The Essential STALIN
Introduction to book Major Theoretical writings 1905-52 By Bruce Franklin
I used to think of Joseph
Stalin as a tyrant and butcher who jailed and killed millions, betrayed the
Russian revolution, sold out liberation struggles around the world, and ended up
a solitary madman, hated and feared by the people of the Soviet Union and the
world. Even today I have trouble saying the name "Stalin" without feeling a bit
But, to about a billion people
today, Stalin is the opposite of what we in the capitalist world have been
programmed to believe. The people of China, Vietnam, Korea, and Albania consider
Stalin one of the great heroes of modern history, a man who personally helped
win their liberation.
This belief could be dismissed
as the product of an equally effective brainwashing from the other side, except
that the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union, who knew Stalin best, share
this view. For almost two decades the Soviet rulers have systematically
attempted to make the Soviet people accept the capitalist world's view of
Stalin, or at least to forget him. They expunged him from the history books,
wiped out his memorials, and even removed his body from his tomb.
Yet, according to all accounts,
the great majority of the Soviet people still revere the memory of Stalin, and
bit by bit they have forced concessions. First it was granted that Stalin had
been a great military leader and the main antifascist strategist of World War
II. Then it was conceded that he had made important contributions to the
material progress of the Soviet people. Now a recent Soviet film shows Stalin,
several years before his death, as a calm, rational, wise leader.
But the rulers of the Soviet
Union still try to keep the people actually from reading Stalin. When they took
over, one of their first acts was to ban his writings. They stopped the
publication of his collected works, of which thirteen volumes had already
appeared, covering the period only through 1934. This has made it difficult
throughout the world to obtain Stalin's writings in the last two decades of his
life. Recently the Hoover Institute of Stanford University, whose purpose, as
stated by its founder, Herbert Hoover, is to demonstrate the evils of the
doctrines of Karl Marx" completed the final volumes in Russian so that they
would be available to Stanford's team of émigré anti-Communists (In. preparing.
this volume, I was able to use the Hoover collection of writings by and about
Stalin only by risking jail, directly Violating my banishment by court
injunction from this Citadel of the Free World.)
The situation in the U.S. is
not much different from that in th7 U.S.S.R. In fact the present volume
represents the first time since 1955 that a major publishing house in either
country has authorized the publication of Stalin's works. U.S. Capitalist
publishers have printed only Stalin's wartime diplomatic correspondence and
occasional essays, usually much abridged, in anthologies. Meanwhile his enemies
and critics are widely published. Since the early 1920s there have been
basically two opposing lines claiming to represent Marxism-Leninism, one being
Stalin's and the other Trotsky’s. The works of Trotsky are readily available in
many inexpensive editions. And hostile memoirs, such as those of Khrushchev and
Svetlana Stalin, are actually serialized in popular magazines.
The suppression of Stalin's
writings spreads the notion that he did not write anything worth reading. Yet
Stalin is clearly one of the three most important historical figures of our
century, his thought and deeds still affecting our daily lives, considered by
hundreds of millions today as one of the leading political theorists of any
time, his very name a strongly emotional household word throughout the world.
Anyone familiar with the development of Marxist-Leninist theory in the past half
century knows that Stalin was not merely a man of action. Mao names him "the
greatest genius of our time," calls himself Stalin's disciple, and argues that
Stalin' s theoretical works are still the core of world Communist revolutionary
Gaining access to Stalin's
works is not the hardest part of coming to terms with him. First we must
recognize that there can be no "objective" or "neutral" appraisal of Stalin, any
more than there can be of any major historical figure during the epochs of class
struggle. From the point of view of some classes, George Washington was an
arrogant scoundrel and traitor to his country, king, and God, a renegade who
brought slaughter and chaos to a continent; Abraham Lincoln was responsible for
the deaths of millions and the destruction of a civilized, cultured, harmonious
society based on the biblically sanctioned relationship with the black
descendants of Ham; Sitting Bull was a murderous savage who stood in the way of
the progress of a superior civilization; Eldridge Cleaver, George and Jonathan
Jackson, Ruchell Magee and Angela Davis are vicious murderers, while Harry
Truman, Nelson Rockefeller, Mayor Daley, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon are
rational and patriotic men who use force only when necessary to protect the
treasured values of the Free World.
Any historical figure must be
evaluated from the interests of one class or another. Take J. Edgar Hoover, for
example. Anti-Communists may disagree about his performance, but they start from
the assumption that the better he did his job of preserving "law and order" as
defined by our present rulers the better he was. We Communists, on the other
hand, certainly would not think Hoover "better" if he had been more efficient in
running the secret police and protecting capitalism. And so the opposite with
Stalin, whose job was not to preserve capitalism but to destroy it, not to
suppress communism but to advance it. The better he did his job, the worse he is
likely to seem to all those who profit from this economic system and the more he
will be appreciated by the victims of that system. The Stalin question is quite
different for those who share his goals and for those, who oppose them. For the
revolutionary people of the world it is literally a life and-death matter to
have a scientific estimate of Stalin, because he was, after all, the principal
leader of the world revolution for thirty crucial years.
I myself have seen Stalin from
both sides. Deeply embedded in my consciousness and feelings was that Vision of
Stalin as tyrant and butcher. This was part of my over-all view of communism as
a slave system, an idea that I was taught in capitalist society. Communist
society was not red but a dull-gray world. It was ruled by a secret clique of
powerful men. Everybody else worked for these few and kept their mouths shut.
Propaganda poured from all the media. The secret police were everywhere, tapping
phones, following people on the street, making midnight raids. Anyone who spoke
out would lose his job, get thrown in jail, or even get shot by the police. One
of the main aims of the government was international aggression, starting wars
to conquer other counties. When I began to discover that this entire vision
point by point described my own society a number of questions arose in my mind.
For me, as for millions of
others in the United States it was the Vietnamese who forced a change in
perception. How could we fail to admire the Vietnamese people and to see Ho Chi
Minh as one of the great heroes of our times? What stood out not about Ho was
his vast love for the people and his dedication to serving them. (In 1965,
before I became a Communist, I spoke at a rally soliciting blood for the
Vietnamese victims of U.S. bombing. When I naively said that Ho was a
nationalist above being a Communist and a human being above being a nationalist,
I was pelted with garbage and, much to my surprise, called a "dirty Commie. But
we were supposed to believe that Ho was a "tyrant and butcher." Later, it dawned
on me that Fidel Castro was also supposed to be a "tyrant and butcher" although
earlier we had been portrayed as a freedom fighter against the Batista
dictatorship. Still later, I began to study the Chinese revolution, and found in
Mao's theory and preaches the guide for my own thinking and action. But, again,
we were Supposed to see Mao as a "tyrant and butcher" and also a "madman” the
more I looked into it, the more I found that these "tyrants and butchers"-Ho,
Fidel, and Mao -were all depicted servants of the people, inspired by a deep and
self sacrificing love for them. At some point, I began to wonder if perhaps even
Stalin was not a "tyrant and butcher."
With this thought came intense
feelings that must resemble - what someone in a tribe experiences when violating
a taboo. But if we want to understand the world we live in, we must face Stalin.
Joseph Stalin personifies a
major aspect of three decades of twentieth-century history. If we seek answers
to any of the crucial questions about the course of our century, at some point
we find Stalin standing directly in our path. Is it possible for poor and
working people to make a revolution and then wield political power? Can an
undeveloped, backward nation whose people are illiterate, impoverished,
diseased, starving, and lacking in all the skills and tools needed to develop
their productive forces possibly achieve both material and cultural well-being?
Can this be done under a condition of encirclement by hostile powers, greedy for
conquest, far more advanced industrially and, militantly: and fanatical in their
opposition to any people s revolutionary government? What price must be paid for
the success of revolutionary development? Can national unity be achieved in a
vast land inhabited by many peoples of diverse races, religions, culture,
language, and levels of economic development?
Is it possible to attain
international unity among the exploited and oppressed peoples of many different
nations whose governments depend upon intense nationalism and the constant
threat of war? Then, later, can the people of any modern highly industrialized
society also have a high degree of freedom, or must the state be their enemy?
Can any society flourish without some form of ruling elite?
These questions are all
peculiarly modern, arising in the epoch of capitalism as it reaches its highest
form, modern imperialism, and becoming critical in our own time, the era of
global revolution. Each of these questions leads us inevitably to Stalin. In my
opinion, it is not going too far to say that Stalin is the key figure of our
All the achievements and all
the failures, all the strengths and all the weaknesses, of the Soviet revolution
and indeed of the world revolution in the period 1922-53 are summed up in
Stalin. This is not to say that he is personally responsible for all that was
and was not accomplished, or that nobody else could have done what he did. We
are not dealing with a "great man" theory of history. In fact, quite the
opposite. If we are to understand Stalin at all, and evaluate him from the point
of View of either of two major opposing classes, we must see him, like all
historical figures, as a being created by his times and containing the
contradictions of those times. .
