The Celia Hart Controversy - Stalinism or Leninism? Part Three

In Part Two we concluded with how easily the old Soviet bureaucracy accepted the passage to capitalism. Comrade Zyuganov sings the praises of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the economic field. But contrary to what comrade Zyuganov would like us to believe the Stalinist bureaucracy, and Stalin himself, were actually preparing the conditions which would eventually lead to the collapse of the state-owned planned economy.

In Part Two we concluded with how easily the old Soviet bureaucracy accepted the passage to capitalism. Comrade Zyuganov sings the praises of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the economic field. But contrary to what comrade Zyuganov would like us to believe the Stalinist bureaucracy, and Stalin himself, were actually preparing the conditions which would eventually lead to the collapse of the state-owned planned economy.

Bureaucratic caste

Incredibly, Zyuganov also sings the praises of the Stalin Constitution, which was approved at the time when Stalin was imposing a ferocious totalitarian regime and riding rough-shod over the rights of the Soviet people – a time when millions were dispatched to the Gulag, from which many would never return, when the leaders of Lenin’s Party were being tortured to extract false confessions and shot like dogs, and when the death penalty existed for children of 14.

He writes: “The Constitution of the USSR, putting the finishing touches to this creative process with a golden brush [sic!], proclaimed a completely new system of socialist rights: the right to work, to leisure, to higher education, to retirement. Never, in any place, was there ever a document proclaiming rights like these.”

The 1936 Stalin Constitution was a fraud. There was only one party, the Communist Party, whose candidates were always elected by approximately 99 percent, which is statistically impossible. Everyone in the USSR knew that the so-called elections were a fraud. The country was run by an unmovable clique of bureaucrats who were not accountable to anyone – except the Boss. By contrast, under Lenin and Trotsky the Soviet Republic enjoyed more democratic rights than any other country in history. And let us not forget that this was at a time when the workers’ state was poor and weak and surrounded by powerful enemies striving to destroy it by all the means at their disposal.

Zyuganov presents a glowing picture of the conditions of the Soviet masses under Stalin. He writes that in the 1930s living standards increased and wages rose. As a matter of fact, the living standards of the Soviet masses at that time were extremely bad. In the countryside there was a devastating famine, artificially created by Stalin and his monstrous policy of forced collectivisation. But Zyuganov says nothing about all this. Nor does he explain that in the same period there was a huge increase in differentials between the living standards of ordinary Soviet workers and those of the privileged bureaucracy.

Zyuganov writes that “the system of rationing became a thing of the past.” And yet certain layers of the population had access to goods that the mass of the people never saw. This was not called rationing, but everyone knew that it was so. For decades the gap between the living standards of the ordinary Soviet workers and the top officials increased continually. Those who really enjoyed increased living standards were the millions of Soviet apparatchiks and bureaucrats who were given all kinds of privileges to keep them loyal to Stalin.

In 1930 Stalin abolished the Party maximum ("partmax")– the Leninist principle that limited the salaries of bureaucrats to the wage of a skilled worker. As a result, the salaries and perks of the bureaucracy increased and continued to increase, creating conditions of gross inequality that went on all the time and finally undermined the Soviet Union altogether.

The privileges enjoyed by the Soviet bureaucracy in the 1930s, when Stalin talked about the “happy life” in the USSR were nothing compared to the extravagant lifestyle of the ruling circles of the bureaucracy in the period before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Brezhnev and the ruling clique lived like millionaires. They were even more remote from the working class than their counterparts in the West. While they made demagogic speeches about “building Communism”, these differentials were constantly increasing.

Lenin explained that the differentials that existed in the early years of the Soviet state were capitalist differentials that would gradually diminish as the Soviet Union moved towards socialism. In fact, the exact opposite occurred. Even as the Soviet Union registered huge economic progress, inequality increased instead of diminishing, instead of moving towards socialism, the Soviet Union was moving away from it. We saw the end result in 1990. But we are still waiting for an explanation from Gennady Zyuganov or any other Stalinist leader.

