"The revolution explodes the social lie. The revolution is true. It begins by calling things and the relations between things by their proper names […] But the revolution itself is not an integral and harmonious process. It is full of contradictions […] The revolution itself produces a new ruling stratum which seeks to consolidate its privileged position and is prone to see itself not as a transitory historical instrument, but as the completion and crowning of history." (Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification.)
Fifty years ago today the world heard the news of the death of Stalin. For decades the Stalinist propaganda machine had assiduously encouraged the myth of Stalin as "the Lenin of today", who was supposed to have led the Bolshevik Party together with Lenin. But all this was merely a construction to justify the usurpation of power by a tyrant who destroyed Lenin's party, liquidated the political conquests of October and wrecked the Communist International.
In actual fact, Stalin played a very secondary role in the history of the Bolshevik Party. He was made a member of the Central Committee at a time when there was a shortage of experienced people in Russia. Stalin attended the Fifth Party Congress in London in 1907, but uttered not a single word in any of the sessions. Stalin was what one might call a "practico" - a committeeman who was involved in the practical and administrative aspects of the work of the revolutionary party. He was never a theoretician, a writer or an orator. He was interested in building the Party machine.
People like this can play an important role in the Party, as long as they are kept under the firm control of a theoretically developed and ideologically firm leadership. But if they try to take control of the Party and substitute organisational narrowness for theory, it is always a recipe for disaster. Lacking the political and moral authority, they will always resort to the apparatus to resolve internal problems. This is a finished recipe for crises and splits. Moreover, they tend to approach every problem from an organisational and administrative point of view. This has happened more than once in the history of the revolutionary movement - and always with the most negative results.
Lenin never saw the Party in such a way, although he was perfectly capable of building an apparatus, and did so more than once. For Lenin, the Party was in the first place, programme, ideas, methods and traditions, and only in the second place an apparatus to put these ideas into practice. He understood the dangers that could arise if the Party machine escaped from political control.
Stalin and the October revolution
On several occasions Lenin clashed bitterly with the Bolshevik committeemen on this question. At critical moments, those "practicos" showed their complete inability to understand the revolutionary ideas and theory of Marxism and lost their bearings. So it was with Stalin, the archetypal committeeman or Party apparatchik. With such people, organizational intransigence (or plain bullying) is the reflection not of strength but of political weakness. Stalin was inclined to the Bolsheviks, not because of their political and theoretical clarity, but because they were a disciplined and centralised organisation. Not for nothing was Lenin's faction in 1903 described as "the hards" as opposed to "the softs" who supported Martov.
However the "hardness" of the Bolsheviks, their revolutionary intransigence, was only an expression of their political line, which in turn was rooted in Marxist theory. The centralised organisation has no meaning in and of itself. It is only a means to an end. However, the committeemen tended to see it as an end in itself. In a peculiar way they repeated the view of the revisionist Bernstein, who said: "the movement is everything, the final goal nothing". Such a statement (actually quite meaningless) reflects the mentality of the Party "practico", the narrow-minded apparatchik or bureaucrat who sees the revolution not as the self-movement of the working class, but purely through the spectacles of Party organization.
Like many other committeemen, Stalin was able to show intransigence in a narrow sphere, but in the broader stage of the class struggle and above all revolution, he was out of his depth. At every key moment in the history of the Bolshevik Party in the period before the revolution, Stalin vacillated and adapted himself to opportunism and conciliationism. He even described the differences between Lenin and the Mensheviks as a "storm in a tea cup" and an émigré squabble. That led to sharp conflicts with Lenin, for example in 1912 and again in February 1917, when together with Kamenev he was in favour of unification of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.
Stalin in 1917
In April 1917 when Lenin demanded that the Bolsheviks come out firmly against the bourgeois Provisional Government, Stalin and Kamenev immediately disowned him in the pages of Pravda, stating that his position was "unacceptable in that it starts from the assumption that the bourgeois democratic revolution has ended [...]." (Pravda, April 21 (8) 1917.) Only after a sharp internal struggle did Lenin succeed in winning over the Party for his position.
Contrary to the old mythology, Stalin's role in the October revolution was insignificant. The attempts made by the falsified histories of the 1930s to claim a special role for the so-called Military Revolutionary Centre of which Stalin was a member are absurd. In fact, this committee was only a sub-committee of the Military Revolutionary Council, which was headed by - Leon Trotsky. In fact, the famous MRC never even functioned, and was only remembered years later when it became necessary to find some kind of a role for Stalin in October.
A poor speaker, Stalin's real sphere of action was not the barricades, factories or barracks but in the Party offices, where he was working to cultivate a layer of cronies. Maria Joffe, the widow of the Bolshevik leader Adolph Joffe, who committed suicide in protest at the Stalinists in the 1920s, and who herself spent 28 years in Stalin's camps, comments:
"But one of the Smolny men, puny and insignificant […] never went round visiting factories and regiments; he sat permanently at the end of the wire, connected with all the provinces and all the towns. Although it was the charming, gentle Elena Stasova who was the secretary of the Central Committee, all daily instructions, all answers to urgent queries and the ordinary routine telegraphic traffic - all bore his [Stalin's] signature. Thus it happened that the various county and regional organizations mostly saw and remembered one particular name. And, conforming to an instruction, the replies were also addressed to him. No one at the time took any notice of the fact that this one man was gradually and persistently wooing the provinces, getting them used to him and winning them to his side. On occasions he would call some leading worker to come and see him and at Party conferences he appeared to have more friends than anyone else. Inviting them to a ‘friendly' drink, he would get to know in detail how a particular organization functioned. That's how it was in 1917." (Maria Joffe, One Long Night, pp. 69-70.)
The fact that Stalin was virtually unknown outside a narrow circle of Party activists in 1917 is immediately clear from reading John Reed's famous account of the October revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World. Lenin described this book in his introduction as "a most truthful version of events". He "strongly recommended this book to all the workers of the world" and adds that this is "a book I would like to see published in millions of copies […] and translated into all languages". But in this book, which emphasises Trotsky's role, Stalin is hardly mentioned, although he does speak of a vast number of people of greater or lesser importance in 1917. The book index shows that whereas Trotsky is mentioned 54 times, Stalin is mentioned only twice. This accurately expresses the real state of affairs. It also explains why Reed's book, despite Lenin's enthusiastic recommendations, was withdrawn from all Soviet libraries in the 1930s and not republished again in the USSR in Stalin's lifetime.
One of the most disgusting slanders that is constantly repeated today is that Leninism and Stalinism are the same. In fact there is nothing in common between the regime of workers democracy established by Lenin and Trotsky and the totalitarian monstrosity that Stalin erected over the dead bones of the Bolshevik Party.
Already in State and Revolution, written in the revolutionary days of 1917, Lenin laid down the four conditions for Soviet power - not for Socialism or Communism, but for the first days of workers' power:
Free and democratic elections with right of recall for all Soviet officials.
No official to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker.
No standing army or police force but the armed people.
Gradually, all the tasks of running the state must be done by everybody in turn. "When everybody is a ‘bureaucrat' in turn, nobody is a bureaucrat."
These elementary principles of Leninism were contained in the 1919 Party Programme. It is true that, under difficult conditions where the revolution was isolated amidst terrible backwardness, hunger and illiteracy, there were inevitable distortions. As early as 1920 Lenin said that "ours is a workers state with bureaucratic deformations". But these were relatively small deformations, and nothing like the monstrous regime later established by Stalin.
The real cause of the problems faced by the Bolsheviks was the isolation of the revolution. Lenin and Trotsky formed the Communist International in 1919 as a means of breaking out of this isolation. This was the only way forward. The 1919 Party Programme was written in terms of uncompromising proletarian internationalism. It started from the premise that "the era of the world-wide proletarian revolution had begun".
It explained that "deprivation of political rights and any kind of limitation of freedom are necessary as temporary measures" due to war and that "the Party will aim to replace and completely abolish them". But this aim was postponed by the invasion of the Soviet state by 21 armies of foreign intervention that plunged the country into a bloodbath.
Despite everything the working class enjoyed democratic rights. The 1919 Party programme specified that "all the working masses without exception must be induced to take part in the work of state administration". Direction of the planned economy was to be mainly in the hands of the trade unions. Collectivisation was not mentioned, but rather support for various types of co-operatives.
This document was immediately translated into all the main languages of the world and widely distributed. However, by the time of the Purges in 1936 it was already regarded as a dangerous document and all copies of it were quietly removed from all libraries and bookshops in the USSR.
A commission was set up, with Stalin as chairperson, to produce a new Party programme. Besides Stalin there were 25 other Party officials, including Voznesensky, Beria and Bagirov - each of whom were later shot as "enemies of the people". When Lenin and Trotsky stood at the head of the Party, its congresses were held every year without fail, even in the difficult years of the Civil War. Under Stalin, thirteen years passed before the 19th Party congress was held in October 1952. We had the grotesque situation where for many years the USSR was ruled by a Party whose (theoretically still valid) programme was actually banned by the censorship.
The general secretary
The general secretary was never the most important post in the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, having a mainly administrative character. Before Stalin the general secretary was Sverdlov, an outstanding organizer and a man of high moral character. But Sverdlov died in March 1919. Lenin was anxious to find a replacement and thought that Stalin was the best candidate. But Stalin was no Sverdlov. From 1919, with the growth of the new party apparatus, the post of general secretary became much more important. In December 1919 a new rule was passed making district secretaries a full-time post.
From 1920 on there was a steady stream of complaints about "bureaucratism" in the Party. But these complaints were at first concerned with the abuses of individuals, red tape, etc. At this stage this was a relatively healthy workers' state, with only minor bureaucratic deviations. But this was about to change.
To the degree that the working class was exhausted and weakened by the long years of war, revolution and civil war, they fell into passivity. This led to a colossal increase in bureaucracy. The end of the civil war greatly increased the problem. The demobilization of the Red Army meant that a large number of former military personnel were absorbed into the state apparatus. These people were mainly honest Communists, but had got used to the method of command.
Lenin wanted a strong person at the centre of the Party apparatus to root out corruption and bureaucratism. He thought that Stalin was such a person, but he was mistaken. Once installed in such an important post, Stalin began to staff the Party's central offices with cronies such as Kaganovich, who was put in charge of the Party's Organizational Department (Orgotdel). This committee controlled appointments. It therefore had powers of patronage. It would never have occurred to Sverdlov to use this position for personal gain. And the Party itself was very clear on the question of appointments and non-elective positions in general. The Tenth Party Congress, held under very difficult circumstances, passed the following resolution on the trade unions:
"It is above all necessary to put into practice […] on a wide scale the principle of elections to all organs […] and to do away with the method of appointments from the top."
On the Party, another resolution stated that all members must be ensured "an active part in the life of the party, in the discussions of all questions arising in the party". Moreover, "the nature of workers' democracy excludes every form of appointment in place of election as a system". (See KPRSS v rezolyutsiyakh, vol. 1, pp. 516-27 and 534-49.)
In general, the system of appointments would only be permissible in underground conditions. However, Stalin systematically used the system of appointments to build a base of support among Party officials grateful to him for promotion.
Lenin versus Stalin
Every bureaucracy tends to become a closed caste of privileged elements, anxious only to defend their vested interests. To imagine that a workers' state is somehow immune to such tendencies is foolish. But in a workers' state in conditions of extreme backwardness, with a weak and exhausted working class and a largely illiterate peasant population, the dangers of bureaucratic degeneration were extreme. That is why Lenin was alarmed. He saw that the bureaucracy could undermine and destroy the Soviet state - and history has proved him correct.
In an attempt to fight against bureaucracy, Lenin set up Rabkrin - the Workers and Peasants Inspectorate and put Stalin in charge of it. But instead of fighting bureaucracy, Rabkrin became a hotbed of bureaucracy. In one of his last letters Lenin says that Rabkrin does not have a shred of authority and demands its reorganisation. Lenin warned many times, especially in his last writings and speeches, of the danger of bureaucratism in a workers' state. His advice to remove Stalin from the post of general secretary was no accident. He gradually realised that Stalin represented the very bureaucratic tendencies he was warning against.
During Lenin's last illness, he launched a sharp struggle against Stalin over his handling of the national question - a matter of life and death for the October revolution. In 1920, without consulting the leadership, Stalin staged what amounted to a coup when he engineered the invasion of Georgia, a soviet republic where the Mensheviks were in control. Faced with a fait d'accompli, Lenin reluctantly acquiesced but issued stern warnings that the Georgians were to be treated with sensitivity and respect.
Stalin's henchman Ordzhonikidze was made virtual dictator of Georgia. Lenin bombarded him with directives urging moderation and advising that concessions should be made to the Georgian Mensheviks. This advice was ignored. The situation got so bad that Stalin's agents were acting like an occupying force. The Georgian Bolshevik leaders protested, but they were answered with the tactics of bullying and intimidation. On one occasion, a Georgian Bolshevik was physically assaulted by Ordzhonikidze. Such an act was completely unprecedented, although it was nothing compared to the wholesale violence later used by Stalin and his gangsters.
In 1922 Stalin, Dzerzhinsky and Ordzhonikidze were using violence and bullying tactics to force the Georgian government to accept the dictates of Moscow. With Lenin, now seriously ill, Stalin used his control of the Party apparatus to isolate Lenin completely. But Lenin found out about the Georgian affair, and he was scandalised by the conduct of Stalin and his henchmen Dzerzhinsky and Ordzhonikidze. It had serious implications not just for the national question but also for the future of Soviet democracy in general. He clearly understood that Stalin and his bureaucratic clique was behind all this - hence his decision to remove Stalin as general secretary.
Stalin attempted to isolate Lenin, using his control over the Party apparatus and the Kremlin doctors. Despite his failing health, Lenin dictated a series of notes to his secretaries, which he managed to smuggle out with the assistance of his wife, Krupskaya. One of these messages was a secret memorandum to Trotsky, asking him to take charge of the defence of Lenin's positions at the forthcoming Party congress. The existence of this correspondence between Lenin and Trotsky was revealed to Kamenev by Trotsky, who did not know that Kamenev and Zinoviev had formed a secret bloc with Stalin.
On the 22nd of December 1922, Kamenev wrote to Stalin:
"Tonight T[rotsky] phoned me, saying he had received a note from St[arik] (i.e. Lenin, AW), who, though he is happy with the congressional report on Vneshtorg (the Ministry of Foreign Trade, AW), wants T[rotsky] to deliver a report on this question to a faction of the Congress and to prepare the ground to put this question to the Party Congress. Apparently, he means to strengthen his position. Trotsky did not offer his opinion, but he asked that the matter be handed over to the section of the CC responsible for the conduct of the Congress. I promised him to tell you about it, and I am doing this.
"I could not reach you by phone.
"In my report I am going to present the resolution of the CC Plenum with fervour, I shake your hand.
Stalin answered immediately:
"I have received your note. I think we should confine ourselves to the statement in your report without bringing this up at the faction. How did Starik manage to organize this correspondence with Trotsky? Foerster utterly forbade him to do it.
(Izvestiya Ts. Kom. KPSS, 1989, p. 191.)
These two letters were not published in the Soviet Union until 1989. When Stalin found out about the memorandum he flew into a fury and phoned Krupskaya to warn her not to meddle. Krupskaya tried to defend herself and in the course of the conversation Stalin swore at her and abused her in the most shameless fashion, calling her a "whore" and a "syphilitic bitch". These expressions sufficiently illustrate Stalin's character and the degree of his loyalty and affection to the dying Lenin.
The next day, Krupskaya wrote to Kamenev, protesting bitterly about Stalin's conduct:
"With regard to the short dictation I took from Vlad. Ilyich with his doctor's permission, Stalin spoke to me yesterday in the rudest terms. This is not my first day as a Party member - and during these 30 years I have not heard a single rude word from any of my comrades. The Party interests and those of Ilyich are no less dear to me than to Stalin. Now I need to exercise great self-control. I know better than any doctor what I may or may not tell Ilyich, as I know what agitates him and what does not. At any rate I know it better than Stalin. I am appealing to you and to Grigorii (Zinoviev, AW), as the closest friends of V.I. and I beg you to defend me from the rude interference into my personal life, from unseemly swearing and threats. I don't doubt the unanimous decision of the Control Commission, with which Stalin took liberties to threaten me, but I have neither the strength nor the time to spend on this stupid squabble. I am a human being and my nerves are extremely strained.