Every idea of Stalin's, as he
would be the first to admit, came to him from his historical existence, which
also fixed limits to the ideas available to him. He could study history in order
to learn from the experience of the Paris Commune but he could not look into a
crystal ball to benefit from the lessons of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. And
the decisions he made also had fixed and determined limits on either Side, as we
To appraise Stalin, the best
way to begin is to compare the condition of the Soviet Union and the rest of the
world at two times: when he came into leadership and when he died. Without such
a comparison, it is impossible to measure what he may have contributed or taken
away from human progress. If the condition of the Soviet people was much better
when he died than when he took power, he cannot have made their lives worse. The
worst that can be said is that they would have progressed more without him. The
same is true for the world revolution. Was it set back during the decades of his
leadership, or did it advance? Once we put the questions this way, the burden of
proof falls on those who deny Stalin's positive role as a revolutionary leader.
As World War I began, the
Russian Empire consisted primarily of vast undeveloped lands inhabited by many
different peoples speaking a variety of languages with a very low level
of literacy, productivity, technology, and health. Feudal Social relations still
prevailed throughout many of these lands. Czarist secret police, officially
organized bands of military terrorists, and a vast bureaucracy were deployed to
keep the hungry masses of workers and peasants in line.
The war brought these problems
to a crisis. Millions went to their deaths wearing rags, with empty stomachs,
often waiting for those in front of them to fall so they could have a rifle and
a few rounds of ammunition. When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, the entire
vast empire, including the great cities of Russia itself, was in chaos.
Before the new government could
begin to govern, it was Immediately set upon by the landlords, capitalists, and
generals of the old regime, with all the forces they could buy and muster,
together with combined military forces of Britain, France, Japan, and Poland,
and additional military contingents from the U.S. and other capitalist
countries. A vicious civil war raged for three years, from Siberia through
European Russia, from the White Sea to the Ukraine. At the end of the Civil War,
in 1920, agricultural output was less than half that of the prewar poverty
stricken countryside. Even worse was the situation in industry.
Many mines and factories had
been destroyed. Transport had been torn up. Stocks of raw materials and semi
finished products had been exhausted. The output of large-scale industry was
about one seventh of what it had been before the war. And the fighting against
foreign military intervention had to go on for two more years. Japanese and U.S.
troops still held a portion of Siberia, including the key port city of
Vladivostok, which was not recaptured until 1922.
Lenin suffered his first stroke
in 1922. From this point on, Stalin, who was the General Secretary of the
Central Committee, began to emerge as the principal leader of the Party.
Stalin's policies were being implemented at least as early as 1924, the year of
Lenin's death, and by 1927 the various opposing factions had been defeated and
expelled from the Party. It is the period of the early and mid-1920S that we
must compare to 1953.
The Soviet Union of the early
1920S was a land of deprivation. Hunger was everywhere, and actual mass famines
swept across much of the countryside. Industrial production was extremely low,
and the technological Level of industry was so backward that there seemed little
possibility of mechanizing agriculture. Serious rebellions in the armed forces
were breaking out, most notably at the Kronstadt garrison in 1921.
By 1924 large-scale peasant
revolts were erupting, particularly in Georgia. There was virtually no
electricity outside the large cities. Agriculture was based on the peasant
holdings and medium-sized farms seized by rural capitalists (the kulaks) who
forced the peasants back into wage Labor and tenant fanning. Health care was
almost non-existent in much of the country. The technical knowledge and skills
needed to develop modern industry, agriculture, health, and education were
concentrated in the hands of a few, mostly opposed to socialism while the vast
majority of the population were illiterate and could hardly think about
education while barely managing to subsist. The Soviet Union was isolated in a
world controlled by powerful capitalist countries physically surrounding it,
setting up economic blockades, and officially refusing to recognize its
existence while outdoing each other in their pledges to wipe out this Red
The counterrevolution was
riding high throughout Europe Great Britain, and even in the U.S.A., where the
Red threat was used as an excuse to smash labor unions. Fascism was emerging in
several parts of the capitalist world, particularly in Japan and in Italy, where
Mussolini took dictatorial power in 1924. Most of the world consisted of
colonies and neo-colonies of the European powers.
When Stalin died in 1953, the
Soviet Union was the second greatest industrial, scientific, and military power
in the world and showed clear signs of moving to overtake the U.S. in all these
areas. This was despite the devastating losses it suffered while defeating the
fascist powers of Germany, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. The various peoples
of the U.S.S.R. were unified. Starvation and illiteracy were unknown throughout
the country. Agriculture was completely collectivized and extremely productive.
Preventive health care was the finest in the world, and medical treatment of
exceptionally high quality was available free to all citizens. Education at all
levels was free. More books were published in the U.S.S.R. than in any other
country. There was no unemployment.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the
world, not only had the main fascist powers of 1922-45 been defeated, but the
forces of revolution were on the rise everywhere. The Chinese Communist Party
had just led one fourth of the world's population to victory over foreign
imperialism and domestic feudalism and capitalism. Half of Korea was socialist,
and the U.S.-British imperialist army, having rushed to intervene in the civil
war under the banner of the United Nations was on the defensive and hopelessly
demoralized. In Vietnam, strong socialist power, which had already defeated
Japanese Imperialism, was administering the final blows to the beaten army of
the French empire. The monarchies and fascist military dictatorships of Eastern
Europe had been destroyed by a combination of partisan forces, led by local
Communists, and the Soviet Army; everywhere except for Greece there were now
governments that supported the world revolution and at least claimed to be
governments of the workers and peasants. The largest political party in both
France and Italy was the Communist Party. The national liberation movement among
the European colonies and neo-colonies was surging forward. Between 1946 and
1949 alone, at least nominal national independence was achieved by Burma,
Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Laos, Libya, Ceylon, Jordan, and the Philippines,
countries comprising about one third of the world’s population. The entire
continent of Africa was stirring.
Everybody but the Trotskyites,
and even some of them would have to admit that the situation for the Communist
world revolution was incomparably advanced in 1953 over what it had been in the
early or mid 1920s. Of course, that does not settle the Stalin question. We
still have to ask whether Stalin contributed to this tremendous advance, or
slowed it down or had negligible influence on it. And we must not duck the
question as to whether Stalin's theory and practice built such serious faults
into revolutionary communism that its later failures, particularly in the Soviet
Union, can be pinned on him.
So let us look through Stalin’s
career focusing particularly on its most controversial aspects.
"Stalin" which means
"steel-man," was the code name for a Young Georgian revolutionary born as Joseph
Visvarionovich Djugashvili in 1879 in the town of Gori. His class origins
combine the main forces of the Russian revolution.
His father formerly a village
cobbler of peasant background, became a' worker in a shoe factory. His mother
was the daughter of peasant serfs. So Stalin was no stranger to either workers
or peasants, and being from Georgia, he had firsthand knowledge of how czarist
Russia oppressed the non-Russian peoples of its empire. .
While studying at the seminary
for a career as a priest, he made his first contact with the Marxist underground
at the age of fifteen, and at eighteen he formally joined the Russian
Social-Democratic Labor Party, which was to evolve into the Communist Party.
Shortly after joining the party in 1898, he became convinced that Lenin was the
main theoretical leader of the revolution, particularly when Lenin's newspaper
Iskra began to appear in 1900. After being thrown out of his seminary,
Stalin concentrated on organizing workers in the area of Tiflis, capital of
Georgia, and the Georgian industrial City of Batumi. After one of his many
arrests by the czarist secret police, he began to correspond with Lenin from
Escaping from Siberian exile in
1904, Stalin returned to organizing workers in the cities of Georgia, where mass
strikes were beginning to assume a decidedly political and revolutionary
character. Here he began to become one of the main spokesmen for Lenin's theory,
as we see in the first two selections in this volume. In December 1904 he led a
huge strike of the Baku workers, which helped precipitate the abortive Russian
revolution of 1905. During the revolution and after it was suppressed, Stalin
was one of the main Bolshevik underground and military organizers, and was
frequently arrested by the secret police. At the Prague Conference of 1912, in
which the Bolsheviks completed the split with the Mensheviks and established
themselves as a separate party, Stalin was elected in absentia to the Central
Committee, a position he was to maintain for over four decades. Then, on the eve
of World War I, he published what may properly be considered his first major
contribution to Marxist-Leninist theory, Marxism and the National Question.
