The Celia Hart Controversy - Stalinism or Leninism? Part One

Marxist.com recently published an article by Celia Hart in Havana. It has a very great significance, because the author, who is the daughter of two well-known leaders of the Cuban Revolution, calls for a discussion about Trotsky’s role and ideas. It immediately caused a controversy on an international scale. One of those who attacked Celia was a certain Israel Shamir, who raked up all the old Stalinist myths about the great role of Stalin. Alan Woods comments.

Marxist.com recently published an article by Celia Hart in Havana entitled "Socialism in one country" and the Cuban Revolution- A contribution from Cuba. This article has a very great significance, because the author, who is the daughter of two well-known leaders of the Cuban Revolution, calls for a discussion about Trotsky’s role and ideas. It immediately caused a controversy on an international scale. This was precisely the purpose of the author, and therefore one can say that she has already succeeded in her intention.

A serious debate within the Communist Parties on the ideas of Leon Trotsky, the man who, together with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, led the October Revolution in Russia, has long been overdue, and not only in Cuba. One does not have to agree with every dot and comma of Celia’s article to agree to this. But a serious debate demands a degree of honesty. No matter what one thinks about Celia’s article, it was honestly written. The same, alas, cannot be said of some of the articles written in answer to her.

The popular Spanish left-wing website Rebelion published a piece by a certain Israel Shamir, Sobre “El Socialismo en un solo país y la Revolución Cubana - Aportación desde Cuba” de Celia Hart, which is a venomous attack on Celia Hart and a completely uncritical defence of Stalin and Stalinism. Shamir assures us that Stalinism is synonymous with Communism. That is frankly a scandalous assertion and a slander against Communism.

Stalin killed more Communists than Hitler, Mussolini and Franco together. He destroyed Lenin’s Bolshevik Party and murdered all its leaders. Trotsky was the last one to survive. He continued to fight for the real ideas and traditions of Lenin and the October Revolution. That is why Stalin had him assassinated, along with most of his family and many of his collaborators and comrades.

It is easy, of course, to write lies and slanders. This “feat” can be achieved in a few lines. But it is not so easy to provide a political answer to such slanders. To nail a lie it is necessary to produce documentary evidence. This takes time and space. The slanderer, on the other hand, is unscrupulous. He has no need to produce any evidence for his lies. He just asserts them as if they were unquestionably true. This was the same method that sent millions of people to Stalin’s prisons and camps. The word of an informer was sufficient.

Informers will never make good revolutionaries, and Marxism (as well as any competent lawyer) demands proof of any accusation. But proof will not be found anywhere in the articles that purport to “answer” comrade Celia. You will search in vain through all this mass of print for quotations, dates, facts or statistics. You will learn absolutely nothing about the Russian Revolution or the history of Bolshevism, about the lives and ideas of Lenin and Trotsky. If it comes to that, you will not learn anything about Stalin either.

There is a Spanish proverb that comes to mind when reading this kind of thing: “Ignorance is audacious” (la ignorancia es atrevida). Shamir and others like him are completely ignorant of the real history of Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution. They peddle myths and fairy tales that were invented long ago and which have long since been exploded by serious historical research. But this does fact does not bother the slanderers in the slightest. They write in the spirit of Goebbels, who said that if you wish to deceive the people, you must think of a big lie and repeat it and repeat it, and in the end people will start to believe it.

One of the myths that has been repeated endlessly is the story of Stalin as a “great war leader”. Stalin was supposed to have saved the USSR in the war against Hitler. The exact opposite is the case. By his criminal policies in the years before the War, Stalin exposed the USSR to terrible danger and nearly led to its destruction. His flirtation with Hitler left the USSR completely unprepared for War and when Hitler finally invaded in the summer of 1941, millions of Soviet troops were surrounded and taken prisoner or killed. The planes of the Red air force were destroyed on the ground.

At this time the “great war leader” panicked and disappeared into his dacha outside Moscow, where he told those around him that “everything Lenin has built has been destroyed.” The reason for his panic was that he knew (and so did Hitler) that his monstrous Purges before the War had destroyed the finest cadres of the Red Army, which found itself beheaded in the moment of danger. The USSR won the war against Hitler not thanks to Stalin but in spite of him, thanks to the advantages of a nationalized planned economy and the heroism of the workers of the Soviet Union.

Fortunately, real Communists are not little children or feeble-minded people who believe in fairy stories. They want to know the truth, because, as Trotsky once said, truth and not lies is the locomotive of history.

Shamir invents history

There is such a mountain of lies here that it is frankly difficult to know where to begin. For example, comrade Shamir informs us that Stalin “was also an internationalist [...] but he was a Russian internationalist, and his first duty was towards the people of the URSS.” He then informs us that

“Leon Trotsky did not understand the continuity of Russian history. He was involved in a terrible persecution of the Church, in robbery and destruction of churches. He was involved in mass executions of peasants and workers, officers and intellectuals. He lost the war in Poland and could not sign peace with Germany. He alienated the intellectuals and the workers of Russia. In his eagerness to carry out permanent revolution, he did not pay sufficient attention to Russia; this was his undoing.”

