The Political Thought of Joseph Stalin

This book presents a comprehensive analysis of the political thought of Joseph Stalin. Making full use of the documentation that has recently become available, including Stalin’s private library with his handwritten marginal notes, the book provides many insights into Stalin and also into Western and Russian Marxist intellectual traditions. Overall, the book argues that Stalin’s political thought is not primarily indebted to the Russian autocratic tradition but belongs to a tradition of revolutionary patriotism that stretches back through revolutionary Marxism to Jacobin thought in the French Revolution. It makes interesting comparisons between Stalin, Lenin, Bukharin and Trotskii and explains a great deal about the Stalinist era’s many key problems, including the industrial revolution from above, socialist cultural policy, Soviet treatment of nationalities, pre-war and Cold War foreign policy, and the purges.

Erik van Ree is a lecturer at the Institute for East European Studies of the University of Amsterdam. His main fields of interest are the history of the USSR and of world communism. He is the author of Socialism in One Zone: Stalin’s Policy in Korea, 1945–1947 (1989) and co-author of The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Politburo (1992).

The Political Thought of Joseph Stalin
A study in twentieth-century revolutionary patriotism Erik van Ree

First published 2002 by RoutledgeCurzon 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by RoutledgeCurzon 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003. RoutledgeCurzon is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group © 2002 Erik van Ree All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN 0-203-22163-X Master e-book ISBN

ISBN 0-203-27620-5 (Adobe eReader Format) ISBN 0–7007–1749–8 (Print Edition)


List of illustrations Acknowledgements Introduction 1 Jacobinism 2 Marxism, Leninism and the state 3 Proletarian revolution in a backward country 4 Marxist nationalism 5 Stalin: the years before October 6 The years under Lenin 7 Socialism in one country 8 Stalin’s economic thought 9 The sharpening of the class struggle 10 Total unity 11 Stalin and the state 12 The cult of personality 13 Stalin on society, culture and science

vii viii 1 18 25 37 49 58 73 84 96 114 126 136 155 169



14 Socialist in content, national in form 15 Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?” 16 Revolutionary patriotism 17 The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism Conclusion Notes Bibliography Index

190 208 230 255 273 288 335 359


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

I.V. Stalin: from his 1947 Short Biography Il’ia Chavchavadze: Stalin’s first teacher in nationalism V.I. Lenin: Stalin’s greatest teacher N.I. Bukharin: economic autarky L.D. Trotskii: the speed of accumulation as the fundamental criterion A.A. Bogdanov: total unity Karl Marx: “better than Engels” Ivan the Terrible: Stalin’s favourite tsar N.G. Chernyshevskii: socially useful art V.G. Belinskii: healthy patriotism Peter the Great: “good ideas, but there came in too many Germans” Otto Bauer: flourishing nations under socialism G.V. Plekhanov: influenced Stalin’s understanding of history Friedrich Engels: “only idiots can doubt that Engels remains our teacher”

2 59 74 86 87 128 137 143 176 177 178 192 256 257


This book has been in the making for a very long time. Joseph Stalin has been with me for so many years that I have almost forgotten what life would be without him. Much of the time, too long, I have been working like a hermit, burying myself ever deeper and ever more desperately in a mountain of books, articles and documents of and about the Soviet dictator. I have often doubted whether I would ever be able to climb back to the surface again. Many people have given me the courage to persist in this enormous project. Among them are my wife, my two children, my parents and my colleagues and friends. Without them I could not have completed the book. My special thanks go to Michael Ellman and Evan Mawdsley for reading the complete typescript and providing their insightful comments, which I hope I have used sufficiently. Parts of the typescript have been read and commented upon by Meindert Fennema, André Gerrits, Marc Jansen, Bruno Naarden and Evert van der Zweerde. I thank them too for their time and valuable remarks. Of course, all mistakes of fact and interpretation remain my exclusive responsibility. I want to thank John Löwenhardt and Jan Mets for their encouragement and help in bringing this project to completion. During my stay in Moscow in 1994 at the former Central Party Archive I was given great help in tracing documents and reading Stalin’s marginal notes by L.P. Kosheleva and L.A. Rogovaia. I could not have done it without them. I want to thank the library staff of the International Institute of Social History and of my own Institute for East European Studies in Amsterdam for their much appreciated assistance throughout the years. The book could not have been completed without a grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), which allowed me one and a half years of full-time paid leave of absence from the university in 1997–9. I thank Bruno Naarden and Wim Roobol for their support. Should I have forgotten to mention anyone who helped me, I sincerely apologise.
The authors and publishers would like to thank the following for granting permission to reproduce material in this work:

