An Address to the Sarat Academy in London
on 30 April 1999 by Bill Bland
I am grateful to the Sarat Academy for inviting me to speak to you on
However, your choice of subject presented me with some difficulty, since I am
a great admirer of Stalin and the word ‘Stalinism’ was introduced by concealed
opponents of Stalin - in particular by Nikita Khrushchev - in preparation for
later political attacks upon him.
Today, in fact, ‘Stalinism’ has become a meaningless term of abuse employed
to denote political views with which one disagrees. The Conservative press
sometimes even describes Tony Blair as a ‘Stalinist’ -giving Stalin, were he
still alive, ample grounds for a libel action!
Stalin always referred to himself modestly as ~a pupil of Lenin’ and T shall
follow his example and interpret the subject of ‘Stalinism’ as ‘Marxism-Leninism
Perhaps the nearest figure to Stalin in British history is Richard the Third,
whom everybody ‘knows’ - and I put the word ‘knows’ in inverted commas - from
their school history books and Shakespeare to have been a cruel, deformed
monster who murdered the little princes in the Tower.
It is only comparatively recently that serious historians have begun to
realise that the commonly accepted portrayal of Richard was drawn by his Tudor
successors, who had seized the throne from him and killed him.
Naturally, they then proceeded to rewrite the chronicles to justify their
usurpation of the throne - even altering his portraits to present him as
physically deformed, as a physical as well as a moral monster. In other words,
the picture of Richard which has become generally accepted today was the result
not of historical truth, but of the propaganda of his political opponents.
It is, therefore, legitimate to ask: is the picture of Stalin presented to
us by so-called ‘Kremlinologists’ historical fact or mere propaganda?
The ‘Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (the Soviet Union), which was
constructed under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin, no longer exists. Is it
therefore true to say - as many people do - that this means that socialism in
the Soviet Union failed?
I intend to quote here only one set of statistics. Tn his report to the 17th
Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in January 1939, Stalin
cited figures from Western sources on the growth of industrial output in various
countries as compared with 1913. These figures were:
Indeed, it is an undisputed fact under the centrally planned economy
instituted under Stalin, Russia was transformed in a few decades from a backward
agrarian country into an advanced industrial country which by 1941— 45 had
become powerful enough to defeat a German aggression able to draw upon the
resources of the whole of Western Europe.
It is common to hear Stalin described as a ‘dictator
The strongly anti-Soviet American writer Eugene Lyons once asked Stalin
directly: ‘Are you a dictator?’ Lyons goes on (and I quote:)
"Stalin smiled, implying that the question was on the preposterous side.
‘No’, he said slowly, ‘I am no dictator. Those who use the word do not
understand the Soviet system of government and the methods of the Communist
Party. No one man or group of men can dictate. Decisions are made by the
The British Fabian economists Sidney and Beatrice Webb, in their
comprehensive book ‘Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation’ categorically reject
the notion of Stalin as a dictator. They say (and I quote):
"Stalin . . . has not even the extensive power . . . which the American
Constitution entrusts for four years to every successive president. .
The Communist Party in the USSR has adopted its own organisation.
In this pattern individual dictatorship has no place. Personal decisions
are distrusted and elaborately guarded against",
Certainly, in the time of Lenin and Stalin the Soviet regime was officially
described as one of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat . But this does not
imply personal dictatorship. It means simply that political power is in
the hands of working people, and that political activity aimed at taking
political power away from the working people is illegal.
Of course, this latter is regarded in official circles in London and
Washington as ‘undemocratic’ and ‘a grave violation of human rights’
But the word ‘democracy’ means ‘the rule of the common people’, and in this
sense- the Soviet -Union in Stalin’s time was infinitely more democratic than
any Western country.
As for ‘human rights’, the United Nations Human Rights Convention of 1966
lays down that states should guarantee to their citizens the ‘right to work’.
But only in a socialist society can this right be put into effect, can
unemployment be abolished (as it was in the Soviet Union in Stalin’s time). A
capitalist society requires what Marx called ‘a reserve army of labour ‘ so that
it can make labour readily available in times of boom.
Thus, for a socialist country to ban political activity aimed at the
restoration of capitalism is fully in accord with the UN Convention on Human
In fact, talk about human rights is in most cases merely a propaganda weapon
directed against socialism. In the eyes of Lombard Street and Wall Street, a
corrupt central American ‘banana republic’ which sends out nightly death squads
to murder homeless children in order to keep the streets tidy for the tourist
trade counts as a ‘free country’ as long as it allows freedom of investment.
The Soviet traitors to socialism opened their attack upon socialism in 1956
at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in February 1956 by charging Stalin
with organising a ‘cult of personality’ around himself.
Certainly, there in the time of Stalin. wishes. In fact, Stalin
was a cult of Stalin’s personality in the Soviet Union But this was organised
not by Stalin, but against his himself opposed and ridiculed this cult.
For example, when in February 1938 someone wanted to publish entitled
‘Stories of the Childhood of Stalin’, Stalin wrote typically:
"I am absolutely against the publication of ‘Stories of the Childhood of
The book abounds with a mass of inexactitudes of fact, . . . of
exaggerations and of unmerited praise. .
But… the important thing resides tendency to engrave on the minds of
Soviet children (and people in general) the personality cult of leaders, of
infallible heroes. This is dangerous and detrimental…I suggest we burn this
There was indeed a ‘cult of personality’ around Stalin. A leading. communist
cried at the 18th Congress of the Party in March 1939:
"The Ukrainian people proclaim with all their heart and soul . ‘Long live
our beloved Stalin!’ .