It would be difficult to imagine such a quantity of nonsense concentrated in such a few sentences. It is hard to know what is the main element here: maliciousness or ignorance. One thing, however, is certain. Comrade Shamir is a man with a most lively and fertile imagination. He also strives for originality. Other, less audacious, spirits would have been content simply to repeat the lies and slanders that were invented for decades by Stalin’s propaganda machine. Heaven knows there are enough of them!

But no! Israel Shamir has to be original and so he invents his own, entirely new and original slanders that nobody – absolutely nobody – ever thought of before. This at least has the merit of originality – and the most incredibly barefaced cheek. He accuses Trotsky of – robbing churches! Now where does Comrade Shamir get this from? One scratches one’s head in bewilderment. One searches the pages of the well-known Stalinist works against Trotsky: the infamous Short Course of the History of the CPSU (b), the verbatim texts of the Moscow Show trial, and countless other gems. But there is no mention of Trotsky “robbing and destroying churches”.

Intrigued by Shamir’s imaginative version of history, one looks around for some reference, some source for it. But one looks in vain. Not one reference, not one quotation, not one attempt to prove a single one of these assertions. This is the method of Israel Shamir – to throw a large quantity of foul-smelling mud in the hope that some, at least, will stick. As Marx once ironically commented: “Every line a piss-pot, and not an empty one.” Such a method is entirely unworthy of a real Communist – but entirely consistent with the Stalin School of Falsification that Comrade Shamir has so enthusiastically embraced.

Even worse is the scandalous lie that Trotsky “was involved in mass executions of peasants and workers, officers and intellectuals”. When? Where? Shamir is silent. He writes in the finest Goebbels tradition: it is only necessary to think of a big lie and repeat it. The complete absence of any specific information speaks for itself. This is a barefaced lie and Shamir knows it. The man who was certainly involved in mass executions of peasants and workers, officers and intellectuals was Joseph Stalin, and this is well known and documented down to the last detail. About this, however, our friend is silent. As we know, “no flies will enter a closed mouth.”

Actually, Shamir’s method is far inferior to that of the old Stalinists. They at least made some semblance of an attempt to prove their assertions by the use of distorted arguments and quotations taken out of context. Even in the monstrous Moscow Show Trials Vyshinsky attempted to prove his vile accusations. In Shamir’s diatribe we find nothing of the sort. From the first line to the last, it is simply an insult to the intelligence of the reader.

Without giving any detail, Shamir makes a reference to the old Stalinist myth about Trotsky and Brest Litovsk, which I and Ted Grant have answered in detail in Lenin and Trotsky, What they really stood for. But what is even more incredible is his reference to the Polish War of 1920. The allegation that Trotsky lost the Polish war stands the historical truth completely on its head. Trotsky was not personally involved in the Polish campaign, which, incidentally, he opposed.

The army that marched against White Poland and that reached the gates of Warsaw was led by the brilliant Red Army commander Tukhachevsky. It is possible that he might have succeeded in taking it, except for the fact that his advance was sabotaged by the second Soviet army that deliberately delayed joining up with him. That army was led by Stalin and his cronies. They caused the defeat of the Red Army in Poland that Shamir refers to. And what happened to the military genius and revolutionary Tukhachevsky? He was murdered by Stalin along with all the other great leaders of the Red Army, preparing the way for Hitler to invade the USSR. 

Lenin’s internationalism

The worse thing about this kind of polemic is that nobody can learn anything from it. This was never the method of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party. It would never have occurred to Lenin (just as it would never have occurred to Marx and Engels) to distort and falsify the ideas of his opponents. He was interested in bringing out the differences clearly, and answer them honestly, because for Lenin the purpose of a polemic was above all to educate the cadres.

Lenin knew and loved the national traditions, history, literature and culture of Russia. An internationalist to the core, he was nevertheless firmly grounded in Russian life and culture. Yet Lenin never made the slightest concessions to Great-Russian chauvinism, against which he waged a pitiless struggle all his life. By contrast, comrade Shamir’s diatribe is impregnated with the spirit of Great Russian chauvinism from the first line to the last. This is something absolutely alien to genuine Leninism.

It is not Trotsky who has failed to understand proletarian internationalism, but comrade Shamir, who confuses Stalinist chauvinism with Leninist internationalism. The two positions are not just different, but mutually incompatible. Lenin’s hatred of Russian nationalism was so great that for some time after the October revolution the word “Russia” disappeared from all Soviet official documents. The Land of October was referred to simply as The Workers’ State.