Collection International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam for Figure 12 ‘‘Otto Bauer’’.



Publishing House Respublika, Moscow for Figure 1 ‘‘I.V. Stalin’’ and Figure 6 ‘‘A.A. Bogdanov’’. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow for Figure 3 ‘‘V.I. Lenin’’, Figure 8 ‘‘Ivan the Terrible’’, Figure 9 ‘‘N.G. Chernyshevskii’’, Figure 10 ‘‘V.G. Belinskii’’ and Figure 11 ‘‘Peter the Great’’. Every effort has been made to obtain permission for the use of copyright items. Author and publisher would be glad to hear from any copyright holders not so acknowledged. Erik van Ree September 2001


To write a book about Stalin’s political thought is a risky project. During the many years when I was occupied with it I was routinely treated to the ironic question: “Did he, then, have any political thought at all?” Decades after his leader’s death, Lazar Kaganovich said: “before anything else, Stalin was an ideological person. For him the idea was the main thing.”1 But the faithful Kaganovich, one of the Soviet leaders most responsible for the cult of Stalin’s personality, is not exactly an impartial witness. Few would agree with him that his boss had been a man of ideas. To focus a study of Joseph Stalin on his ideas is, therefore, a project of which the very relevance should be more or less shown in advance. That the Soviet dictator was not a stupid man is generally taken for granted, but that political doctrine was essential for him is open to general doubt to no lesser degree. For most, including the present author, Stalin was above all a criminal and a mass murderer. There are admittedly a small number who still admire the great leader, but even they do not find his ideas his most significant heritage. Their idol was above all a great war leader under whose iron hand the Soviet Union was transformed into a superpower. Stalin is mostly believed to have been a man of naked power who adapted his ideas at will whenever it suited him. From this perspective, he was a cynic, an opportunist and a shrewd pragmatist – perhaps a tactician of genius – but never a man of principle. To attempt to understand the logic of Stalin’s broader doctrines is therefore not worth the trouble. The effort is allegedly based on a fundamental misunderstanding, namely that Stalin’s thought had some kind of inner logic instead of being an accumulation of ad hoc adaptations. Stalin’s ideas were determined by the interaction of circumstance and his own power hunger rather than being an active element of their own, shaping actual policies. These ideas counted for little if it comes to understanding what actually happened in the USSR between 1928 and 1953, for they were determined by Stalinist reality instead of determining that reality. For example, is it not silly to assume that Stalin put into practice the idea of the kolkhoz because he was attracted to the idea of the socialist mode of production? Was his real point not rather to exercise better control over the peasantry?



Figure 1 I.V. Stalin: from his 1947 Short Biography

To counter such objections, one could argue that the Soviet dictator did believe in the Marxist principles avowed by him. But even if this could be convincingly argued – as I believe it can be – it might still not shake the doubters, for Stalin’s beliefs might be little more than self-deception. His convictions might represent formulas to legitimise his actions to his own conscience instead of being held in advance of these actions and providing a guideline for them. One could also point out that in its fundamentals Stalin’s ideology did have a strong inner coherence. It formed a surprisingly closed system, with its elements hanging together as neatly as the polished building blocks of an Inca temple. This strong coherence suggests that the doctrine could not have been simply derived from the dynamics of an ever-changing reality but must have had some kind of logic of its own. The best model to explain this would be that it emanated from one ordering centre, from one thinking mind formulating the doctrine. But that does not count for much either. For even if Stalin’s basic idea could be successfully presented as a coherent whole instead of as a hotch-potch of ad hoc elements, as I again believe it can, we have not shown that it played any active role. We may have proved that the idea was not simply determined by reality, but we have not proved the opposite thereby. The idea might be a mere fantasy, hovering above reality. This latter possibility points to an even more disturbing aspect of the question. The first objection against the relevance of a study of Stalin’s political thought is based on the hypothesis that the doctrine was a passive