(Lenin, Collected Works in Russian, vol. 54, 1965, pp. 674-5.)
On March 5th 1923, Lenin dictated a letter to Stalin in which he broke off all personal and comradely relations with him - an unprecedented action. On the same day Lenin offered Trotsky a bloc against Stalin. He asked Trotsky "urgently to undertake the defence of Georgia in the Central Committee". The following day Lenin sent Trotsky three notes on the national question that he had dictated some ten weeks before.
If Lenin had not fallen ill, Stalin would undoubtedly have been removed from his post of general secretary. One of his secretaries remarked that Vladimir Ilyich was "preparing a bomb" for Stalin at the Party Congress. He sent a note to the Georgian Bolshevik leaders Mdivani and Makharadze, giving them his support "with all my heart" against Stalin.
Although Lenin had broken all relations with Stalin and demanded his removal as general secretary, Stalin managed to hold onto his position by a series of manoeuvres. As a result Lenin's Testament was not made public, despite Krupskaya's protests. At the meeting of the Politburo and Presidium where the matter was discussed, Stalin said:
"I suggest there is no reason to publish, especially as Ilyich gave no instructions to do so." (D. Volkogonov, Trotsky, p. 243.)
Lenin's step in breaking off relations with Stalin is unprecedented. His Testament was a devastating blow. But the message was never made public. Lenin's Testament remained hidden from the people of the USSR until Khrushchov quoted it in the secret session at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956. Before that it had been published by the Trotskyists in the West, but denounced as a forgery by the Stalinists. They were rude and disloyal to Lenin's last wish.
After Lenin's death
As long as Lenin was alive, the Stalin clique had to proceed cautiously. The memories of the October revolution were too recent, and Lenin's personal authority too great. But once Lenin was removed, they began manoeuvring to seize control of the Party. Stalin's ambition was fuelled by the death of Lenin, whom he mortally feared. After Lenin's death, a caste of privileged officials usurped power in the Soviet Union. They were represented inside the Party by the bureaucratic faction that formed around Stalin.
A secret triumvirate was formed of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin, aimed at isolating Trotsky. In his Testament, Lenin not only referred to Trotsky as the most capable member of the Central Committee but also stated that his non-Bolshevik past "should not be held against him personally". Yet the triumvirate ignored Lenin's advice and launched a vitriolic campaign against Trotsky, inventing the myth of "Trotskyism". As part of this they created the cult of Lenin. Against Krupskaya's wishes, his body was embalmed and placed on public display in the mausoleum in Red Square. Later Krupskaya stated: "All his life Vladimir Ilyich was against icons, and now they have turned him into an icon."
A fatal role in all this was played by Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were motivated by petty considerations of ambition and jealously to open up a campaign of calumny against Trotsky. When Lenin described Trotsky in his Testament as the most capable member of the Central Committee it offended Zinoviev in particular, who regarded himself as the natural successor to Lenin. Of course, such things as personal animosities, jealousy and rivalry can never determine the outcome of broad historical processes. They rather fall under the heading of historical accident. But as Hegel explained with such profundity, necessity expresses itself through accident. By acting as they did Kamenev and Zinoviev undoubtedly facilitated Stalin's task and greatly accelerated the process of bureaucratic degeneration.
Lenin did not trust Kamenev and Zinoviev, and warned in his Testament that their conduct during the October revolution was not an accident. Again, his judgement was shown to be correct. Stalin used them for the purpose of discrediting Trotsky, and then turned against them. More correctly, they turned against Stalin when they realised where he was leading the USSR. For a time they participated with Trotsky in the Left Opposition. Then, typically, they capitulated to Stalin when things got difficult.
Stalin's speech at Lenin's funeral was a typical example of his hypocrisy. He was relieved that Lenin had died, since he knew that Lenin was determined to have him removed. Yet he delivered a funeral oration in terms of Byzantine worship. It was quite safe to flatter Lenin once he was dead - sometimes dead men are more useful than living ones. Couched in the language of the Orthodox Church liturgy that Stalin had learned in the seminary, it was more like a religious incantation than a Marxist speech. This was no accident, for while building up a religious cult of Lenin, Stalin was trampling underfoot the most elementary principles and policies of Leninism. Under the banner of "Leninism" he was establishing a new creed of Stalinism, the polar opposite of the ideas of the Bolshevik Party.
There is, of course, nothing new in all this. Every usurpatory caste in history has always been obliged to conceal its revisionism under the guise of "orthodoxy". The revolutionary communist ideas of the early Christians were turned into a defence of privilege and worldly wealth when it was taken over by the state under Constantine. The church had changed into its opposite, and became the church of the rich and privileged, but was nevertheless compelled to pay lip service to the name of the son of a poor Jewish carpenter and rebel from Galilee. In the same way Napoleon Bonaparte, while trampling underfoot the traditions of the French revolution, and placing the imperial crown on his head, continued to speak in the language of the Republic of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
The United Opposition
More than an idea, Stalinism began as a definite mood of reaction among the officials. The campaign against "Trotskyism" was in essence the reflection of a petty bourgeois reaction against October. The numerous caste of Soviet officials were tired of the storm and stress of revolution, which they associated with the idea of "permanent revolution", although the real meaning of this idea was a closed book for them.
In a manoeuvre to dilute the Party with raw elements and swamp the Leninist vanguard, Stalin organised the so-called Lenin Levy. The doors were thrown open and a mass of new recruits were allowed to join and vote in the congress, in disregard of the Party rules, according to which they only had the status of candidate members.
Maria Joffe recalls: "The Party gates, guarded so vigilantly so as not to admit anyone unworthy, were flung wide open: workmen, office workers, civil service bureaucrats entered in their masses, lured by the promise of much scope. All they needed was to prove themselves to be ‘disciplined' and ‘aware'. The deeply convinced political meaning of the ‘Lenin enrolment' was mainly to water down the revolutionary front ranks - by human raw material, neither hardened in battle, nor experienced, and not of independent mind, but certainly possessing the ancient and now greatly cultivated Russian habit of fearing the authorities and blindly obeying them." (Maria Joffe, One Long Night, pp. 71-2.)
By the end of 1927, over 60 percent of the secretaries of the primary Party cells had joined the Party after 1921 -that is, after the end of the Civil War. In the period of the revolution and Civil War, Party membership conferred no advantages and involved only risks and sacrifices. But after 1921 this changed. The Party was in power and attracted all sorts of careerist elements. They owed their advancement to Stalin and could be relied upon to support him against the Party's left wing.
In August 1922 the number of full-time Party officials was 15,325. At the time of the Fourteenth congress in 1925 it was about 20,000. These functionaries were paid up to 50 percent more than the scales laid down for comparable government employees and, more importantly, enjoyed privileges not available to workers. They therefore had material interests to defend.
However, the anti-working class and anti-socialist policies of the bureaucracy had to be disguised in "socialist" phraseology. This was provided by the anti-Marxist "theory" of socialism in one country. But when Stalin advanced this reactionary slogan, violating every principle of Leninism, it was too much for Kamenev and Zinoviev. They broke with him. They then attempted to defend the basis ideas of Leninism and the October revolution, albeit in a half-hearted and vacillating manner.
Eventually, Kamenev and Zinoviev joined forces with Trotsky to form the United Left Opposition, which included, among many prominent Old Bolsheviks, Lenin's widow Krupskaya. She said at a meeting of the Left Opposition in 1926 that "if Vladimir Ilyich were alive today, he would be in one of Stalin's jails". This was an indication of how far things had gone. Later, when Kamenev and Zinoviev capitulated and were murdered by Stalin, Krupskaya was silenced by Stalin's threats and blackmail. He warned her that if she crossed him again he could always find another "Lenin's widow".
Stalin now veered to the right and joined forces with Bukharin, who stood at the head of that section of the Party that advocated concessions to the rich peasants (kulaks). He advanced the slogan directed at the peasants: "Enrich yourselves, develop your farms and do not fear that you will be subjected to restrictions."
Expulsion of the Opposition
The Opposition defended the principles of Leninism and October. It warned against the disastrous policy of compromising with the rich peasants, and advocated taxing the kulaks and industrialization, including five year plans, linked with measures to restore workers' democracy, against bureaucratism and for proletarian internationalism.
But the struggle was uneven. Stalin mobilized the full weight of the apparatus to crush the Opposition. Oppositionists were sacked from their jobs, expelled from the Party, persecuted and arrested. Stalin used hooligans to break up Opposition meetings. All this was completely alien to the clean traditions of the Bolshevik Party.
The rightward zig-zag in Russia was followed by a rightward zig-zag internationally. The policies of Stalin and Bukharin were ruinous to the Communist International. They ensured one defeat after another - in Estonia, Bulgaria, Britain, and worst of all in China.
Stalin, the narrow-minded "practico" tried to base himself on the right wing internationally, just as he tried to base himself on the kulaks in Russia. Having no confidence in the working class or the Communist International, he sought deals and alliances with the right wing trade leaders in Britain and with Chiang Kai Shek in China. Chiang was even put on the International Executive Committee of the Comintern, with only one vote against - that of Leon Trotsky.
Every new defeat for the international revolution deepened the disillusionment and despair of the Soviet workers and increased the confidence of the bureaucrats.
Finally, in 1927 the Fifteenth Party congress voted to expel the Opposition. It was packed with Stalin's supporters, so the result was a foregone conclusion. Trotsky and other Opposition speakers were heckled and barracked by the Stalinists - a blatant departure from the scrupulous democratic traditions of Lenin's party.
The bureaucracy triumphed not because of the mistakes of the Opposition, or because of the far-sightedness of Stalin, but because the working class was exhausted by the long years of war, revolution and civil war. They were disappointed and dispirited.
The Soviet functionaries yearned for peace and order, so that they could quietly get on with their administrative tasks. They did not understand Bolshevik internationalism and distrusted it. They were equally hostile to Soviet democracy that allowed the workers to "interfere" with their plans and the functioning of their departments.
"A political struggle is in its essence a struggle of interests and forces," Trotsky wrote, "not of arguments. The quality of leadership is, of course, far from a matter of indifference for the outcome of the conflict, but it is not the only factor, and in the last analysis is not decisive. Each of the struggling camps, moreover, demands leaders in its own image." (The Revolution Betrayed, pp. 86-7.)
The argument that Stalin won because he was more skilful and perspicacious than Trotsky is entirely false. The struggle was determined by the class balance of forces, which by this time was unfavourable to the proletarian vanguard. The personalities of the contending forces were an entirely secondary feature. What happened here was a triumph of the bureaucracy over the Soviet working class and its vanguard. In the person of Stalin the bureaucracy found a leader in its own image.
The second part of Alan Woods' article covers the whole period of the thirties, from the adventurist policy of forced collectivisation to the Moscow Trials, until the assassination of Trotsky
Stalin - the executioner of Lenin's Party
The policies of Stalin-Bukharin caused a very dangerous situation in the countryside, where the kulaks were becoming a powerful force hostile to the Soviet power. Here we see Stalin's crude empiricism and lack of Marxist understanding. In February 1928 he wrote: "The NEP is the foundation of our economic policy and will so remain for a long time to come." In April of the same year, Stalin and the Plenum of the Central Committee had passed a resolution to the effect that "only liars and counterrevolutionaries could spread rumours about the abolition of the NEP."
The Left Opposition continually warned of the kulak danger and demanded a change of course. But all their appeals fell on deaf ears. Then within a few months the whole policy was thrown into reverse. The kulaks had organised a grain strike as the first step in the capitalist counterrevolution against Soviet power. By the end of 1927 the drop of grain supplies to the towns had assumed alarming proportions. In a 180 degrees somersault Stalin announced the "liquidation of the kulaks as a class."
In 1930 Trotsky warned that the collectivisation of the peasantry should proceed gradually and on a voluntary basis, so as not to open up a conflict between the proletariat and the peasantry. He advocated that no more than 20-25 percent of peasant farms should be collectivised "lest the framework of reality should be overstepped."
This was in line with Lenin's attitude to collectivisation. But instead Stalin insisted on collectivising everything - down to the felt boots that were dragged off the feet of the kulak's children. In the process, no distinction was made between the rich and middle peasants. The result was a bloody civil war in which the Red Army had to be sent into the countryside. As a result of Stalin's lunacy, a terrible famine swept across the land in 1932-3. Millions of people starved to death. There were cases of cannibalism in the Ukraine and Central Asia.
From an economic point of view there was no point in whole-scale collectivising when Soviet industry was not in a position to supply the collective farms with tractors and combine harvesters. As Trotsky observed ironically: "By putting together the primitive hoes and the poor nags of the mujhiks one no more creates large-scale agriculture than one creates a large steamer by putting together a lot of fishing boats."
Later Stalin had to retreat, but the damage was done. Soviet agriculture never recovered from this blow. Stalin's adventurist policy of forced collectivisation of agriculture provoked a terrible disaster. Stalin later admitted to Churchill that ten million people had starved to death. (See Churchill, The Second World War, vol. IV, pp. 447-8.)
In the field of industry, Stalin carried out a similar zig-zag. When Trotsky, following in Lenin's footsteps, advocated a policy of industrialization based on Five Year Plans and electrification he was accused of being a "super industrializer". Stalin ridiculed Trotsky's proposal for the building of a hydroelectrical project on the Dnieper (Dnieperstroy) as the equivalent of offering a peasant a gramophone instead of a cow. But now, where he had previously denounced Trotsky's idea of a Five Year Plan, Stalin suddenly proclaimed a "five year plan in four years."
This led to serious dislocation in industry, which was only rectified with difficulty, after great losses. Nevertheless, the launching of the Five Year Plans was a giant step forward for the USSR that enabled it to pull itself out of terrible backwardness and industrialize in a very short space of time. In effect, Stalin stole some of the policies of the Left Opposition, which he had previously opposed. But he copied them in a distorted, one-sided and bureaucratic manner. There was no question of his accepting the most basic demands of the Opposition, relating to workers democracy and internationalism. The result was not a genuine socialist policy but only a bureaucratic caricature.
Nevertheless, the leftward lurch of the Stalin faction was interpreted by many Oppositionists as a proof that their policies had been vindicated. A number of prominent leaders capitulated, beginning with Kamenev and Zinoviev. But capitulation is a very slippery slope. It can become a habit. They capitulated a second and then a third time in the most abject manner, but that did not save them. Stalin used them and then had them executed. No amount of capitulation could have saved them. The consolidation of Stalinism demanded the complete liquidation of the Old Bolsheviks.
The rise of the bureaucracy
A decisive turning point was the abolition of the Party Maximum. This Leninist measure was intended to prevent the formation of a privileged layer of "Communist" bureaucrats. Lenin explained that the existence of wage differentials was a survival of capitalism that would tend to disappear as society moved towards socialism. The development of the productive forces would be accompanied by a general improvement of living standards and the inequalities would tend to decrease. However, in Stalinist Russia the opposite was the case. Far from a reduction of inequality, there was an enormous increase in the difference between the living standards of the working class and the upper layers of the bureaucracy in particular.
In a speech in 1931 Stalin spoke of the "happy life" of the people of the Soviet Union. At this time the workers' living standards were extremely low, and the wages of the workers remained depressed throughout the 1930s, despite the colossal gains of the Five Year Plans. Yet the "happy life" was a reality for millions of officials in the state and "Communist" Party; they lived very well. In addition to other privileges of provisions and lodgings, a new network of closed "distributors" was established and restaurants reserved for the use of high Communist or non-Party officials. Then special "state shops" were set up for their exclusive use. In these shops one could buy anything and everything but at prices no worker could afford.
