Stalin and the Struggle
for Democratic Reform
Part OneGrover Furr
1. This article outlines Joseph Stalin's attempts,
from the 1930s until his death, to democratize the government of the Soviet
2. This statement, and the article, will astonish
many, and outrage some. In fact my own amazement at the results of the research
I'm reporting on led me to write this article. I had suspected for a long time
that the Cold War version of Soviet history had serious flaws. Still, I was
unprepared for the extent of the falsehoods I had been taught as fact.
3. This story is well known in Russia, where respect
for, even admiration of, Stalin is common. Yuri Zhukov, the main Russian
historian who sets forth the paradigm of "Stalin as Democrat" and whose works
are the most important single source, though far from the only one, for this
article, is a mainstream figure associated with the Academy of Sciences. His
works are widely read.
4. However, this story and the facts that sustain it
are virtually unknown outside Russia, where the Cold War paradigm of "Stalin as
Villain" so controls what is published that the works cited here are still
scarcely noted. Therefore, many of the secondary sources used in this article,
as well as all the primary sources of course, are only available in Russian.1
5. This article does not simply inform readers of new
facts about, and interpretations of, the history of the USSR. Rather, it is an
attempt to bring to a non-Russian readership the results of new research, based
on Soviet archives, on the Stalin period and Stalin himself. The facts discussed
herein are compatible with a range of paradigms of Soviet history, just as they
help to disprove a number of other interpretations. They will be utterly
unacceptable -- in fact, outrageous -- to those whose political and historical
perspectives have been based upon erroneous and ideologically motivated
"Cold-War" notions of Soviet "totalitarianism" and Stalinist "terror."2
6. The Khrushchevite interpretation of Stalin as
power-hungry dictator, betrayer of Lenin's legacy, was created to fit the needs
of the Communist Party's nomenklatura in the 1950s. But it shows close
similarities, and shares many assumptions, with the canonical discourse on
Stalin inherited from the Cold War, which served the desire of capitalist elites
to argue that communist struggles, or indeed any struggles for working-class
power, must inevitably lead to some kind of horror.
7. It also suits the Trotskyists' need to argue that
the defeat of Trotsky, the "true revolutionary," could only have come at the
hand of a dictator who, it is assumed, violated every principle for which the
revolution had been fought. Khrushchevite, Cold-War anti-communist, and
Trotskyist paradigms of Soviet history are similar in their dependence on a
virtual demonization of Stalin, his leadership, and the USSR during his time.
8. The view of Stalin outlined in this essay is
compatible with a number of otherwise contradictory historical paradigms.
Anti-revisionist and post-Maoist communist interpretations of Soviet history see
Stalin as a creative and logical, if in some respects flawed, heir to Lenin's
legacy. Meanwhile, many Russian nationalists, while hardly approving of Stalin's
achievements as a Communist, respect Stalin as the figure most responsible for
the establishment of Russia as a major industrial and military world power.
Stalin is a foundational figure for both, albeit in very different ways.
9. This article is no attempt to "rehabilitate"
Stalin. I agree with Yuri Zhukov when he writes:
I can honestly tell you that I oppose the
rehabilitation of Stalin, because I oppose rehabilitations in general.
Nothing and no one in history should be rehabilitated -- but we must uncover
the truth and speak the truth. However, since Khrushchev's time the only
victims of Stalin's repressions you hear from are those who took part in
them themselves, or who facilitated them or who failed to oppose them.
(Zhukov, KP Nov. 21 02)
Nor do I wish to suggest that, if only Stalin had had his
way, the manifold problems of building socialism or communism in the USSR would
have been solved.
10. During the period with which this essay is
concerned, the Stalin leadership was concerned not only to promote democracy in
the governance of the state, but to foster inner-party democracy as well. This
important and related topic requires a separate study, and this essay does not
centrally address it. However the concept of "democracy" is understood, it would
have to have a different meaning in the context of a democratic-centralist party
of voluntary members than in a huge state of citizens where no basis of
political agreement can be presupposed.3
11. This article draws upon primary sources whenever
possible. But it relies most heavily upon scholarly works by Russian historians
who have access to unpublished or recently-published documents from Soviet
archives. Many Soviet documents of great importance are available only to
scholars with privileged access. A great many others remain completely
sequestered and "classified," including much of Stalin's personal archive, the
pre-trial, investigative materials in the Moscow Trials of 1936-38, the
investigative materials relating to the military purges or "Tukhachevskii
Affair" of 1937, and many others.
12. Yuri Zhukov describes the archival situation this
With the beginning of perestroika, one of the
slogans of which was glasnost' . . . the Kremlin archive, formerly
closed to researchers, was liquidated. Its holdings began to be relocated in
[various public archives -- GF]. This process began, but was not completed.
Without any publicity or explanation of any kind in 1996 the most important,
pivotal materials were again reclassified, hidden away in the archive of the
President of the Russian Federation. Soon the reasons for this secretive
operation became clear; it permitted the resurrection of one of the two old
and very shabby myths. (6)
By these myths Zhukov means "Stalin the villain," and
"Stalin the great leader." Only the first of these myths is familiar to readers
of Western and anti-communist historiography. But both schools are well
represented in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
13. One of Zhukov's books, and the basis of much of
this article, is titled Inoy Stalin -- "a different Stalin," "different"
from either myth, closer to the truth, based upon recently declassified archival
documents. Its cover shows a photograph of Stalin and, facing it, the same
photograph in negative: its opposite. Only rarely does Zhukov use secondary
sources. For the most part he cites unpublished archival material, or archival
documents only recently declassified and published. The picture he draws of
Politburo politics from 1934 to 1938 is very "different" from anything
consistent with either of the "myths" he rejects.
14. Zhukov ends his Introduction with these words:
I make no claim to finality or incontrovertibility. I
attempt only one task: to avoid both preconceived points of view, both
myths; to try to reconstruct the past, once well known, but now
intentionally forgotten, deliberately unmentionable, ignored by all.
Following Zhukov, this article also attempts to steer
clear of both myths.
15. Under such conditions all conclusions must remain
tentative. I've tried to use all materials judiciously, whether primary or
secondary. In order to avoid interrupting the text I have put source references
at the end of each paragraph. I have employed traditional numbered footnotes
only where I think longer, more explanatory notes are needed.
16. The research this article summarizes has
important consequences for those of us concerned to carry forward a class
analysis of history, including of the history of the Soviet Union.
17. One of the very best American researchers of the
Stalin period in the USSR, J. Arch Getty, has called the historical research
done during the period of the Cold War "products of propaganda" -- "research"
which it makes no sense to criticize or try to correct in its individual parts,
but which must be done all over again from the beginning.4
I agree with Getty, but would add that this tendentious, politically-charged,
and dishonest "research" is still being produced today.
18. The Cold War-Khrushchevite paradigm has been the
prevailing view of the history of the "Stalin years." The research reported on
here can contribute towards a "clearing of the ground," a "beginning all over
again from the beginning." The truth that finally emerges will also have great
meaning for the Marxist project of understanding the world in order to change
it, of building a classless society of social and economic justice.
19. In the concluding section of the essay I have
outlined some areas for further research that are suggested by the results of
A New Constitution
Notes, Bibliograpy part One