element in the Soviet system, not one of its determining factors. But there is also a second, even more fatal, hypothesis holding that, in many cases, the doctrine had little to do with Soviet reality at all. The Stalinist idea was not even a passive reflection of that reality but only camouflaged it. It provided a deformed picture of reality, with the only purpose to mislead people. It was, in a word, mere propaganda. The leader’s pronouncements about democracy, peace and proletarian rule fall into this category. To sum up, according to the above model of analysis of Stalin’s political thought, that thought was, first, a justification after the deed instead of a source of inspiration for the deed; and, second, as a justification it was often even fundamentally at odds with reality, ideally deforming rather than reflecting it. If this were a more or less accurate and exhaustive analysis of the role of Stalin’s doctrine, then it would indeed be a waste of time to make a study of it. There would in any case be little use in discussing it at book length. But obviously, in my opinion, things are not as simple as they seem to be. Let us first take a closer look at the problem of correspondence between ideas and reality. In some cases the question is simple indeed. When in 1937 Stalin ordered it to be made public that his comrade Sergo Ordzhonikidze had died of natural causes instead of having committed suicide, he was simply lying. And when he told Polish government delegates that the dead officers discovered in Katyn had been murdered by the Germans, he was lying with an even straighter face, which he was very good at. But when he insisted that the USSR was a democracy, the problem is more complex. In that case, we are faced with the question of the definition of a concept. The relevant questions here are which definition of democracy did Stalin use; whether he was more or less consistent in this; whether he himself really did believe in the appropriateness of that particular definition; and, last but not least, whether the USSR was a democracy according to that definition. One should not make the lazy mistake of concluding that the Soviet dictator was only putting up a deceptive show to cheat his audience into believing what he himself very well knew to be a hoax, for the simple reason that the USSR was obviously no democracy according to our definition of that term. Stalin did know better than anyone that the Soviet people were not in sovereign charge of the state. He knew that the communist party, not they, were in charge, and he was determined to strike down mercilessly any minority, or majority for that matter, challenging communist rule. He knew, in other words, that the USSR was no democracy in the sense of actual popular sovereignty. But he did apply a concept of democracy of his own, resting on two pillars. First, democracy was not primarily a matter of fair procedure but of policies alleged to be in the interest of the people. The undivided rule of the communist party was therefore precisely the crux of any true democracy, because that party was committed to the only economic system truly in the popular interest, i.e. communism. The second defining



aspect of democracy was that it should be a system that allowed the population to participate at least in state organs, even without having a determining say in it. Despite numerous adaptations and frequent changes, Stalin remained faithful to the basics of this model, in which he obviously believed – witness his numerous pronouncements in this direction in the small circle of his close comrades. What is more, the USSR was a democracy in this sense. In this case, it would therefore be a primitive simplification to assume that Stalin was only cheating the public when he claimed to have created the most democratic state in the world. Or that he was only speaking for an audience abroad. Such assumptions betray a striking lack of understanding of what made communist leaders like Joseph Stalin tick. Let me make a perhaps unexpected digression. For those among us who are not Roman Catholics, or adherents of similar faiths, there is no correspondence whatsoever between a small piece of sacramental bread and the body of Christ. The lack of correspondence is so obvious that, to some, the very question of whether there could be any correspondence at all is silly. Yet the true believer believes that the bread is unquestionably an instance of the body of Christ. The implausibility from a rational point of view does not bother him. Of course, this is no proof of the fact that Stalin believed that the Soviet system was an instance of socialist democracy. Strange beliefs do exist, but that does not prove that Stalin was a strange believer. Nevertheless, the example of the idea of transubstantiation does warn us against easily assuming that Stalinist doctrines were pure propaganda for the simple reason that they do not conform to our definition of reality. In studying Stalin’s political thought, we cannot be content to hang around in our own frame of mind but must make a bold attempt to visit the latter’s mental universe. If we do that, we will still conclude in many instances that the Soviet dictator was a barefaced liar, as in the case of Ordzhonikidze and Katyn. But although Stalin lied whenever it was useful to do so, we will conclude in the present study that the fundamental political and ideological concepts with which he operated nevertheless expressed his understanding of reality. As far as can be ascertained, Stalin was a true believer. For him, the Soviet political system was indeed the highest form of democracy. For another example, when he ruled the country the proletariat was not in power. Even in October 1917 there had never been any “dictatorship of the proletariat” but only party rule. But that does not mean that for Stalin that term meant, really, nothing, that he used it only to fool his audience. As a matter of fact, we will find that the term “proletarian dictatorship” had a precise meaning for the Soviet leader. He found it a significant enough terminological issue to occupy himself for years with the question of whether the USSR and the “people’s democracies” should be classified as proletarian dictatorships. From the mid-1930s until his death he did not stop thinking about this question.