Lenin's principles were trodden underfoot. Lenin had pointed out that wage differentials were a survival of capitalism that would be reduced as the USSR moved towards socialism. In fact, precisely the opposite happened. Ciliga comments on the lifestyle and mentality of the bureaucrat and their families:
"A man's worth was measured by the elegance of the holidays he could afford, by his apartment, his furniture, his clothes and the position he occupied in the administrative hierarchy. […]
"The differentiation of the bureaucratic elite was made on yet another plane; the husbands, the wives and the children constituted three groups, each with its own standards. The husbands had developed a sense of diplomacy, they were not assertive and did not fail to remember to 'keep in contact with the masses', nor to keep up proletarian and revolutionary appearances. They expressed themselves in cautious terms. The women had no such considerations. Their only thought was to dazzle people with their clothes, their box at the theatre, the elegance of their homes, and their descriptions of their holidays at such-and-such a watering place or their journey abroad. They were conscious of belonging to 'Society', and lived only for their petty ambitions. […]
"As to the children, they were shocked by their parents' hypocrisy. They wanted to call a spade a spade. 'We are boss here, why hide it?' 'Why not always dress in smart clothes? Why may one do it on certain occasions, whereas on others one must dress with mock modesty? Why not go out in the car, since we have one? Why does So-and-So take the children to school in a car, whereas father refuses to take us?' Revolutionary phraseology grated on them, they hated hearing the word proletariat used over and over again." (Ante Ciliga, The Russian Enigma, pp. 118-9.)
In these few lines one has all the information necessary to understand exactly what has occurred in Russia, Eastern Europe and China over the last ten or twenty years.
After the death of Lenin the CPSU experienced a process of bureaucratic degeneration that ended in the dictatorship of Stalin. But in order to consolidate his power Stalin had first to destroy Lenin's Party. He did this by physically exterminating the Bolshevik Party in the notorious Purges.
The "Communist" Party under Stalin became transformed into a bureaucratic club. In fact, it was not a party at all but part of the state apparatus - a vehicle for controlling the working class and for the advancement of careerists. Although some genuine Communists remained, the overwhelming majority of its members were yes-men, bootlickers, spies and toadies.
In 1935 the Society of Old Bolsheviks was dissolved, followed one month later by the Society of Former Political Prisoners and Exiles. The Party's history was being rewritten to glorify Stalin and he did not want any awkward witnesses around to contradict him. The youth represented an even greater threat. A drastic reorganization of the Komsomol was carried out on Stalin's personal initiative with the aim of eliminating "enemies of the people".
The first political trials were those of the so-called industrial opposition in 1930. Perfectly innocent engineers were made the scapegoats for the economic mess caused by the crazy policy of "five year plans in four years." The accused were accused of having organized a vast network of sabotage on behalf of the French Military High Command. They were compelled to confess to non-existent crimes and given long prison sentences. This was Stalin's dress rehearsal for the Moscow Purges.
This was followed by the trial of the "Bureau of Menshevik Socialists". These were previously unknown people who at one time had belonged to the Mensheviks, but were now inactive. They also confessed to organising a programme of sabotage to prepare for foreign military intervention against the USSR. There was not a word of truth in this, but it prepared the ground for greater things.
The Seventeenth Congress in October 1934 was hailed as "the congress of victors". The delegates competed with each other to sing the Leader's praises, but almost all the 2,000 delegates later fell victim to Stalin's Terror. The congress showed that Kirov, the Leningrad Party boss, was popular with the delegates - too popular. He got a standing ovation at the start and finish, and was elected to the Secretariat of the Central Committee. This meant that he would be transferred from Leningrad to Moscow, where he would be a rival to Stalin. In fact, the disasters of forced collectivisation and the economic disruption caused by the mismanagement of the first Five Year Plan had caused many doubts about Stalin, and a section of the Party was in favour of replacing him with Kirov. That sealed his fate.
On the December 1, 1934, Kirov was assassinated by a young Communist, called Leonid Nikolayev, who had been, conveniently, a minor member of the Zinovievite Opposition in Leningrad. In fact, Nikolayev worked for the GPU and was a mere tool in Stalin's machinations. That Nikolayev was a provocateur is shown by the following fact. He kept a diary at the beginning of 1934 in which he revealed not only a critical attitude to the Party leadership but also terrorist tendencies. This was discovered and he was expelled from the Party but then reinstated. Yet he was allowed to continue working at the Smolny Institute, the headquarters of the Leningrad Party.
Given these circumstances it is incomprehensible that Nikolayev was allowed to come into direct contact with Kirov, who, like all the other Party leaders was surrounded by bodyguards. However, at the time of the assassination there was not a single bodyguard in sight. Immediately after the assassination, steps were taken to liquidate all witnesses in order to cover the tracks. Not only was Nikolayev himself shot, but Kirov's bodyguards and driver were also killed, in addition to Nikolayev's wife and other family members.
There is not the slightest doubt that this assassination was planned by Stalin. He feared Kirov as a rival. At a time when Stalin was losing support, Kirov's name was circulating in Party circles as a possible replacement. He had to be eliminated and he was eliminated.
The Kamenev and Zinoviev trial
Initially the assassination of Kirov was blamed on White Guard elements, but then the story was concocted that the real authors were Kamenev and Zinoviev, those "unfinished enemies" who were said to be guided by "the fascist hireling Trotsky". They were put on trial in secret in 1935, accused of political responsibility for Kirov's murder. Having capitulated once to Stalin they now capitulated yet again. Stalin had promised to spare their lives if they confessed and they were sent to a camp. But this was insufficient for Stalin. He wanted them dead. So after 18 months, they were taken back to Moscow for another trial.
On August 19, when the discussion of the Stalin Constitution ("the most democratic constitution in the world") was in full swing, 16 leading ex-Oppositionists, headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev, together with Yevdokimov and I.M. Smirnov, were put on trial for capital charges. This time they were accused, not of "political responsibility" for the assassination of Kirov, but of organising terrorist actions against Stalin, Voroshilov, Kaganovich and Zhdanov, under the direst instructions and guidance of Trotsky.
This trial was an attempt to give an excuse for mass arrests of all who questioned Stalin's leadership. During the proceedings, the accused were forced to pour dirt over their own heads. Kamenev testified that "He himself served fascism and with Zinoviev and Trotsky had prepared a counterrevolution in the USSR." Zinoviev stated that "Trotskyism is a variant of fascism." The abject nature of these confessions did not save them: they were shot. Within twelve months of this trial, 100,000 people were either arrested or shot in Leningrad alone.
The methods of the GPU were those of the Inquisition. The accused were dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, kept in isolation, beaten, tortured, their families threatened, to extort a false confession. Interrogations were carried on uninterruptedly day and night, for 16 to 24 hours, with the prisoner denied sleep (the "conveyer" system). Those that did not confess were shot or just disappeared. They used agents' provocateurs to engineer denunciations. Children were urged to denounce their own parents.
The main motive of the Purge Trials was to liquidate the Bolshevik Party, to wipe out the entire generation of Old Bolsheviks and thus to consolidate the rule of the bureaucracy. Anyone who could remember the old democratic and internationalist traditions of Leninism was seen as a danger. Like any common criminal Stalin understood the need to eliminate all witnesses. But there was also a personal motive. Stalin was a mediocrity who could not stand comparison with the Old Bolshevik leaders. Compared with Bukharin, Kamenev and even Zinoviev, let alone a genius like Trotsky, he was a nonentity. And he knew it. Therefore he entertained feelings of revenge towards the entire generation of Old Bolsheviks.
Stalin was a sadist who took a personal interest in tormenting his victims. He brought to Moscow the primitive methods of the Georgian blood feud, in which not only enemies had to be killed but their families also. He once stated: "There is nothing sweeter in the world than to plan revenge on an enemy, see it carried out, and then retire peacefully to bed." He personally checked the list of the victims and decided who would live or die. Out of a total of about 700,000 cases, he personally signed 400 lists, with a total of 40,000 people. On these lists were the names of all of Lenin's principal lieutenants and comrades-in-arms.
Stalin had a very simple recipe for the interrogation of prisoners: "Beat, beat and beat again." At the time of the first trials the chief of the OGPU-NKVD was Genrykh Yagoda. He carried out Stalin's directives, but not enthusiastically enough for the Vozhd'. Stalin was furious because Yagoda had not obtained confessions to the murder of Kirov from Kamenev and Zinoviev in the 1936 trial. He called him in and said: "You work poorly, Genrykh Grigorievich. I already know for a fact that Kirov was murdered on instructions from Zinoviev and Kamenev, but so far you have not been able to prove it! You have to torture them until they finally tell the truth and reveal all their connections." (Anna Larina, This I cannot Forget, p. 94.)
Yagoda was a corrupt official and a contemptible careerist whose hands were stained with blood, but having been a Party member since 1907 he was inhibited by the old traditions and sometimes dragged his heels at the monstrous orders he was expected to carry out. This sealed his fate. He was removed, put on trial, accused among other things of poisoning the writer Maxim Gorky, and executed. The accusation about Gorky is significant. Gorky, who had a soft heart, often used to intercede with Lenin on behalf of people who had been arrested, and tried the same thing with Stalin. But Stalin was not like Lenin. He found the old man's pleadings irritating. But Gorky was too famous to put on trial as a "Trotskyist", so in all probability Stalin had him quietly put down, and placed the blame on the unfortunate Yagoda. This was quite in Stalin's style.
The year 1937
The year 1937 will go down in history as synonymous with Stalin's unbridled terror. The man who replaced Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov, was a monster in the image of Stalin. No action was too base or bloody for him, no order too atrocious to carry out. This creature was the perfect embodiment of Stalin's political counterrevolution.
In the camps, millions were starved and worked to death. Between 1929 and 1934 the average life expectancy was less than two years. Yet the Boss complained that conditions in the camps were too comfortable: they were "like health resorts". Up till 1937 it was not the deliberate policy of the camp administration to exterminate the prisoners, although many died as a result of poor food and overwork. But Yezhov changed all that. After he took over the situation was much worse. To begin with, the maximum sentence before death was increased from ten years to twenty-five. In most cases this amounted to a death sentence.
According to data supplied by Yezhov at the end of 1936 and the beginning of 1937, in the central institutions of Moscow alone, thousands of "Trotskyist wreckers" were arrested. Between October 1936 and February 1937, the following numbers of employees in the People's Commissariats were arrested and sentenced: Transport - 141, Food Industry - 100, Local Industry - 60, Internal Trade - 82, Agriculture - 102, Finance - 35, Education - 228; and so on. Later the situation got even worse. On one day alone, 12th December 1938, Stalin and Molotov sanctioned the shooting of 3,167 people, and then went to the cinema.
It is now known that the NKVD had quotas for arrests and was expected to fulfill them, just like the quotas for steel, coal and electricity under the Five Year Plan. Yevgeniya Ginsberg relates the following conversation she had in prison in 1937. "As a Tartar, it was simpler to make me a bourgeois nationalist. Actually, they did put me down as a Trotskyist at first, but Rud sent the file back, saying they'd exceeded the quota for Trotskyists but were short on nationalists, though they'd taken all the Tartar writers they could think of." (Yevgeniya Ginsberg, Into the Whirlwind, pp. 109-10.)
Stalin's propaganda machine was working overtime. Meetings were organised under such slogans as "Death to the Fascist Hirelings!" "Crush the Trotskyist Vermin" and "Trotskyism is another Form of Fascism!" On March 6, 1937 Pravda asserted that "the Trotskyists are a find for international Fascism […] The insignificant number of this gang should not reassure us, we have to increase our vigilance tenfold." On 15th March 1938, Vechernaya Moskva snarled: "History knows no evil deeds equal to the crimes of the gang from the anti-Soviet Right-Trotskyist Bloc. The espionage, sabotage and wrecking done by the over-bandit Trotsky and his accomplices Bukharin, Rykov and the others, arouse feelings of anger, hatred and contempt not only in the Soviet people, but in all progressive mankind." (Quoted in D. Volkogonov, Trotsky pp. 381-2.)
History knows no evil deeds equal to the crimes of the gang from the anti-Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy. A wave of terror was unleashed by Stalin against the people of the USSR. Tens of millions of innocent people were arrested, condemned and sent into the Gulag. Even the security services were purged. In 1937-8 23,000 NKVD officers were arrested. Most informed on others in order to survive.
Not all of Stalin's victims were put on trial. The trade union leader Tomsky, a follower of Bukharin's Right Opposition, cheated Stalin by committing suicide. Stalin's wife, Nadezhda Alleluyeva was also driven to suicide by Stalin. A decent and honest woman, she sympathised with Bukharin. She shot herself as a protest against Stalin's moral and political perfidy. Later the same fate befell Sergo Ordzhonikidze, Stalin's old friend and comrade. On 18th February 1937, he died suddenly, allegedly of a heart attack. In reality he was also driven to suicide by Stalin, who had Sergo's brother arrested, tortured and shot for no reason.
The details of this case were revealed by Khrushchov at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956. In the same speech he revealed that, of the total of 139 members and candidate members of the Central Committee elected at the 17th Congress in 1934, 98 - that is, 70 percent - were shot. Khrushchov stated that those arrested were subjected to brutal tortures, and only confessed to "all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes" when "no longer able to bear barbaric tortures."
The destruction of the Red Army
Stalin was suspicious of the Red Army, which had been founded by Trotsky. Many of its leaders, heroes of the Civil War, had fought with Trotsky and had been under his influence. Many of them were extremely talented and one at least, M.N. Tukhachevsky, was a military genius. A former officer in the tsarist army, Tukhachevsky came over to the side of the revolution and served it faithfully. He led the Red Army in the struggle against Wrangel and against the Poles.
In 1920 his forces got as far as Warsaw, where they were defeated in part because Stalin's stooges Voroshilov and Budyonny refused to join forces with Tukhachevsky, preferring to wage war on their own account, pursuing the entirely secondary objective of Lvov. As a result, the Red Army was defeated at the gates of Warsaw - a major setback in Lenin's strategy for world revolution, which led to the isolation of the Russian revolution, cutting it off from the German revolution.
The Polish dictator Pilsudsky latter revealed that: "Our situation seemed to me utterly hopeless. I saw the only bright spot on the dark horizon in Budyonny's failure to launch an attack on my rear […] the weakness which was exhibited by the Twelfth Army." [i.e. the army that upon the orders of Commissar Stalin had refused to help Tukhachevsky force and had broken away from it.]
In 1935 Tukhachevsky was made a Marshall of the Red Army. This was well deserved. This great military genius had worked it out that World War Two would be a mobile war fought with tanks and planes. But Stalin was jealous of Tukhachevsky and suspicious of the general staff of the Red Army. So when Tukhachevsky insisted on increasing the number of planes and tanks in the Red Army, Stalin refused, calling him a harebrained schemer. (See Dimitri Shostakovich, Testimony, p. 103.)
Stalin the mediocrity always hated people with talent. And he hated and feared Tukhachevsky whose brilliance always reminded him of his own incompetence in military matters, where he would have liked to se himself as a genius. But far more seriously, Stalin lived in fear of a military coup. He therefore organized a gigantic new frame-up involving the whole of the Soviet general staff. He accused Tukhachevsky and other key leaders of the Red Army of being in league with Hitler.
The famous Soviet composer, Dimitri Shostakovich was a personal friend of Tukhachevsky. In his memoirs he writes: "Now it is well known that Tukhachevsky was destroyed through the joint efforts of Stalin and Hitler. But one mustn't exaggerate the role of German espionage in this matter. If there hadn't been those faked documents that 'exposed' Tukhachevsky, Stalin would have got rid of him anyway." (Dimitri Shostakovich, Testimony, p. 99.)
Stalin replaced this great original military thinker with his cronies Budyonny and Voroshilov, two incompetents who thought that World War Two would be fought with cavalry! Just before World War Two, they were showing propaganda films in Russia of Voroshilov and his cavalry, sweeping the enemy before them! Only after the first crushing defeats of the Red Army in 1941 did Stalin realise his mistake, but this was a very costly lesson for the USSR. The same thing happened with rockets. Stalin had all the Leningrad rocketry experts shot, and then had to start from scratch.