Lenin fought bitterly against Russian chauvinism all his life. On the eve of the First World War Lenin wrote:

"Even now, probably for a fairly long time, proletarian democracy must reckon with the nationalism of the Great-Russian peasants (not with the object of making concessions to it, but in order to combat it)." (LCW, The Right of Nations to Self-determination, February-May 1914, vol. 20, our emphasis.)

And he continues: "This state of affairs confronts the proletariat of Russia with a twofold or, rather, a two-sided task; to combat all nationalism and, above all, Great-Russian nationalism; to recognise not only equal rights for all nations in general, but also equality of rights as regards statehood, i.e., the right of nations to self-determination. And at the same time, it is their task to promote a successful struggle against nationalism of all nations, whatever its form, and preserve the unity of the proletarian struggle and of the proletarian organisations, amalgamating these organisations into a closely-knit international association despite bourgeois striving for national exclusiveness.

"Complete equality of rights for all nations, the right of nations to self-determination, the unity of the workers of all nations—such is the national programme that Marxism, the experience of the whole world and the experience of Russia, teach the workers." (Ibid., my emphasis, AW)

To try to attribute to the great Lenin the rotten poison of Russian nationalism, when Lenin fought against this all his life, is nothing less than a scandal and an insult to the memory of Vladimir Ilyich. For Lenin, the Russian Revolution itself was not a self-contained act or an end in itself, but only the first link in a chain of revolutions that would lead to world socialism. In fact, he said many times that he would be prepared to sacrifice the Russian Revolution, if that meant the victory of the socialist revolution in Germany.

Lenin knew very well that unless the proletarian revolution triumphed in Western Europe, especially in Germany, the October Revolution would ultimately be doomed. He expressed this idea a hundred times in articles and speeches after 1917. He never subscribed to the anti-Marxist idea of “socialism in one country”. History has now shown that he was right.

Lenin and the national question

Lenin always showed great sensitivity in his dealings with the nationalities of the Soviet state. The Bolsheviks met all their obligations to the oppressed nations of the former tsarist empire. When a move was initiated to set up a Union of Soviet Republics, Lenin was very cautious about it. While obviously in favour of a voluntary federation, which was formed immediately after the October Revolution, Lenin was anxious to avoid giving any impression to the non-Russian nationalities that the Bolsheviks merely wished to re-constitute the old tsarist empire under a new name.

Lenin therefore urged caution and patience. However, Stalin, who was made Commissar for the Nationalities because he was a Georgian, had other ideas. It is a well-established fact that members of small nations who rise to leading positions in the government of an oppressive majority nation tend to become the worst great-power chauvinists. Thus, Napoleon Bonaparte, although a Corsican, became the most fanatical proponent of French centralism.

In 1921, despite Lenin's objections, Stalin organised an invasion of Georgia, which was (theoretically) an independent state. Presented with a fait accompli, Lenin was obliged to accept the position. But he strongly advised caution and sensitivity when dealing with the Georgians, in order to avoid any hint of Russian bullying. At the time Georgia, a predominantly peasant and petty bourgeois country, was ruled by the Mensheviks.

Lenin was in favour of a conciliatory policy, with a view to winning the confidence of the Georgians. He attached enormous importance to the maintenance of fraternal relations between the nationalities, and insisted on the voluntary character of any union or federation. Stalin, on the contrary, wished to push through at all costs the union of the Russian Socialist Federation (RSFSR) with the Transcaucasian Federation, the Ukrainian SSR and the Bielorussian SSR.

When Stalin's draft proposal was submitted to the Central Committee, Lenin subjected it to a serious criticism and proposed an alternative solution which was different in principle from Stalin's draft. Lenin, typically, stressed the element of equality and the voluntary nature of the federation: "We recognise ourselves to be the equals of the Ukrainian SSR and others," he wrote, "and together with them and on equal terms with them enter a new union, a new federation…" (Lenin, Questions of National Policy and Proletarian Internationalism, p. 223.)

Behind the backs of the Party leadership, Stalin, aided by his henchman Ordzhonikidze (a Russified Georgian, like himself) and Dzerzhinski (a Pole) staged what amounted to a coup in Georgia. They purged the Georgian Mensheviks, against Lenin's specific advice, and when the Georgian Bolshevik leaders protested, they were ruthlessly pushed aside. Stalin and Ordzhonikidze trampled on all criticism. In other words, they carried out a policy that was precisely the opposite of what Lenin advocated for Georgia. They bullied the Georgian Bolsheviks and even went so far as to use physical violence, as when Ordzhonikidze struck one of the Georgian Bolsheviks—an unheard-of action. When Lenin, who was incapacitated by illness, finally found out he was horrified, and dictated a series of letters to his secretaries, denouncing Stalin's conduct in the harshest possible terms and demanding the severest punishment for Ordzhonikidze.

