Joseph Stalin and H.
G. Wells, Marxism VS. Liberalism: An Interview
H. G. Wells visited the Soviet Union
in 1934 and on July 23 he interviewed Joseph Stalin. The conversation, lasting
from 4 P. M. to 6:50 P. M., was recorded by Constantine Oumansky, then head of
the Press Bureau of the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. The text, as printed in
this pamphlet, has been approved by Mr. Wells.
WELLS: I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Stalin, for agreeing to see me. I was
in the United States recently. I had a long conversation With President
Roosevelt and tried to ascertain what his leading ideas were. Now I have come to
you to ask you what you are doing to change the world. . . .
STALIN: Not so very much. . . .
WELLS: I wander around the world as a common man and, as a common man, observe
what is going on around me.
STALIN: Important public men like yourself are not "common men." Of course,
history alone can show how important this or that public man has been; at all
events you do not look at the world as a "common man."
WELLS: I am not pretending humility. What I mean is that I try to see the world
through the eyes of the common man, and not as a party politician or a
responsible administrator. My visit to the United States excited my mind. The
old financial world is collapsing; the economic life of the country is being
reorganized on new lines. Lenin said: "We must learn to do business," learn this
from the capitalists. Today the capitalists have to learn from you, to grasp the
spirit of socialism. It seems to me that what is taking place in the United
States is a profound reorganization, the creation of planned, that is,
socialist, economy. You and Roosevelt begin from two different starting points.
But is there not a relation in ideas, a kinship of ideas, between Washington and
Moscow? In Washington I was struck by the same thing I see going on here; they
are building offices, they are creating a number of new state regulation bodies,
they are organizing a long-needed Civil Service. Their need, like yours, is
STALIN: The United States is
pursuing a different aim from that which we are pursuing in the U.S.S.R. The aim
which the Americans are pursuing arose out of the economic troubles, out of the
economic crisis. The Americans want to rid themselves of the crisis on the basis
of private capitalist activity without changing the economic basis. They are
trying to reduce to a minimum the ruin, the losses caused by the existing
economic system. Here, however, as you know, in place of the old destroyed
economic basis an entirely different, a new economic basis has been created.
Even if the Americans you mention partly achieve their aim, i.e., reduce these
losses to a minimum, they will not destroy the roots of the anarchy which is
inherent in the existing capitalist system. They are preserving the economic
system which must inevitably lead, and cannot but lead, to anarchy in
production. Thus, at best, it will be a matter, not of the reorganization of
society, not of abolishing the old social system which gives rise to anarchy and
crises, but of restricting certain of its badfeatures, restricting certain of its excesses. Subjectively, perhaps, these
Americans think they are reorganizing society; objectively, however, they are
preserving the present basis of society. That is why, objectively, there will be
no reorganization of society.
Nor will there be planned economy. What is planned economy? What are some of its
attributes? Planned economy tries to abolish unemployment. Let us suppose it is
possible, while preserving the capitalist system, to reduce unemployment to a
certain minimum. But surely, no capitalist would ever agree to the complete
abolition of unemployment, to the abolition of the reserve army of unemployed,
the purpose of which is to bring pressure on the labor market, to ensure a
supply of cheap labor. Here you have one of the rents in the "planned economy"
of bourgeois society. Furthermore, planned economy presupposes increased output
in those branches of industry which produce goods that the masses of the people
need particularly. But you know that the expansion of production under
capitalism takes place for entirely different motives, that capital flows into
those branches of economy in which the rate of profit is highest. You will never
compel a capitalist to incur loss to himself and agree to a lower rate of profit
for the sake of satisfying the needs of the people. Without getting rid of the
capitalists, without abolishing the principle of private property in the means
of production, it is impossible to create planned economy.
WELLS: I agree with much of what you have said. But I would like to stress the
point that if a country as a whole adopts the principle of planned economy, if
the government, gradually, step by step, begins consistently to apply this
principle, the financial oligarchy will at last be abolished and socialism, in
the Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word, will be brought about. The effect of the
ideas of Roosevelt's "New Deal" is most powerful, and in my opinion they are
socialist ideas. It seems to me that instead of stressing the antagonism between
the two worlds, we should, in the present circumstances, strive to establish a
common tongue for all the constructive forces.