Prior to World War I, the
various social-democratic parties of Europe were loosely united in the Second
All pledged themselves to
international proletarian solidarity. But when the war broke out, the theory
Stalin had developed in Marxism and the National Question proved to be
crucial and correct. As Stalin had foreseen, every party that had compromised
with bourgeois nationalism ended up leading the workers of its nation to support
their "own" bourgeois rulers by going out to kill and be killed by the workers
of the other nations. Lenin, Stalin, and the other Bolsheviks took a quite
different position. They put forward the slogan "Turn the imperialist war into a
civil war." Alone of all the parties of the Second International, they came out
for actual armed revolution.
In February 1917 the workers,
peasants and soldiers of Russia, in alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie,
overthrew the czarist autocracy, which had bled the country dry and brought it
to ruin in a war fought to extend the empire. The liberal bourgeoisie
established a new government. The next few months led to a key moment in
history. Most of the parties that claimed to be revolutionary now took the
position that the Russian proletariat was too weak and backward to assume
political power. They advocated that the proletariat should support the new
bourgeois government and enter a long period of capitalist development until
someday in the future when they could begin to think about socialism. This view
even penetrated the Bolsheviks. So when Stalin was released from his prison
exile in March and the Central Committee brought him back to help lead the work
in St. Petersburg, he found a heavy internal struggle. He took Lenin's position,
and, being placed in charge of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda, was able
to put it forward vigorously to the masses. When the Central Committee finally
decided, in October, to lead the workers and soldiers of St. Petersburg to seize
the Winter Palace and establish a proletarian government, it was over the
violent objections of many of the aristocratic intellectuals who, much to their
own surprise and discomfort had found themselves in an actual revolutionary
situation. Two of them, Zinoviev and Kamenev, even went so far as to inform the
bourgeois newspapers that the Bolsheviks had a secret plan to seize power. After
the virtually bloodless seizure by the workers and soldiers took place, a third
member of the Central Committee, Rykov, joined Zinoviev and Kamenev in a secret
deal made with the bourgeois parties whereby the Bolsheviks would resign from
power, the press would be returned to the bourgeoisie, and Lenin would be
permanently barred from holding public office. (All this is described in John
Reed's Ten Days That Shook the World, which was first published in 1919.
I mention this because Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Rykov were three of the central
figures of the purge trials of the 1930S, and it is they who have been portrayed
as stanch Bolsheviks in such works as Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon.)
During the Civil War, which
followed the seizure of power, Stalin began to emerge as an important military
Trotsky was nominally the head
of the Red Army. Behaving, as he always did, in the primacy of technique,
Trotsky took as one of his main tasks winning over the high officers of the
former czarist army and turning them into the general command of the
revolutionary army. The result was defeat after defeat for the Red forces,
either through outright betrayal by their aristocratic officers or because these
officers tried to apply military theories appropriate to a conscript or
mercenary army to the leadership of a people's army made up of workers and
peasants. Stalin, on the other hand, understood the military situation from the
point of view of the workers and peasants, and with a knowledge of their
capabilities and limitations.
In 1919 Stalin was sent as a
special plenipotentiary to the key Volga city of Tsaritsyn. His mission was
simply to assure the delivery of food supplies from this entire region. What he
found was a disastrous military situation, with the city not only surrounded by
the White Army but heavily infiltrated by counterrevolutionary forces. He saw
that the food supply could not be safeguarded unless the military and political
situations were dealt with. He instituted an uncompromising purge of
counterrevolutionary elements within both the officer corps and the political
infrastructure, took personal command of the military forces over the heads of
both the local authorities and Trotsky, and then proceeded to save the city, the
region, and the food supply. Trotsky, furious, demanded his recall. As for the
citizens of Tsaritsyn, their opinion became known six years later, when they
renamed their city Stalingrad.
After this episode, rather than
being recalled, Stalin was dispatched far and wide to every major front in the
Civil War. In each and every place, he was able to win the immediate respect of
the revolutionary people and to lead the way to military victory, even in the
most desperate circumstances.
Certain qualities emerged more
and more clearly, acknowledged by both friends and enemies. These were his
enormous practicality and efficiency, his worker peasant outlook, and the
unswerving way he proceeded to the heart of every problem. By the end of the
war, Stalin was widely recognized as a man who knew how to run things, a quality
sorely lacking among most of the aristocratic intellectuals who then saw
themselves as great proletarian leaders. In April 1922 he was made General
Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. It was in this
position that Stalin was quickly to become the de facto leader of the Party and
Stalin's career up to this
point is relatively uncontroversial in comparison with everything that follows.
But nothing at all about Stalin is beyond controversy. Most of his biographers
in the capitalist world minimize his revolutionary activities prior to 1922. At
least two influential biographies, Boris Souvarine's Stalin (1939) and
Edward Ellis Smith's The Young Stalin (1967), even argue that during most
of this period Stalin was actually an agent for the czarist secret police.
Trotsky's mammoth biography Stalin (1940) not only belittles Stalin's
revolutionary activities but actually sees his life and "moral stature"
predetermined by his racially defined genetic composition; after discussing
whether or not Stalin had "an admixture of Mongolian blood," Trotsky decides
that in any case he was one perfect type of the national character of southern
countries such as Georgia, where, "in addition to the so-called Southern type,
which is characterized by a combination of lazy shiftlessness and explosive
irascibility, one meets cold natures, in whom phlegm is combined with
stubbornness and slyness." The most influential biographer of all, Trotsky's
disciple Isaac Deutscher, is a bit more subtle, blaming Stalin's crude and
vicious character not on his race but on his low social class:
revolutionaries from the upper classes (such as Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev,
Bukharin, Rakovsky, Radek, Lunacharsky, and Chicherin) came into the Socialist
movement with inherited cultural traditions. They brought into the milieu of the
revolution some of the values and qualities of their own milieu-not only
knowledge, but also refinement of thought, speech, and manners. Indeed, their
Socialist rebellion was itself the product of moral sensitiveness and
intellectual refinement. These were precisely the qualities that life had not
been kind enough to cultivate in Djugashvili [Stalin]. On the contrary, it had
heaped enough physical and moral squalor in his path to blunt his sensitiveness
and his taste. (Stalin, A Political Biography, p. 26)
Although there are vastly
different views of Stalin's career up to this point, his activities are
relatively less controversial, because they are relatively less important.
Whatever Stalin's contribution, there is still a good chance that even without
him Lenin could have led the revolution and the Red forces would have won the
Civil War. But, from this point on, there are at least two widely divergent, in
fact wildly contradictory, versions of Stalin's activities and their
significance. Most readers of this book have heard only one side of this debate,
the side of Trotsky and the capitalist world. I shall not pretend to make a
"balanced presentation," but instead give a summary of the unfamiliar other side
of the argument.
Everyone, friend and foe alike,
would agree that at the heart of the question of Stalin lies the theory and
practice of "socialism in one country." All of Stalin's major ideological
opponents in one way or another took issue with this theory.
Actually, the theory did not
originate with Stalin but with Lenin. In 1915, in his article "On the Slogan for
a United States of Europe," Lenin argued that "the victory of socialism is
possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone." He foresaw
"a more or less prolonged and stubborn struggle" internationally that could
begin like this in one country: "After expropriating the capitalists and
organizing their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that
country will arise against the rest of the world-the capitalist
world-attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, stirring
uprisings in those countries against the capitalists, and in case of need using
even armed force against the exploiting classes and their states."
Of course, at the end of World
War I most Bolsheviks (and many capitalists) expected revolution to break out in
many of the European capitalist countries. In fact, many of the returning
soldiers did turn their guns around. A revolutionary government was established
in Hungary and Slovakia.
Germany and Bulgaria for a
while were covered by soviets of workers, peasants, and soldiers. But
counterrevolution swept all these away.
Trotsky and his supporters
continued to believe that the proletariat of Europe was ready to make socialist
They also believed that unless
this happened, the proletariat would be unable to maintain power in the Soviet
They belittled the role of the
peasantry as an ally of the Russian proletariat and saw very little potential in
the national liberation movements of the predominantly peasant countries of
Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Their so-called "Left opposition" put forward
the theory, of "permanent revolution," which pinned its hopes on an imminent
uprising of the industrial proletariat of Europe. They saw the world revolution
then spreading outward from these "civilized" countries to the "backward"
regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Meanwhile there also developed
what was later to be called the "Right opposition," spearheaded by Bukharin,
Zinoviev, and Kamenev. They were realistic enough to recognize that the
revolutionary tide was definitely ebbing in Europe, but they concluded from this
that the Soviet Union would have to be content to remain for a long time a
basically agricultural country without pretending to be a proletarian socialist
Stalin was not about to give up
on socialism in the Soviet Union simply because history was not turning out
exactly the way theorists had wanted, with revolution winning out quickly in the
most advanced capitalist countries. He saw that the Soviet revolution had indeed
been able to maintain itself against very powerful enemies at home and abroad.