In a text dictated on December 24-5 1922, Lenin branded Stalin "a real and true national-socialist", and a vulgar "Great-Russian bully". (See Buranov, Lenin's Will, p. 46.) He wrote: "I also fear that Comrade Dzerzhinski, who went to the Caucasus to investigate the 'crime' of those 'nationalist-socialists', distinguished himself there by his truly Russian frame of mind (it is common knowledge that people of other nationalities who have become Russified overdo this Russian frame of mind) and that the impartiality of his whole commission was typified well enough by Ordzhonikidze's 'manhandling'." (LCW, The Question of Nationalities or 'autonomization', 13 December 1922, vol. 36, p. 606.)

Lenin placed the blame for this incident firmly at Stalin's door: "I think," he wrote, "that Stalin's haste and infatuation with pure administration, together with his spite against the notorious 'nationalist-socialism' played a fatal role here. In politics, spite generally plays the basest of roles." (Ibid.)

Lenin against bureaucracy

Lenin linked Stalin's behaviour in Georgia directly to the problem of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state apparatus under conditions of frightful backwardness. He particularly condemned Stalin's haste in pushing through a Union of Soviet Republics, irrespective of the opinions of the peoples concerned, under the pretext of the need for a "united state apparatus". Lenin firmly rejected this argument, and explained it as the expression of the rotten Great-Russian chauvinism emanating from the Bureaucracy which, to a large degree, the Revolution had inherited from tsarism:

"It is said that a united state apparatus was needed. Where did that assurance come from? Did it not come from the same Russian apparatus, which, as I pointed out in one of the preceding sections of my diary, we took over from Tsarism and slightly anointed with Soviet oil?

"There is no doubt that that measure should have been delayed until we could say, that we vouched for our apparatus as our own. But now, we must, in all conscience, admit the contrary; the state apparatus we call ours is, in fact, still quite alien to us; it is a bourgeois and Tsarist hotchpotch and there has been no possibility of getting rid of it in the past five years without the help of other countries and because we have been "busy" most of the time with military engagements and the fight against famine.

"It is quite natural that in such circumstances the 'freedom to secede from the union' by which we justify ourselves will be a mere scrap of paper, unable to defend the non-Russians from the onslaught of that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is. There is no doubt that the infinitesimal percentage of Soviet and sovietised workers will drown in that tide of chauvinistic Great-Russian riff-raff like a fly in milk." (Ibid., p. 605, my emphasis, AW.)

After the Georgian affair, Lenin threw the whole weight of his authority behind the struggle to remove Stalin from the post of General Secretary of the Party, which he occupied in 1922, after the death of Sverdlov. However, Lenin's main fear now more than ever was that an open split in the leadership, under prevailing conditions, might lead to the break-up of the party along class lines. He therefore attempted to keep the struggle confined to the leadership, and the notes and other material were not made public. Lenin wrote secretly to the Georgian Bolshevik-Leninists (sending copies to Trotsky and Kamenev) taking up their cause against Stalin "with all my heart". As he was unable to pursue the affair in person, he wrote to Trotsky requesting him to undertake the defence of the Georgians in the Central Committee.

'Socialism in one country'

Nationalism and Marxism are incompatible. But nationalism is the inseparable Siamese twin of Stalinism in all its varieties. At the heart of the ideology of Stalinism is the so-called theory of socialism in one country. The anti-Marxist theory of "socialism in one country", first expounded by Stalin in the autumn of 1924, went against everything the Bolsheviks and the Communist International, had preached. Such a notion could never have been countenanced by Marx or Lenin.

How was it possible to construct a national socialism in a single country, let alone an extremely backward country like Russia? Such a thought never entered the heads of any Bolshevik, including Stalin's up until 1924. (It would have been impossible to advance such an idea while Lenin was alive.” As late as 1924, Stalin continued to support Lenin's internationalist position. In April of that year, in a speech to students at the Sverdlov University, later published under the title Foundations of Leninism, Stalin stated:

"The overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a proletarian government in one country does not yet guarantee the complete victory of socialism. The main task of socialism—the organisation of socialist production—remains ahead. Can this task be accomplished, can the final victory of socialism in one country be attained, without the joint efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries? No, this is impossible. To overthrow the bourgeoisie the efforts of one country are sufficient—the history of our revolution bears this out. For the final victory of Socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia, are insufficient. For this the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are necessary.

"Such, on the whole, are the characteristic features of the Leninist theory of the proletarian revolution." (Stalin, Lenin and Leninism, p. 40.)

Here without doubt the general position of the Bolshevik Party is correctly expressed. However, in the second edition, published a few months later, these lines were withdrawn and the exact opposite put in their place:

"But the overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the power of the proletariat in one country does not yet mean that the complete victory of socialism has been assured. After consolidating its power and leading the peasantry in its wake the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society!" (Stalin, Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 110, my emphasis.)

