From Communist Review
Journal of the Communist Party of Great Britain
Stalin, A Political Biography, by Isaac Deutscher. (Oxford
University Press, 25s.)
Recently the Oxford University Press published a bulky
biography of Stalin by a well-known political journalist of
the Economist. Mr. Deutscher, the author, is concerned with
politics, and he called his book, therefore, "a political
biography." It is important to see what is the political aim
of this bulky volume.
In the present international situation, in the struggle
between the Soviet Union and the New Democracies on the one
hand, and America, Britain and the rest of the capitalist
world on the other, everything written politically is either
for imperialism and against the Soviet Union, or vice versa.
Mr. Deutscher's Stalin has one aim only: to blacken the
Soviet Union, the Communist Party, and to slander its leader
– Joseph Stalin.
His hatred of the Soviet Union runs through the book, The
Russians can "rightly be called a nation of savages." During
the war against the fascists "Russia was replete with
elements of weakness." At the time of the siege of Moscow,
Mr. Deutscher asserts, without the least shred of evidence,
that "members of the Party destroyed their membership cards
and badges... symptoms of anarchy appeared in many places
all over the area between the fronts and the Volga." These
calumnious statements are quoted to show Mr. Deutscher's
view on the Soviet people and the Soviet Union.
From beginning to end he labours hard to belittle Stalin,
his achievements and his views. He rarely bothers to
summarise Stalin's views, but dismisses them as
"incoherent," "crude," "contradictory." These epithets occur
like a monotonous refrain in the book. Yet Deutscher never
proves his accusations of the contradictions in Stalin's
writings and speeches. Stalin, being the "descendant of
serfs," cannot claim to be a theoretician, Mr. Deutscher is
trying to suggest. For "theory" belongs to "intellectuals,"
and no self-educated people or workers can claim to know
When the author deals, for example, with Stalin's famous
essay on Marxism and the National Question, one would expect
a summary from him of that article, but the reader is merely
given a dose of fiction. According to Deutscher, "Lenin
probably suggested to him the synopsis of the essay, its
main argument and conclusions.... Bukharin may have helped
him to look up the books and quotations he needed.... Almost
certainly the 'old man' (Lenin, C. A.) pruned the essay of
the stylistic and logical incongruities with which the
original must have bristled" (pp. 1l6-l22). The inquisitive
reader might ask: Where did Mr. Deutscher get his facts for
this fantastic assertion? Mr. Deutscher is even too shy to
quote the source in a footnote. It is not difficult,
however, to find his "authority": Trotsky. The reader must
bear in mind that in 1912, when Stalin was engaged in
writing Marxism and the National Question, Trotsky was the
bitterest enemy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
It was of this essay of Stalin that Lenin, who was so
impressed by it, wrote to Gorky: "We have amongst us a
wonderful Georgian who set down and wrote for Prosvezhchenia
a long article in which he gathered all the Austrian
material" (Lenin, Col. Works, Russian Edition, Vol. XVI, p.
328). Writing ten months later, Lenin again referred to
Stalin's article and again praised it extensively. In his
article on The National Programme of the Russian
Social-Democratic Workers' Party, he says:"In Marxist
theoretical literature this position and the fundamentals of
the national programmes of the Social-Democrats have lately
been illumined (in the first place Stalin's article comes to
mind)" (Vol. XVII, p. 116).
It is of great interest to note that at the time Lenin was
waging a bitter struggle against Liquidationism in the
Social-Democratic Party, and particularly against Trotsky –
one of the main propagandists of the Liquidationists. In one
of his articles Lenin drew attention to another of Stalin's
articles exposing the Liquidators. He writes:
"The correspondence of Comrade K. (Stalin, C. A.) deserves
the profound attention of all who treasure our party. A
better exposure of the Golos policy (and of Golos
diplomacy), a better refutation of the views and hopes of
our conciliators and compromisers it is hard to imagine."
(Lenin, Rus. Col. Works, Third Edition, Vol. XV, p. 217,
written in September 1911.) It is far from accidental that
the same article of Lenin contains a brilliant attack
against Trotsky and his role as a liquidator among the
In the 1905 Revolution, according to Deutscher, Trotsky was
the only "leader." "At the 'general rehearsal' the chief
actors, apart from Trotsky… failed during the most important
acts" (pp. 75-76).
While Trotsky made theatrical speeches in Petersburg, the
Bolsheviks organised the uprising in Moscow and the
Caucasus, the two most important revolutionary events of the
1905 Revolution. The Mensheviks, including Trotsky,
condemned the Moscow uprising and bitterly attacked the
Bolsheviks at the time. Mr. Deutscher writes:
"The Soviet (the St. Petersburg Soviet led by the Menshevik
Trotsky, C. A.) called on the country to stop paying taxes
to the Tsar." This he calls the great "revolutionary
heroism" of Trotsky. It may surprise Mr. Deutscher that even
the Cadets in their Viborg Manifesto called on the people
not to pay taxes to the Tsar. But the real revolutionaries
were the Bolsheviks who organised the military uprising in
Moscow. They were attacked from all sides, and not least by
Trotsky. Lenin called Trotsky "vain and empty" (Lenin, Col.
