W. E. B. Du Bois
Originally Published: National Guardian,
March 16, 1953
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Joseph Stalin was a great man; few other men of the 20th century
approach his stature. He was simple, calm and courageous. He seldom lost his
poise; pondered his problems slowly, made his decisions clearly and firmly;
never yielded to ostentation nor coyly refrained from holding his rightful place
with dignity. He was the son of a serf but stood calmly before the great without
hesitation or nerves. But also—and this was the highest proof of his
greatness—he knew the common man, felt his problems, followed his fate.
Stalin was not a man of conventional learning; he was much more than that: he
was a man who thought deeply, read understandingly and listened to wisdom, no
matter whence it came. He was attacked and slandered as few men of power have
been; yet he seldom lost his courtesy and balance; nor did he let attack drive
him from his convictions nor induce him to surrender positions which he knew
were correct. As one of the despised minorities of man, he first set Russia on
the road to conquer race prejudice and make one nation out of its 140 groups
without destroying their individuality.
His judgment of men was profound. He early saw through the flamboyance and
exhibitionism of Trotsky, who fooled the world, and especially America. The
whole ill-bred and insulting attitude of Liberals in the U.S. today began with
our naive acceptance of Trotsky’s magnificent lying propaganda, which he carried
around the world. Against it, Stalin stood like a rock and moved neither right
nor left, as he continued to advance toward a real socialism instead of the sham
Three great decisions faced Stalin in power and he met them magnificently:
first, the problem of the peasants, then the West European attack, and last the
Second World War. The poor Russian peasant was the lowest victim of tsarism,
capitalism and the Orthodox Church. He surrendered the Little White Father
easily; he turned less readily but perceptibly from his ikons; but his kulaks
clung tenaciously to capitalism and were near wrecking the revolution when
Stalin risked a second revolution and drove out the rural bloodsuckers.
Then came intervention, the continuing threat of attack by all nations, halted
by the Depression, only to be re-opened by Hitlerism. It was Stalin who steered
the Soviet Union between Scylla and Charybdis: Western Europe and the U.S. were
willing to betray her to fascism, and then had to beg her aid in the Second
World War. A lesser man than Stalin would have demanded vengeance for Munich,
but he had the wisdom to ask only justice for his fatherland. This Roosevelt
granted but Churchill held back. The British Empire proposed first to save
itself in Africa and southern Europe, while Hitler smashed the Soviets.
The Second Front dawdled, but Stalin pressed unfalteringly ahead. He risked the
utter ruin of socialism in order to smash the dictatorship of Hitler and
Mussolini. After Stalingrad the Western World did not know whether to weep or
applaud. The cost of victory to the Soviet Union was frightful. To this day the
outside world has no dream of the hurt, the loss and the sacrifices. For his
calm, stern leadership here, if nowhere else, arises the deep worship of Stalin
by the people of all the Russias.
Then came the problem of Peace. Hard as this was to Europe and America, it was
far harder to Stalin and the Soviets. The conventional rulers of the world hated
and feared them and would have been only too willing to see the utter failure of
this attempt at socialism. At the same time the fear of Japan and Asia was also
real. Diplomacy therefore took hold and Stalin was picked as the victim. He was
called in conference with British imperialism represented by its trained and
well-fed aristocracy; and with the vast wealth and potential power of America
represented by its most liberal leader in half a century.
Here Stalin showed his real greatness. He neither cringed nor strutted. He never
presumed, he never surrendered. He gained the friendship of Roosevelt and the
respect of Churchill. He asked neither adulation nor vengeance. He was
reasonable and conciliatory. But on what he deemed essential, he was inflexible.
He was willing to resurrect the League of Nations, which had insulted the
Soviets. He was willing to fight Japan, even though Japan was then no menace to
the Soviet Union, and might be death to the British Empire and to American
trade. But on two points Stalin was adamant: Clemenceau’s “Cordon Sanitaire”
must be returned to the Soviets, whence it had been stolen as a threat. The
Balkans were not to be left helpless before Western exploitation for the benefit
of land monopoly. The workers and peasants there must have their say.
Such was the man who lies dead, still the butt of noisy jackals and of the
ill-bred men of some parts of the distempered West. In life he suffered under
continuous and studied insult; he was forced to make bitter decisions on his own
lone responsibility. His reward comes as the common man stands in solemn