The heritage we reject and the heritage we defend

In the section headed “Stalin’s heritage” Zyuganov attempts to “run with the hare and hunt with the hounds”. He says that Stalin cannot be imitated because he belonged to another time and this time is unrepeatable. This is a good way of avoiding the question altogether. The same logic is used by the revisionists to dispose of Lenin, who, as we know, lived a long time ago…

We must not follow blindly the letter of everything Stalin wrote, Zyuganov informs us, but instead we should follow his method. What does this method consist of? Zyuganov quotes Stalin:

We cannot demand of the classics of Marxism, separated from our own times by 45-55 years, that they should foresee each and every one of the twists and turns of history in every particular country and in a distant future. It would be ridiculous to demand of them that they should work out for us prefabricated theories to deal with every theoretical problem that might arise in a particular country in 50-100 years time, in order to permit the followers of these same classics of Marxism to rest peacefully and chew over magical solutions. But what we can and must demand of the Marxist-Leninists of our time is that they should learn to incorporate the experience of the classics, to concretise their basic fundamentals, develop and improve them.”

Notwithstanding the pretentiousness of the writer, these pearls of wisdom are so trite that they appear to be taken from the school exercise book of a not-very-intelligent child of six. It is indeed not very advisable to “demand” of Marxism things that it cannot do, any more than it is advisable to demand pears from an elm tree or a coherent sentence from George W Bush.

But the fact is that in all their fundamentals, the basic ideas of Marxism have not changed since the days of the Communist Manifesto. The ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, retain their complete validity today. That is why we continue to defend them implacably against the attempts of revisionists – Stalinists included – to abandon them or to change them beyond recognition. What we have here is a veritable hymn of praise to Stalin. Any mistakes or defects are regarded as quite secondary – “spots on the sun”, as someone once put it.

“The proof of power”

“To follow the example of Stalin,” Zyuganov continues, “means above all to understand his epoch, the essence of the social and political forces which interacted, the nature of power.” This is all very fine. The problem is that comrade Zyuganov does not do this. One searches in vain in this article for any hint of a serious Marxist analysis of the reasons why Stalin came to power. Instead, Zyuganov gives a few quotations from Stalin in 1912 about the tsarist Duma, which he compares to the present Duma of Putin.

The quotations about bourgeois democracy and parliament may be correct, but they do not answer the questions posed by Zyuganov himself. It would be very good if the CPRF adopted a real Communist policy, a policy of genuine opposition to the rotten bourgeois Bonapartist regime of Putin. Instead of confining itself to parliamentary intrigues, the CPRF should organize a campaign of mass agitation against the government. In short, it should adopt a Leninist position.

If the CPRF was a real Communist Party there would be no problem. But there are unfortunately people in the leadership of that party who are opposed to Leninism. They are the people who constantly attempt to defend that monstrous aberration, that bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature of Marxism-Leninism that was Stalinism. Fortunately, they have no chance of success.

“We will do everything possible,” writes Zyuganov, “not to permit the spirit of Trotskyism in our ranks.” What does the “spirit of Trotskyism” consist of? According to Zyuganov, it is “the attempts of certain activists with an excessively high opinion of themselves, who feel themselves superior, ‘supermen, above the CC, of its laws, of its decisions, giving them the excuse to push a part of the Party to carry out work that tends to wear itself out and making the CC lose confidence in itself.’ This is the work that they are carrying out, with the blessing of the tops of the Kremlin, and increasingly actively.”

The Byzantine language used by the leader of the CPRF would do justice to Stalin himself! Who are these “certain activists”, these “supermen”, who have aroused the ire of comrade Zyuganov. He does not say, but leaves it to our imagination. But why not call a spade a spade? Why not name names? It is abundantly clear that comrade Zyuganov is polemicising here, not against Trotskyism, but one or other of the numerous factions and cliques that exist inside the CPRF and are fighting for possession of the leadership like cats in a sack.