Works, Vol. VII, p. 194).
Now let us turn to the period of the October Revolution, the
civil war and the development of the Soviet Union.
Mr. Deutscher makes a lot of play with Stalin's "mistake"
early in March 1917 in supporting the Menshevik Soviet. He
never mentions the fact that, first, Stalin admitted it and
corrected it, and secondly, that seven years later, in 1924,
Stalin again said clearly that he made a mistake in March
1917, and that he "renounced it altogether, and in the
middle of April after I had subscribed to Lenin's thesis"
(Stalin, Col. Works, Vol. VI, p. 333).
All the time Deutscher tries to belittle Stalin's role in
the October Revolution: "In the days of the upheaval Stalin
was not among its main actors" (p. 166).
According to Deutscher, not only was Stalin not prominent in
the October uprising, but he goes on to slander the whole of
the Party: "This was the result of the ineffectiveness of
the Central Committee" (p. 167).
If the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks showed such
"ineffectiveness", who, then, led the insurrection? Mr.
Deutscher knows only one person: Trotsky. "Trotsky, who as
President of the Soviet, dominated all its activity....
Trotsky – all the threads of the insurrection were now in
his hands" (p. 161). Even Lenin's role is mocked at. "In the
light of the actual rising his (Lenin's, C. A.) first sketch
looks like a somewhat naive essay in adventure" (p. 158).
Now let us look at some facts. Trotsky himself joined the
Bolsheviks in July 1917. What happened to the Party up to
that date, to the Party that led successfully the October
Revolution? During the first imperialist war, between July
1915 and December 1916, the Party organised 480 strikes in
Petrograd alone, with 500,000 participants. On February 14,
1917, the Bolsheviks organised the stay-in strike at the
Putilov Works, with 30,000 participants. During January and
February 1917 the Bolsheviks led 575,000 strikers. In
Petrograd, early in 1917, there were no less than fifteen
sub-district committees of the Party.
Who led all this work and built the committees and cells?
People like Stalin, Sverdlov, Kalinin, Molotov and others,
whilst Trotsky was a regular visitor to New York cafes and a
constant contributor to Menshevik papers.
It is important to note that Lenin had the following to say
about Trotsky in February 1917: "Trotsky arrived, and this
scoundrel at once came to an understanding with the
Right-wing of Novy Mir against the Left Zimmerwaldians! Just
so! That is just like Trotsky! He is always equal to himself
– twists, swindles, poses as a Left, helps the Right, so
long as he can." (Lenin to Inessa Armand, Labour Monthly,
September 1949. My italics, C. A.).
Trotsky, who joined the Bolsheviks in July 1917, hesitated a
long time before doing so. Only after Lenin's taunts in July
that year to him and his colleagues did Trotsky join the
Deutscher's picture that Trotsky solely led the insurrection
can now be considered ludicrous. In a highly organised and
centralised Party like the Bolsheviks, Trotsky, whatever he
did during October, could only carry out the wishes and
orders from the Central Committee of the Party.
One of the great weapons in organising the insurrection was
Pravda, led and edited by Stalin. The paper gave the Party
message to hundreds of thousands of workers, and led the
masses. In the beginning of 1917 there were 23,600 members
in the Party. By August 1917 there were 200,000. The Central
Committee and Pravda played the key role in mobilizing the
militant workers and soldiers into the Bolshevik Party.
Trotsky had nothing to do with that.
On the eve of the Insurrection the C.C. of the Bolsheviks
elected the first political bureau to lead the Revolution
composed of Lenin, Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky,
Sokolnikov, and Bubnov. A Military Revolutionary Committee
was elected on October 29 to direct the insurrection, and it
was composed of Stalin, Sverdlov, Bubnov, Dzherzhinsky, and
Uritsky. Trotsky as chairman of the Petrograd Soviet did,
and spoke, what the Military Revolutionary Committee and the
Political Bureau decided.
Let it be borne in mind that when the first Soviet
Government was formed, Trotsky was assigned to the
Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and not to any of the
Defence Commissariats. On the other hand we find Stalin, at
the side of Lenin, directing the orders to General Dukhonin,
the Chief of Staff of Kerensky, and ordering the general's
dismissal. Stalin is the only Commissar at the time, who in
addition to being a Commissar of a special department
(Nationalities) was assigned many responsible positions,
either at the front, or in organising a Party Congress, or
putting matters right in the Ukraine or Georgia. From these
assignments Lenin learned of his great military abilities.