The Purge destroyed the entire leading cadre of the Red Army and badly damaged the defence capabilities of the USSR. Tukhachevsky, Yakir and others were shot in secret, which indicates that they refused to confess. The military Purge that continued throughout 1938 led to the elimination of 90 percent of all generals, 80 percent of all colonels, and 30,000 of lower ranking officers. This left the Red Army seriously weakened on the eve of the Second World War. We know that it was one of the main factors that convinced Hitler that he should attack the USSR. He silenced the objections of his generals with the remark: "They have no good generals."
The trial of the 21
In March 1938 the trial of the 21 opened in Moscow. Bukharin, Rykov, Krestinsky, Rakovsky, and other members of the so-called Right-Trotskyist Bloc. These Old Bolsheviks were described by the ex-Menshevik Vyshinsky as "stinking carrion", "pitiful scum", "damned vermin", "chained curs of imperialism" and so on. Pravda described this disgusting travesty of a show trial as "the most democratic people's court in the world." This verdict was accepted by a most unexpected "Friend of the Soviet Union" - Winston Churchill, who described Vyshinsky's performance at the trial as "brilliant".
On the first day of the third trial, March 2, 1938, the former Menshevik Andrei Vyshinsky slandered the man whom Lenin had described in his Testament as "the Party's favourite: "Bukharin sits there with his head bowed low, a treacherous, two-faced, whimpering, evil nonentity who has been exposed […] as the leader of a gang of spies, terrorists, and thieves, as instigator of assassination […] This filthy little Bukharin". (The Case of the Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights and Trotskyists, Record of Court Proceedings, Moscow, 1938, pp. 656-57.)
Though Vyshinsky read the lines, their author was Stalin, taunting his victim and smearing him with filth before destroying him physically. This was the favourite method of the "beloved Leader and Teacher". "The hypocrisy and perfidy of this man exceed the most perfidious and monstrous crimes known to the history of mankind." These words cannot be applied to Bukharin, a revolutionary of spotless honesty and dedication, but perfectly describe Stalin himself.
Bukharin later stated: "The confession of the accused is a medieval principle of jurisprudence. […] I did not plead guilty […] I do not know of this […] I deny it […] I categorically deny any complicity."
Not only Trotskyists were killed but also many Stalinists who fell into the disfavour of the "Beloved Leader and Teacher". Abel Yenukidze, for example, was shot for trying to save the lives of Old Bolsheviks. Not content with killing his enemies, Stalin took his revenge on their families and friends. Hundreds of thousands were sent to the camps not just as "enemies of the people", but also as chesirs or "family members of a traitor to the motherland". Among these victims were the wife and sisters of Tukhachevsky, the wife of Bukharin, Trotsky's first wife, his eldest son, Sergei, who was not involved in active politics, was arrested but courageously refused to denounce his father and was shot.
The methods of the GPU were exposed in a surprising way during the Moscow Trials themselves. When Yagoda was himself put on trial, Vyshinsky declared (on March 11, 1938): "Yagoda stood at the peak of the technology of killing people in the most devious ways. He represented the last word in the 'science' of bestiality." (Sudebny otchet po delu antisovetskogo trotskiiskogo tsentra, the official report of the trial in Russian, Moscow 1937, p. 332.). Amidst all the miserable morass of lies and distortions that make up these documents, this is probably the only truthful statement.
Yezhov had attained the highest power. There was even a cult of Yezhov to match the cult of Stalin. Yezhov was called officially "the Beloved of the nation. The horrors he inflicted on his victims were known as "Yezhov's prickles" (Yezh in Russian means hedgehog). Bards in Central Asia sang of Father Yezhov. All this was not a wise thing to do under Stalin, who had a morbid fear of rivals.
Yezhov even sent a draft decree to the CC, allegedly on the initiative of "countless requests from workers" that Moscow be renamed Stalinodar. (See Volkoganov, p. 463.) However, Stalin was not foolish enough to accept. Instead he had Yezhov arrested in 1938. Typically, Stalin blamed all the horrors and dislocations of the Purges on his puppet Yezhov, whom he replaced with a Georgian stooge, Lavrenty Beria. The "Beloved of the nation" then disappeared into the Gulag and was apparently shot in 1939.
The assassination of Trotsky
The only serious opposition to Stalin was Trotsky's Left Opposition. Stalin read everything that Trotsky wrote and was determined to eliminate him. The Russian Trotskyists (Bolshevik Leninists) maintained their faith in the principles of Bolshevism and the perspective of the world revolution. They kept their organization alive even in Stalin's concentration camps. They organised hunger strikes against their tormentors, and were only silenced by the firing squad. And as they marched to their death in the frozen tundra they sang the Internationale.
By such means Stalin eradicated the last remnants of the traditions of Leninism from the Soviet Union. But one voice remained to challenge him - that of Lenin's main lieutenant, the architect of the October revolution and founder of the Red Army, Lev Davidovich Trotsky. As long as Trotsky remained alive Stalin could not rest.
Despite everything, Stalin did not feel safe. His persecution of Trotsky was not just a matter of personal hatred - though that was a fact. It was above all fear that the ideas and programme of Trotsky and the Bolshevik Leninists would get an echo in the Soviet working class. This was no idle fear. There was growing discontent in Soviet working class at the bad conditions and above all at the growing inequality and the privileges of the bureaucracy.
Even at the height of the Purges there are indications of a subterranean ferment of discontent. Through the reports of the Party and the NKVD, Stalin was well aware of the real situation. In the 1937 Party protocols of the Medgorodsk construction enterprise (Smolensk), we have an unusually frank description of the living conditions of the workers:
"The workers' barracks were described as overcrowded and in a state of extreme disrepair with water streaming straight from the ceiling onto workers' beds. Heat was rarely provided in the barracks. Bedding went unchanged and sanitary work was almost nonexistent. There were no kitchens and eating halls on the construction sites. Hot food could not be obtained until the evening, when workers had to walk a long distance to reach the dining-hall. 'Many of the women,' one female Party worker reported, 'live practically on the street. None pays any attention to them; some of these defenceless creatures threaten to commit suicide .'In addition, cases where wages were not paid were on the increase. All this 'neglect of the elementary needs of the workers', as well as 'lack of care for them as human beings'resulted in 'fully justified dissatisfaction' and bitterness on the part of the workers.
"The mood of some of the workers was described as 'often threatening' and 'directly counterrevolutionary'. For example, in a discussion of the 1936 Constitution a certain Stepan Danin, a carpenter, and workers of his brigade were quoted as saying:
"'We must permit the existence of several political parties in our midst - as it is in bourgeois countries; they will be able better to note the mistakes of the Communist Party.
"'Exploitation in our midst has not been eliminated, communists and engineers employ and exploit servants.
"'The Trotskyists Kamenev and Zinoviev won't be shot anyway - and they shouldn't be, for they are Old Bolsheviks.
"To the question of an agitator as to who should be viewed as an Old Bolshevik, one worker replied, 'Trotsky'." (Quoted in M. Fainsod, Smolensk Under Soviet Rule, p. 322.)
Stalin therefore followed very closely the activities of the Trotskyists. He planted his agents in their ranks and Trotsky's articles were on his desk in the Kremlin each morning - often before they had been published. Stalin's agents in Paris murdered Trotsky's son, Leon Sedov, who was playing a key role in the movement. This was a serious blow against the Fourth International, which was still in an embryonic phase. One by one, Trostky collaborators, friends and family were murdered by Stalin.
An NKVD officer Sudoplatov was put in charge of the assassination of Trotsky. The first armed attack on his house in Coyoacan failed. But it was immediately followed by another. On August 20, 1940, Lev Davidovich was struck down by one of Stalin's agents in Mexico City.
There are still many misconceptions about the Second World War, especially concerning the role of Stalin. The attempt to portray him as "a great war leader" is based on pure mythology. In fact, by his policies Stalin placed the USSR in the greatest danger.
Stalin and the Second World War
Stalin as Hitler's quartermaster
There are still many misconceptions about the Second World War, especially concerning the role of Stalin. The attempt to portray him as "a great war leader" is based on pure mythology. In fact, by his policies Stalin placed the USSR in the greatest danger.
By the end if the 1930s war had become an inevitability. Before he was struck down by a Stalinist assassin Leon Trotsky explained that all genuine Marxists must defend the Soviet Union, but he also explained that the only real defence of the USSR was the systematic preparation of the ground for the overthrow of capitalism in the West. The international working class must defend the USSR against imperialism, but the biggest danger to the Soviet Union was the Stalin clique itself. These words were shown to be absolutely correct in a short space of time.
Unlike Lenin, who stood for a consistent internationalist policy, Stalin's foreign policy was dictated by narrow nationalist considerations. It consisted in a series of manoeuvres with the imperialists that sacrificed the interests of the revolution in the West in the supposed interests of the Soviet Union. In reality, these manoeuvres did not remove the war danger but enormously increased it. Whereas Lenin and Trotsky based the foreign policy of the Soviet state on the perspective of world revolution, developing the Comintern for this purpose, Stalin distrusted the world working class and had no time for the Communist International. He treated the latter not as a vehicle for world revolution but as a mere pawn in the hands of Russian foreign policy. He used it like a dirty rag and then cast it aside contemptuously. In 1943 he dissolved it ignominiously without even calling a congress.
As always, the so-called realists always turn out to be the most hopeless utopians. The abandonment of the Leninist policy of revolutionary internationalism in favour of unprincipled diplomatic combinations placed the USSR in great danger. By constantly undermining the revolutionary struggles of the working class in China, Germany, France and above all Spain, Stalin created the conditions for the victory of fascist reaction in one country after another. The defeat of the Spanish working class removed the last obstacle in the way of a new European war. This made war against the USSR inevitable.
After the defeat of the Spanish working class, the bourgeois "democratic allies" of the USSR were actually encouraging Hitler to satisfy his appetite by turning eastwards. They had allowed him to rearm and occupy the Rhineland and Austria without a murmur. In 1938 the British Prime Minister Chamberlain signed the infamous Munich agreement allowing Hitler to swallow Czechoslovakia. The British ruling class was effectively giving Hitler the green light to attack the USSR. Fearing a German attack, Stalin hastily broke off his manoeuvring with Britain and France and signed a pact with Hitler.
The signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in the autumn of 1939 was a slap in the face for the world working class and the international Communist movement. On the other hand, the denunciations of the Pact by the so-called "European democracies" were just so much hypocrisy. In diplomatic terms the actions of the USSR were of a purely defensive character. But the way in which Stalin conducted himself was really a betrayal. While it is permissible for a workers' state to engage in manoeuvres with bourgeois states, including the most reactionary ones, under no circumstances should diplomacy be conducted at the expense of the interests of the proletariat and the international revolution. In the last analysis diplomatic manoeuvres have a secondary importance and can at best bring temporary advantages.
Stalin believed that his manoeuvres would safeguard the Soviet Union from attack. His actions, as always, were based on narrow-minded calculations and completely ignored the working class of other countries, except as pawns in the diplomatic game. His conduct in relation to Hitler's Germany went far beyond what Lenin would have been prepared to tolerate. In the end it had the opposite result to that intended. By collaborating with Hitler, Stalin increased the danger a thousand fold. His actions effectively disarmed the Soviet Union, encouraged Hitler and disoriented the world working class in a moment of extreme danger.
The occupation of Poland, Finland and the Baltic states by the Red Army was undoubtedly also a defensive move, designed to strengthen the borders of the USSR. But the way in which it was done was typically bureaucratic and reactionary. In 1938 the Polish CP had been dissolved on the pretext that it had been penetrated by fascists. Nearly all its leaders, in exile in Moscow, were shot. To facilitate the division of Poland between Germany and Russia, Stalin was quite prepared to sacrifice the interests of the working class. Whereas Lenin always showed the greatest sensitivity in the question of the relations between the Russian and non-Russian peoples of the USSR, Stalin's narrow nationalism trampled over the national feelings of the peoples. The result of the Finnish adventure was that the Finns fought like tigers and the Red Army, weakened by Stalin's Purges, suffered heavy casualties and failed to achieve its objectives. This fact, more than anything else, convinced Hitler that the Red Army could not withstand an attack by the Wehrmacht.
After the signing of the Pact, Stalin and his clique went to the most incredible extremes to ingratiate themselves with the Nazis. The following extract from the diary of Hencke, a German diplomat, describing the banquet which celebrated the signing of the Pact shows the lengths to which Stalin was prepared to go to conciliate Hitler:
"Toasts: In the course of the conversation, Herr Stalin spontaneously proposed to the Führer, as follows: 'I know how much the German nation loves its Führer; I should therefore like to drink to his health.' Herr Molotov drank to the health of the Reich Foreign Minister and of the Ambassador, Count von der Schulenburg. Herr Molotov raised his glass to Stalin, remarking that it had been Stalin who--through his speech of March of this year which had been well understood in Germany--had brought about the reversal in political relations. Herren Molotov and Stalin drank repeatedly to the Non-Aggression Pact, the new era of German-Russian relations, and to the German nation. The Reich Foreign Minister (Ribbentrop) in turn proposed a toast to Herr Stalin, toasts to the Soviet government, and to a favourable development of relations between Germany and the Soviet Union - Moscow, August 24, 1939. (Nazi-Soviet Relations, pp. 75-6, reproduced in Robert Black, Stalinism in Britain, p. 130.)
Just before the Pact, in a gesture to please the anti-Semitic Nazis, the Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litvinov (who was Jewish) was replaced by Molotov. Even more incredible, Beria, head of Internal Affairs, issued a secret order to the gulag administration forbidding camp guards to call political prisoners fascists! This was only rescinded after Hitler's invasion of the USSR in 1941. Worst of all, German anti-fascists were handed over to Hitler. All this was no way to prepare the Soviet people and the workers of the world for the terrible conflict that was to come. The USSR was lulled into a false sense of security in the moment of greatest danger. Its defences were neglected and its armies were in the hands of incompetents, like Voroshilov and Budyonny, who were later described by a Soviet general as "cowards and bootlickers".
Stalin confided in his good relations with the Führer. He did not believe that Germany would now attack the Soviet Union. He even sent a message of congratulation to Hitler on the occasion of his entry into Paris. The trade between the USSR and Nazi Germany boomed. From the outbreak of the Second World War right up until June 1941 when Hitler attacked Russia, Nazi Germany received a large increase in exports from the USSR. Between 1938 and 1940 exports to Germany rose from Rbs85.9 million to Rbs736.5 million, which greatly assisted Hitler's war efforts. Trotsky characterised Stalin at this time as Hitler's quartermaster. This was quite accurate.
Stalin undermines the defence of the USSR
The defences of the Soviet Union had been completely undermined by Stalin and his criminal Purges. The great Soviet marshal Tukhachevsky was a military genius who concluded that the Second World War would be fought with tanks and aeroplanes. When Tukhachevsky and his comrades were murdered in the Purges, their place was taken by Stalin's cronies like Voroshilov, Timoshenko and Budyonny, who thought that the coming war would be fought with cavalry! The second-rate and inept Voroshilov was put in charge of the Defence Commissariat, surrounded by others of the same ilk. These creatures of Stalin were promoted to key positions not for their personal abilities but for their servile loyalty to the ruling clique.
Despite the fact that the combined firepower of the Red Army was greater than that of the Germans, the Purges had effectively crippled it by destroying the officer corps. This was the decisive element which persuaded Hitler to attack in 1941. At the Nuremberg trial, Marshal Keitel testified that many German generals had warned Hitler not to attack Russia, arguing that the Red Army was a formidable opponent. Rejecting these Hitler gave Keitel his main reason "The first-class high-ranking officers were wiped out by Stalin in 1937, and the new generation cannot yet provide the brains they need." On the 9th January 1941, Hitler told a meeting of generals planning the attack on Russia: "They do not have good generals." (Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 214.)
"In the final weeks before the Germans struck," writes George F. Kennan, "Stalin behaved very strangely. He seemed paralysed by the danger now advancing upon him. He resolutely refused to give any outward recognition of this danger, or to discuss it with foreign representatives. He apparently declined even to place the Soviet armed forces under any special form of alert. Neither Soviet officialdom nor the Soviet people were given any forewarning of the pending catastrophe. It was, therefore, against a startled and in many respects unprepared Russia that the full might of Hitler's war machine was launched in the early hours of June 22, 1941." (G.F. Kennan, Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-1941, p. 113.)