Besides, the Soviet Union was a vast country whose rich natural resources gave
it an enormous potential for industrial and social development. He stood for
building socialism in this one country and turning it into an inspiration and
base area for the oppressed classes and nations throughout the world. He
believed that, helped by both the example and material support of a socialist
Soviet Union, the tide of revolution would eventually begin rising again, and
that, in turn, proletarian revolution in Europe and national liberation
struggles in the rest of the world would eventually break the Soviet isolation.
There are two parts to the
concept of socialism in one country. Emphasis is usually placed only on the part
that says "one country." Equally important is the idea that only socialism, and
not communism, can be achieved prior to the time when the victory of the world
revolution has been won. A communist society would have no classes, no money, no
scarcity, and no state that is, no army, police force, prisons, and courts.
There is no such society in the world, and no society claims to be Communist. A
socialist society, according to Marxism-Leninism, is the transitional form on
the road to communism. Classes and class struggle still exist, all the material
needs of the people have not as yet been met, and there is indeed a state, a
government of the working class known as the dictatorship of the proletariat (as
opposed to the government of capitalist nations, the dictatorship of the
Neither Lenin nor Stalin ever
had any illusion that any single country, even one as vast and potentially rich
as the Soviet Union, would ever be able to establish a stateless, classless
society while capitalism still had power in the rest of the world. But Stalin,
like Lenin, did believe that the Soviet Union could eliminate capitalism,
industrialize, extend the power of the working class, and wipe out real material
privation all during the period of capitalist encirclement.
To do this, Stalin held, the
proletariat would have to rely on the peasantry. He rejected Trotsky's scorn for
the Russian peasants and saw them, rather than the European proletariat, as the
only ally that could come to the immediate aid of the Russian workers.
When the Civil War ended, in
1921, with most of the Soviet Union in chaotic ruin, Lenin won a struggle
against Trotsky within the Party to institute what was called the New Economic
Policy (NEP), under which a limited amount of private enterprise based on trade
was allowed to develop in both the cities and the countryside. NEP was
successful in averting an immediate total catastrophe, but by 1925 it was
becoming clear that this policy was also creating problems for the development
of socialism. This brings us to the first great crux of the Stalin question.
We have been led to believe
that in order to industrialize at any price; Stalin pursued a ruthless policy of
forced collectivization, deliberately murdering several million peasants known
as kulaks during the process. The truth is quite different.
When the Bolsheviks seized
power, one of their first acts was to allow the poor peasants to seize the huge
landed estates. The slogan was "Land to the tiller." This, however, left most
land in the form of tiny holdings, unsuited for large-scale agriculture,
particularly the production of the vital grain crops. Under NEP, capitalism and
a new form of landlordism began to flourish in the countryside. The class known
as kulaks (literally "tight-fists"), consisting of usurers and other small
capitalists including village merchants and rich peasants, were cornering the
market in the available grain, grabbing more and more small holdings of land,
and, through their debt holdings, forcing peasants back into tenant farming and
wage labor. Somehow, the small peasant holdings had to be consolidated so that
modern agriculture could begin. There were basically two ways this could take
place: either through capitalist accumulation, as the kulaks were then doing, or
through the development of large-scale socialist farms. If the latter, there was
then a further choice: a rapid forced collectivization, or a more gradual
process in which co-operative farms would emerge first, followed by collectives,
and both would be on a voluntary basis, winning out by example and persuasion.
What did Stalin choose?
Here, in his own words, is the
policy he advocated and that was adopted at the Fifteenth Party Congress, in
is the way out? The way out is to turn the small and scattered peasant farms
into large united farms based on cultivation of the land in common, to go over
to collective cultivation of the land on the basis of a new and higher
way out is to unite the small and dwarf peasant farms gradually but surely, not
by pressure, but by example and persuasion, into large farms based on common,
cooperative, collective cultivation of the land with the use of agricultural
machines and tractors and scientific methods of intensive agriculture.
is no other way out.
To implement this policy, the
capitalist privileges allowed under NEP were revoked. This was known as the
restriction of the kulaks. The kulaks, whose very existence as a class was thus
menaced, struck back. They organized terrorist bands who attacked the
co-operatives and collectives, burning down barns when they were filled with
grain, devastating the fields, and even murdering Communist peasant leaders.
Even more serious than these
raids, the kulaks held back their own large supplies of grain from the market in
an effort to create hunger and chaos in the cities. The poor and middle peasants
struck back. Virtual open civil war began to rage throughout the countryside. As
the collective farm movement spread rapidly, pressure mounted among the poor and
middle peasants to put an end to landlordism and usury in the countryside for
good. In 1929 Stalin agreed that the time had come to eliminate the kulaks as a
class. He led the fight to repeal the laws that allowed the renting of land and
the hiring of labor, thus depriving the kulaks both of land and of hired
workers. The ban on expropriation of the large private holdings was lifted, and
the peasants promptly expropriated the kulak class. The expropriation of the
rural capitalists in the late 1920s was just as decisive as the
expropriation of the urban capitalists a decade earlier. Landlords and village
usurers were eliminated as completely as private factory owners. It is
undoubtedly true that in many areas there was needless violence and suffering.
But this did not originate with Stalin. It was the hour of Russia's peasant
masses, who had been degraded and brutalized for centuries and who had countless
blood debts to settle with their oppressors. Stalin may have unleashed their
fury, but he was not the one who had caused it to build up for centuries. In
fact it was Stalin who checked the excesses generated by the enthusiasm of the
collective movement. In early 1930 he published in Pravda "Dizzy with
Success," reiterating that "the voluntary principle" of the collective farm
movement must under no circumstances be violated and that anybody who engages in
forced collectivization objectively aids the enemies of socialism. Furthermore,
he argues, the correct form for the present time is the co-operative (known as
the artel) , in which "the household plots (small vegetable gardens,
small orchards), the dwelling houses, a part of the dairy cattle, small
livestock, poultry, etc., are not socialized."
Again, overzealous attempts to
push beyond this objectively aid the enemy. The movement must be based on the
needs and desires of the masses of peasants.
Stalin's decision about the
kulaks perfectly exemplifies the limits under which he operated. He could
decide, as he did, to end the kulaks as a class by allowing the poor and middle
peasants’ to expropriate their land. Or he could decide to let the kulaks
continue withholding their grain from the starving peasants and workers, with
whatever result. He might have continued bribing the kulaks. But it is highly
doubtful, to say the least, that he had the option of persuading the kulaks into
becoming good socialists.
There can be no question that,
whatever may be said about its cost, Stalin's policy in the countryside resulted
in a vast, modern agricultural system, capable, for the first time in history,
of feeding all the peoples of the Soviet lands. Gone were the famines that
seemed as inevitable and were as vicious as those of China before the revolution
or of India today.
Meanwhile, Stalin's policy of
massive industrialization was going full speed ahead. His great plan for a
modern, highly industrialized Soviet Union has been so overwhelmingly successful
that we forget that it was adopted only over the bitter opposition of most of
the Party leaders, who thought it a utopian and therefore suicidal dream.
Having overcome this opposition on both the right and "left," Stalin in 1929
instituted the first five-year plan in the history of the world.
It was quickly over fulfilled.
By the early 1930S the Soviet Union had clearly become both the
inspiration and the main material base area for the world revolution. And it was
soon will prove much more than a match for the next military ontaught from the
capitalist powers, which Stalin had predicted and armed against.
This brings us to the second
great crux of the Stalin question, the "left" criticism, originating with
Trotsky and then widely disseminated by the theorists of what used to be called
“the New Left." This criticism holds that Stalin was just a nationalist who sold
out revolution throughout the rest of the world. The debate ranges over all the
key events of twentieth-century history and can be only touched on in an essay.
Stalin's difference with
Trotsky on the peasantry was not confined to the role of the peasantry within
the Soviet Union.
Trotsky saw very little
potential in the national liberation movements in those parts of the world that
were still basically peasant societies. He argued that revolution would come
first to the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America and would
then spread to the "uncivilized" areas of the world. Stalin, on the other hand
saw that the national liberation movements of Asia, Africa, and Latin America
were key to the development of the world revolution because objectively they
were leading the fight against imperialism.