That these were precisely the "characteristic features of the Leninist theory of proletarian revolution" was nowhere in dispute up to the first part of 1924. They had been repeated time and time again in hundreds of speeches, articles and documents by Lenin since 1905. Yet before the end of 1924, Stalin's book had been revised, and the exact opposite put in its place: "The party always took as its starting point the idea that the victory of socialism in that country, and that task can be accomplished with the forces of a single country."

These lines mark a complete break with Lenin's policy of proletarian internationalism. Stalin could never have expressed himself in this way while Lenin was still alive. Initially, the "theory" of socialism in one country reflected the mood of the rising caste of bureaucrats who had done well out of the October revolution and now wished to call a halt to the period of revolutionary storm and stress. It was the theoretical expression of a petty bourgeois reaction against October. Under the banner of Socialism in one Country, the Stalinist Bureaucracy waged a one-sided civil war against Bolshevism which ended in the physical destruction of Lenin's Party and the creation of a monstrous totalitarian regime.

The Comintern was transformed from a vehicle of the world proletarian revolution into a passive instrument of Stalin's foreign policy. When it no longer suited him, Stalin contemptuously dissolved it in 1943, without even calling a congress.

Only one man explained in advance where the theory of Socialism in one Country would inevitably lead. As early as 1928, Leon Trotsky warned that if this theory was adopted by the Comintern, it would inevitably be the start of a process that could only end in the national-reformist degeneration of every Communist Party in the world, whether in or out of power. Three generations later, the USSR and the Communist International lie in ruins, and the Communist Parties have long since abandoned any pretence to stand for a real Leninist policy everywhere.

Under Stalin, the most monstrous acts were committed against national minorities in the USSR. The Purges finished the job began by Stalin in 1922—the liquidation of what remained of the Bolshevik Party. About the middle of 1937 an all-out assault was launched against the Communist Parties in every national Republic. A number of leaders of national Parties were included in the notorious show trial of Bukharin in March 1938. The leaders were usually accused of "bourgeois nationalism" and executed. After this, the way was open for mass arrests and deportations. The exact number of the victims of Stalin's Purges will probably never be known, but they were certainly numbered in millions. It was no comfort to the Ukrainians, Armenians and Georgians that the Russian people suffered no less grievously.

Stalin’s Great Russian chauvinism

Shamir quotes approvingly Stalin’s toast to the Russian people in 1945. This is quite incredible. Stalin’s toast after the defeat of Hitler Germany was simply: “To the Russian people.” Not “to the people of the Soviet Union, but specifically and exclusively the Russian people. But millions of others - Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Tartars and Chechens – had also given their lives in this titanic struggle to defend the USSR against Nazi barbarism. But they were not considered worthy of mention.

This speech, which was reprinted in Pravda on 25 May 1945, was a scandalous departure from Leninism. It was an extreme example of Stalin’s Russian nationalist tendencies. He asserts that the Russian people were "the most outstanding nation of all the nations of the Soviet Union" and the "guiding force" of the USSR. By implication, all other nationalities were second-class peoples who were not outstanding and therefore must accept the "guidance" of Moscow. Such a conception violates the letter and spirit of Lenin’s policy on the national question.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the history of the national question in Russia will immediately see why such a “gesture” was a monstrous betrayal of Leninist internationalism and a blatant concession to Great Russian chauvinism. Yet for Israel Shamir it is absolutely perfect!

Just as Napoleon Bonaparte was a Corsican who became a French imperialist and a lover of centralism, so Stalin, who was a Georgian, became a ferocious defender of Great Russian chauvinism. This led directly to a break with Lenin, who angrily demanded that Stalin be removed as General Secretary of the Party.

Great Russian chauvinism has nothing to do with Leninism. Lenin fought against it all his life. Now Shamir wishes to fish the stinking rags of chauvinism out of the dustbin of history, dust them down and present hem as – Leninism! Could anything be more monstrous? On 6 October 1922, Lenin wrote a memo to the Politburo, On Combating Dominant National Chauvinism:

"I declare war to the death on dominant nation chauvinism. I shall eat it with all my healthy teeth as soon as I get rid of this accursed bad tooth." He was thinking precisely of Stalin when he wrote these lines. But even Lenin could never have suspected the appalling results to which the chauvinist tendencies of Stalin and the bureaucracy would lead. The most monstrous crime committed by Stalin was the mass deportation of nationalities that was carried out during the Second World War. In the course of the War, no fewer than seven whole peoples were deported to Siberia and Central Asia under the most inhumane conditions.