Because the leadership has abandoned the policies, methods and principles of Leninism – because it remains essentially Stalinist and not Leninist in its outlook - the Party has been affected by crises and splits, but these are not like the splits that occurred in the Bolshevik party in Lenin’s time. They have no political or ideological base, but are merely divisions between rival groups of bureaucrats, businessmen and careerists.

One thing is clear. Zyuganov is not referring to Trotskyists or people who in any sense, shape or form defend the ideas of Trotsky. That is why comrade Zyuganov, who apparently still has some sense of shame left, refers, not to Trotskyism” only to the “spirit of Trotskyism” – its disembodied ghost. But as dialectical materialists we do not believe in ghosts

In a genuine Leninist party such a situation would be unthinkable. In Lenin’s Party, there was a healthy democratic internal regime where the members were not afraid to speak their mind, to criticize the leadership, to argue about policies and ideas. The Leninist regime was destroyed by Stalin and replaced by a bureaucratic and totalitarian regime in which the sole duty of the Party was to sing the praises of the Leader, and in which opposition and dissent was rewarded by expulsion, arrest and imprisonment. The Leninist tradition of Soviet democracy was trampled underfoot, in order to consolidate the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Of course, the internal regime of the CPRF is not that kind of regime. The Party is no longer part of the state – as it once was – and that is undoubtedly an improvement. But it has yet to make a serious self-criticism of its own past, and it has yet to break decisively with Stalinism and return to the Leninist principles of workers’ democracy, revolutionary Marxism and proletarian internationalism.

Re-establish the traditions of Lenin!

Undoubtedly there are many honest Communists in and around the CPRF who ardently desire this. But many in the leadership are firmly opposed to the Leninist course. They are survivals of the old regime, who have not broken with the Stalinist past and resist change. Under their leadership, the CPRF has gone from one defeat to another. Nor will the fortunes of the Party improve until it has broken decisively with its Stalinist past and decisively taken the Leninist road.

It is no accident that Zyuganov condemns Trotskyism (about which he evidently knows nothing) and writes lovingly about Yosif Vissarionovich. He wishes to erect a steel barrier against the possibility that the revolutionary workers and youth of Russia will take back control of the Communist Party, eject the reformists, Stalinists, parliamentary careerists and bureaucrats, and demand a return to the revolutionary policies and traditions of Lenin and Trotsky. He will not succeed. The tide of history is against him.

Lenin once said: Marxism is all-powerful, because it is true. Despite all the setbacks and defeats, despite all the lies and falsifications, the process of history will condemn both capitalism and Stalinism to the dustbin of history, where they belong. Through their experience of the class struggle, the workers and youth of Russia will rediscover the ideas, programme and traditions of Bolshevism. There is no other way.

Comrade Zyuganov says that the CPRF is preparing for the struggle for power. We would really like to believe this. With a sizeable membership, a presence in every region of Russia and a powerful apparatus, the CPRF is the only left party in Russia that would be in a position to challenge the gangster Putin. It has the name of the Communist Party – a most important asset. Many workers and youth will look to it for an alternative. The strength of Putin is really only an illusion. It will be pitilessly exposed by events.

Armed with a genuinely Leninist programme, it would be in a powerful position. And yet, this is precisely what is lacking. Though he swears by Lenin in every other sentence, this article shows that Zyuganov is very far from a Leninist position. To begin with, he says that the main task of the Russian Communists is “to lead the struggle for democracy.” There is no doubt, of course, that the Communists must fight for all democratic rights, opposing Putin’s Bonapartist regime. But for Leninists, the fight for democracy is not an end in itself but only a means to an end.

Worse still, Zyuganov places in the centre the so-called struggle for the “state and national interests of Russia.” Here the departure from Leninism is blatant. Zyuganov’s position leads directly to a bloc with the so-called Russian national bourgeoisie and the abandonment of a class position. But this same policy has led the CPRF to one defeat after another. The fact that it included so many Russian businessmen in its electoral lists in the recent elections was a big reason for alienating people who would normally have voted for it.

Zyuganov tries to justify his capitulation to the Russian bourgeoisie by claiming that Russia has now become a colony of foreign capitalists. He writes: “Russia today has been transformed into a colony, from which raw materials are extracted. Therefore the socialist perspective represents the only star leading to salvation.” (my emphasis, AW).