This is the reason for Stalin's outstanding role during the
Civil War. Deutscher, as usual, distorts completely his
role, and attributes victories of Stalin to Trotsky. Thus
the famous Tsaritsyn victory is ascribed to Trotsky! Stalin,
though not Commissar of War, was given by Lenin and the
Soviet Government plenary powers to take decisions without
consulting with Trotsky, the then Commissar of War.
When the Commissar of the Workers' Inspectorate was first
formed in 1919, Stalin was appointed its first Commissar. At
the Eleventh Congress of the C.P.S.U.(B) in April 1922,
Preobrazhensky, who became afterwards a leading Trotskyist,
criticized Lenin for appointing Stalin to a number of
Commissariats. Lenin retorted:
"Preobrazhensky has frivolously complained that Stalin is in
charge of two Commissariats.... But what can we do to
maintain the existing situation in the People's Commissariat
for the Affairs of the Nationalities and to get to the
bottom of all these Turkestan, Caucasian and other
questions? After all, they are political problems! And they
are problems that must be solved: they are problems which
have been occupying European States for hundreds of years
and which have been solved in the democratic republics to
only the smallest degree. We are solving these problems, and
we must have a man to whom any representative of the
Nationalities may come and discuss matters at length. Where
are we to find such a man? I think that even Preobrazhensky
could not name anybody else but Comrade Stalin.
"The same is true of the Workers' and Peasants'
Inspectorate. The work is tremendous. But to handle the work
of investigation properly, we shall have a man of authority
in charge, otherwise we shall be emerged in Party intrigues"
(Lenin, Col. Works, Vol. XXVII, pp. 263-4).
In addition to all that, Stalin took a leading part in
directing the work of the Polit-Bureau (see Lenin, XXVII,
pp. 298 and 379).
Deutscher makes a lot of play about Lenin's famous article
"Better Less But Better," written in February 1923,
criticising the work of the Inspectorate. According to
Deutscher, the article "was a devastating attack on Stalin
as the Commissar of the Inspectorate" (p. 251). Stalin
stopped being Commissar of the Inspectorate in May 1922,
when he was appointed General Secretary of the Party. At the
time when Lenin wrote this article, Avanesov was in charge
of the Inspectorate.
Deutscher, relying on Trotsky, devotes a lot of space to the
so-called Lenin's Testament. He writes that it "was never
published in Russia." Stalin, in his article "The Trotskyist
Opposition Before and Now," published in Pravda on November
2, 1927, and reprinted in his Collected Works, Vol. X, pp.
175-177, quotes all the extracts about himself and Trotsky.
Stalin points out that Lenin noted "the non-Bolshevism of
Trotsky" and did not draw attention to any political error
of Stalin, but to Stalin's "rudeness". Stalin writes that he
is proud to be "rude" to everybody who attempts to break the
Stalin is proud that the enemies of the Party direct their
ire against him:
"Moreover, I consider it a matter of honour that the
opposition directs all its hatred against Stalin. 'This has
to be like that. I think that it would be strange and
insulting if the opposition, which is trying to ruin the
Party, would have praised Stalin, who upholds the
fundamentals of the Leninist Party'' (p. 173).
The whole fight of the Party against Trotskyism is
distorted. The little support Trotsky had amongst the
members and amongst the workers is ignored. Trotsky's
policy, which attracted round it many of the declassed
elements of the Soviet Union, is not mentioned.
The Five-Year Plan and Collectivisation is distorted beyond
recognition. The movement of the Stakhanovites is not
mentioned, and so on, and so on. But instead the book is
full of gossip from diplomatic corridors and material from
lying, spurious books.
Mr. Deutscher surpasses himself when he comes to the famous
trials of the Trotskyist spies and wreckers during the
middle thirties. All the trials "were of course shameless
inventions" (p. 377). It will be of considerable interest to
quote the opinion of Mr. Churchill. In his Memoirs Churchill
records a conversation with President Benes, which is of
great historical importance and deserves to be given in
full. He writes:
"When President Benes visited me at Marrakesh in January
1944, he told me this story. In 1935 he had received an
offer from Hitler to respect in all circumstances the
integrity of Czechoslovakia in return for a guarantee that
she would remain neutral in the event of a Franco-German
war.… In the autumn of 1936 a message from a high military
source in Germany was conveyed to President Benes to the
effect that if he wanted to take advantage of the Fuehrer's
offer he had better be quick, because events would shortly
take place in Russia rendering any help he could give to
"While Benes was pondering over this disturbing hint, he
became aware that communications were passing through the
Soviet Embassy in Prague between important personages in
Russia and the German Government. This was a part of the
so-called military and old-guard Communist conspiracy to
overthrow Stalin and introduce a new régime based on a
pro-German policy. President Benes lost no time in
communicating all he could find out to Stalin. Thereafter
there followed the merciless, but perhaps not needless,
military and political purge in Soviet Russia, and the
series of trials in January 1937, in which Vyshinsky, the
Public Prosecutor, played so masterful a part." (Churchill,
The Gathering Storm, pp. 224-225. The italics are mine, C.