This was the fate of the Crimean Tartars, the Volga Germans, the Kalmyks, the Karachai, the Balkars, the Ingushi—and the Chechens. The NKVD—Stalin's secret police—rounded up everyone—men, women, children, old and sick, Communists and trade unionists—and ordered them onto cattle-trucks at gunpoint with whatever possessions they could carry. A large number died in transit or upon arrival, from cold, hunger or exhaustion. Soldiers fighting at the front, even those who had been decorated for bravery, were likewise arrested and deported. The legacy of bitterness created by this cruel and arbitrary act of barbarity and national oppression has lasted till today. It is expressed in the break-up of the Soviet Union and the nightmare in Chechnya.

The drive to russify the non-Russian peoples is shown by the composition of the leading bodies of the "Communist" Parties of the Republics. In 1952, only about half of all leading officials in the Central Asian and Baltic Republics were of local nationality. Elsewhere, the proportion was even lower. For example, in the Moldovian Party only 24.7 per cent were Moldovians, while only 38 per cent of recruits to the Tadjik Party in 1948 were said to be Tadjiks.

By such anti-Leninist methods, Stalin undermined the proletarian solidarity that had united the different peoples of the Soviet Union. This was what led to the criminal break-up of the Soviet Union, with catastrophic results for all the peoples.

Stalin’s anti-semitism

One of the most repulsive features of Stalinism was its anti-Semitism. The Bolshevik Party had always fought against anti-Semitism. Consequently, the Jews looked upon the October Revolution as their salvation. The Bolsheviks gave the Jews full liberty and equal rights. Their language and culture were encouraged. They even set up an autonomous republic, so that those Jews who wanted a separate homeland should have it. But under Stalin all the old racist filth revived. The Jews again became scapegoats. Already in the 1920s, Stalin was prepared to use anti-Semitism against Trotsky.

Since Jews formed a large part of the Old Bolsheviks, they suffered disproportionately in the Purges. After the Second World War, there was an anti-Semitic campaign, only partially disguised by fig-leafs such as "Zionists" or "rootless cosmopolitans"—words which were merely code-words for "Jews". The notorious "Doctors' Plot" in which a number of Kremlin doctors were accused of trying to poison Stalin was the signal for a blatantly anti-Semitic campaign, since the doctors concerned were Jews. After the setting up of the state of Israel in 1948 (which was initially supported by Moscow), Jewish culture, hitherto tolerated, was severely repressed. All publications in Yiddish were closed down, as was the Yiddish theatre.

In 1952, the year before Stalin died, virtually all the leaders of Jewish culture were shot, and a large number of Jews arrested. Only the death of Stalin prevented a new Purge from taking place. Even today, elements of anti-Semitism are present in the so-called "Communist" Parties in Russia. On demonstrations on the First of May (the workers international day) one can see anti-Semitic slogans on placards and see anti-Semitic literature on sale. Such abominations would have been unthinkable in Lenin’s day. Now, it seems, they are quite acceptable. This is yet another heritage of Stalinism, which assimilated many of the worst and most reactionary and repulsive features of the old tsarist nationalism. This, in itself, is sufficient to demonstrate the abyss that separates Stalinism (and neo-Stalinism) from genuine Leninism.

Now, finally, we see the results. The theory of Socialism in one Country has ended in the destruction of the USSR and the transformation of the Stalinist Bureaucracy into a new class of capitalist exploiters. The solidarity that Lenin and Trotsky established between the peoples of the USSR was undermined, creating favourable conditions for the rebirth of all the old ethnic and national conflicts. If you wish to find the roots of the wars and conflicts that have erupted between the former Soviet republics, you will find them in Stalin’s treatment of the national question.

Lenin’s struggle against bureaucracy and Stalin

The documentary evidence of Lenin's last fight against Stalin and the bureaucracy was suppressed for decades by Moscow. Lenin's last writings were hidden from the Communist Party rank-and-file in Russia and internationally. Lenin's last letter to the Party Congress, despite the protests of his widow, was not read out at the Party Congress and remained under lock and key until 1956 when Khruschev and Co. published it, along with a few other items including the letters on Georgia and the national question. Thus, Lenin's struggle to defend the real policies of Bolshevism and proletarian internationalism were consigned to oblivion.

The growing bureaucratic menace preoccupied Lenin's attention throughout that year. At the 11th Party Congress in March-April 1922 - the last Congress in which he was able to participate - his main preoccupation was bureaucratism. Lenin, as always, dealt honestly with the problem: "Well, we have lived through a year, the state is in our hands; but has it operated the New Economic Policy in the way we wanted in the past year? No. But we refuse to admit that it did not operate in the way we wanted. How did it operate? The machine refused to obey the hand that guided it. It was like a car that was going not in the direction the driver desired, but in the direction someone else desired; as if it were being driven by some mysterious, lawless hand, God knows whose, perhaps of a profiteer, or of a private capitalist, or of both. Be that as it may, the car is not going quite in the direction the man at the wheel imagines, and often it goes in an altogether different direction." (LCW, Vol. 33, p. 179.)

