Conclusions and Future Research
49. Given that Stalin explicitly ruled out competing political
parties in his plan for contested elections, it is fair to ask: How
"democratic" would the result have been, if Stalin had had his way? Answers
to questions about democracy have to begin with another question: "What do
you mean by 'democracy'?"
50. In the industrial capitalist world it means a system where
political parties compete in elections, but in which all the political
parties are controlled by elite, extremely wealthy, and highly
authoritarian, people and groups. Nor does "democracy" mean that capitalism
itself could ever be "voted out" of power. This "democracy" is a form
and a technique of capitalist class rule -- in short, of "lack of
51. Could contested elections among citizens and citizen groups,
within the limits of acceptance of working-class rule, have worked in the
USSR? Could they work in some future socialist society? What is the role of
"representative democracy," that is, of elections, in a society that aims at
classlessness? Because these provisions of the 1936 Constitution were never
put into effect in the USSR, we can never know what the strengths and
weaknesses of this proposal would have been. Marx and Engels made important
deductions about the nature of proletarian democracy based upon their study
of the practice of the Paris Commune. It is a tragedy that we do not have a
parallel experience of contested elections in the Soviet Union in Stalin's
time. No doubt there would have been both strengths and weaknesses, from
which we could have learned much.
52. Scholars motivated by political anti-communism will continue to
breathe life into the old and false, but not yet sufficiently discredited,
Khrushchev / Cold War "anti-Stalin" paradigm. But the process of
re-interpreting the history of the Soviet Union in the light of the flood of
formerly secret Soviet documents has long since begun in Russia. It will
soon take hold elsewhere. A primary purpose of this essay is to introduce
others to this development.
53. One point will strike almost every reader right away. According
to the "cult of personality," of adulation that surrounded Stalin, we have
been conditioned to think of Stalin as an "all-powerful dictator." This
foundational falsehood of the Cold War / Khrushchevite historical paradigm,
exploded by the research reported here, has fatally distorted our
understanding of Soviet history. In fact, Stalin was never "all-powerful."
He was stymied by the combined efforts of other Party leaders. He was never
able to attain his goal of constitutional reforms. Nor was he able to
control the First Secretaries and the local NKVD.
54. The "cult" disguised these political struggles. Transcripts of
Central Committee Plena show that, though at times Bolshevik leaders did
directly disagree with Stalin, this occurred rarely. Political disputes
could not be brought out into the open and resolved. Instead they were dealt
with in other venues. Some of these venues were informal, as evidently in
the case of the First Secretaries in July 1937. Some were dealt with by
police methods, political disagreement being interpreted as hostile
55. Whatever the mechanism, the effect of the "cult" was
authoritarian, and deeply anti-democratic. Stalin seems to be one of the few
Soviet leaders to have understood this to a degree. Throughout his life he
condemned the "cult" many times.15 Clearly, though, he
never fully recognized how harmful it would inevitably be.
56. The conclusions reached here, almost entirely on the basis of
others' research, suggest a few important areas for further exploration.
form can "democracy" take in a socialist society with a goal of developing
towards a classless society? Would the implementation of the 1936
Constitution as envisaged by Stalin have worked, both to democratize the
Soviet Union, and to restore the Bolshevik Party to its original role, as an
organization of dedicated revolutionaries whose primary job was to lead the
country towards communism? Or did this model already incorporate so many
aspects of bourgeois capitalist concepts of democracy that it might have
hastened, rather than impeded, the evolution of the USSR towards capitalism?
is the proper role of a communist party in such a society? What are the
specific forms of political leadership that are compatible with democratic
empowerment of the working class? What forms of political (and economic)
leadership are in contradiction with these goals?