STALIN: In speaking of the impossibility of realizing the principles of planned
economy while preserving the economic basis of capitalism I do not in the least
desire to belittle the outstanding personal qualities of Roosevelt, his
initiative, courage, and determination. Undoubtedly Roosevelt stands out as one
of the strongest figures among all the captains of the contemporary capitalist
world. That is why I would like once again to emphasize the point that my
conviction that planned economy is impossible under the conditions of capitalism
does not mean that I have any doubts about the personal abilities, talent, and
courage of President Roosevelt. But if the circumstances are unfavorable, the
most talented captain cannot reach the goal you refer to. Theoretically, of
course, the possibility of marching gradually, step by step, under the
conditions of capitalism, towards the goal which you call socialism in the
Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word, is not precluded. But what will this
"socialism" be? At best, bridling to some extent the most unbridled of
individual representatives of capitalist profit, some increase in the
application of the principle of regulation in national economy. That is all very
well. But as soon as Roosevelt, or any other captain in the contemporary
bourgeois world, proceeds to undertake something serious against the foundation
of capitalism, he will inevitably suffer utter defeat.
The banks, the industries, the large enterprises, the large farms are not in
Roosevelt's hands. All these are private property. The railroads, the
mercantile fleet, all these belong to private owners. And finally, the army of
skilled workers, the engineers, the technicians, these too are not at
Roosevelt's command, they are at the command of the private owners; they all
work for the private owners. We must not forget the functions of the State in
the bourgeois world. The State is an institution that organizes the defense of
the country, organizes the maintenance of "order"; it is an apparatus for
collecting taxes. The capitalist State does not deal much with economy in the
strict sense of the word; the latter is not in the hands of the State. On the
contrary, the State is in the hands of capitalist economy. That is why I fear
that, in spite of all his energy and abilities, Roosevelt will not achieve the
goal you mention, if indeed that is his goal. Perhaps, in the course of several
generations, it will be possible to approach this goal somewhat; but I
personally think that even this is not very probable. .
WELLS: Perhaps I believe more strongly in the economic interpretation of
politics than you do. Huge forces driving towards better organization, for the
better functioning of the community, that is, for socialism, have been brought
into action by invention and modern science. Organization, and the regulation of
individual action, have become mechanical necessities, irrespective of social
theories. If we begin with the State control of the banks. and then follow with
the control of transport, of the heavy industries, of industry in general, of
commerce, etc., such an all-embracing control will be equivalent to the State
ownership of all branches of national economy. This will be the process of
socialization. Socialism and individualism are not opposites like black and
white. There are many intermediate stages between them. There is individualism
that borders on brigandage, and there is discipline and organization that are
the equivalent of socialism. The introduction of planned economy depends, to a
large degree, upon the organizers of economy, upon the skilled technical
intelligentsia, who, step by step, can be converted to the socialist principles
of organization. And this is the most important thing. Because organization
comes before socialism. It is the more important fact. Without organization the
socialist idea is a mere idea.
STALIN: There is no, nor should there be, irreconcilable contrast between the
individual and the collective, between the interests of the individual person
and the interests of the collective, There should be no such contrast, because
collectivism, socialism, does not deny, but combines individual interests with
the interests of the collective. Socialism cannot abstract itself from
individual interests. Socialist society alone can most fully satisfy these
personal interests. More than that; socialist society alone can firmly safeguard
the interests of the individual. In this sense there is no irreconcilable
contrast between "individualism" and socialism. But can we deny the contrast
between classes, between the propertied class, the capitalist class, and the
toiling class, the proletarian class? On the one hand we have the propertied
class which owns the banks, the factories, the mines, transport, the plantations
in colonies. These people see nothing but their own interests, their striving
after profits. They do not submit to the will of the collective; they strive to
subordinate every collective to their will. On the other hand we have
the class of the poor, the exploited Class, which owns neither factories nor
works, nor banks, which is compelled to live by selling its labor power to the
capitalists and which lacks the opportunity to satisfy its most elementary
requirements. How can such opposite interests and strivings be reconciled? As
far as I know, Roosevelt has not succeeded in finding the path of conciliation
between these interests. And it is impossible, as experience has shown.