"Then what is lacking?" asked Lenin. "If we take Moscow with its 4,700 Communists in responsible positions, and if we take the huge bureaucratic machine, that gigantic heap, we must ask: who is directing whom? I doubt very much whether it can be truthfully said that the Communists are directing that heap. To tell the truth, they are not directing, they are being directed." (Ibid., p. 288.)

At the same Congress Lenin explained, in a very clear and unambiguous language, the possibility of the degeneration of the revolution as a result of the pressures of alien classes. Lenin compared the relationship of the Soviet workers to the bureaucracy and the pro-capitalist elements to that of a conquering and conquered nation:

"Sometimes one nation conquers another, the nation that conquers is the conqueror and the nation that is vanquished is the conquered nation. This is simple and intelligible to all. But what happens to the culture of these nations? Here things are not so simple," stated Lenin. "If the conquering nation is more cultured than the vanquished nation, the former imposes its culture upon the latter; but if the opposite is the case, the vanquished nation imposes its culture upon the conqueror. Has not something like this happened in the capital of the RSFSR (1)? Have the 4,700 Communists (nearly a whole army division, and all of them the very best) come under the influence of an alien culture?" Lenin then asks pointedly: "Will the responsible Communists of the RSFSR and of the Russian Communist Party realise that they cannot administer; that they only imagine they are directing, but are actually being directed?"

"The machine no longer obeyed the driver" - the state was no longer under the control of the Communists, of the workers, but was increasingly raising itself above society.

Lenin's correspondence and writings of this period, when illness was increasingly preventing him from intervening in the struggle, clearly indicate his alarm at the encroachment of the Soviet bureaucracy, the insolent parvenus in every corner of the state apparatus. Lenin was aware of the dangers of the degeneration of the workers' state encircled by capitalism.

After the 11th Party Congress in 1922, Lenin's health deteriorated and in May of that year he suffered his first stroke. He recovered and was back on his feet by July and officially returned to work in October. On his return he was deeply shocked by the growing bureaucratic tumour that was gnawing away at the state and Party. "Our bureaucratism is something monstrous," Lenin commented to Trotsky. "I was appalled when I came back to work" It was at this time that he offered to form a bloc with Trotsky against bureaucracy in general and against the Organisational Bureau in particular. Lenin also concentrated his attention on the entire problem of the leadership of the Party. The clashes with Stalin over the Georgian affair and other matters increasingly revealed Stalin's role. That is when Lenin began work on his Testament.

Lenin versus Stalin

Lenin only became fully aware of the bureaucratic reaction within the Party towards the end of 1922, when he discovered the truth about Stalin's handling of relations with the Georgian Bolshevik leaders. The central role of Stalin in this bureaucratic web became clear. Without the knowledge of Lenin or the Politburo (the highest body in the Party), Stalin, together with his henchmen Dzerzhinsky and Ordzhonikidze, had carried out a coup d'état in the Georgian party. The finest cadres of Georgian Bolshevism were purged, and the Party leaders denied access to Lenin, who was fed a string of lies by Stalin.

When he finally found out what was happening, Lenin was absolutely furious. From his sick-bed late in 1922, he dictated a series of notes to his stenographer on "the notorious question of autonomisation, which, it appears, is officially called the question of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics". Lenin's notes are a crushing indictment of the bureaucratic and chauvinist arrogance of Stalin and the clique surrounding him. But Lenin does not treat this incident as an accidental phenomenon - as a "regrettable mistake."

After the Georgian affair, Lenin threw the whole weight of his authority behind the struggle to remove Stalin from the post of general secretary of the Party, which he had occupied for a short time after the death of Sverdlov. However, Lenin's main fear now, more than ever, was that an open split in the leadership, under prevailing conditions, might lead to the break up of the Party along class lines. He therefore attempted to keep the struggle confined to the leadership, and his notes and other material were not made public.

Lenin wrote secretly to the Georgian Bolsheviks (sending copies to Trotsky and Kamenev) taking up their cause against Stalin "with all my heart". As he was unable to pursue the affair in person, he wrote to Trotsky requesting him to undertake the defence of the Georgians in the Central Committee. In the last months of his political life, weakened by illness, Lenin turned repeatedly to Trotsky for support in his struggle against the bureaucracy and its creature, Stalin. On the question of the monopoly of foreign trade, on the question of Georgia, and, finally, in the struggle to oust Stalin from the leadership, Lenin formed a bloc with Trotsky, the only man in the leadership he could trust.