Stalin's strange behaviour was quite in character. The legend of the all-seeing, all-knowing Leader is a myth that was created by the bureaucracy that needed to believe that their Boss was infallible. In reality Stalin was always a mediocre thinker, whose "wisdom" did not extend far beyond a vulgar empiricism, backed up by a large dose of cunning and a total lack of scruples in the pursuit of certain ends. His "Marxism" was of the poorest and most superficial kind, applied in the form of slogans and aphorisms as a priest scatters suitable quotations from the Scriptures to his sermons.
This is not the talent of a revolutionary leader but the petty wiles of a bureaucratic intriguer. Intrigues are at best the small change of politics. Only a provincial politician could mistake such tactic for something that can resolve fundamental problems. The ability to engage in manoeuvring has a relative importance in politics as in war. One must learn when to attack and when to retreat, how to feign a certain movement in order to deceive the enemy as to one's real intentions and so on. But to imagine that all this is decisive is to deceive oneself. In the small world of the bureaucratic apparatus, this seems terribly important and a sign of great intelligence. But on the vast arena of world politics it carries no more weight than the pathetic zigzags of a fly buzzing against a windowpane.
Hitler and Stalin
There have been many attempts to compare Stalin to Hitler. The intention behind such attempts is usually a malicious attempt to compare Communism to Fascism, and to attack the Soviet Union. Superficially there are many points of similarity between the totalitarian regimes in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. But there is also a fundamental difference: Stalin's regime was a bureaucratic excrescence on the Russian workers' state and ultimately rested on the nationalised property forms established by the October revolution. Hitler's regime was based on capitalist property relations and reflected a monstrous expression of imperialist monopoly capitalism. That is why the war to defend the USSR was progressive whereas on the part of Nazi Germany it was reactionary.
The attempt to reduce great historic events to individual "personalities" is extremely superficial and usually reflects an incapacity to approach history from a scientific point of view. However, individuals play an important role in history and the clarification of the character and capabilities or limitations of leaders has a relative importance as part of the larger picture. Even here, however, the attempts to establish a likeness between Hitler and Stalin fail miserably precisely because it is impossible to understand the two men outside of their particular role in a given historical situation. In order to understand Hitler and Stalin it is not enough to catalogue their crimes and show that they used similar methods. Napoleon Bonaparte used similar methods to the Bourbon monarchs who replaced him, in the sense of repression and autocratic rule (the opportunist police chief Fouche served them both). But it is necessary to explain what class or social stratum they represented. Otherwise we get a kind of literary impressionism instead of accurate social characterisations.
Hitler was a monster, but he was a mass leader of the typical fascist type - a petty bourgeois adventurer who knew very well how to appeal to the enraged German middle classes who had been ruined by the collapse of German capitalism. He knew how to appeal to their hatred of the big banks and monopolies by resorting to a crude caricature of "socialist" and "revolutionary" jargon, while simultaneously flattering their sense of national pride and racial superiority and directing their hatred away from the German bankers and capitalist and towards the "enemy without" – the Jews and foreign powers, the Bolsheviks and the trade unions that were "destroying Germany". All this he did with a considerable degree of skill (though he stole most of this from Mussolini, who was more able). In his pursuit of power (assisted of course by the German bankers and capitalists) he showed energy and unswerving determination.
Here the question of individual characteristics is intimately connected with objective and class considerations. Hitler was the personification of the ruined petty bourgeois, driven mad by the crisis of capitalism. But his movement did not represent the German petty bourgeoisie but the big German banks and monopolies that financed it. Fascism is the distilled essence of imperialism. Its racial doctrines are merely the distilled essence of the imperialist conviction that some nations are destined to rule over others. The urge towards war flowed naturally from the position of German imperialism after 1919. Hitler merely gave to this objective reality a particularly feverish and insane character. Hitler's boldness (mixed with a large dose of adventurism) flowed from this. He pushed the bourgeoisie to one side and proceeded to rule without it, and even sometimes against it. But objectively, the Nazis expressed the need of German capitalism to expand into new markets and conquer colonies in order to escape from the crisis and break out of the straitjacket into which it had been forced by Britain and France after the First World War.
Hitler's intellectual crudeness was comparable to that of Stalin. Like Stalin he also resorted to intrigues and deceit as weapons. He effectively duped Chamberlain into thinking that he would make no further territorial claims after Czechoslovakia (at least none that would adversely affect British imperialism). But his preferred weapon was the crude employment of violence. It would never have occurred to Hitler to place any confidence in his manoeuvres. The mailed fist was always what determined matters, internally as well as externally.
Both Hitler and Mussolini had to come to power at the head of mass Fascist movements. They were both skilled in the arts of mass demagogy. They were adventurers and not averse to bold actions where necessary. Stalin was altogether different. He led no revolution. Mass actions were alien to him. A poor orator, his natural sphere of operations was in Party offices, at the end of a telephone line. Not for him the incendiary speech and the audacious theatrical coup. Stalin was the product of the bureaucracy that came to power by stealth when all the vital forces of the October revolution had been exhausted. His main instincts were those of a bureaucrat: caution, conservatism, and a tendency to resort to manoeuvre and intrigue to improve his position and destroy his enemies.
Unlike the German imperialist bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy of the USSR did not want war, but a peaceful life to get on with their administrative functions. Stalin wanted a war even less, since he feared that a war would undermine his position fatally. Stalin feared war with Germany because he was afraid that this could lead to his overthrow. He was particularly afraid of the military. He desperately desired peace, and thought they could get it by entering into an intrigue with Hitler. But by so doing Stalin and his clique fatally underestimated Hitler and made war inevitable.
Here again Stalin's national limitedness played a fatal role. That the objective situation of Germany made war inevitable was clear to anyone, but Stalin did not see that Hitler was determined to invade the Soviet Union and reduce it to a slave colony. But this should have been clear to anyone who had read Mein Kampf. Stalin never thought that Hitler would be so crazy as to begin a war on two fronts. This cautious bureaucrat imagined that Hitler would reason as he did. But Hitler the fascist adventurer thought on an entirely different wavelength. He was determined from the beginning to launch a devastating attack on Russia. Blinded by his easy successes in the West, he seriously underestimated the military potential of the USSR.
To his generals' objections, Hitler pointed to the poor quality of the leadership of the Red Army, as demonstrated by the disastrous Finnish campaign of 1939-40. And by his whole conduct Stalin did nothing to shake Hitler's conviction. Having destroyed the best cadres of the Red Army, Stalin placed such blind confidence in his "clever" manoeuvre with Hitler, that he ignored numerous reports that the Germans were preparing to attack. Once these illusions were destroyed by the ruthless march of events, Stalin's nerve cracked and he fell into a state of utter prostration.
By the middle of June 1941 Hitler had moved enormous military resources to the Soviet border. Four million German troops were amassed on the border ready to invade. There were also 3,500 tanks, around 4,000 planes, and 50,000 guns and mortars. Attempts were made to keep this mobilisation secret, but given its size, numerous reports from border units, the Soviet intelligence service, even officials of the British and US governments, were passed on to the Soviet government. Stalin refused to act on these reports, instead wrote on them "For the archives", and "To be filed". This was all confirmed by General Zhukov in his Reminiscences and Reflections.
In July 1941 Hitler's armies launched a devastating attack on the USSR, advancing on a 500-mile front. Even then Stalin refused to act. He did not believe Hitler would invade. This completely disarmed the Soviet Union in the face of Nazi aggression. When the Soviet military command asked for permission to put the Soviet troops on to alert, Stalin refused. "German planes increasingly broke into Soviet airspace," reports Air Marshal A. Novikov, "but we weren't allowed to stop them." (Quoted in Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 332.)
At the 20th congress of the CPSU in 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchov for the first time revealed the true situation: "Very grievous consequences, especially in reference to the beginning of the war, followed Stalin's annihilation of many military commanders and political workers during 1937-1941 because of his suspiciousness and through slanderous accusations. During these years repressions were instituted against certain parts of military cadres, beginning literally at the company and battalion commander level and extending to the higher military centres; during this time the cadre of leaders who had gained military experience in Spain and in the Far East was almost completely liquidated.
"The policy of large-scale repression against the military cadres led also to undermined military discipline, because for several years officers of all ranks and even soldiers in the party and Komsomol cells were taught to 'unmask' their superiors as hidden enemies. (Movement in the hall.) It is natural that this caused a negative influence on the state of military discipline in the first war period.
"And, as you know, we had before the war excellent military cadres which were unquestionably loyal to the party and to the Fatherland. Suffice it to say that those of them who managed to survive, despite severe tortures to which they were subjected in the prisons, have from the first war days shown themselves real patriots and heroically fought for the glory of the Fatherland; I have here in mind such comrades as Rokossovsky (who, as you know, had been jailed), Gorbatov, Maretskov (who is a delegate at the present Congress), Podlas (he was an excellent commander who perished at the front), and many, many others. However, many such commanders perished in camps and jails and the army saw them no more. All this brought about the situation which existed at the beginning of the war and which was the great threat to our Fatherland." (Special Report on the 20th Congress of the CPSU by N.S. Khrushchev, 24-25 February 1956.)
Although, at the time of the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, the combined firepower of the Red Army was greater than that of the Wehrmacht, yet the Soviet forces were rapidly encircled and decimated. Incredibly there were no defence plans prepared in the event of a German attack. Many Soviet tanks were without their crews. Even when Hitler actually launched his offensive, Stalin ordered the Red Army not to resist. Thus, the mighty Soviet armed forces were paralysed for the first critical 48 hours. The Red Air Force was destroyed on the ground. In the first 24 hours, over 2,000 Soviet planes were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of soldiers encircled. Due to this confusion and paralysis at the top, huge swathes of territory were lost in the first few weeks. Millions of Soviet soldiers were captured with little resistance. The military catastrophe was vividly described by the Soviet war correspondent and writer K. Simonov in his book Zhiviye I Myortviye (translated into English as Victims and Heroes).
This unprecedented disaster was not the result of objective weakness, but of bad leadership. With proper leadership, there is no doubt that the German invaders could have been pushed back into Poland at the beginning of the war. A decisive defeat could have been inflicted on Hitler as early as 1941. The war could have been brought to an end far earlier, avoiding the horrific losses suffered by Belarus, western Russia and the Ukraine. The nightmare suffered by the peoples of the USSR were the direct result of the irresponsible policy pursued by Stalin and his clique.
The "great war leader"
After the war, strenuous attempts were made by the Kremlin to spread the myth of Stalin as a "great war Leader". This does not stand up to the slightest scrutiny. We have already seen how Stalin's policies left the Soviet Union at the mercy of Hitler. When Hitler invaded, the Soviet leaders were in disarray. Stalin initially panicked and went into hiding. His actions amounted to total capitulation. Despite this he gave himself the title of "Generalissimo" and embellished his role in the Great Patriotic War.
The true position was expressed by Khrushchev in the following terms: "It would be incorrect to forget that, after the first severe disaster and defeat at the front, Stalin thought that this was the end. In one of his speeches in those days he said: 'All that which Lenin created we have lost for ever'. After this Stalin for a long time actually did not direct the military operations and ceased to do anything whatever. He returned to active leadership only when some members of the Political Bureau visited him and told him that it was necessary to take certain steps immediately in order to improve the situation at the front.
Typically, Stalin had the general in charge of the western front executed, blaming him for the defeat for which Stalin himself was responsible. Stalin belatedly ordered the release of thousands of Soviet officers who had been imprisoned in the Purges, but Medvedev points out that as late as "1942, Stalin ordered a large group of leading Red Army officers to be shot in the camps; he considered them a threat to himself in the event of unfavourable developments on the Soviet-German Front". (R. Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 312.)
In the end the USSR won the war against Hitler single-handedly. The British and Americans were mere onlookers in a titanic battle between the Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany with the combined productive forces of Europe behind it. The glorious victory of the Red army is a testament to the colossal superiority of a nationalized planned economy which enabled the USSR to survive the first disasters and reorganize the productive forces beyond the Urals. By 1942 the economy was recovering fast. By 1943 the Soviets were out-producing and outgunning the enemy. The equipment and weapons produced by the USSR were of first-class quality, and were superior to that being used by the Germans or the British and Americans. This is the secret of their success. It gives the lie to the oft-repeated allegation that a nationalised planned economy is not capable of producing goods of a high quality.
Marshal Zhukov recalls:
"In 1943 our industry produced 35,000 high-class war planes, 24,000 tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces. In this respect we were already far ahead of Germany, both in quality and quantity. The Nazi High Command issued a special order to avoid meeting engagements with our heavy tanks […]" (G. Zhukov, Reminiscences and Reflections, p. 214.)
However, even when the Soviet forces were able to go onto the offensive, Stalin played a negative and disruptive role, interfering with the military command and issuing orders that seriously increased the number of Soviet casualties. Stalin issued an order that "not a foot of land" was to be surrendered. This was an insane order since there will always be conditions when the army has to retreat to avoid encirclement and defeat. Here again the complex equation of war is expected to fit into the arbitrary decisions taken by the bureaucrat in his office without regard to the real conditions on the ground. As if this were not bad enough, the notorious Order 270 stated that no Soviet soldier could surrender and all who did so were to be regarded as traitors. Large numbers of Soviet soldiers who had been surrounded and captured in 1941 as a direct result of Stalin's bungling, found themselves under suspicion and sent to Siberia after the War.
Under the Boss' instructions, which overrode the views of his general staff, ill-prepared offensives were launched in conditions that could only end in defeat. In one such offensive, where Stalin ordered the defenders of Leningrad to break out of encirclement (an impossible task in the winter of 1941 when the city was besieged and starving) the Red Army suffered 250,000 losses and the German defences remained intact. There were many such instances that show the negative role played by Stalin during the war. The truth is that the war was won by the Soviet workers and peasants not thanks to but in spite of the Stalin regime. On the basis of terrible sacrifices, they demonstrated beyond question the viability of the new property relations established by the October Revolution. But they paid a terrible price with 27 million dead and a wholesale destruction of the productive forces.
Nevertheless the victory of the Soviet Union in the War strengthened the Stalinist regime for a whole period. In addition, the Stalinists took power in Eastern Europe and China, although these revolutions were deformed from the very beginning. They were based not on the workers democracy of 1917 but the bureaucratic totalitarian caricature of Stalin's Russia.
Stalin and the national question
Lenin hated Great Russian chauvinism with a passion and fought against it all his life. Stalin, on the other hand, based himself on it. He was himself a Georgian – a nationality oppressed by Russian tsarism for a long time. But just as the Corsican Bonaparte became the most passionate advocate of French centralism, so did Stalin embrace all the most negative features of Great Russian nationalism. In the autumn of 1945, in one of his victory speeches, Stalin referred to the leading role in the defeat of Hitler played by "the Russian people". This was a slap in the face for all the other peoples of the USSR who had fought against the Nazi invaders. It was also the announcement of a revival of Great Russian nationalism.
During the Revolution, most of the people of the Caucasus (except the Georgians who inclined to Menshevism) had supported the Bolsheviks, and they gained a lot from the Revolution. The Bolsheviks built roads and schools and brought civilization to the backward tribes of the Caucasus. They emancipated the women, who had been enslaved and oppressed. Ante Ciliga recalls a discussion at a Party school in Ingushetia in the late 1920s:
"A woman student of the school, chairman of a Soviet in an aoul of Kabardia, spoke in the course of the discussion. This fifty-year old woman expressed with serious enthusiasm, the hopes that mountain peoples were building on the Soviet Rule; with indignation she recalled the age-old oppression by the Czarist colonizers; at last, her eyes ablaze, she spoke of the emancipation of the Caucasian women, at one time uneducated and enslaved – an emancipation, all credit for which belonged to the October revolution." (Ante Ciliga, The Russian Enigma, pp. 42-3.)