57. Once we question the idea that elections and "representative"
government are sufficient to make the state express the interests of the
workers and peasants, it follows that the 1936 Constitution, even if
implemented, would not have accomplished this either. This might suggest
that the "solution" is not to make the state stronger and the Party weaker
-- as it appears Stalin and Beria thought. Marxists believe that the state
will be run by some class or other, so if a new ruling class arises from the
top stratum of the Party, or from any other part of society, it will rule,
and will change the state to make that rule more effective. This in turn
suggests that the Party -- State distinction is artificial and deceptive,
and should be done away with.
term "bureaucratism" / "bureaucracy," while it points to one kind of
problem, conceals others. I suggest that the two questions above --
democracy and the role of the party -- indicate more fruitful, and more
materialist, ways of thinking about the problem of the relationship between
the organized, politically conscious part of the population of a socialist
or communist society, and the less organized and politically conscious, but
still economically productive majority.
Bolsheviks generally and Stalin specifically made a big distinction between
politics and technical skill or education. But they never dealt adequately
with the contradiction between "Red" and "expert," as this dilemma was
termed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The idea shared by virtually
all socialists that political "oversight" or "supervision" could be
separated from technical knowledge and production reflected, in part, the
mistaken notion that "technique" -- science -- was politically neutral, and
that if done efficiently, economic production itself was politically "left"
or "communist." The dilemma of the State -- Party contradiction followed
does "inner-party democracy" mean in the context of a communist party? In
the USSR, many of the oppositional forces whose views were defeated at the
Party Conferences and Congresses of the 1920s developed into conspiracies,
ultimately aiming at assassination of the Party leadership, a coup d'état,
and collaboration with and espionage for hostile capitalist powers. At the
same time, local Party leaders developed dictatorial habits, which alienated
them from the Party rank-and-file (and of course from the much more numerous
non-communist population as well), while guaranteeing them material
58. The material benefits of high Party office must have played an
important, even a decisive, role in the development of the stratum called
the nomenklatura. Likewise, Stalin's evident goal of removing the
Party from direct rule and returning it to "agitation and propaganda"
might suggest some awareness of this contradiction by Stalin himself, and
perhaps by others too. To what extent were large pay differentials essential
to stimulate industrialization in the USSR? If they were essential, was it
an error to permit Party members access to material privileges -- high pay,
better housing, special stores, etc.? The political context in which these
decisions were made, in the late '20s and early '30s, needs to be more fully
explored. The discussions, now unavailable, around ending the "Party
Maximum" wage sometime in the early '30s, need to be discovered and studied.
59. Zhukov and Mukhin seem to believe that the tactic they perceive,
and attribute to Stalin and Beria -- that of getting the party leaders out
of the business of running the state -- was indeed the best chance of
preventing the Party from degenerating. As I suggest above, perhaps the real
cause of degeneration is the defense of their own privileges, rather than
the "Red vs expert" contradiction in itself.
60. Of course, material incentives had been thought necessary,
first, to recruit skilled but bourgeois, anti-communist and
anti-working-class intellectuals into helping build the USSR's industrial
base. From there it could be argued that higher pay was necessary to
encourage technically-skilled people (including skilled workers) to join the
Bolshevik Party; or, to work hard under adverse living and working
conditions, often at danger to one's health and at the cost of sacrificing
one's family life. From there the whole panoply of capitalist-like
inequalities could be, and were, justified.
61. Maybe Stalin and Beria believed that returning the Party alone
to a "purely political" function could have prevented its degeneration.
Since this plan -- if it was theirs -- was never put into effect, we can't
really know. But I suspect that the issue of "material incentives," i.e.
economic inequality, is the fundamental one. In conversations with Felix
Chuev the aged Molotov mused about the need for more and more
"equalization," and worried about the future of socialism in the USSR as he
saw inequality increasing. Molotov did not trace the roots of this
development back into Stalin's or Lenin's day. In fact Molotov, like Stalin,
was unable to look at Lenin's legacy critically, though the need to preserve
and expand inequalities in order to stimulate production can be traced at
least to Lenin, if not to the Marx of the Critique of the Gotha Program.