The assumption that Stalin could not really have believed in the doctrines he avowed publicly rests on two misunderstandings. First, we are so enveloped in our own conceptual framework, so unacquainted with totalitarian thinking, that we simply cannot believe that anybody can believe such rubbish. It simply must be a hoax. However, to argue that Stalin’s statements were so nonsensical that he cannot have believed in them is no less primitive than to assume, for example, that St Paul must have known very well that he had not been chosen by the Holy Spirit to convey the word of God; because, obviously, no intelligent man could possibly have believed something as unreal as that. St Paul must have used the story about the Holy Spirit only to strengthen his authority among the early Christian community. Few scholars will argue in this way in this case, but is it not from a rational point of view as implausible to believe in the Holy Spirit as in the proletarian dictatorship? I repeat that strange beliefs do exist, even if we may find them strange. The second assumption that hinders us from recognising that Stalin may have been a true believer is that to recognise that he was sincere in the fundamentals of his belief might cast a positive light on him. But that is, first, completely irrelevant and, second, misguided. Generally speaking, the greatest crimes in history have been committed by the sincere – those who believe in their hearts that they are justified in committing their acts. In the present study, my focus will be to discover what Stalin himself intended to convey with his doctrinal pronouncements, before easily assuming that it was mere propaganda and a masquerade. The question of correspondence of idea and reality has further ramifications beyond questions of definition and belief, which might be considered relatively sterile matters by some observers. The point is that, however odd, Stalin’s beliefs were often of causal significance for the development of Soviet society. Perhaps the most extreme case of non-correspondence of the Stalinist idea with Stalinist realities concerned the so-called Great Terror of 1937–38. Somewhere under a million people were executed during these years on charges of espionage, sabotage and terror. It would be hard to find a single case in which the accusations were accurate. But that total lack of correspondence between idea and reality does not make the former necessarily irrelevant. For, what if Stalin really believed that those he persecuted were indeed murderers, wreckers and spies? What if that totally inaccurate belief was nevertheless the main reason he persecuted them? In that case, we would have found a major example in which Stalin’s ideas are essential to an understanding of real developments. The fact that these ideas were outrageously wrong then becomes in a sense even irrelevant. If the Son of Sam killed because he believed that a thousand-year-old black dog told him to do so, the fact that the dog was considerably younger than that and only barked does not change the killer’s motive. I will not argue that Stalin was a psychiatric case. That assumption is irrelevant to my argument. I will argue instead that he was a convinced



