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 democracy."

     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 opposition.

     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.

     What 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?
     What 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.

     The 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.
     The 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 from this.
     What 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'tat, 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 privileges.

     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 <>). 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 support it.

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 617.

8 The earliest publication I have found is in the leftwing newspaper Sovetskaia Rossiia of January 13, 2000, at <>; in English, at <>.

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 unconvincing.

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 <>; Raymond Baker, Centre for International Policy, "A Clear and Present Danger," Australian Broadcasting Corp, 2003, at <>.

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


(Note: Click here for the extensive bibliography at the end of Part One.)


Chilachava, Raul'. Syn Lavrentiia Beria rasskazyvaet Kiev: Inkopress, 1992.

Dobriukha, Nikolai. "Otsy I otchimy 'ottepeli'." Argumenty I Fakty, June 18 2003. At <>.

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, 2003.

Pyzhikov, A. "N.A. Voznesenskii o perspektivakh poselvoennogo obnovleniia obshchestva." At <>.

Rubin, Nikolai. Lavrentii Beria. Mif I Rea'nost'. Moscow: Olimp; Smolensk: Rusich, 1998.

Service, Robert. Stalin. A Biography. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2004.

Smirtiukhov, Mikhail. Interview, Kommersant-Vlast' February 8, 2000. At <>.

Sul'ianov, Anatolii. Beria: Arestovat' v Kremle. Minsk: Kharvest, 2004.

Toptygin, Aleksei. Lavrentii Beria. Moscow: Yauza, Eksmo, 2005.


Contents copyright 2005 by Grover Furr.
Format copyright 2005 by Cultural Logic, ISSN 1097-3087.