But all these gains were undermined by Stalin. In the Second World War, he had whole peoples deported to the icy wastes of Siberia for alleged disloyalty. Seven nationalities – Volga Germans, Crimean Tartars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingushi, Karachai and Balkars - were deported en masse. No exceptions were made – Communists, trade unionists, even soldiers from the front line, decorated for bravery in their fight against Hitler's armies – all were loaded onto the trucks of Stalin's GPU and shipped off to the frozen wilderness of Siberia, where many died of cold and hunger. The total number of deportees exceeded one million. A bitter legacy of hate was left behind, the poisoned fruits of which are still producing suffering and death today.
The most poisonous expression of Russian nationalism is anti-Semitism. The Bolshevik Party waged an implacable struggle against this Black Hundred ideology and fought the racist mobs on the streets arms in hand. After the October revolution, many prominent leaders of the Soviet state were of Jewish extraction. This was not surprising since the Jews, as one of the most oppressed layers of society, had always played a most active role in the revolutionary movement.
As early as the late 1920s, the Stalinists were using anti-Semitic poison in their attacks against the Left Opposition. But this was done in whispers, not publicly. Such a thing would have been considered shocking at that time, when the traditions of Leninist internationalism were not yet dead. But with the advance of the Stalinist political counterrevolution, these anti-Marxist tendencies grew stronger.
After the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Litvinov, who was Jewish, was removed as foreign minister to please Berlin. There were thinly-veiled anti-Semitic tendencies emerging in the USSR before the German invasion. These tendencies had to be kept under control during the War. But they emerged with redoubled force after 1945. The Bolsheviks had allowed complete freedom for the development of Jewish culture. By 1949 all Yiddish publications were closed, as was the Yiddish theatre. A thinly disguised campaign of anti-Semitism was launched, using words like "rootless cosmopolitan" as a synonym for Jew. In 1953, almost all the leaders of Jewish culture in the USSR were shot. Mass arrests of Jews were taking place and this was only halted by Stalin's death.
The anti-Semitic tendency was exported to the other Stalinist Parties in Eastern Europe, where Stalin organized a series of show trials of the leaders of the "Communist" Parties, like that of Slansky in Czechoslovakia. Many of the defendants were Jewish. Most were shot. As a result, many of the Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union, who had seen the October revolution as their great hope, lost all faith in it and campaigned to go to Israel. The paradox is that at the time of the Revolution the Zionists had almost no support among the Jews of Russia, despite the terrible pogroms and oppression that characterised tsarist Russia. It took Joseph Stalin and the anti-Semitic poison propagated of the Great Russian bureaucracy to create sympathy and support for reactionary Zionism in the USSR.
After 1945 Stalin's power was absolute. He could never tolerate anyone too big alongside him. Nobody was to be taller than Stalin, nobody wiser, stronger, more artistically aware, more brilliant, more far-sighted, more beloved by the People. He hated intellectuals and anyone on a higher cultural level than himself because he felt inferior in their presence. There was, however, a simple remedy for this: the physical removal of such people.
Stalin and the intellectuals
"Who could seriously maintain now that Stalin had some idea of a general order of things? Or that he had some ideology? Stalin never had any ideology or conviction or ideas or principles. Stalin always held whatever opinions made it easy for him to tyrannize others, to keep them in fear and guilt. Today the teacher and leader may say one thing, tomorrow something else. He never cared what he said, as long as he held onto his power." (Dimitri Shostakovich, Testimony, p. 187.)
These lines are quite true. Stalin had no ideology, other than to gain power and hold onto it. He had a tendency towards suspicion and violence. "Theory" was added as an afterthought, like the fairy on the Xmas trees. He was a typical apparatchik - narrow and ignorant, like the people whose interests he represented. The other Bolshevik leaders spent years in western Europe and spoke foreign languages fluently, and participated personally in the international workers' movement. Stalin spoke no foreign languages and even spoke Russian poorly with a thick Georgian accent.
Unlike Lenin, whose modesty was proverbial, Stalin loved grandiose titles like "Father of all the Peoples" and the "Corypheus of Science". Though ignorant and uncultured himself, he liked to be considered as the acme of artistic wisdom and the arbiter of taste. He hated intellectuals and anyone on a higher cultural level than himself because he felt inferior in their presence. There was, however, a simple remedy for this: the physical removal of such people.
The so-called policy of "socialist realism" had nothing to do with either socialism or realism, but everything to do with a totalitarian desire to police the arts, to force them to put on a straitjacket. Like every other social activity, culture was subject to the constant surveillance of the state through the activities of an artistic GPU and a web of informers, toadies and stooges. The rulers of the USSR were well aware that dissent may be expressed through a wide variety of channels and in many different ways. In a totalitarian regime where all opposition parties and tendencies are banned, opposition to the regime can surface in other ways - hence the compulsive need to censor the arts.
Innovation was frowned upon. It was seen as dangerous, like any other departure from the official norms handed down from on high by the all-seeing, all-knowing Leader. The aesthetic and social content of "socialist realism" can be simply stated: it is the art of singing the praises of the bureaucracy and the Supreme Boss in a language they could understand. Stalin, the bureaucrats whose interests he represented, was crude and narrow. His artistic tastes were conservative. In the 1920s there was an explosion of artistic experimentation in the USSR. The Party expressed its opinions about the various artistic and literary trends, but never dreamed of using the state to promote some and repress others. More than ant other human manifestation, art requires freedom to breathe, develop and experiment. Under Stalin all that changed into its opposite.
In the new environment a suffocating and deadening uniformity was imposed that made truly creative activity almost impossible. Mayakovsky, the famous poet and life-long Bolshevik, committed suicide in 1931 in protest against the bureaucratic counterrevolution. Later the regime took him over and published his work in big editions, which Boris Pasternak said was his second death: "Mayakovsky began to be introduced forcibly, like potatoes under Catherine the Great. This was his second death; he had no hand in it."
During the Purges many artists and intellectuals were killed or disappeared, including some outstanding writers like Isaak Babel. Gorky caused Stalin some problems because he was always pleading for some arrested person or other. He had done the same with Lenin. But this time the results were different. Stalin almost certainly had Gorky poisoned. Yagoda was later accused of this crime. He may have done so, but on Stalin's instructions. The fact that articles were published attacking the hitherto sacrosanct Gorky is an indication that his downfall was being planned, and such a step could only come straight from Stalin himself. There could be no question of putting someone like Gorky on trial. He had to disappear quietly.
As the Purges gathered momentum, a whole generation of artists and intellectuals was wiped out. In the 1930s a large number of talented people were sent to their deaths in Stalin's camps. Among them were the celebrated theatre director Meyerhold, a brilliant innovator, who was deported in 1937 and died in a camp. A similar fate befell Isaac Babel, the author of Red Cavalry. The celebrated poet Osip Mandelshtam was arrested for writing an epigram bout Stalin and died in a camp. There were many others.
Stalin personally interfered in the Purge of artists. The opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Dimitri Shostakovich was a great success, until Stalin walked out of a performance. The following day an editorial appeared in Pravda with the title "Chaos instead of music". The author was Stalin himself, and the closing phrase was: "This can end very badly." These words in the given context were equivalent to a death sentence. The reason why Stalin hated Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was not only that he could not understand the music. The plot involves a condemnation of the brutality of the tsarist police, which, at the height of the Purges, could not be tolerated.
The dictator was making the point that nobody, no matter how famous, was safe. After the publication of Stalin's Pravda article, Shostakovich's fate seemed to be sealed. He kept a small suitcase packed day and night in preparation for the fatal knock at the door. The reason he survived shows the capricious nature of Stalin's regime. It happened that the dictator liked films, especially ones in which he featured prominently like The Fall of Berlin. There were Soviet actors who did nothing else but play the role of Stalin in films. And naturally, only a great composer could write the score for such films. And Shostakovich was undoubtedly a great composer. That saved his life.
The other great Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev, who had returned to Russia in 1936, was denounced as a "modernist" and found it increasingly difficult to get his works performed. His opera Simyon Kotko was based on a Soviet theme - the partisans in the Ukraine at the time of the Civil War. But the director was Meyerhold, who was arrested in the middle of his work and later shot.
In the late thirties Prokofiev collaborated with the celebrated Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein in the film Ivan the Terrible. From the standpoint of early Soviet historians Ivan Grozny was a tyrant and a butcher, but since Stalin admired him, this view had to be modified. Eisenstein's film starts out as an apology for Ivan, but in its second part, which describes the cruelty of Ivan's regime, it becomes increasingly ambivalent. The parallel between Ivan's oprichniki and Stalin's GPU was too obvious. Stalin called Prokofiev and Eisenstein and attacked them viciously for their portrayal of his hero. Eisenstein's nerves were shattered. Shortly after he had a heart attack and died. The third part of Ivan was left unfinished and the film disappeared into the archives.
After 1945, Stalin felt the need to re-establish his grip on society in general and the arts in particular. He used the services of one of his creatures, Anderi Zhdanov to launch a vicious Purge of artists, writers and composers after the War. Prominent Soviet composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich were vilified and humiliated. Special meetings were held in which Party hacks and repulsive careerists of the Zhdanov type would be queueing up to denounce the "formalists" Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Prokofiev's wife was arrested and sentenced to ten years in a labour camp.
Why did Stalin persecute these composers so cruelly? How can a piece of music represent a danger to the state? Music has a language of its own and can say many things to who understand its language. The Soviet musical public was highly sophisticated and well used to reading between the lines not just of newspaper articles but also symphonic scores. Prokofiev's Sixth Symphony was like a musical anti-Stalinist manifesto, which was why it was banned. This is even more true of all of Shostakovich's symphonies from number five on.
It is appropriate to leave the last word to a man who knew Stalin well and suffered personally from his regime: "Why are people so eager for tyrants to be 'patrons' and 'lovers of art'? I think there are several reasons. First of all, tyrants are base, clever and cunning men who know that it is much better for their dirty work if they appear to be cultured men rather than ignoramuses and boors. Let the ones who do the work be boors, the pawns. The pawns are proud to be boors, but the generalissimo must always be wise in all things. And such a wise man has a huge apparatus working for him, writing about him and writing speeches for him and books too. A huge team of researchers prepares papers for him on any question, any topic.
"So you want to be a specialist in architecture? You will be. Just give the order, beloved leader and teacher. Do you want to be a specialist in graphic arts? You will be. A specialist in orchestration? Why not? Or in languages? You name it. […]
"All the pawns, toadies, screws, and other tiny souls also desperately want their leader and teacher to be an undisputed and absolute titan of thought and pen." (Dimitri Shostakovich., Testimony, p. 125-6.)
The last period
During the War Stalin had been obliged to loosen the bonds of the Terror in order not to undermine the will of the people to struggle. But immediately after 1945 the shutters came down again. On Stalin's orders a campaign began against "cosmopolitanism" and "kowtowing to the West". Mass arrests and deportations began again; several harsh anti-Jewish drives were carried out. Simultaneously, Russian nationalism was celebrated at every opportunity.
Stalin's power was now absolute. Fear of the masses drove the bureaucracy to close ranks still more fervently around the Leader who guaranteed their privileges. Political reasons with Stalin were often mixed up with personal and psychological considerations. He could never tolerate anyone too big alongside him. Since Stalin was of short stature he made sure that he was not photographed next to anyone taller than himself. Artists went to extraordinary lengths to paint portraits of the Boss from a particular angle that exaggerated his stature. Nobody was to be taller than Stalin, nobody wiser, stronger, more artistically aware, more brilliant, more far-sighted, more beloved by the People.
Stalin was always suspicious and envious of anyone with talent, as if this represented an affront to his genius. He was particularly suspicious of the heads of the armed forces, fearing a coup. Marshal Zhukov, who played an important role in the victory over Hitler, earned Stalin's undying hatred because he showed a certain independence of mind and occasionally expressed opinions contrary to those of the Father of the Peoples. But in the summer of 1945, to Zhukov's surprise, Stalin insisted that he take the salute at the victory parade in Moscow. Zhukov recalls the circumstances precisely in his memoirs:
"I cannot recall the exact date but I think it was somewhere around June 18 or 19 that I was summoned by Stalin's to his country house. He asked me whether I had forgotten how to ride a horse.
"'No I haven't,' I replied.
"'Good,' said Stalin. 'You will have to take the salute at the Victory Parade. Rokossovsky will command it.'
"'Thank you for the great honour, but wouldn't it be better for you to take the salute? You are the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and by right and duty you are to take the salute.'
"'I am too old to review parades. You do it, you are younger.'"
(G. Zhukov, Reminiscences and Reflections, vol. 2, p. 424.)
This was a typical example of Stalin's cunning and his rudeness and disloyalty. By putting Zhukov in this position - an apparent gesture of friendship and modesty - he was preparing a trap. He wanted to get rid of Zhukov and needed an excuse. Since Zhukov was too well known and respected to murder, Stalin satisfied his desire for revenge by humiliating his chief general. He sent Zhukov to an unimportant post in an obscure place in the south. The reason for this was his "lack of modesty".
The Cult of Stalin
The growth of the economy was paralleled by a sharp increase in repression and in the cult of Stalin. At the 19th Party Congress, the cult of Leader attained its most grotesque expression. Here are just a few examples from Malenkov's closing speech:
"Of cardinal importance to Marxist-Leninist theory and to all our practical activity is the work of Comrade Stalin just published: Economic Problems of socialism in the USSR. (Loud and prolonged applause)
"Thus the Party's plans for the future, defining the prospects and ways of our advancement, are based on a knowledge of economic laws, on the science of the building of communist society worked out by Comrade Stalin. (Loud and long continuing applause.)
"A major contribution to the Marxian political economy is Comrade Stalin's discovery of the basic law of modern capitalism and the basic economic law of socialism (!)
"Comrade Stalin's discovery […] Comrade Stalin shows […] Comrade Stalin has shown us […] Comrade Stalin discovered Comrade Stalin has revealed […]
"The works of Comrade Stalin are graphic testimony to the paramount importance our Party attaches to theory […] Comrade Stalin is constantly advancing Marxist theory […] Comrade Stalin has disclosed the function of language as an instrument of social development, and indicated the prospects for the future development of national cultures and languages."
And finally, after numerous interruptions by "applause", "prolonged applause", and "loud and long continuing applause":
"Under the banner of the immortal Lenin, under the wise leadership of the great Stalin, forward to the victory of Communism!
"(On the conclusion of the report, all the delegates rise and greet Comrade Stalin with loud and prolonged cheers. There are cries from all parts of the hall: 'Long live the great Stalin!' 'Hurrah for our dear Stalin!' 'Long live our beloved leader and teacher, Comrade Stalin!')."
(Report of 19th Congress of the CPSU, pp. 134-44.)
It is sufficient to compare this sycophantic circus to the democratic congresses of the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky to see the abyss that separates Stalinism from Leninism. Here we have the Cult of the Leader in all its glory.
Yet the Leader was not satisfied with this. In the years before his death Stalin was preparing to launch a further series of bloody purges in Russia on the lines of 1936-38. The real purpose of Stalin's "theoretical" works of this period (which are empty of any real theoretical content) was to prepare the ground for a new Purge. In his last work Economic Problems of the USSR, published in 1952, Stalin hinted strongly that "errors" in action and thought were reappearing in the Communist Parties, including that of the USSR. That was a warning of worse to come. Stalin's "theoretical" work on Marxist economics had drastic consequences. N.A. Voznesensky, member of the Politburo and planning chief, disappeared in 1949 and was shot in 1950. Later, he was accused of over-emphasising the law of value in economics and creating the impression that economic laws can be created by subjective action.
In actual fact, extreme subjectivism and what Marxists call voluntarism was always one of the main ingredients of Stalin's thought, combined with the crudest formalism and empiricism. But occasionally life itself gave him a flip on the nose and compelled him to stage a 180 degree change of course. These zig-zags are a constant feature of his political line. The "theory" was always just an afterthought to justify these violent turns. In the late 1940s there was deep discontent in the masses because of the low living standards, which contrasted scandalously with the pampered existence of the elite. Scapegoats were necessary.