The reference to a “socialist perspective” is not to be taken seriously. A perspective is something that can represent a very long period of time! The Russian Mensheviks also said they had a “socialist perspective” for Russia in 1917 – meaning about two hundred years. In the meantime what was necessary was for the working class to subordinate itself to the “progressive national bourgeoisie” and fight for (bourgeois) democracy.

Much more relevant is the characterization of Russia today as a colony, oppressed by foreign capitalists. This analysis leaves the door wide open to a policy of collaborating with the “progressive national (Russian) bourgeoisie” against the bad foreign capitalists.

This is the exact opposite of Lenin’s position. Lenin stood for class politics, for revolutionary politics, not nationalism and class collaborationism. In Russia today a Leninist policy is needed! The working class must place itself at the head of the nation and fight both the foreign imperialists and their local (Russian) office boys.

When a Russian worker curses the foreign capitalists we know he is sincere. He wants to free himself from the yoke of the American and German capitalists. But he does not think that the rule of the Russian capitalists (that gang of Mafia scoundrels, thieves and parasites) is any better. He wants to free himself from the yoke of CAPITAL, never mind of what nationality. And that is quite right.

How to reconstruct the USSR

The break-up of the USSR was a reactionary and criminal act that did not have a single atom of progressive content. It was against the interests of the working peoples of all the Republics. The reconstruction of the USSR would therefore be a good thing – but it cannot be done on the old basis, because the old system was precisely what led to the break-up.

It is ironical that Zyuganov advances the slogan of the reconstitution of the USSR, while simultaneously praising Stalin and waving the banner of Great Russian nationalism. It is ironical because precisely this policy undermined the socialist solidarity between the peoples of the USSR and made the break-up possible. The anti-Leninist idea of socialism in one country here played a fatal role. In every national Republic there was a local bureaucracy steeped in nationalism. As soon as the opportunity presented itself they broke away from Moscow and proclaimed their “national independence” – naturally on a capitalist basis.

In reality, of course, this “national independence” was worthless. They all ended up as satellites of US imperialism or the EU. The break-up of the USSR was a crime against the peoples of all the Republics. The working people gained nothing by it. They lost a lot. There was not an atom of progressive content in it, any more than there was anything progressive in the break-up of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

The question must, however, be answered: how could this happen? Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate so quickly? Why was there not massive resistance to the break-up of the USSR? Why did the masses accept it? It is impossible to answer these questions unless there was something fundamentally wrong, and that this had been prepared a long time before and had its roots in the past.

Stalin’s policies on the national question – the polar opposite of Lenin’s internationalist policy – did irreparable damage to the relations between peoples of the Soviet Union and were ultimately responsible for the break-up of the USSR, as Lenin had warned long before. Communists will support the reconstitution of the Soviet Union, but that will not be possible on the basis of Stalinism. Zyuganov triumphantly quotes Stalin as saying: “On one occasion I told Lenin that the Russian people was the best, the most soviet.” Unfortunately, Lenin’s reply to this Stalinist gem is not recorded. But fortunately his views on the subject of Great Russian chauvinism are well known and documented, as we have seen.

“The unified state created by Stalin will re-emerge, and it will be reborn around the Russian nation”, exclaims Zyuganov. “That moment has arrived, and we, the Communists of Russia, say openly: the Russian people will not be happy, equal in its rights. There will be no justice, equality or happiness for any of the peoples of Russia. The rebirth of the Russian spirit in state policy, is the historical merit of Stalin.” (these words are emphasized in the original).

The Bible says somewhere: “as a dog returns to its own vomit, so a fool returns to his errors.” These lines show that Gennady Zyuganov has learned absolutely nothing from history. On the basis of Stalinism – that is to say, Great Russian chauvinism – it will never be possible to recreate the Soviet Union. The prior condition for the recreation of the USSR is the overthrow of capitalism in Russia and the institution of a genuine regime of Soviet workers’ democracy, on the lines of 1917. But the policies pursued by Zyuganov and the leaders of the CPRF do not place this on the order of the day. They are faithfully following Stalin’s policy of stages, in which socialism is postponed to a more or less distant future.