This very authoritative statement should dispose of
Deutscher's lies and slanders about the Moscow trials.
It is of more than historical interest to know what the
first report published by the British Government on Russia
had to say about Stalin. The Emmott Report (named after the
Chairman of the Committee on Russia appointed by Lloyd
George's Government) describes Stalin as one of the four
strong men in the Soviet Government and places him next in
importance to Lenin (Russia, No. 1 (1921), Cmd. 1240, p.30.
The report was completed in November 1920).
The biography of Stalin in the Report describes him as: "The
ablest of the many Georgians who are working under the
Soviet Government... He was formerly one of the principal
organisers of the Bolshevik Section of the Russian Social
Democratic Labour Party and a close collaborator with
Lenin... He has a reputation for remarkable force of
character and considerable ability." The Report also says:
"It also appears that Stalin has for some time ceased to
take an intimate part in the work of the Workers' and
Peasants' Control, and that in addition to his other work as
People's Commissar for Nationalities he has devoted a
considerable amount of time to military work" (p. 28).
This reference in the Emmott Report should finish with the
myth that Stalin was unknown before 1924.
It is not without interest to see that a Tory Committee
appointed by Lloyd George's Government to examine the
situation in Russia pinned their hopes on the possibility of
Trotsky succeeding Lenin as the head of the Government and
bringing a more "Liberal" regime. Thus as far back as 1920
at the height of Trotsky's revolutionary popularity Trotsky
was looked on as an ally of British Conservatism.
Even in 1920 when Trotsky's counter-revolutionary activity
was not yet recognised by the Party, British Conservatives
saw in him an ally of theirs. As Lenin said he "poses as a
left, helps the right."
The Trade Union Delegation that visited Russia in November
1924, recognised the bourgeois character of Trotsky.
"Trotsky, who only joined the Party just in time to take a
prominent part in the October Revolution, represents liberal
non-conformity (in other words, capitalism, C. A.) as
against die-hard Communism." (Russia, Official Report of the
British Trades Union Delegation, London, 1925, p. 15).
Deutscher devotes two chapters to the Comintern, one long
chapter to the war and one to Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam.
The struggle against fascism and for Collective Security,
Russia's joining the League of Nations, the United Front,
all these measures advanced by the Soviet Union and the
Communist International to prevent the outbreak of a world
war, all this has been distorted beyond recognition.
According to Deutscher, Stalin during that period was for a
full truce with capitalism, and advised the Communist
Parties almost to abandon the class struggle (pp. 417-426).
There is hardly need to quote chapter and verse from Stalin
to the contrary. The facts are too well known.
The struggle against fascism and the fight to prevent the
outbreak of a new war, like the fight during the war for the
opening of the Second Front, was the essence of the class
struggle in international affairs. The attempt of the
Munichites, Chamberlain, Halifax, Londonderry, Daladier,
Bonnet and others to divert Hitler for an attack on Russia
is minimised (pp. 431-434); the author never mentions that
even after Hitler entered Prague in 1939, and during the
time Chamberlain sent his "illustrious" negotiators to
Moscow, a British Cabinet Minister, Hudson, had offered the
Germans a loan of £1,000 million and gave an interview to
the Daily Telegraph where he suggested that Germany's
"Lebensraum" could be met in the expanses of Siberia and
Deutscher never deals with the "phoney" part of the war when
Chamberlain and Daladier sent military supplies and were
preparing to send armies to Finland, and to attack Russia
through Syria and Iraq.
During the war our lampoonist is forced to admit that Stalin
showed great leadership. But even then, Stalin's famous
scorched-earth speech was "flat and so uninspiring" – the
same speech that inspired the most glorious partisan
movement in the history of the world.
In brief, Deutscher's book on Stalin is an anti-Soviet
tirade based on distortions, gossip, and blatant lies.
History will not require Deutscher's opinion on Stalin. The
enormous achievements of the Soviet Union, the immortal
victories over the fascist armies, the growing might of the
Communist influence and the building of a Communist society
are the monuments to Stalin's greatness.
Deutscher's lampoon – and the book is a 600-page lampoon –
is part and parcel of the "cold war" which the imperialists
are waging against the Soviet Union led by Stalin. It is
hardly surprising to see how the right wing press, from the
Tory Observer, the Economist to the Fabian New Statesman
have acclaimed it. The book has to be exposed for all the
lies and distortions it contains. It has no other value at
all. Reaction rages at the Soviet Union, and at Stalin in
particular, because Stalin "upholds the fundamentals of the