We see this argument developed
clearly as early as 1924, In "The Foundations of Leninism," where he argues that
"the struggle that the Egyptian merchants and bourgeois intellectuals are waging
for the independence of Egypt is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite
the bourgeois origin and bourgeois title of the leaders of the Egyptian national
movement, despite the fact that they are opposed to socialism; whereas the
struggle that the British 'Labor' movement is waging to preserve Egypt's
dependent position is for the same reasons a reactionary struggle,
despite the proletarian origins and the proletarian title of the members of hat
government, despite the fact that they are 'for' socialism. To most European
Marxists, this was some kind of barbarian heresy. But Ho Chi Minh expressed the
view of many Communists from the colonies in that same year, 1924, when he
recognized that Stalin was the leader of the only Party that stood with the
national liberation struggles and when he agreed with Stalin that the viewpoint
of most other so-called Marxists on the national question was nothing short of
"counterrevolutionary" (Ho Chi Minh Report on the National and
Colonial Questions at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International).
The difference between Stalin's
line and Trotsky's line and the falsification of what Stalin's line was, can be
seen most clearly on the question of the Chinese revolution. The typical "left"
view prevalent today is represented in David Horowitz's The Free World
Colossus (1965), which asserts "Stalin's continued blindness to the
character and potential of the Chinese Revolution." Using as his main source a
Yugoslav biography of Tito, Horowitz blandly declares: "Even after the war, when
it was clear to most observers that Chiang was finished, Stalin did not think
much of the prospects of Chinese Communism" (p. Ill).
Mao's opinion of Stalin is a
Rallied around him, we constantly received advice from him, constantly drew
ideological strength from his works.... It is common knowledge that Comrade
Stalin ardently loved the Chinese people and considered that the forces of the
Chinese revolution were immeasurable.
displayed the greatest wisdom in matters pertaining to the Chinese revolution. .
. . Sacredly preserving the memory of our great teacher Stalin, the Communist
Party of China and the Chinese people . . . will even more perseveringly study
Stalin's teaching .... ("A Great Friendship," 1953)
It is possible that this
statement can be viewed as a formal tribute made shortly after Stalin's death
and before it was safe to criticize Stalin within the international Communist
movement. But years later, after the Russian attack on Stalin and after it was
unsafe not to spit on Stalin's memory, the Chinese still consistently
maintained their position. In 1961, after listening to Khrushchev's rabid
denunciations of Stalin at the Twenty-second Party Congress, Chou En-lai
ostentatiously laid a wreath on Stalin's tomb. Khrushchev and his supporters
then disinterred Stalin's body, but the Chinese responded to this in 1963 by
saying that Khrushchev "can never succeed in removing the great image of Stalin
from the minds of the Soviet people and of the people throughout the world."
("On the Question of Stalin")
In fact, as his 1927 essay on
China included in this collection shows, Stalin very early outlined the basic
theory of the Chinese revolution. Trotsky attacks this theory, which he sneers
at as "guerrilla adventure," because it is not based on the cities as the
revolutionary centers, because it relies on class allies of the proletariat,
particularly the peasantry, and because it is primarily anti-feudal and
anti-imperialist rather than focused primarily against Chinese capitalism.
After 1927, when the first
liberated base areas were established in the countryside, Trotsky claimed that
this revolution could no longer be seen as proletarian but as a mere peasant
rebellion, and soon he began to refer to its guiding theory as the Stalin-Mao
line. To this day, Trotskyites around the world deride the Chinese revolution as
a mere "Stalinist bureaucracy." The Chinese themselves do acknowledge that at
certain points Stalin gave some incorrect tactical advice, but they are quick to
add that he always recognized and corrected these errors and was self-critical
about them. They are very firm in their belief that they could not have made
their revolution without his general theory, his over-all leadership of the
world revolutionary movement, and the firm rear area and base of material
support he provided. Thus the only really valid major criticism comes from
anti-Communists, because without Stalin, at least according to the Chinese, the
Communists would not have won.
Stalin's role in the Spanish
Civil War likewise comes under fire from the "left." Again taking their cue from
Trotsky and such professional anti-Communist ideologues as George Orwell, many
"socialists" claim that Stalin sold out the Loyalists. A similar criticism is
made about Stalin's policies in relation to the Greek partisans in the late
1940s, which we will discuss later. According to these "left" criticisms, Stalin
didn't "care" about either of these struggles, because of his preoccupation with
internal development and "Great Russian power." The simple fact of the matter is
that in both cases Stalin was the only national leader anyplace in the world to
support the popular forces, and he did this in the face of stubborn opposition
within his own camp and the dangers of military attack from the leading
aggressive powers in the world (Germany and Italy in the late 1930S, the U.S.
ten years later).
Because the U.S.S.R., following
Stalin's policies, had become a modem industrial nation by the mid-1930S, it was
able to ship to the Spanish Loyalists Soviet tanks and planes that were every
bit as advanced as the Nazi models. Because the U.S.S.R. was the leader of the
world revolutionary forces, Communists from many nations were able to organize
the International Brigades, which went to resist Mussolini's fascist divisions
and the crack Nazi forces, such as the Condor Legion, that were invading the
Spanish Republic. The capitalist powers, alarmed by this international support
for the Loyalists, planned joint action to stop it. In March 1937, warships of
GeIluany, Italy, France, and Great Britain began jointly policing the Spanish
coast. Acting on a British initiative, these same countries formed a bloc in
late 1937 to isolate the Soviet Union by implementing a policy they called
"non-intervention," which Lloyd George, as leader of the British Opposition,
labeled a clear policy of support for the fascists. Mussolini supported the
British plan and called for a' campaign "to drive Bolshevism from Europe."
Stalin's own foreign ministry, which was still dominated by aristocrats
masquerading as proletarian revolutionaries, sided with the capitalist powers.
The New York Times of October 29, 1937, describes how the "unyielding"
Stalin, representing "Russian stubbornness," refused to go along: "A struggle
has been going on all this week between Joseph Stalin and Foreign Commissar
Maxim Litvinoff," who wished to accept the British plan. Stalin stuck to his
guns, and the Soviet Union refused to grant Franco international status as a
combatant, insisting that it had every right in the world to continue aiding the
duly elected government of Spain, which it did until the bitter end.
The Spanish Civil War was just
one part of the world-wide imperialist aims of the Axis powers. Japan was
pushing ahead in its conquest of Asia. Japanese forces overran Manchuria in
1931; only nine years after the Red Army had driven them out of Siberia, and
then invaded China on a full scale.
Ethiopia fell to Italy in 1936.
A few months later, Germany and Japan signed an anti-Comintern pact, which was
joined by Italy in 1937. In 1938, Germany invaded Austria. Hitler, who had come
to power on a promise to rid Germany and the world of the Red menace, was now
almost prepared to launch his decisive strike against the Soviet Union.
The other major capitalist
powers surveyed the scene with mixed feelings. On one hand, they would have
liked nothing better than to see the Communist threat ended once and for all,
particularly with the dirty work being done by the fascist nations. On the other
hand, they had to recognize that fascism was then the ideology of the have-not
imperialists, upstarts whose global aims included a challenge to the hegemony of
France, Britain, and the United States. Should they move now to check these
expansionists’ aims or should they let them develop unchecked, hoping that they
would move against the Soviet Union rather than Western Europe and the European
colonies in Asia and Africa?
In 1938 they found the answer,
a better course than either of these two alternatives. They would appease Hitler
by giving him the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. This would not only dissuade
the Nazis from attacking their fellow capitalists to the west, but it would also
remove the last physical barriers to the east, the mountains of the Czech
Sudetenland. All logic indicated to them that they had thus gently but firmly
turned the Nazis eastward, and even given them a little shove in that direction.
Now all they had to do was to wait, and, after the fascist powers and the Soviet
Union had devastated each other, they might even be able to pick up the pieces.
So they hailed the Munich agreement of September 30, 1938, as the guarantee of
"Peace in our time"-for them.
Stalin had offered to defend
Czechoslovakia militarily against the Nazis if anyone of the European capitalist
countries would unite with the Soviet Union in this effort. The British and the
French had evaded what they considered this trap, refusing to allow the Soviet
Union even to participate at Munich. They now stepped back and waited,
self-satisfied, to watch the Reds destroyed. It seemed they didn't have long to
wait. Within a few months, Germany seized all of Czechoslovakia, giving some
pieces of the fallen republic to its allies Poland and Hungary.