62. The questions one asks inevitably reflect and expose one's own
political concerns, and mine are no exception. I believe that the history of
the Bolshevik Party during Stalin's years -- a history obfuscated by
anti-communist lies and as yet to be written -- has a lot to teach future
generations. Political activists who look to the past for guidance, and
politically-conscious scholars who believe their greatest contributions
towards a better world can be made through study of such struggles in the
past, have a great deal to learn from the legacy of the Soviet Union.
63. Like medieval mariners whose maps were more imagination than
fact, we have been misled by canonical histories of the USSR that are mainly
false. The process of discovering the real history of the world's first
socialist experiment has scarcely begun. As any reader of this essay will
realize, I believe this is of immense importance for our future.
1 Full text of the resolution is in Zhukov, Stalin.
See also Zhukov's earlier treatment in Tayny 270-276, where the text
is also reproduced.
2 Another reading of the archives suggests the
numbers might be 6, 6 and 5. See Khlevniuk O., et al. eds, Politburo TsK
VKP(b) i Sovet Ministrov SSSR 1945-1953. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2002, 428-431.
3 Pyzhikov attributes this democratic strain to
Leningraders, especially to Voznesensky. (See also his article "N.A.
Voznesenski" at <http://www.akdi.ru/id/new/ek5.htm>).
This would imply Zhdanov's support for it too, although Zhdanov's
sponsorship would not "fit" Pyzhikov's theory about the most pro-capitalist
forces -- Voznesenskii and his fellow "Leningraders" -- being the most
"democratic." Nor, since the "Leningraders" remained strong through 1947,
does it explain why the draft was not adopted. Nor does it indicate, much
less prove, any necessary connection between the pro-capitalist and
"consumer-goods" orientation Voznesensky was famous for, and political
democracy. Finally, it certainly does not indicate that Stalin did not
4 According to Zhores Medvedev, Stalin's personal
archive was destroyed immediately after his death (Medvedev, Sekretnyi). If
so, it's reasonable to assume, as Mukhin does (Ubiystvo
612) that some of his ideas must have been thought very dangerous,
and among them, the ideas expressed at these two meetings. My analysis here
and below mainly follows Mukhin, Ch. 13 and Medvedev, op. cit.
5 It was surely meant as a unifying measure. Each of
the constituent Republics in the USSR retained its own Party: the Communist
Party of the Ukraine, of Georgia, etc. This had led some Party leaders to
think that Russia, the largest of the Republics but the one that had no
Party "of its own," was at a disadvantage. Apparently one of the most
serious charges against the Party leaders tried and executed in the postwar
"Leningrad Affair" was that they were planning to set up a Russian Party and
moving the capital of the Russian Republic (not the USSR itself) to
Leningrad. Arguably this might have made Russia even more powerful and
exacerbated Great Russian chauvinism, when what was needed was to cement the
various Soviet nationalities closer together. See David Brandenberger,
"Stalin, the Leningrad Affair, and the Limits of Postwar Russocentrism,"
Russian Review 63 (2004), 241-255.
6 The post of "First Secretary" was only created
after Stalin's death, for Khrushchev.
7 Cited in Mukhin, Ubiystvo
8 The earliest publication I have found is in the
leftwing newspaper Sovetskaia Rossiia of January 13, 2000, at <http://www.kprf.ru/analytics/10828.shtml>;
in English, at <http://www.northstarcompass.org/nsc0004/stal1952.htm>.
9 Mukhin believes this was a fatal mistake. He argues
that it was in the interest of the Party nomenklatura that Stalin die while
still both a secretary of the Central Committee (though he was no longer
"General Secretary") and Head of State -- in other words, while he still
united, in one person, head of the Party and head of the whole country. Then
his successor as secretary of the C.C. would most likely be accepted by the
country and the government as head of state as well. If that happened, the
movement to get the Party nomenklatura out of running the country would be
at an end (Mukhin, Ubiystvo, 604 & Ch. 13 passim].
10 I have drawn on the longer treatments of Beria's
reforms, both those effected and those he proposed, in Kokurin and Pozhalov,
Starkov, Knight, and Mukhin, Ubiystvo. All the recent books on Beria
cited in the Bibliography discuss them as well.