Incidentally, you know the situation in the United States better than I do as I
have never been there and I watch American affairs mainly from literature. But I
have some experience in fighting for socialism and this experience tells me that
if Roosevelt makes a real attempt to satisfy the interests of the proletarian
class at the expense of the capitalist class, the latter will put another
president in his place. The capitalists will say: Presidents come and presidents
go, but we go on forever; if this or that president does not protect our
interests, we shall find another. What can the president oppose to the will of
the capitalist class?
WELLS: I object to this simplified classification of mankind into poor and rich.
Of course there is a category of people which strives only for profit. But are
not these people regarded as nuisances in the West just as much as here? Are
there not plenty of people in the West for whom profit is not an end, who own a
certain amount of wealth, who want to invest and obtain a profit from this
investment, but who do not regard this as the main object? They regard
investment as an inconvenient necessity. Are there not plenty of capable and
devoted engineers, organizers of industry, whose activities are stimulated by
something other than profit? In my opinion there is a numerous class of capable
people who admit that the present system is unsatisfactory. and who are destined
to playa great role in future socialist society. During the past few years I
have been much engaged in and have thought of the need for conducting propaganda
in favor of socialism and cosmopolitanism among wide circles of engineers,
airmen, military-technical people, etc. It is useless approaching these circles
with two track class war propaganda. These people understand the condition of
the world. They understand that it is a bloody muddle, but they regard your
simple classwar antagonism as nonsense.
STALIN: You object to the simplified classification of mankind into rich and
poor. Of course there is a middle stratum, there is the technical intelligentsia
that you have mentioned and among which there are very good and very honest
people. Among them there are also dishonest and wicked people, there are all
sorts of people among them. But first of all mankind is divided into. rich and
poor, into property owners and exploited; and to abstract oneself from this
fundamental division and from the antagonism between poor and rich means
abstracting oneself from the fundamental fact. I do not deny the existence of
intermediate, middle strata, which either take the side of one or other of these
two conflicting classes, or else take up a neutral or semineutral position in
this struggle. But, I repeat, to abstract oneself from this fundamental division
in society and from the fundamental struggle between the two main classes means
ignoring facts. This struggle is going on and will continue. The outcome of the
struggle will be determined by the proletarian class, the working class.
WELLS: But are there not many people who are not poor, but who work and work
STALIN: Of course, there are small landowners, artisans, small traders, but it
is not these people who decide the fate of a country, but the toiling masses,
who produce all the things society requires.
WELLS: But there are very different kinds of capitalists. There are capitalists
who only think about profit, about getting rich; but there are also those who
are prepared to make sacrifices. Take old Morgan for example. He only thought
about profit; he was a parasite on society, simply, he merely accumulated
wealth. But take Rockefeller. He is a brilliant organizer; he has set an
example of how to organize the delivery of oil that is worthy of emulation. Or
take Ford. Of course Ford is selfish. But is he not a passionate organizer of
rationalized production from whom you take lessons? I would like to emphasize
the fact that recently an important change in opinion towards the U.S.S.R. has
taken place in English speaking countries. The reason for this, first of all, is
the position of Japan and the events in Germany. But there are other reasons
besides those arising from international politics. There is a more profound
reason, namely, the recognition by many people of the fact that the system based
on private profit is breaking down. Under these circumstances, it seems to me,
we must not bring to the forefront the antagonism between the two worlds, but
should strive to combine all the constructive movements, all the constructive
forces in one line as much as possible. It seems to me that I am more to the
Left than you, Mr. Stalin; I think the old system is nearer to its end than you
STALIN: In speaking of the capitalists who strive only for profit, only to get
rich, I do not want to say that these are the most worthless people, capable of
nothing else. Many of them undoubtedly possess great organizing talent, Which I
do not dream of denying. We Soviet people learn a great deal from the
capitalists. And Morgan, whom you characterize so unfavorably, was undoubtedly a
good, capable organizer. But if you mean people who are prepared to reconstruct
the world, of course, you will not be able to find them in the ranks of those
who faithfully serve the cause of profit. We and they stand at opposite poles.