By mid-March 1939 the Nazis had
occupied Bohemia and Moravia, the Hungarians had seized Carpatho-Ukraine, and
Germany had formally annexed Memel. At the end of that month, Madrid fell and
all of Spain surrendered to the fascists. On May 7, Germany and Italy announced
a formal military and political alliance. The stage was set for the destruction
of the Soviet Union.
Four days later, on May 11,
1939, the first attack came.
The crack Japanese army that
had invaded Manchuria struck Into the Soviet Union. The Soviet-Japanese war of
1939 is conveniently omitted from our history books, but this war, together with
the Anglo-French collaboration with the Nazis lind fascists in the west, form
the context for another of Stalin's great "crimes," the Soviet-German
non-aggression pact of August 1939. Stalin recognized that the main aim of the
Axis was to destroy the Soviet Union, and that the other capitalist nations were
conniving with this scheme. He also knew that sooner or later the main Axis
attack would come on the U.S.S.R.'s western front. Meanwhile, Soviet forces were
being diverted to the east, to fend off the Japanese invaders. The
non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, which horrified and disillusioned
Communist sympathizers, particularly intellectuals, in the capitalist nations,
was actually one of the most brilliant strategic moves of Stalin's life, and
perhaps of diplomatic history. From the Soviet point of view it accomplished
(1) it brought needed time to prepare for the Nazi attack, which was thus
delayed two years;
(2) it allowed the Red Army to concentrate on smashing the Japanese invasion,
without having to fight on two fronts; they decisively defeated the Japanese
within three months;
(3) it allowed the Soviet Union to retake the sections of White Russia and the
Ukraine that had been invaded by Poland during the Russian Civil War and were
presently occupied by the Polish military dictatorship; this meant that the
forthcoming Nazi invasion would have to pass through a much larger area defended
by the Red Army;
(4) it also allowed Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which also had been part of
Russia before the Civil War, to become part of the U.S.S.R. as Soviet Republics;
this meant that the forthcoming Nazi attack could not immediately outflank
(5) most important of all, it destroyed the Anglo-French strategy of encouraging
a war between the Axis powers and the Soviet Union while they enjoyed
neutrality; World War II was to begin as a war between the Axis powers and the
other capitalist nations, and the Soviet Union, if forced into it, was not going
to have to fight alone against the combined fascist powers. The worldwide defeat
of the fascist Axis was in part a product of Stalin's diplomatic strategy, as
well as his later military strategy.
But before we get to that, we
have to go back in time to the events for which Stalin has been most damned-the
purge, trials. Most readers of this book have been taught that the major
defendants in these trials were innocent, and that here we see most clearly
Stalin's vicious cruelty and paranoia.
This is certainly not the place
to sift through all the evidence and retry the major defendants, but we must
recognize that there is a directly contradictory view of the trials and that
there is plenty of evidence to support that view.
It is almost undeniable that
many of the best-known defendants had indeed organized clandestine groups whose
aim was to overthrow the existing government. It is also a fact that Kirov, one
of the leaders of that government, was murdered by a secret group on December 1,
1934. And it is almost beyond dispute that there were systematic, very
widespread, and partly successful attempts, involving party officials, to
sabotage the development of Soviet industry. Anyone who doubts this should read
an article entitled "Red Wreckers in Russia" in the Saturday Evening Post,
January 1, 1938, in which John Littlepage, an anti-Communist American
engineer, describes in detail what he saw of this sabotage while he was working
in the Soviet Union. In fact, Littlepage gives this judgment:
ten years I have worked alongside some of the many recently shot, imprisoned or
exiled in Russia as wreckers. Some of my friends have asked me whether or not I
believe these men and women are guilty as charged. I have not hesitated a moment
in replying that I believe most of them are guilty.
To those who hold the orthodox
U.S. view of the purge trials, perhaps the most startling account is the book
Mission to Moscow, by Joseph E. Davies, U. S. Ambassador to the
Soviet Union from 1936 to 1938. Davies is a vigorous defender of capitalism and
a former head of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. An experienced trial lawyer, he
points out that, "I had myself prosecuted and defended men charged with crime in
many cases." He personally attended the purge trials on a regular basis. Most of
his accounts and judgments are contained in official secret correspondence to
the State DeIllirtment; the sole purpose of these dispatches was to provide
realistic an assessment as possible of what was actually going on. His summary
judgment in his confidential report to the Secretary of State on March 17, 1938,
is my opinion so far as the political defendants are concerned sufficient crimes
under Soviet law, among those charged in the indictment, were established by the
proof and beyond a reasonable doubt to justify the verdict of guilty of treason
and the adjudication of the punishment provided by Soviet criminal statutes. The
opinion of those diplomats who attended the trial most regularly was general
that the case had established the fact that there was a formidable political
opposition and an exceedingly serious plot, which explained to the diplomats
man! of the hitherto unexplained developments of the last six months in the
Soviet Union. The only difference of opinion that seemed to exist was the degree
to which the plot had been implemented by different defendants and the degree to
which the conspiracy had become centralized. (po 272 )
Davies himself admits to being
puzzled and confused at the time because of the vast scope of the
conspiracy and its concentration high into the Soviet government. It is only
later, after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, in the summer of 1941, that
Davies feels he understands what he actually occurred.
Thinking over these things, there came a flash in my mind of a possible new
significance to some of the things that happened in Russia when I was there.
of us in Russia in 1937 and 1938 were thinking in terms of "Fifth Column"
activities. The phrase was not current. It is comparatively recent that we have
found in our language phrases descriptive of Nazi technique such as "Fifth
Column" and "internal aggression.”...
ruminated over this situation, I suddenly saw the picture as I should have seen
it at the time. The story had been told in the so-called treason or purge trials
of 1937 and 1938 which I had attended and listened to. In reexamining the record
of these cases and also what I had written at the time from this new angle, I
found that practically every device of German Fifth Columnist activity, as we
now know it, was disclosed and laid bare by the confessions and testimony
elicited at these trials of self-confessed "Quislings" in Russia.
clear that the Soviet government believed that these activities existed, was
thoroughly alarmed, and had proceeded to crush them vigorously. By 1941, when
the German invasion came, they had wiped out any Fifth Column which had been
these trials, purges, and liquidations, which seemed so violent at the time and
shocked the world, are now quite clearly a part of a vigorous and determined
effort of the Stalin government to protect itself from not only revolution from
within but from attack from without. They went to work thoroughly to clean up
and clean out all treasonable elements within the country. All doubts were
resolved in favor of the government. (p. 280)
In 1956, at the Twentieth Party
Congress, when Khrushchev launched his famous attack on Stalin, he dredged up
all the denunciations of the purge trials circulated for two decades by the
Trotskyite and capitalist press. He called Stalin a "murderer," a "criminal," a
"bandit," a "despot," etc.
He asserted the innocence of
many who had been imprisoned, exiled, or shot during the purge trials. But in
doing so, he conveniently forgot two things: what he had said at the time about
those trials, and what Stalin had said. On June 6, 1937, t the Fifth Party
Conference of Moscow Province, Khrushchev had declared:
Party will mercilessly crush the band of traitors and betrayers, and wipe out
all the Trotskyist-Right dregs. . . .We shall totally annihilate the enemies-to
the last man and scatter their ashes to the winds.
On June 8, 1938, at the
Fourth Party Conference of Kiev province, Khrushchev avowed:
have annihilated a considerable number of enemies, but still not all. Therefore,
it is necessary to keep our eyes open. We should bear firmly in mind the words
of Comrade Stalin, that as long as capitalist encirclement exists, spies and
saboteurs will be smuggled into our country.
Earlier, at a mass rally in
Moscow, in January 1937, Khrushchev had condemned all those who had attacked
Stalin in these words: "In lifting their hand against Comrade Stalin, They
lifted it against all of us, against the working class and the working people"
As for Stalin himself, on the
other hand, he had publicly admitted, not in 1956, but at least as early as
1939, that innocent people had been convicted and punished in the purge:
cannot be said that the purge was not accompanied by grave mistakes. There
were unfortunately more mistakes than might have been expected." (Report to the
That is one reason why many of
those tried and convicted in the last trials were high officials from the secret
police, the very people guilty of forcing false confessions.