The policy of stages, which was rejected by Lenin, was originally the invention of the Mensheviks. Despite the “Marxist” terminology that the Mensheviks gave it, it is a purely reformist position. It did not envisage a socialist revolution in Russia. As a matter of fact, until 1917 the only one of the Russian Marxists who maintained that Russia could experience a socialist revolution before Western Europe was… Trotsky.

Now Zyuganov and co want to go back to the old discredited Stalinist-Menshevik theory of stages, by which they seek to conceal their capitulation to the Russian bourgeoisie. And in order to cover their tracks they engage in furious attacks against “Trotskyism”. In reality, they are repeating the mistakes of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev in 1917, when they opposed Lenin’s plan for a proletarian revolution, accusing him of – Trotskyism! Today, in exactly the same way, Zyuganov and the leaders of the CPRF try to disguise their opposition to Leninism with exactly the same arguments.

Zyuganov is invoking Stalin as a historical authority to justify what he is doing today, but to do this he has to completely falsify the historical record and present a picture of Stalin which does not in any way correspond to the truth.

Zyuganov in fact ends his piece with a real panegyric to his hero: “Yosif Vissarionovich Stalin gave all his enormous talent, his indefatigable energy. His gigantic will, unreservedly to our state. Under his rule, the land of the Soviets became transformed into a world power. He achieved a great victory. Stalin believed in our people. And the people believed in him. He was prepared to carry out a creative work and make sacrifices for a happy future. With Stalin our people felt their strength, believed in their potential, demonstrated a unique ability to achieve the highest objectives, with a victorious country. We can and must make use of his heritage, applying it to our days and our actual tasks.”

In reality Zyuganov is not proposing a return to the situation that existed under Stalin. For at least under Stalin the means of production were in the hands of the state and there was a plan, albeit under the control of a privileged, bureaucratic elite. Zyuganov, on the other hand has accepted the capitalist transformation of the former Soviet Union.

Forward to Lenin!

Comrade Zyuganov and the CPRF have essentially made their peace with capitalism and market economics, to the point where the CPRF had more businessmen in its slate in the last elections than any other party. Therefore their apparent desire to return to Stalin is of a cosmetic nature. What we say is: not back to Stalin but forward to Lenin is the slogan we must defend.

Contrary to the lies of the Stalinists, there is no fundamental difference between the ideas of Trotsky and those of Lenin. In order to underline this point, the author of these lines is prepared to issue a challenge. I would be quite prepared to abandon all mention of Trotsky, on one condition: that we agree to return completely and wholeheartedly to the programme, methods, ideas and traditions of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, and to fight for the same kind of workers democracy that existed in Russia in 1917. I would enthusiastically support the four conditions laid down by Vladimir Ilyich as the prior conditions for a workers’ state and enshrined in the 1919 Programme of the Russian Communist Party.

I would defend the same kind of Bolshevik Party, based on genuine democratic centralism, not the Stalinist caricature that is nothing more than the dictatorship of the bureaucratic apparatus over the rank and file. I would support the recreation of a genuine Communist International, along the lines of the Third International in the period of its first five years and based on the manifestos of its first four congresses.

I would support the ideas, the theory, the revolutionary Marxist ideology, the rich mine of treasure contained in the 55 volumes of Lenin’s collected works – one of the pinnacles of Marxist thought that retains all its validity and relevance today.

The smallest acquaintance with this marvellous material will immediately expose the fraudulent rubbish of Stalin and his supporters as a malicious caricature that has nothing in common with the original ideas of Leninism.

Do you accept this offer? I doubt it, because despite all the demagogic references to “Marxism-Leninism”, our Stalinist critics are, at bottom, quite aware that Stalinism and Bolshevik-Leninism are mutually contradictory and quite incompatible.

September 1, 2004


See Part One, Part Two