Long live the towering genius of all humanity, . . . our beloved Comrade
The speaker was Nikita Khrushchev!
It was Khrushchev too who coined the term ‘Stalinism’ and began to call
Stalin ‘Vozhd" - the Russian equivalent of the German ‘Fuhrer’, Leader.
In other words, the ‘cult of personality’ around Stalin was built up not by
Stalin and those who genuinely supported him, but by his political opponents
as a prelude to attacking him later as a megalomaniac dictator
Even though Stalin did not have the power to stop these alleged
manifestations of ‘loyalty’ and ‘patriotism’, Stalin was no fool and was aware
that their motives were, as he told the German writer Lion Feuchtwanger in 1937,
‘to discredit him’ at a later date.
Thus, the cult of personality around Stalin was contrary to Stalin’s own
wishes, and the fact that it went on demonstrates that in the last few years of
his life Stalin - far from wielding dictatorial power - was in a minority within
the Soviet leadership.
This explains many strange facts:
that after 1927 Stalin ceased to be active in the
that Stalin’s works, although incomplete, ceased to be
published in the Soviet Union in 1949, three years before his death;
that, in breach of long-standing practice, Stalin -
although General Secretary of the Party and in good health - failed to
present the report at the 19th Party Congress in 1952.
Let me return to the question of the alleged ‘failure of
In an effort to prevent the building of socialism, in 1918
the new state was attacked by the armed forces of Britain, France, Poland and
Japan. But despite the fact that the new Soviet state possessed at the outset
neither an organised army nor experienced military men, the five-year War of
Intervention ended in victory for the Soviets.
The opponents of socialism learned an important lesson from
their defeat, namely, that socialism was most unlikely to be destroyed by direct
offensive, but only from within, that is, by agents posing as socialists,
working hard within the Communist Party so as to achieve positions of influence
and then, in the name of ‘modernising’ socialism, using this influence to divert
the Party along political lines which would undermine socialism and gradually
forfeit the support of working people for the Party.
It is a programme which Marxists call revisionism,
because while revising Marxism in significantly harmful ways, it claims to be
merely modernising it.
Khrushchev became leader of the Soviet Communist Party
shortly after Stalin’s death in 1953. But it was not until 1956, three years
later, that he felt it safe openly to attack Stalin - and then only in a secret
speech which was never published in the Soviet Union until many decades later.
The attack upon Stalin was a necessary prelude to an attack
upon, and a change to, the programme for building socialism put forward by
One of the charges often levelled against Stalin is that
while he was General Secretary of the Party many innocent people were falsely
imprisoned for counter-revolutionary criminal of fences. This allegation, unlike
most of the others, is true. Between 1934 and 1938 the post of People’s
Commissar for Internal Affairs - in charge of the security police - was held
successively by Genrikh Yagoda and Nikolai Yezhov. At Yagoda’s public trial in
1938, he described to the court how he had used his authority to serve the
conspiracy by protecting his fellow—conspirators from arrest, but arresting
loyal communists on false charges.
It was Stalin who, suspecting something was terribly wrong,
personal secretariat under Aleksandr Poskrebyshev to
investigate what was going on in the security police.
It was as a result of these investigations that Yagoda and
Yezhov were dismissed and arrested, that all cases of alleged political crimes
were reinvestigated and thousands miscarriages of justice were corrected.
It was more than anything this situation which led to the production of whole
libraries of books accusing Stalin of responsibility for mass murder.
With every edition of such books as Robert Conquest’s ‘The Great Terror’, his
estimate of Stalin’s ‘victims ‘ went up by several million to become farcical.
When, after the counter—revolution had been completed, Boris Yeltsin published
official figures of Soviet prisoners, they turned out to be less than in the
United States, and the world press was strangely silent.
It was to Leonid Brezhnev - who succeeded Khrushchev as Party General
Secretary in 1964 - that the dishonour fell of beginning the actual dismantling
of socialism. Under Brezhnev’s ‘economic reforms’, carried out under the cloak
of ‘decentralisation’, moves were made to replace centralised planning, which is
one of the bases of socialism, by the regulation of production by the profit
motive, which is one of the bases of capitalism.
From this time on, it was all downhill.
What was abolished, along with the Soviet Union, in 1991 virtually without
opposition, was not -socialism, but a particularly corrupt -and undemocratic
form of capitalism akin to fascism
Today, thanks to phoney communists like Khrushchev, Breznhnev and Gorbachev
the once united Soviet Union has split into a number of rival principalities,
often at war with each other in spite of being bankrupt.
But, we are told, the people of the former Soviet Union are now ‘free’. -
free to be unemployed; if they are lucky enough to have a job, free
to go months without wages because their employer’s bank has gone into
free to buy Rolls-Royce cars if they happen to be Mafia millionaires;
free to drink polluted water;
free to be mugged in any side street for the equivalent of a few
It should be no surprise that in Russian newsreels today we see demonstrators
carrying portraits of Stalin! For to the demonstrators the picture of Stalin
symbolises the socialism of -which they have, temporarily been deprived.
If, therefore, people call me a ‘Stalinist’ - as they sometimes do - I regard
this as a compliment, even though an undeserved one.
I honour Stalin as a great progressive figure who struggled all his life for
the ending of the capitalist and imperialist system which is the cause each year
of the misery and death of countless millions of men, women and children,
especially in the neo-colonial world.
I honour Stalin as one who struggled all his life for the greatest cause in
the world - the liberation of mankind.