There are certainly good
grounds for criticizing both the conduct and the extent of the purge. But that
criticism must begin by facing the facts that an anti-Soviet conspiracy did
exist within the Party, that it had some ties with the Nazis, who were indeed
preparing to invade the country, and that one result of the purge was that the
'Soviet Union was the only country in all of Europe that, when invaded by the
Nazis, did not have an active Fifth Column. It must also recognize that
capitalism has since been restored in the Soviet Union, on the initiative of
leading members of the Party bureaucracy, and so it is hardly fantastical or
merely paranoid to think that such a thing was possible. The key question about
the purges is whether there was a better way to prevent either a Nazi victory or
the restoration of capitalism. And the answer to that question probably lies in
the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1966-67. Instead of relying on courts and
police exiles and executions, the Chinese mobilized hundreds of 'millions of
people to exposé and defeat the emerging Party bureaucracy that was quietly
restoring capitalism and actively collaborating with the great imperialist power
to the north. But while doing this, they carefully studied Stalin, both for his
achievements and for what he was unable to do. For Stalin himself had seen as
early as 1928 the need to mobilize mass criticism from below to overcome the
rapidly developing Soviet bureaucracy. It is also possible that the two goals
the purges tuned to meet were mutually exclusive. That is, the emergency
measures necessary to secure the country against foreign invasion may actually
have helped the bureaucracy to consolidate its power.
In any event, when the Nazis
and their allies did invade they met the most united and fierce resistance
encountered by the fascist forces anyplace in the world. Everywhere the people
were dedicated to socialism. Even in the Ukraine where the Nazis tried to foment
old grievances and anti-Russian nationalism, they never dared meddle with the
collective farms. In fact, Stalin's military strategy in World War II like his
strategy during the Russian Civil War was based firmly on the loyalty of the
masses of workers, peasants, and soldiers.
Everybody, except for
Khrushchev and his friends, who in 1956 tried to paint Stalin as a military
incompetent and meddler, recognizes him as a great strategist. '
Nazi military strategy was
based on the blitzkrieg (lightning war). Spearheaded by highly mobile
armor, their way paved by massive air assaults, the Nazi army would break
through any statIc lme at a single point, and then spread out rapidly behind
that line, cutting off its supplies and then encircling the troops at the front.
On April 9, 1940, the Nazis, vastly outnumbered, opened their assault on the
combined forces of Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Great
Britain. By June 4, virtually the last of these fighting forces had been
evacuated in panic from Dunkirk and each of the continental countries lay under
a fascist power, the victim of blitzkrieg combined with internal betrayal.
Having secured his entire western front, and then with air power alone having
put the great maritime power Britain into a purely defensive position, Hitler
could now move his crack armies and his entire air force into position to
annihilate the Soviet Union.
The first step was to
consolidate Axis control in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Hungary, Bulgaria,
and Romania were already fascist allies. Italy had overrun Albania. By early
April 1941 Greece and Yugoslavia were occupied. Crete was seized in May. On June
22, the greatest invasion of all time was hurled at the Soviet heartland.
One hundred seventy-nine German
divisions, twenty two Romanian divisions, fourteen Finnish divisions, thirteen
Hungarian divisions, ten Italian divisions, one Slovak division, and one Spanish
division, a total of well over three million troops, the best armed and most
experienced in the world, attacked along a 2,000-mile front, aiming their
spearheads directly at Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. Instead of holding a
line, the Red Army beat an orderly retreat, giving up space for time. Behind
them they left nothing but scorched earth and bands of guerrilla fighters,
constantly harassing the lengthening fascist supply lines. Before the invaders
reached industrial centers such as Kharkov and Smolensk, the workers of these
cities disassembled their machines and carried them beyond the Ural Mountains,
where production of advanced Soviet tanks, planes, and artillery was to continue
throughout the war.
The main blow was aimed
directly at the capital, Moscow, whose outskirts were reached by late fall.
Almost all the government offices had been evacuated to the east. But Stalin
remained in the capital, where he assumed personal command of the war. On
December 2, 1941, the Nazis were stopped in the suburbs of Moscow. On December
6, Stalin ordered the first major counterattack to occur in World War II. The
following day, Japan, which had wisely decided against renewing their invasion
of the Soviet Union, attacked Pearl Harbor.
From December until May the Red
Army moved forward, using a strategy devised by Stalin. Instead of confronting
the elite Nazi corps head on, the Red forces would divide into smaller units and
then move to cut off the fascist supply lines, thus encircling and capturing the
spearheads of the blitzkrieg.
This was the ideal
counterstrategy, but it depended on a high level of political loyalty,
consciousness, and independence on the part of these small units. No capitalist
army could implement this strategy. By the end of May 1942 Moscow was safe and
the fascist forces had given ground in the Ukraine.
In the early summer, the Nazi
forces, heavily reinforced, moved to seize Stalingrad and the Caucasus, thus
cutting the Soviet Union in two. The greatest and perhaps the most decisive
battle in history was now to take place. The siege of Stalingrad lasted from
August 1942 until February 1943. As early as September, the Nazi forces, which
were almost as large as the entire U.S. force at its peak in Vietnam, penetrated
the city and were stopped only by house-to-house fighting.
But unknown to the Germans,
because Soviet security was perfect, they were actually in a vast trap,
personally designed by Stalin: A gigantic pincers movement had begun as soon as
the fascist forces reached the city. In late November the two Soviet forces met
and the trap snapped shut. From this trap 330,000 elite Nazi troops were never
to emerge. In February 1943 the remnants, about 100,000 troops, surrendered.
The back of Nazi military power
had been broken. The Red Army now moved onto a vast offensive which was not to
stop before it had liberated all of Eastern and Central Europe and seized
Berlin, the capital of the Nazi empire, in the spring of 1945.
It was the Soviet Union that
had beaten the fascist army. The second front, which Great Britain and the U.S.
had promised as early as 1942, was not to materialize until June 14, after it
was clear that the Nazis had already been decisively defeated. In fact, the
Anglo-American invasion was aimed more at stopping communism than defeating
fascism. (This invasion took place during the same period that the British Army
"liberated" Greece, which had already been liberated by the Communist-led
Resistance.) For under Communist leadership, underground resistance movements,
based primarily on the working class, had developed throughout Europe. Because
the Communists, both from the Soviet Union and within the other European
nations, were the leaders of the entire anti-fascist struggle, by the end of the
war they had by far the largest parties in all the nations of Eastern and
Central Europe, as well as Italy and France, where the fascists' power had been
broken more by internal resistance than by the much-heralded Allied invasion. In
fact, it is likely that if the Anglo-American forces had not invaded and
occupied Italy and France, within a relatively short time the Communists would
have been in power in both countries.
As soon as victory in Germany
was assured, in May 1945, much of the Soviet Army began to make the 5,000-mile
journey to face the Japanese Army. At Potsdam, July 17 to August 2, Stalin
formally agreed to begin combat operations against Japan by August 8. On August
6, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, in what is now widely
considered the opening shot of the so-called "Cold War" against the U.S.S.R. On
August 8, the Red Army engaged the main Japanese force, which was occupying
Manchuria. The Soviet Army swept forward, capturing Manchuria, the southern half
of Sakhalin Island, and the Kuriles, and liberating, by agreement, the northern
half of Korea. Except for the Chinese Communist battles with the Japanese, these
Soviet victories were probably the largest land engagements in the entire war
The Soviet Union had also
suffered tremendously while taking the brunt of the fascist onslaught. Between
twenty and twenty-five million Soviet citizens gave their lives in defense of
their country and socialism. The industrial heartland lay in ruins. The richest
agricultural regions had been devastated.
In addition to the seizure of
many cities and the destruction of much of Moscow and Stalingrad, there was the
desperate condition of Leningrad, which had withstood a massive, two-year Nazi
Once again, the Soviet Union
was to perform economic miracles. Between 1945 and 1950 they were to rebuild not
only everything destroyed in the war, but vast new industries and agricultural
resources. And all this was conducted under the threat of a new attack by the
capitalist powers, led by the nuclear blackmail of the U.S., which opened up a
worldwide "Cold War" against communism.
Spearheaded by British and
rearmed Japanese troops, the French restored their empire in Indochina. U.S.
troops occupied the southern half of Korea and established military bases
throughout the Pacific. Europe itself became a vast base area for the rapidly
expanding U.S. empire, which, despite its very minimal role in the war (or
perhaps because of it), was to gain the greatest profit from it. One European
showdown against the popular forces occurred in Greece.