You mentioned Ford. Of course, he is a capable organizer of production. But
don't you know his attitude towards the working class? Don't you know how many
workers he throws on the street? The capitalist is riveted to profit; and no
power on earth can tear him away from it. Capitalism will be abolished, not, by
"organizers" of production, not by the technical intelligentsia, but by the
working class, because the aforementioned strata do not play an independent
role. The engineer, the organizer of production, does not work as he would like
to, but as he is ordered, in such a way as to serve the interests of his
employers. There are exceptions of course; there are people in this stratum who
have awakened from the intoxication of capitalism the technical intelligentsia
can, under certain conditions, perform miracles and greatly benefit mankind. But
It can also cause great harm. We Soviet people have not a little experience of
the technical intelligentsia. After the October Revolution, a certain section of
the technical intelligentsia refused to take part in the work of constructing
the new society; they opposed this work of construction and sabotaged it. We did
all we possibly could to bring the technical intelligentsia into this work of
construction we tried this way and that. Not a little time passed before our technical
intelligentsia agreed actively to assist the new system. Today the best section
of this technical intelligentsia are in the front rank of the builders of
socialist society. Having this experience, we are far from underestimating the
good and the bad sides of the technical intelligentsia and we know that on the
one hand it can do harm, and on the other hand, it can perform "miracles." Of
course, things would be different if it were possible, at one stroke,
spiritually to tear the technical intelligentsia away from the capitalist world.
But that is utopia. Are there many of the technical intelligentsia who would
dare break away from the bourgeois world and set to work to reconstruct society?
Do you think there are many people of this kind, say, in England or in France?
No, there are few who would be willing to break away from their employers and
Besides, can we lose sight of the fact that in order to transform the world it
is necessary'to have political power? It seems to me, Mr. Wells, that you
greatly underestimate the question of political power, that it entirely drops
out of your conception. What can those, even with the best intentions in the
world, do if they are unable to raise the question of seizing power, and do not
possess power? At best they can help the class which takes power, but they
cannot change the world themselves. This can only be done by a great class which
will take the place of the capitalist class and become the sovereign master as
the latter was before. This class is the working class. Of course, the
assistance of the technical intelligentsia must be accepted; and the latter, in
turn, must be assisted. But it must not be thought that the technical
intelligentsia can play an independent historical role. The transformation of
the world is a great, complicated and painful process. For this great task a
great class is required. Big ships go on long voyages.
WELLS: Yes, but for long voyages a captain and a navigator are required.
STALIN: That is true; but what is first required for a long voyage is a big
ship. What is a navigator without a ship? An idle man.
WELLS: The big ship is humanity, not a class.
STALIN: You, Mr. Wells, evidently start out with the assumption that all men are
good. I, however, do not forget that there are many wicked men. I do not believe
in the goodness of the bourgeoisie.
WELLS: I remember the situation with regard to the technical intelligentsia
several decades ago. At that time the technical intelligentsia was numerically
small, but there was much to do and every engineer, technician and intellectual
found his opportunity. That is why the technical intelligentsia was the least
revolutionary class. Now, however, there is a superabundance of technical
intellectuals, and their mentality has changed very sharply. The skilled man,
who would formerly never listen to revolutionary talk, is now greatly interested
in it. Recently I was dining with the Royal Society, our great English
scientific society. The President's speech was a speech for social planning and
scientific control. Thirty years ago, they would not have listened to what I say
to them now. Today, the man at the head of the Royal Society holds revolutionary
views and insists on the scientific reorganization of human society. Mentality
changes. Your class-war propaganda has not. kept pace with these facts.
STALIN : Yes, I know this, and this is to be explained by the fact that
capitalist society is now in a cul-de-sac. The capitalists are seeking, but
cannot find, a way out of this cul-de-sac that would be compatible with the
dignity of this class, compatible with the interests of this class. They could,
to some extent, crawl out of the crisis on their hands and knees, but they
cannot find an exit that would enable them to walk out of it with head raised
high, a way out that would not. fundamentally disturb the interests of
capitalism. This, of course, is realized by wide circles of the technical
intelligentsia. A large section of it is beginning to realize the community of
its interests with those of the class which is capable of pointing the way out
of the cul-de-sac.
WELLS: You of all people know something about revolutions, Mr. Stalin, from the
practical side. Do the masses ever rise? Is it not an established truth that all
revolutions are made by a minority?