The Leningrad Purge
Stalin had used Zhdanov in his campaign against Soviet writers and composers. But Zhdanov proved too successful and provoked Stalin's jealousy. Like Kirov and Yezhov before him, he was becoming too prominent in the public eye. On Stalin's insistence, his old friend was sent to a Kremlin sanatorium. Zhdanov's medical records, which were recently made public, show that he was suffering from a serious heart condition and that the correct medical treatment would have been to order rest. But the Kremlin doctors prescribed a regime of vigorous exercise. In on August 31, 1948, one month after entering the sanatorium, the patient was dead. Zdanov's death was certainly not accidental. The Kremlin doctors helped him on his way, and they took their orders from Stalin.
It is quite clear that Stalin had him killed in order to blame his death on the Kremlin doctors (the "Doctors' Plot"). Like the Kirov assassination, this was intended to prepare the ground for mass arrests. All those who had been leaders of the Leningrad Party organization during the War were to share Zhdanov's fate.
Zhdanov's assistant Alexei Kuznetsov had taken control of Leningrad in the blackest days of the war, when it was besieged by the Nazis. The great Zhdanov naturally distinguished himself by extreme cowardice, spending most of the time in the safety of his bunker. Most other Leningraders showed great courage. But Stalin did not trust them. On Stalin's seventieth birthday, just to show who was Boss, he had Kuznetsov and other leaders from Leningrad executed. After the siege of Leningrad, Stalin told Kuznetsov "Your Motherland will never forget you". And he was not forgotten. He was tortured until he confessed to treason, and then in 1950 after a secret "trial" he was shot.
Paranoia and the totalitarian regime
By this time Stalin was almost certainly insane. This is no accident. By blurring the difference between reality and the will of the individual, a regime of absolute power, in which all criticism is prohibited, serves eventually to unbalance the mind. This almost certainly happened with Hitler. And the history of mad Russian tsars and Roman emperors tells the same story. Towards the end, Stalin's mind was clearly unhinged. In the absence of any check or control he believed himself to be omnipotent.
Stalin was completely paranoid. He lived like a recluse in his dacha. He saw enemies everywhere. In his paranoid state, he no longer trusted anyone. Lifelong Stalinists were rounded up and imprisoned. In 1952, Stalin accused his faithful puppets Voroshilov and Molotov of being British spies, and banned them from attending meetings of the leadership. Mikoyan was denounced as a Turkish spy and even Beria was banished from Stalin's presence. He even arrested members of his own family, including both his sisters-in-law and had them sent to camps.
Everyone lived in fear of the Boss, whose every whim was law. In his memoirs, Shostakovich recalls an incredible incident that occurred shortly before Stalin's death. He always lived a nocturnal existence and had a habit of ringing people in the middle of the night. On one occasion he rang the head of the State Broadcasting House to inquire about a Mozart piano concerto he had heard on the radio. Who was the pianist and could he get a recording of it?
The director of the radio entered into a state of panic. No such recording existed. But how could he tell this to the Boss? Nobody could tell how he would react, and life, as Ostrovsky wrote, is man's dearest possession. There was no alternative but to summon all the members of the orchestra and the pianist to the recording studio in the middle of the night and make a record of the concerto - just one - to be delivered to the Boss in the morning. This record was still on the turntable when Stalin died.
At the 22nd Congress, Khrushchev described the paranoid atmosphere in Stalin's leading circle: "Stalin could look at a comrade sitting at the same table with him and say: 'Your eyes look shifty today.' It could be taken for granted that afterwards the comrade, whose eyes were supposedly shifty, would be under suspicion." (The Road to Communism-Report on the 22nd Congress CPSU, p. 111.)
The Polish ex-Stalinist Bienkowski wrote: "the working class and all other forces were placed in the position of being a potential enemy of the socialist order, the true exemplar and devoted defender of which was the bureaucratised apparatus of power." (Bienkowski, Rewolucji, Ciag Dalszy, Warsaw, 1957, p. 36.)
On Stalin's personal role, Bienkowski stated: "Stalin, in a suspiciousness typical of dictators, persecuted first morally, and then physically, not only those who had the courage of their opinion, but also those whom he suspected of being able to have it." (ibid., p. 6)
However, it is not sufficient to refer to Stalin's mental state to explain the situation that existed in the USSR at this time. How was it possible for one crazy old man to impose his will on millions of people without any opposition? The diseased state of Stalin's mind was merely a reflection of a sick regime. Millions of state and Party officials shared in the crimes of Stalin. They accepted the unacceptable in order to preserve their privileged situation, their big houses and cars, their bloated salaries and even greater legal and illegal perks and privileges.
Servility and corruption were endemic to the bureaucratic totalitarian system. Spies and cronies were to be found at all levels of society and the state, eager to denounce anyone who was not 101 percent loyal to the leadership, and thus to attract the attention of their superiors and earn promotion. This was not only not discouraged but actively encouraged by the hierarchy. Thus, the number of careerists "tends to increase because, instead of denouncing them, the leaders tolerate and quite frequently even pamper them, since their kow-towing flatters the vanity of the leaders, as they will do anything or carry out any orders for them without reservation." (Imre Nagy, On Communism, p. 60.)
'The Doctors' Plot'
In January 1953, Pravda announced the so-called Doctor's Plot, a "group of saboteur-doctors" who had been arrested for murder and attempting to "wipe out the leading cadres of the USSR". Seven out of nine of the doctors named were Jews and were accused of links with the Jewish organisation Joint, which was under the direction of US imperialism. Three of those arrested were accused of working for British intelligence. A campaign against the Jews was conducted under the guise of "cosmopolitanism and Zionism". Pravda began to whip up a campaign against threats of "counter-revolution".
In addition to the Leningrad affair and the Doctors' Plot there was another Purge in Georgia. This was directed against Lavrenty Beria, Stalin's faithful Georgian stooge. Beria was very close to Stalin since he took over control of the NKVD from Yezhov in 1938. He made it his business to issue a "history" of the Communist Party of Transcaucasia, which was a complete falsification. Stalin, who was a minor figure in the Georgian Party, was portrayed as the great leader. Although Beria's name features as the author, in fact he enlisted the services of a professional historian, Erik Bediya, to write it. Since Bediya knew it was a falsification, immediately after its he was later shot as an Enemy of the People.
Beria was a vicious tyrant and a moral degenerate who specialised in kidnapping and raping attractive women. One of his victims was a famous Soviet film star who has talked about her ordeal in public. Apart from this charming hobby, Beria was also a keen football fan, and naturally always wanted his NKVD team, Dynamo, to win. But sometimes an excessive interest in football can become an unhealthy obsession. If Beria's team lost he would fly into an uncontrollable rage. Unfortunately, it did lose to its main rival, Spartak. Serious consequences flowed from this.
The chairman of Spartak, Nikolai Staroshin, was an old friend of Beria's. But that did not save him. Beria had him arrested and tortured to confess that he was the head of a secret terrorist cell that was planning to assassinate Stalin during a sports parade! In the end the unfortunate Staroshin was sentenced to ten years in a labour camp for a lesser offence. Other members of the Spartak team followed him. After that, Beria's team always won every match.
Beria's position seemed impregnable. But in fact, nobody was safe, particular in the inner ruling circle. Stalin trusted none of them, and the more powerful they were, the less he trusted them. At his all night drinking parties, he would make all the members of the inner circle drunk in order to make fools of themselves. This was one of the ways he could feel superior. At these orgies Beria acted the clown, cracking crude jokes and playing tasteless tricks on the others.
By 1949 Stalin had decided to get rid of all of them, beginning with Beria himself. He used Beria's deputy, Viktor Abakumov, to undermine him, just as he had earlier used Beria to undermine his boss, Yezhov. That was Stalin's style. He started arresting members of the Georgian Party. Among the large number of people arrested there was a group of Party leaders, all of them Mingrelains, and all of them close to Beria, who was a member of the same national minority. They were accused of corruption and conspiracy, and probably at least the first accusation was true. But the intention behind the arrests lay in the second accusation - conspiracy. The "Mingrelian affair" was discussed in the Politburo. Khrushchov started to remove Beria's friends from key posts in the Security Services. Preparations were clearly being made for the arrest of Beria.
At the same time Stalin had promoted a whole series of new Party leaders in preparation for the elimination of all the old timers. It was the prelude of another mass Purge like 1937. These moves sent a shudder through the ruling circle. A new Purge would not only mean their liquidation; it would endanger the whole position of the bureaucracy and undermine all the gains of the planned economy and the Soviet Union itself.
There were warning signs that the discontent of the masses was reaching its limit. A new Purge could be the spark that lit the powder keg. Therefore the ruling circle decided to put an end to the old man before he put an end to them. After one of the usual late night drinking bouts in his dacha on the first of March 1953, Stalin is said to have suffered a stroke. Given his age, it is possible, though there may be other explanations.
On March 5th 1953 Stalin died. He may have died naturally, but it is more likely that it is what is now called an "assisted death". His comrades in arms helped him on his way. What is certain that his death came at a very convenient time for the ruling circle. It is admitted that when he was in his death-throes none of the members of the leadership went to his assistance or called a doctor.
When the guards reported that Stalin was ill, the members of the Politburo in the next room told them to "leave him on the couch". Then they just waited for him to die. Probably this nest of vipers played an even more active role in sending the beloved Leader and Teacher to a better world. At any rate when the doctors finally arrived, two hours later, the Boss was already dead, and they all breathed a sigh of relief.
After Stalin's death
After Stalin's death, the doctors - or rather those who were still alive - were set free without charge. In July 1953 Beria's arrest was announced. On Xmas eve he was shot, along with six other secret police chiefs. Later millions of prisoners were quietly released from the camps. Case by case, some 700,000 victims of Stalin's Terror were judicially rehabilitated. But Trotsky has never been rehabilitated up to the present day. He will be rehabilitated when the Russian working class takes power and returns to the traditions of 1917.
The revelations about Stalin at the 20th congress caused shock-waves in the USSR and even more so in Eastern Europe. Already in June 1953, a few months after Stalin's death, there was a rising of the workers in East Berlin. Later we saw the Polish October and, above all the Hungarian revolution of 1956.
In 1956 the Hungarian Communist Imre Nagy wrote that the secret police, with the "far-reaching aid" of Stalin, was raised "above society and party and made […] the principal organ of power." This led to a "degeneration of Party life" and the extermination of the cadres. (On Communism, New York, 1957, p. 51.) The result was "Bonapartism". But this conclusion was reached long before by Trotsky, whose analysis of the social basis of Stalinism was far more profound than that of Nagy. The best Marxist analysis of Stalinism, or to give it its scientific name, proletarian Bonapartism, is to be found in his masterpiece, The Revolution Betrayed.
Stalinism without Stalin
The ruling circle was compelled to carry out some reforms after 1953. But in essence, the same system established by Stalin continued in existence after his death. Only the ugliest warts were removed. The days of the mass Purges were over, but there was no return to Lenin. The bureaucracy remained firmly in power. Its income and privileges increased continually, and although the living standards of the working class improved, the gulf between the workers and the bureaucratic parasites increased still faster.
In retrospect, it is possible to see that Stalinism was a temporary historical aberration. It lasted for such a long time because for a whole period the Soviet Union developed the means of production, albeit at enormous cost to society and the working class. Nevertheless, despite the crimes of Stalin and the bureaucracy, the superiority of a nationalised plan of production is shown by the rapid transformation of what was a backward semi-feudal country like Pakistan today to a mighty industrial power with an educated population and more scientists than the USA, Germany and Japan put together.
Before the War, in the first Five Year Plans, the USSR achieved an annual rate of growth never before seen in any capitalist country: approximately 20 percent. This remarkable result was achieved with full employment, no inflation and a balanced budget. It is sufficient to compare these results with the miserable three percent or so that is nowadays considered to be a great success in the West to see the advantage of a nationalised planned economy.
It is true that the USSR set out from a very low starting point and that it is easier to get such results in the building of big steel factories than in a complex modern economy. It is also true that the rate of growth after 1945 was not so spectacular. But even then, an annual growth rate of 10 percent - which was the norm in the USSR until the mid-sixties - was also unprecedented. If this rate of growth had been maintained, the USSR could have overtaken the West not just in absolute but even in relative terms.
The main reason the growth rate was not maintained was the colossal waste caused by the mismanagement, bungling and corruption of the bureaucracy itself. This was an enormous drain, which by the mid-60s was wasting between one third and one half of the wealth produced by the Soviet working class every year. Without the democratic control and management of the working class, the bureaucracy was undermining the planned economy, clogging up all the pores and suffocating all the creative powers of the Soviet people, both the workers and intellectuals. This led to a steadily falling growth rate in the 1970s that ended in collapse by the end of the 1990s.
Contrary to the lie so assiduously peddled by the enemies of socialism, bureaucracy is not the inevitable result of central planning - it is the inevitable result of economic and cultural backwardness. The Stalinist political counterrevolution was the result of the isolation of the revolution in a backward country where the working class was a minority. But by the 1970s the USSR was already a modern and advanced economy where the working class was the overwhelming majority. All the objective conditions existed at least for beginning to move in the direction of socialism. But instead, the USSR moved backwards - towards capitalism. How can one explain such a monstrosity?
Long ago Trotsky predicted that either the Soviet working class would overthrow the bureaucracy and restore Lenin's regime of workers' democracy (soviet power) or else the bureaucracy would inevitably move in the direction of a restoration of capitalism.
The old Stalinist bureaucrats, like Stalin himself, were ignorant and crude, but they had some kind of link with the old traditions. But the sons and grandsons of the old bureaucrats had a purely bourgeois lifestyle and mentality. They had not even the slightest link with the working class or socialism. Therefore, they went over to capitalism with the same careless ease of a man passing from a smoking to a non-smoking compartment of a train.
The so-called "Communist" Party of the Soviet Union collapsed overnight like a pack of cards, and its top members fell over themselves in their eagerness to transform themselves into private capitalists. The same thing occurred in all the countries of Eastern Europe and is now unfolding before our very eyes in China. It is impossible to understand these phenomena if one accepts the view that what existed in the USSR was genuine socialism.
That is a vicious slander against socialism that can only assist its worst enemies. Marxists will defend what was progressive in the USSR - that is, the nationalised planned economy. But it is absolutely necessary to separate what was progressive from what was reactionary. The bureaucratic totalitarian regime established by Stalin had nothing in common with the October revolution or socialism. It was their complete antithesis and negation.
This is the last part of the article on Stalin's death. Some university professors try to interpret historical processes as the result of "good" or "bad" individuals. Thus they argue that Stalin (and Hitler, too) was "uniquely evil". This is a purely subjective interpretation of history. History cannot be explained in terms of individual personalities, although the individual can certainly play an important role in history.
The role of the individual in history
The anniversary of Stalin's death has been the occasion for a flood of anti-Soviet and anti-socialist propaganda. The enemies of socialism are determined to convince people that there is no difference between Lenin and Stalin and that Stalinism and Communism are the same.
Though many of these are university professors with strings of letters after their name, their supposedly "scientific" studies are devoid of any scientific content. This is not science but the crudest type of propaganda masquerading under the banner of a fictitious "objectivity".
They try to interpret historical processes as the result of "good" or "bad" individuals. Thus they argue that Stalin (and Hitler, too) was "uniquely evil". This is a purely subjective interpretation of history. It reduces history to a series of unpredictable accidents, since it was a matter of accident that Stalin was born when he was. Such a version of history would make a scientific study of cause and effect impossible. Moreover, it does not explain what made a particular historical figure "uniquely bad" or, for that matter "uniquely good".
Such explanations really explain nothing. History cannot be explained in terms of individual personalities, although the individual can certainly play an important role in history. If, instead of being "uniquely evil", Stalin had been "uniquely good", would that have made a fundamental difference to the fate of the USSR? At this point we leave behind the realm of history and enter that of hagiography, mysticism and magic.
The struggle between Stalin and Trotsky was not just a duel between two individuals. It was a reflection of the existing class balance of forces in Russia, once the revolution was isolated in conditions of backwardness. Stalin did not represent just himself: he was the political representative of the bureaucracy that felt itself to be on the upswing, while the working class, tired out by long years of war and revolution was gradually falling into a state of apathy and indifference. It is this class balance of forces that decided the outcome, not the individual personality of the participants.