Lenin’s suppressed testament

Lenin's began writing his Testament on the 25th December 1922, in which he critically assessed the qualities of the Bolshevik leadership. It contained his final recommendations. "Comrade Stalin, having become general secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands; and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution." He then deals with Trotsky's qualities: "On the other hand comrade Trotsky, as was proved by his struggle against the Central Committee in connection with the question of the Peoples' Commissariat of Communications, is distinguished not only by his exceptional abilities - personally he is, to be sure, the most able man in the present Central Committee - but also by his too far reaching self-confidence and a disposition to be too much attracted by the purely administrative side of affairs." In relation to the others: "I will only remind you that the October episode of Zinoviev and Kamenev was not, of course, accidental, but that it ought as little to be used against them personally as the non-Bolshevik past of Trotsky."

However, new and alarming manifestations of Stalin's abuse of power caused Lenin to dictate a postscript ten days later dated the 4th January 1923, entirely devoted to Stalin. This time it was direct and brutal. "Stalin is too rude, and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealings amongst us communists, becomes intolerable in a Secretary General. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post and appointing another man in his stead who in all other respects differs from Stalin in having only one advantage, namely, that of being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious" (LCW, Vol. 36, pp. 594-6.)

Two months later, Lenin broke off political and personal relations with Stalin, after he had verbally abused his wife, Krupskaya. Two days before his final stroke, he wrote to Stalin, with a copy to Zinoviev and Kamenev: "I have no intention of forgetting so easily what has been done against me, and it goes without saying that what has been done against my wife I consider having been done against me as well." (Quoted in Liebman, op. cit., p. 423.)

On the 6th March, Krupskaya told Kamenev that Lenin had resolved "to crush Stalin politically". (Ibid., p. 424.) Lenin told Krupskaya that the Testament was to be kept secret until after his death, and then it should be made public to the ranks of the Party. However, Lenin was seriously paralysed by a third stroke on the 9th March 1923. Power effectively fell into the hands of a triumvirate of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin.

Nine months later, on the 21st January 1924, Lenin died. It was very convenient for Stalin. The triumvirate were determined to keep Trotsky from the leadership and therefore decided to keep Lenin's Testament under lock and key. Needless to say, the documentary evidence of Lenin's last fight against Stalin and the bureaucracy was suppressed for decades, and denounced as forgeries by the leaders of the Communist Parties internationally.

Lenin's last writings were hidden from the Communist Party rank and file. Lenin's Testament, which demanded Stalin's removal as general secretary, despite the protests of his widow, was not read out at the Congress and remained hidden until 1956 when Khrushchev and Co. produced it, along with a few other items, as part of their campaign to throw the blame for all that had happened in the past 30 years onto Stalin's shoulders. With Lenin's death, the struggle against the growing bureaucratic reaction now fell to Trotsky and the Left Opposition.

The serious illness and subsequent death of Lenin put effective power in the hands of the "troika" of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev. In reality, the central lever of power was already in Stalin's grip, given his complete organisational domination of the Party apparatus. A campaign of calumny and falsification was opened up against Trotsky. All the old smears about Trotsky's non-Bolshevik past (which Lenin had written off in his Testament), about the "permanent revolution", Brest-Litovsk, and the rest, were dragged up by the ruling faction to discredit Trotsky and oust him from the leadership.

Stalinist methods

In his last letter to the Party, Lenin accused Stalin of being rude and disloyal. The same is true of Shamir.

“Stalin turned the Soviet Union into a powerful modern state, guaranteed full employment, workers’ rights, education and free health care. He created the industrial base and an advanced science. He waged and won the hardest war ever experienced by Russia. Under his regime, socialist Russia survived endless attacks by US imperialism. He did not allow the pro-western and pro-capitalist forces in the country to lift their head.” And so on and so forth…

“The Trotskyists in Russia constitute a pro-western and pro-capitalist force,” writes Shamir. On what grounds? On no grounds at all, except that Shamir says so. Not a single quotation, fact or proof. This is absolutely typical of the method of Stalinism. Slanders are put forward and repeated, in the hope that in the end people will believe them.

Why does Comrade Shamir not produce a single quotation to back up his truly monstrous allegations? He does not do so because he cannot do so, because such quotations do not exist. He has invented them, just as he has invented everything else in his article. It is motivated not by a desire to establish the truth but purely by blind malevolence and spite. And spite, as Lenin pointed out (precisely in relation to Stalin), plays the most fatal role in politics.

This method is a throwback to the past – methods that cast shame and discredit on the name of Communism. Shamir claims to speak in the name of Russian Communists, but he speaks only for himself and a small and rapidly diminishing number of old diehard Stalinists who are out of touch with reality. Such people are incapable of thinking. Fortunately, serious members of the Communist Party want to know the truth about the past. They are not little children that believe in fairy stories. They know that for decades they were lied to by the Stalinist leadership and are tired of lies. We address ourselves to these honest Communists, not to the falsifiers, to the living, not the dead.

September 1, 2004

See Part Two, Part Three