STALIN: To bring about a revolution a leading revolutionary minority is
required; but the most talented, devoted and energetic minority would be
helpless if it did not rely upon the at least passive support of millions.
WELLS: At least passive? Perhaps sub-conscious?
STALIN: Partly also the semi-instinctive and semiconscious, but without the
support of millions, the best minority is impotent.
WELLS: I watch communist propaganda in the West and it seems to me that in
modern conditions this propaganda sounds very oldfashioned, because it is
insurrectionary propaganda. Propaganda in favor of the violent overthrow of the
social system ,was all very well when it was directed against tyranny. But under
modern conditions, when the system is collapsing anyhow, stress should be laid
on efficiency, on competence, on productiveness, and not on insurrection. It
seems to me that the insurrectionary note is obsolete. The communist propaganda
in the West is a nuisance to constructive minded people.
STALIN: Of course the old system is breaking down, decaying. That is true. But
it is also true that new efforts are being made by other methods, by every
means, to protect, to save this dying system. You draw a wrong conclusion from a
correct postulate. You rightly state that the old world is breaking down. But
you are wrong in thinking that it is breaking down of its own accord No, the
substitution of one social system for another is a complicated and long
revolutionary process. It is not simply a spontaneous process, but a struggle,
it is a process connected with the clash of classes. Capitalism is decaying, but
it must not be compared simply with a tree which has decayed to such an extent
that it must fall to the ground of its own accord. No, revolution, the
substitution of one social system for another, has always been a struggle, a
painful and a cruel struggle, a life and death struggle. And every time the
people of the new world came into power, they had to defend themselves against
the attempts of the old world to restore the old order by force; these people of
the new world always had to be on the alert, always had to be ready to repel the
attacks of the old world upon the new system.
Yes, you are right when you say that the old social system is breaking down; but
it is not breaking down of its own accord. Take Fascism for example. Fascism is
a reactionary force which is trying to preserve the old world by means of
violence. What will you do
with the fascists? Argue with them? Try to convince them? But this will have no
effect upon them at all. Communists do not in the least idealize the methods of
violence. But they, the Communists, do not want to be taken by surprise, they
cannot count on the old world voluntarily departing from the stage, they see
that the old system is violently defending itself, and that is why the
Communists say to the working class: Answer violence with violence; do all you
can to prevent the old dying order from crushing you, do ,not permit it to put
manacles on your hands, on the hands with which you will overthrow the old
system. As you see, the Communists regard the substitution of one social system
for another, not simply as a spontaneous and peaceful process, but as a
complicated, long and violent process. Communists cannot ignore facts.
WELLS: But look at what is now going on in the capitalist world. The collapse is
not a simple one: it is the outbreak of reactionary violence which is
degenerating to gangsterism. And it seems to me that when it comes to a conflict
with reactionary and unintelligent violence, socialists can appeal to the law,
and instead of regarding the police as the enemy they should support them in the
fight against the reactionaries. I think that it is useless operating with the
methods of the old rigid insurrectionary socialism.
STALIN: The Communists base themselves on rich historical experience which
teaches that obsolete classes do not voluntarily abandon the stage of history.
Recall the history of England in the seventeenth century. Did not many say that
the old social system had decayed? But did it not, nevertheless, require a
Cromwell to crush it by force?
WELLS: Cromwell operated on the basis of the constitution and in the name of
STALIN: In the name of the constitution he resorted to violence, beheaded the
king, dispersed Parliament, arrested some and beheaded others!
Or take an example from our history. Was it not clear for a long time that the
tsarist system was decaying, was breaking down? But how much blood had to be
shed in order to overthrow it? And what about the October Revolution? Were there
not plenty of people who knew that we alone, the Bolsheviks, were indicating the
only correct way out? Was it not clear that Russian capitalism had decayed? But
you know how great was the resistance, how much blood had to be shed in order to
defend the October Revolution from all its enemies, internal and external. Or
take France at the end of the eighteenth century. Long before 1789 it was clear
to many how rotten the royal power, the feudal system was. But a popular
insurrection, a clash of classes was not, ,could not be avoided. Why? Because
the classes which must abandon the stage of history are the last to become
convinced that their role is ended. It is impossible to convince them of this.