This does not mean that the personal qualities of the protagonists in the class struggle are a matter of indifference. Nor is this an accidental question. Every class seeks out representatives in its own image. Stalin had many of the attributes of the people he representatives: his narrow, provincial mentality, his strong inclination to resolving all questions by administrative means (including expulsions, arrests and shootings), his general lack of culture - all these features are highly characteristic of the psychology of any functionary.
Revolution and reaction
We can go further and say that every historical period produces characters in its own image. This has a perfectly rational basis. Certain objective situations favour the rise of a particular kind of person and discourages others. It is a kind of historical version of natural selection. There are an infinite number of genetic mutations going on all the time. Most mutations are either harmful or neutral. They do not find a suitable environment and soon disappear. But occasionally a genetic modification proves useful and then it can reproduce itself and flourish.
A revolutionary period demands heroes, and in such circumstances heroes are always found. There is nothing magical about this. Among the millions of people in society there are always a considerable number of individuals with extraordinary talents who never had a chance to put their potential to good use. In the pre-Revolutionary armies of both 18th century France and 20th century Russia there were junior officers and NCOs with enormous ability who were led by incompetent senior officers. Without the Revolution they would never have had a chance to show what they were capable of. Men like Carnot and Tukhachevsky rose on the crest of the revolutionary wave. And what was true in the military sphere was equally true in other spheres of social and cultural life.
In the period of the downswing of the Revolution, when the revolutionary impulse of the masses has exhausted itself, matters are entirely different. Periods of reaction do not require giants but pygmies. They do not encourage strikingly new and original ideas or creative thinkers but rather conformists and bureaucrats. Here the mediocrity is king. For there are periods in history when mediocrity is necessary.
Napoleon Bonaparte, for all his showy pretentiousness, was no genius. He was an able military commander because he had an excellent school in the revolutionary armies. But he was not an original thinker like Carnot, from whom he took all his ideas. He inherited the army created by Carnot, and used it well. But Bonaparte is the product, not of the Revolution but of its decay. It would, of course, be unjust to describe Napoleon Bonaparte as a mediocrity. The flames of the Revolution still burned sufficiently brightly to provide him with a spark of life. The French bourgeoisie was still playing a relatively progressive role and regarded itself as the standard-bearer of progress in all Europe. In a distorted way, the armies of Napoleon carried the flame of Revolution to other countries.
But what can one say about his nephew, the man who called himself Napoleon III? This creature came to power after the defeat of the Revolution of 1848. Here we have mediocrity personified. The French bourgeoisie had already exhausted its progressive role and found itself in mortal combat with the young and revolutionary French proletariat. The two classes confronted each other on the barricades and fought each other to a standstill. The result was a deadlock, an impasse in which neither class could score a decisive victory over the other. In such circumstances, as Marx explains in his masterpiece The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the state, as armed bodies of men, can life itself above the classes and acquire a large amount of independence. This is the phenomenon we call Bonapartism.
There were many men in France at that time who were better, more intelligent, more far-sighted and more courageous than Louis Bonaparte. But he triumphed over all of them. He had the name of Bonaparte, which helped him to gain the loyalty of the peasantry and the peasant army, that classical tool of Bonapartism. The fact that underneath the cloak of the Emperor was a pitiful mediocrity was irrelevant. The counterrevolution succeeded because of a particular balance of class forces, and not because of the genius of "Napoleon the Lesser". As Marx commented, history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce. Louis Bonaparte was the perfect actor for this particular drama.
The French and Russian Revolutions
The inner dynamics of the Russian Revolution were quite similar, though the class content was completely different. It is scarcely worth recalling that the Russian Revolution was a proletarian revolution, the French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution. It is clear that, as well as similarities, there are important differences. One of the differences is that the bourgeois revolution can triumph far more easily than the socialist revolution. The reason for this is to be found in the nature of capitalism as an economic system: it functions generally in an automatic way through the mechanism of the market. It requires no particular conscious intervention in order to exist.
By contrast socialism presupposes the conscious running of society by men and women. A nationalised planned economy requires a plan that must be drawn up and carried into practice with the conscious intervention of the masses themselves. That is why democracy is the fundamental condition for socialism: socialism is democratic or it is nothing.
This is also true of the way in which socialism is brought into being. The bourgeoisie did not need a scientific doctrine in order to overthrow feudalism. On the contrary, it had to base itself on illusions - that it was going to introduce the Kingdom of God on earth (Cromwell) or the Kingdom of Reason (Robespierre) - in order to inspire the property less masses to fight for it. The fact that the bourgeois themselves actually believed these illusions is another matter. One must always distinguish between what men and women think about themselves and what they are in fact.
The socialist revolution presupposes the conscious movement of the working class to take control of society. But the working class has different layers, which draw the necessary conclusions at different tempos and at different times. The role of the advanced guard is of fundamental importance. And the organisation of the advanced guard into a revolutionary party based on a scientific doctrine that enables it to understand what is necessary to achieve its objectives is a precondition for its success.
Contrary to the slanders of the enemies of Bolshevism, Lenin never set out to substitute the Party for the class. The whole history of the Russian Revolution is proof of this. The task of the Party was to win over a majority of the working class and poor peasants by patient work, agitation, organisation and explanation. In the course of 1917 the Bolshevik Party succeeded brilliantly in this. Only after they had won decisive majorities in the soviets (workers' and soldiers' councils) did they move to take power in October (November in the modern calendar).
The rise and fall of the Revolution
This is not the place to deal with the Revolution, which we have done elsewhere (See Alan Woods, Bolshevism, the Road to Revolution). Suffice it to say that in its upswing, the Revolution attracted to its side all that was alive, healthy and vibrant in Russian society. Here was a galaxy of human talent the like of which has never been seen in history. And at the head of this gigantic work of social emancipation stood men and women who were giants: Lenin and Trotsky, those two great geniuses of the revolutionary movement, and also many other talented people: Rakovsky, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Radek, and others.
It is no accident that all these people were killed during the Purges that were, in Trotsky's words, Stalin's one-sided civil war against Bolshevism. In the period of ebb, when the working class, exhausted and hungry, fell into a state of disappointment and apathy, another kind of person found encouragement: the opportunists, careerists and social climbers of all sorts. People like Vyshinsky, the Prosecutor in Stalin's Purge Trials, who had fought the Bolsheviks during the Revolution, now changed their shirts and climbed on the bandwagon.
We can mention in passing that there were exact analogies in the French Revolution. The classic example is Joseph Fouche, the former extreme Jacobin terrorist who became in turn the servant of Bonapartism and the Bourbon reaction. Earlier still in the English revolution we had similar cases. One of them is recalled in the popular song The Vicar of Bray, a real character who changed his religion on a regular basis according to the religious persuasion of whatever monarch was in power.
Every one of these people were mediocrities and second-raters, men and women of no fixed belief or principle, who were attracted to the Party only because it was in power. Out of such human dust are the forces of Thermidorian Reaction formed. And at the head of these elements stood a man whose personal and political traits perfectly reflected their aspirations and needs.
Stalin's particular personality and cast of mind undoubtedly played a role in shaping events in the period of the downswing of the Revolution. He did not, however, cause the downswing or the bureaucratic reaction against October. These were rooted in the objective situation, nationally and internationally. But he certainly influenced the specific forms in which these processes worked themselves out.
Not any functionary could be a Stalin, but we can find a little bit of Stalin lodged in every functionary, and the caste of Soviet officials that pushed the working class to one side and clambered to power in the period of decline and exhaustion of the revolution recognised in Stalin their own image and soul. The hero-worship of Stalin was at bottom the bureaucracy worshipping itself.
Of course, this is an over-simplification. Stalin had many traits that were peculiar and exclusive to himself. His strong inclination towards violence, his rudeness, his total lack of any human or moral scruples - these are the features by which he is most readily identified. Yet on closer inspection even these features can be explained in historical and class terms. Though we must look for their origins in the field of individual psychology (which lies outside the scope of the present article), the way in which these tendencies were manifested in the events described above do not belong to the realm of psychology, but to history, politics and sociology.
Stalin and the bureaucracy
It is said that before she died Stalin's mother told him that it would have been better if he had become a priest. We do not know if this story is true and it is not possible to know what sort of a priest Joseph Vissionarovich would have made. But it is clear that the above-mentioned tendencies would not have been manifested in the same way and, lacking the broad field in which to work themselves out, would have not led to the deaths of millions of people.
Stalin became transformed from a mediocre revolutionary bureaucrat into a monster. This did not happen all at once, and Stalin did not plan or desire such a result. In fact, if he had realised at the beginning where this would lead to, he would in all likelihood have been horrified and changed course. But once Stalin had been elevated to the rank of dictator by the efforts of the rising bureaucratic caste, those tendencies that were merely latent within him, grew into a monstrous power.
What force lay behind this transformation? The millions of Soviet officials who were struggling for their "place in the sun", the mad scramble for the division of the fruits of power, the creature comforts, the apartments and dachas, the little (and not so little) luxuries in life, the cars with chauffeurs, the servants, the medals, the prestige, even such things as not having to stand in queues - now these are things worth fighting for.
The Bolsheviks did not fight for a comfortable life. If they fought for a better world, or a "happy life" it was not for them as individuals but for the working class as a whole. By contrast, the slogan of every opportunist Labour leader is: "I am in favour of the emancipation of the working class - one by one, commencing with myself."
In the Labour and trade union movement we see this every day: certain officials get into positions that give them certain privileges and high incomes, and how they fight to hold onto these positions! With what iron determination! If only they fought with equal determination to defend the living standards of the workers who elected them, how splendid it would be!
Trotsky once likened a workers state to a trade union that has taken power. If the officials in a union can rise above the membership and acquire privileges, how much greater is the danger in a workers state. Marx explained long ago that the state has a tendency to raise itself above society, to alienate itself from society, and there is no law that says that such a thing cannot happen in a workers state.
Does this mean that this is inevitable? Not at all! Not every trade union official is corrupt, and if this were inevitable we would have sunk long ago into a putrid morass. But it is not so, and as a matter of fact it is perfectly possible for the working class to control its leaders. Lenin's programme - the 1919 Party Programme laid down all that was necessary to do this. Only the crushing backwardness of Russian society at that time prevented Lenin from succeeding.
Stalin's character is no more than a reflection of this general Asiatic backwardness in a distilled and extreme form. The fanatical zeal with which he persecuted and exterminated the Old Bolsheviks reflected something more than his desire for personal revenge. It represented the fury with which the petty bourgeois officials reacted against the storm and stress of the revolution, their ardent desire for "the happy life" for themselves and their families.
For this generation of careerists and social climbers, everything associated with the Bolshevik past was a reminder of the old principles of workers democracy and egalitarianism. They saw this as an obstacle in the path to "the happy life" and were determined to smash through it. If that meant also to smash through human bodies and nervous tissue, then so be it. Stalin's ruthlessness was the perfect expression of this mood.
The role of the individual in history
Men and women make their own history, as Marx explained long ago. But in making history they are not free agents as idealists imagine. If Stalin had never existed some other figure would have occupied his position. The difference would have been one of degree, but the general outcome could have been no different. Once the revolution was isolated in conditions of extreme backwardness, the process of degeneration was inevitable.
It is true that Stalin's peculiar character gave the bureaucratic counterrevolution a particularly barbaric character. But Stalin did not create either the bureaucracy or the counterrevolution. They created him. Once installed in a position of absolute power, he interacted on the process, imparting to it a particularly bloody and ferocious character. For this, the name of Stalin will forever be branded with the mark of iniquity. But it would be quite wrong to assume that all that occurred was merely the result of the wickedness of a single individual.
There are periods in history when a peculiar concatenation of circumstances arises as the result of the previous course of development in which the outcome of events can be decided even by a single individual. Such was the situation in October (November) 1917 in Russia. The actions of the Bolshevik Party were decisive in carrying through the revolution. And ultimately that depended on the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky.
But when the flood tide of the revolution ebbed, neither Lenin nor Trotsky could prevent it. Of course, it is possible to speculate about possible variants. If Lenin had lived a few more years it could have made an important difference to the Communist International. If the Chinese Revolution of 1923-7 had triumphed, the process of bureaucratisation would have been set back and the working class encouraged. On the other hand, Krupskaya herself was of the opinion that if Lenin had been alive in 1926 he would have been in one of Stalin's prisons.
In the period of the Left Opposition, Trotsky was well aware that they were going to be defeated. But he was trying to lay down a tradition and a banner for the future. When Kamenev and Zinoviev capitulated to Stalin they thought they were being clever. We are smarter than Stalin, they reasoned, we can outwit him when conditions change. All we have to do is to stage a tactical retreat and make a few concessions. In the end, their "tactical concessions" led to political and then actual death. Who remembers today the ideas of Kamenev and Zinoviev, or for that matter Bukharin? They have left nothing behind. But the Marxist-Leninists of the 21st century stand firmly on the solid ideological foundations left behind by Lev Davidovich Trotsky.
Fatalism, scepticism and revolution
Individuals, whether uniquely bad or uniquely good, wise or stupid, brave or cowardly, cannot determine the fundamental processes of history. Under certain conditions, however, they can modify the forms under which those processes take place. By interacting on events, they may retard or accelerate the underlying tendencies, but not substantially change them. Such a deterministic doctrine may seem to lead to fatalism and passivity, but that is not at all true.
The followers of Calvin in the period of the Reformation believed fervently in the doctrine of Predestination, but that did not prevent them from being active revolutionaries. Once they decided that they were fighting on the side of Good against Evil, they fought with the greatest fervour to ensure the speediest possible victory of the Kingdom of God on earth. One cannot imagine men and women with a less passive outlook than these Calvinists!
Now, in the period of the senile decay of capitalism, Marxists are more than ever convinced of the historical inevitability of the victory of socialism. In retrospect the victory of capitalist counter-revolution in Russia will be seen as an episode. The fall of the USSR is only the first act in a drama that is unfolding on a world scale and will end in the crisis and overthrow of capitalism.
The present organic crisis of capitalism represents the greatest threat to humanity. It is the duty of all conscious workers and youth to speed up the process by building a powerful anti-capitalist movement on a world scale. The success of this movement will be greatly facilitated to the degree that it adopts clear Marxist policies. This is only possible to the degree that the proletarian vanguard absorbs the traditions of Leninism and Bolshevism and takes as its model the October revolution.
And Stalinism? As a political current Stalinism is virtually extinct. The few old ladies who carry Stalin's portrait in Red Square are an expression of this fact. It is a decayed and discredited banner. But in one sense the remnants of Stalinism still persist within the Labour Movement - not as a coherent and organised current but as a definite mood among certain layers. The psychological basis of Stalinism (and of all bureaucratic tendencies in the workers' movement) is a lack of confidence in the working class and its revolutionary and socialist potential.
With the fall of the Soviet Union there has been a wave of apostasy and desertion from the ranks of the Marxist movement. People who yesterday called themselves Communists now speak contemptuously of socialism and the working class. These layers, who out of habit and inertia still occupy positions in the unions and workers' parties, are embittered and burnt out old people. Lacking a serious Marxist education, they have no perspective. Their sole aim in life is to justify themselves by blaming the working class for everything. They try to poison the new generation with their gangrenous scepticism. Pessimism is the first article of faith in the Credo of these cynics. They play the role of a heavy tail that seeks to drag the movement back and prevent it from advancing.
This layer does not represent the future but the past. It does not reflect the face of the working class but its backside. It will be swept aside by the development of the class struggle. The new generation, which has already begun to move, will sweep aside the old stale cobwebs and seek to understand the truth. For, in the words of Trotsky, the locomotive of history is truth, not lies.
The banner of October was dragged through the muck and blood by the Stalinist political counter-revolution. It is the task of the new generation to cleanse it of all the accumulated filth and raise it high. The real traditions of October are the only way forward for the world working class today. And to those cowards and faint-hearts who try to say that the working class is no longer prepared to fight for its emancipation, we answer in the words of Galileo:
Eppur si muove! - And yet it moves!