Here we meet another "left"
criticism of Stalin, similar to that made about his role in Spain but even
further removed from the facts of the matter. As in the rest of Eastern Europe
and the Balkans, the Communists had led and armed the heroic Greek underground
and partisan fighters. In 1944 the British sent an expeditionary force commanded
by General ScobIe to land in Greece, ostensibly to aid in the disarming of the
defeated Nazi and Italian troops. As unsuspecting as the comrades in Vietnam and
Korea who were to be likewise ‘assisted’, the Greek partisans were slaughtered
by their British allies who used tanks and planes in an all-out offensive, which
ended in February 1945 with the establishment of a right-wing dictatorship under
a restored monarchy. The British even rearmed and used the defeated Nazi
"Security Battalions." After partially recovering from this treachery, the
partisan forces rebuilt then guerrilla apparatus and prepared to resist the
combined forces of Greek fascism and Anglo-American imperialism. By late 1948
full-scale civil war raged, with the right-wing forces backed up by the
intervention of U.S. planes, artillery, and troops. The Greek resistance had its
back broken by another betrayal not at all by Stalin but by Tito, who closed the
Yugoslav borders to the Soviet military supplies that were already hard put to
reach the landlocked popular forces. This was one of the two main reasons why
Stalin, together with the Chinese, led the successful fight to have the Yugoslav
"Communist" Party officially thrown out of the international Communist movement.
Stalin understood very early
the danger to the world revolution posed by Tito's ideology, which served as a
Trojan horse for U.S. Imperialism. He also saw that Tito's revisionist ideas,
including the development of a new bureaucratic ruling elite, were making
serious headway inside the Soviet Union. In 1950, the miraculous postwar
reconstruction was virtually complete, and the victorious Chinese revolution had
decisively broken through the global anti-Communist encirclement and suppression
campaign. At this point Stalin began to turn his attention to the most serious
threat to the world revolution, the bureaucratic-technocratic class that had not
only emerged inside the Soviet Union but had begun to pose a serious challenge
to the leadership of the working class. In the last few years of his life,
Joseph Stalin, whom the present rulers of the U.S.S.R. would like to paint as a
mad recluse, began to open up a vigorous cultural offensive against the power of
this new elite. "Marxism and Linguistics" and "Economic Problems of Socialism in
the U.S.S.R." are milestones in this offensive, major theoretical works aimed at
the new bourgeois authorities beginning to dominate various areas of Soviet
In "Economic Problems of
Socialism in the U.S.S.R.," published a few months before his death and intended
to serve as a basis for discussion in the Nineteenth Party Congress of 1952,
Stalin seeks to measure scientifically how far the Soviet Union had come in the
development of socialism and how far it had to go to achieve communism. He
criticizes two extreme tendencies in Soviet political economy: mechanical
determinism and voluntarism. He sets this criticism within an international
context where, he explains, the sharpening of contradictions among the
capitalist nations is inevitable.
Stalin points out that those
who think that objective laws, whether of socialist or capitalist political
economy, can be abolished by will are dreamers. But he reserves his real scorn
for those who make the opposite error, the technocrats who assert that socialism
is merely a mechanical achievement of a certain level of technology and
productivity, forgetting both the needs and the power of the people. He shows
that when these technocrats cause "the disappearance of man as the aim of
socialist production," they arrive at the triumph of bourgeois ideology. These
proved to be prophetic words.
In his final public speech,
made to that Nineteenth Party Congress in 1952, Stalin explains a correct
revolutionary line for the parties that have not yet led their revolutions. The
victories of the world revolution have constricted the capitalist world, causing
the decay of the imperialist powers. Therefore the bourgeoisie of the Western
democracies inherit the banners of the defeated fascist powers, with whom they
establish a world-wide alliance while turning to fascism at home and the
would-be bourgeoisie of the neocolonial nations become merely their puppets.
Communists then become the main defenders of the freedoms and progressive
principles established by the bourgeoisie when they were a revolutionary class
and defended by them until the era of their decay. Communists will lead the
majority of people in their respective nations only when they raise and defend
the very banners thrown overboard by the bourgeoisie-national independence and
democratic freedoms. It is no Surprise that these final words of Stalin have
been known only to the Cold War "experts” and have been expunged throughout the
Soviet Union and the nations of Eastern Europe.
A few months after this speech,
Stalin died. Very abruptly, the tide of revolution was temporarily reversed.
Stalin's death came in early March 1953. By that July, the new leaders of the
Soviet Union forced the Korean people to accept a division of their nation and a
permanent occupation of the southern half by US forces. A year later, they
forced the victorious Viet Minh liberation army, which had thoroughly defeated
the French despite massive U.S. aid, to withdraw from the entire southern half
of that country, while the U.S. proclaimed that its faithful puppet, Ngo Dinh
Diem, was now president of the fictitious nation of South Vietnam. When the
Chinese resisted their global sellouts of the revolution, these new Soviet
leaders first tried to destroy the Chinese economy, then tried to overthrow the
government from within and when that failed, actually began aimed incursions by
Russian troops under a policy of nuclear blackmail copied from the U.S. In
Indonesia, the Soviet Union poured ammunition and spare parts into the
right-wing military forces while they were massacring half a million Communists,
workers, and peasants.
And so on, around the world.
Meanwhile, internally, they restored capitalism as rapidly as they could. By the
mid-1960s, unemployment had appeared in the Soviet Union for the first time
since the first Five Year Plan. By the end of the 1960s, deals had been
made with German, Italian, and Japanese capitalism for the exploitation of
Soviet labor and vast Soviet resources.
From an anti-Communist point of
view, Stalin was certainly one of the great villains of history. While he lived,
the Red forces consolidated their power in one country and then led what seemed
to be an irresistible world-wide revolutionary upsurge. By the time he died,
near hysteria reigned in the citadels of capitalism. In Washington, frenzied
witch hunts tried to ferret out the Red menace that was supposedly about to
seize control of the last great bastion of capitalism. All this changed, for the
time being, after Stalin's death, when the counterrevolutionary forces were able
to seize control even within the Soviet Union.
From a Communist point of view,
Stalin was certainly one of the greatest of revolutionary leaders. But still we
must ask why it was that the Soviet Union could fall so quickly to a new
capitalist class. For Communists, it is as vital to understand Stalin's
weaknesses and errors as it is to understand his historic achievements.
Stalin's main theoretical and
practical error lay in underestimating the bourgeois forces within the
superstructure of Soviet society. It is ridiculous to pose the problem the way
we customarily hear it posed: that the seeds of capitalist restoration were sown
under Stalin. This assumes that the Soviet garden was a Communist paradise,
totally free of weeds, which then somehow dropped in from the skies. Socialism,
as Stalin saw more keenly than anybody before, is merely a transitional stage on
the way to communism. It begins with the conquest of political power by
the working class, but that is only a bare beginning. Next comes the much more
difficult task of establishing socialist economic forms, including a high
level of productivity based on collective labor. Most difficult of all is the
cultural revolution, in which socialist ideas and attitudes, based on
collective labor and the political power of the working people, overthrow the
bourgeois world view, based on competition, ambition, and the quest for personal
profit and power and portraying "human nature" as corrupt, vicious, and selfish,
that is, as the mirror image of bourgeois man.
Stalin succeeded brilliantly in
carrying through the political and economic revolutions. That he failed in
consolidating the Cultural Revolution under the existing internal and external
conditions can hardly be blamed entirely on him. He certainly saw the need for
it, particularly when the time seemed most ripe to make it a primary goal, in
the 1950s. But it must be admitted that he underestimated the threat posed by
the new intelligentsia, as we see most strikingly in the "Report to the
Eighteenth Party Congress," where he unstintingly praises them and denies that
they could constitute a new social class.
This error in theory led to an
error in practice in which, despite his earlier calls for organizing mass
criticism from below, he tended to rely on one section of the bureaucracy to
check or defeat another. He was unwilling to unleash a real mass movement like
the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and, as a result, the masses were made
increasingly less capable of carrying out such a gigantic task. All this is easy
to say in hindsight, now that we have the advantage of having witnessed the
Chinese success, which may prove to be the most important single event in human
history. But who would have had the audacity to recommend such a course in the
face of the Nazi threat of the late 1930S or the U.S. threat after World War II,
when the Soviet Union lay in ruins? In 1967, when the Chinese Cultural
Revolution was at its height and the country was apparently in chaos, many
revolutionaries around the world were dismayed. Certainly, they acknowledged,
China had to have a cultural revolution. But not at that moment, when the
Vietnamese absolutely needed that firm rear base area and when U.S. imperialism
was apparently looking for any opening to smash China. And so it must have
looked to Stalin, who postponed the Soviet Cultural Revolution until it was too
It is true that socialism in
the Soviet Union has been reversed. But Stalin must be held primarily
responsible not for its failure to achieve communism but rather for its getting
as far along the road as it did. It went much further than the "left" and the
right Opposition, the capitalists, and almost everybody in the world thought
possible. It went far enough to pass the baton to a fresher runner, the workers
and peasants of China, who, studying and emulating Stalin, have already gone
even further, as we are beginning to see.
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