11 In his "Secret Speech" Khrushchev also denounced
the "Doctors' Plot" as a frameup. But he had the effrontery to put the blame
on -- Beria, who had in fact liquidated the investigation, while praising
Kruglov, the NKVD head in charge of this frameup, whom Khrushchev restored
to C.C. membership and who was seated in the audience as Khrushchev spoke.
12 There is much evidence to suggest that Beria was
in fact murdered on the day of his arrest. His son Sergo Beria, in his own
memoirs, states he was told by officials at the "trial" that his father was
not present. Mukhin says that Baybakov, the last living C.C. member from
1953, told him Beria was already dead at the time of the July 1953 Plenum,
but the members did not know it at the time (Sergo Beria; Mukhin,
Ubiystvo 375). Amy Knight, p. 220, reports
that Khrushchev himself twice stated Beria had been killed on June 26, 1953,
but later changed his story. Meanwhile, the Beria trial documents are said
to have been "stolen" from their archive, so even their existence cannot be
verified (Khinshtein 2003). However some researchers, like Andrei
Sukhomlinov (pp. 61-2), continue to find the evidence for Beria's murder
13 This term, "the greatest theft in history," is
widely used to describe the "privatization" of the collectively-created and,
formerly, collectively-owned, state property of the USSR. For a few examples
only, see "The Russian Oligarchy: Welcome to the Real World," The Russian
Journal March 17 2003, at <http://www.russiajournal.com/news/cnews-article.shtml?nd=36013>;
Raymond Baker, Centre for International Policy, "A Clear and Present
Danger," Australian Broadcasting Corp, 2003, at <http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/s296563.htm>.
14 As of November 2005 I am preparing an article
documenting Khrushchev's lies in the "Secret Speech," with publication
planned for February 2006, the 50th anniversary of Khrushchev's speech.
15 Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins
and Consequences of Stalinism, quotes a number of passages in which
Stalin does this. See pp. 150, 507, 512, 538, 547 of the 1971 Knopf edition.
Still others have come to light since the end of the USSR. For an example,
see The Diary of Georgi Dimitrov 1933-1949, ed. & intro. Ivo Banac
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 66-67.
Supplemental Bibliography for Part Two
for the extensive bibliography at the end of Part One.)
Chilachava, Raul'. Syn Lavrentiia Beria rasskazyvaet Kiev:
Dobriukha, Nikolai. "Otsy I otchimy 'ottepeli'." Argumenty I Fakty,
June 18 2003. At <http://www.aif.ru/online/air/1182/10_01>.
Koshliakov, Sergei. "Lavrentiia Beria rasstreliali zadolgo do prigovora."
Vesti Nedeli June 29, 2003. At <http://
Prudnikova, Elena. Beria. Prestupleniia, kororykh ne bylo. St.
Petersburg: Neva, 2005.
Prudnikova, Elena. Stalin. Vtoroe Ubiystvo. St.Petersburg: Neva,
Pyzhikov, A. "N.A. Voznesenskii o perspektivakh poselvoennogo obnovleniia
obshchestva." At <http://www.akdi.ru/id/new/ek5.htm>.
Rubin, Nikolai. Lavrentii Beria. Mif I Rea'nost'. Moscow: Olimp;
Smolensk: Rusich, 1998.
Service, Robert. Stalin. A Biography. Cambridge, MA: Belknap
Smirtiukhov, Mikhail. Interview, Kommersant-Vlast' February 8,
2000. At <http://www.nns.ru/interv/arch/2000/02/08/int977.html>.
Sul'ianov, Anatolii. Beria: Arestovat' v Kremle. Minsk: Kharvest,
Toptygin, Aleksei. Lavrentii Beria. Moscow: Yauza, Eksmo, 2005.
Contents copyright © 2005 by Grover Furr.
Format copyright © 2005 by Cultural Logic,