They think that the fissures in the decaying edifice of the old order can be
mended, that the tottering edifice of the old order can be repaired and saved.
That is why dying classes take to arms and resort to every means to save their
existence as a ruling class.
WELLS: But there were not a few lawyers at the head of the Great French
STALIN: Do you deny the role of the intelligentsia in revolutionary movements?
Was the Great French Revolution a lawyers' revolution and not a popular
revolution, which achieved victory by rousing vast masses of the people against
feudalism and championed the interests of the Third Estate? And did the lawyers
among the leaders of the Great French Revolution act in accordance with the laws
of the old order? Did they not introduce new, bourgeois-revolutionary laws?
The rich experience of history teaches that up to now not a single class has
voluntarily made way for another class. There is no such precedent in world
history. The Communists have learned this lesson of history. Communists would
welcome the voluntary departure of the bourgeoisie. But such a turn of affairs
is improbable: that is what experience teaches. That is why the Communists want
to be prepared for the worst and call upon the working class to be vigilant, to
be prepared for battle. Who wants a captain who lulls the vigilance of his army,
a captain who does not understand that the enemy will not surrender, that he
must be crushed? To be such a captain means deceiving, betraying the working
class. That is why r think that what seems to you to be old-fashioned is in fact
a measure of revolutionary expediency for the working class.
WELLS: I do not deny that force has to be used, but I think the forms of the
struggle should fit as closely as possible to the opportunities presented by the
existing laws, which must be defended against reactionary attacks. There is no
need to disorganize the old system because it is' disorganizing itself enough as
it is. That is why it seems to me insurrection against the old order, against
the law, is<'obsolete, old-fashioned. Incidentally, I deliberately exaggerate in
order to bring the truth out more clearly. I can formulate my point of view in
the following way: first, I am for order; second, I attack the present system in
so far as it cannot assure order: third, I think that class war propaganda may
detach from socialism just those educated people whom socialism needs.
STALIN: In order to achieve a great object, an important social object, there
must be a main force, a bulwark, a revolutionary class. Next it is necessary to
organize the assistance of an auxiliary force for this main force: in this case
this auxiliary force is the Party, to which the best forces of the
intelligentsia belong. Just now you spoke about "educated people;" But what
educated people did you have in mind? Were there not plenty of educated people
on the side of the old order in England in the seventeenth century, in France at
the end of the eighteenth century, and in Russia in the epoch of the October
Revolution? The old order: had in its service many highly educated people who
defended the old order, who opposed the new order. Education is a weapon the
effect of which be struck down. Of course, the proletariat, socialism, needs is
determined by the hands which wield it, by who is to highly educated people.
Clearly, simpletons cannot help the proletariat to fight for socialism, to build
a new society. I do not underestimate the role of the intelligentsia; on the
contrary, emphasize it. The question is, however, which intelligentsia are we
discussing? Because there are different kinds of intelligentsia.
WELLS: There can be no revolution without a radical change in the educational
system. It is sufficient to quote two examples: The example of the German
Republic, which did not touch the old educational system, and therefore never
became a republic: and the example
of the British Labor Party, which lacks the determination to insist on a radical
change in the educational system.
STALIN: That is a correct observation. Permit me now to reply to, your three
First, the main thing for the revolution is the existence of a social bulwark.
This bulwark of the revolution is the working class.
Second, an auxiliary force is required, that which the Communists call a Party.
To the Party belong the intelligent workers and those elements of the technical
intelligentsia which are closely connected with the working class. The
intelligentsia can be strong only if it combines with the working class. If it
opposes the working class it becomes a cipher.
Third, political power is required as a lever for change. The new political
power creates the new laws, the new order, which is revolutionary order.
I do not stand for any kind of order. I stand for order that corresponds to the
interests of the working class. If however, any of the laws of the old order can
be utilized in the interests of the struggle for the new order, the old laws
should be utilized. I cannot object to your postulate that the present system
should be attacked in so far as it does not insure the necessary order for the
And, finally, you are wrong if you think that the Communists are enamored with
violence. They would be very pleased to drop violent methods if the ruling class
agreed to give way to the working class. But the experience of history speaks
against such an assumption.
