution in disastrous circumstances following the cataclysm that was the 1914-18 World War which then devloped a form of political organisation that was not appropriate for developed capitalist societies. I think Gorter letter to Lenin is a good early critique of vanguardism. To make socialism a reality we need to drop vanguardism and recognise the place of workers councils that can accept contesting philosophies and can accept a continual dialogue between those involved to ensure that the free development of each is dependent on the free development of all.

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