WELLS: There was a case in the history of England, however, of a class
voluntarily handing over power to another class. In the period between 1830 and
1870, the aristocracy, whose influence was still very considerable at the end of
the eighteenth century, voluntarily, without a severe struggle, surrendered
power to the bourgeoisie, which serves as a sentimental support of the monarchy.
Subsequently, this transference of power led to the establishment of the rule of
the financial oligarchy.
STALIN: But you have imperceptibly passed from questions of revolution to
questions of reform. This is not the same thing. Don't you think that the
Chartist movement played a great role in the Reforms in England in the
WELLS: The Chartists did little and disappeared without leaving a trace.
STALIN: I do not agree with you. The Chartists, and the strike movement which
they organized, played a great role; they compelled the ruling classes to make a
number of concessions in regard to the franchise, in regard to abolishing the
so-called "rotten boroughs," and in regard to some of the points of the
"Charter." Chartism played a not unimportant historical role and compelled a
section of the ruling classes to make certain concessions, reforms, in order to
avert great shocks. Generally speaking, it must be said that of all the ruling
classes, the ruling classes of England, both the aristocracy and the
bourgeoisie, proved to be the cleverest, most flexible from the point of view of
their class interests, from the point of view of maintaining their power. Take
as an example, say, from modern history, the general strike in England in 1926.
The first thing any other bourgeoisie would have done in the face. of such an
event, when the General Council of Trade Unions called for a strike, would have
been to arrest the trade union leaders. The British bourgeoisie did not do that,
and it acted cleverly from the point of view of its own interests. I cannot
conceive of such a flexible strategy being employed by the bourgeoisie in the
United States, Germany or France. In order to maintain their rule, the ruling
classes of Great Britain have never foresworn small concessions, reforms. But it
would be a mistake to think that these reforms were revolutionary.
WELLS: You have a higher opinion of the ruling classes of my country than I
have. But is there a great difference between a small revolution and a great
reform? Is not a reform a small revolution?
STALIN: Owing to pressure from below, the pressure of the masses, the
bourgeoisie may sometimes concede certain partial reforms while remaining on the
basis of the existing social-economic system. Acting in this way, it calculates
that these concessions are necessary in order to preserve its class rule. This
is the essence of reform. Revolution, however, means the transference of power
from one class to another. That is why it is impossible to describe any reform
as revolution. That is why we cannot count on the change of social systems
taking place as an imperceptible transition from one system to another by means,
of reforms, by the ruling class making concessions. .
WELLS: I am very grateful to you for this talk which has meant a great deal to
me. In explaining things to me you probably called to mind how you had to
explain the fundamentals of socialism in the illegal circles before the
revolution. At the present time there are in the world only two persons to whose
opinion, to whose every word, millions are listening: you and Roosevelt. Others
may preach as much as they like; what they say will never be printed or heeded.
I cannot yet appreciate what has been done in your country; I only arrived
yesterday. But I have already seen the happy faces of healthy men and women and
I know that something very considerable is being done here. The contrast with
1920 is astounding.
STALIN: Much more could have been done had we Bolsheviks been cleverer.
WELLS: No, if human beings were cleverer it would be a good thing to invent a
five-year plan for the reconstruction of the human brain which obviously lacks
many things needed for a perfect social order. (Laughter).
STALIN: Don't you intend to stay for the Congress of the Soviet Writers Union?
WELLS: Unfortunately, I have various engagements to fulfill and can stay in the
U.S.S.R. only for a week. I came to see you and I am very satisfied by our talk.
But I intend to discuss with such Soviet writers as I can meet the possibility
of their affiliating to the P.E.N. club. This is an international organization
of writers founded by Galsworthy; after his death I became president. The
organization is still weak, but it has branches in many countries, and what is
more important, the speeches of its members, are widely reported in the press.
It insists upon this free expression of opinion, even of opposition opinion. I
hope to discuss this point with Gorky. I do not know if you are prepared yet for
that much freedom here.
STALIN: We Bolsheviks call it "self-criticism." It is widely used in the
,U.S.S.R. If there is anything I can do to help you I shall be glad to do so.
WELLS: (Expresses thanks.)
STALIN: (Expresses thanks for the