adherent of the bolshevik ideology of murderous class war. That ideology made him predict that, in the face of ultimate defeat, the desperate class enemy was bound to turn to espionage, sabotage and murder on a massive scale. In the course of this book, I will treat the question of how this hypothesis might be upheld despite the fact that Stalin himself organised the respective confessions through torture. I will argue that he believed he was drawing the truth out of his victims through violent means, a truth he had instinctively grasped in advance on the basis of his bolshevik insights. The case of the Holy Inquisition provides a good comparison. Its officers knew very well that their victims spoke only because they were under torture. But that did not necessarily make their confessions untrue. On the contrary, the hot irons forced the truth out of the heretics and witches. Powerful support for this model of analysis is provided by Stalin’s extremely odd behaviour on the eve of the German invasion of June 1941. The Soviet leader was reliably warned from many quarters about the imminent danger, but he just did not believe it. He put aside the numerous reports from the British and his own intelligence services, stubbornly insisting that they could not be true. Stalin proceeded from a general analysis of how imperialism operated. The imperialists were out for maximum profits and expansion, but precisely their motive of self-interest instructed them to proceed more or less rationally. This told Stalin two things. First, Hitler would not be so foolish as to attack Russia before he had finished off Britain. And, second, isolated, threatened Britain would do anything possible to provoke a Russian–German war. This, again, convinced Stalin that the reports of imminent attack must be British disinformation. In other words, Stalin believed in his own powers of analysis to such a degree that he simply knew what Churchill and Hitler were up to. He sensed it. And he was so certain of himself that he was psychologically able to ignore all real information. The interesting point here is that, in this case, there can be no doubt that he really did believe his own nonsense. Otherwise, he would have taken the necessary precautions against the German attack after all. And that again proves that Stalin was able to set aside reality and act on his own truly held assumptions in a way that reasonable observers would find scarcely possible. It is a clear case of Stalin’s analysis of reality, although completely at odds with it, determining his own actions and the fate of the USSR. We are now approaching the general question of whether, and to what degree, the Stalinist idea had a determining influence on Soviet society and politics. The example of Stalin’s refusal to recognise the German threat highlights the dangers of making too schematic a distinction between motives of power and motives of doctrine. Stalin’s assessment of the situation was informed, and deformed, by his bolshevik frame of analysis, but his goal remained to protect the Soviet state. Doctrine answered the question of how its power might most successfully be preserved. The same can be said of the Great Terror. Stalin’s goal was to preserve and enlarge the power of the



state and of himself, but the delusions inherent in his doctrine told him that, to secure that goal, the numerous saboteurs and spies threatening the state should be rounded up. In one of its aspects, then, the relation between power and doctrine is that power represents the goal and doctrine prescribes the means. But this is too one-sided a framework to fully grasp the matter at hand. The point is that the relation can also be of the opposite – with doctrine formulating the goal and power representing the means. Once a leader has acquired power, he must decide what to do with it. What kind of social order is he going to create? Doctrine informs him on that point. Like Stalin, Adolf Hitler strove for absolute personal power, but whereas the latter worked towards a new world of racial hierarchy, the former aimed for the very different goal of a totally nationalised and planned society. From this aspect, power was only the means enabling the leader to attain his particular vision, to press his own blueprint onto the world. Thus power and doctrinal motives were intertwined in complex ways. The hypothesis that the Stalinist idea only passively reflected the power motive is untenable. The best model is that of power and doctrinal motives actively influencing each other. On the one hand, doctrine is always subjected to a kind of Darwinian process of selection. Ideological elements that would harm their adherents in terms of power have a tendency to be discarded as unrealistic. They will mostly either be adapted, completely disavowed or rendered harmless by removing their realisation to a faraway future. But, although these too are tested against reality, new ideas always arise spontaneously. Time and again, political activists and ideologues develop new doctrinal variations. And, in their turn, these ideas are active in shaping the form that power takes. For even when power is the highest concern, no political actor can ever evade two crucial questions – namely, how can his power best be strengthened and what is he going to do with it? And there is never just one answer. Different systems of ideas provide different answers. The case of the collectivisation of agriculture is illuminating. When in 1928 and 1929 the Soviet cities experienced a lack of grain, Stalin concluded that the villages should move on to some form of large-scale agriculture, which, in his opinion, was the only system equipped to produce a substantial marketable surplus. We recognise here the two motives operating jointly. It was the lack of grain that forced Stalin into action. Discontent among the urban proletariat undermined his prestige and power, but his conclusion that only large-scale agriculture was productive enough was stamped by a Marxist bias. Moreover, he decided that, as a socialist state, the USSR could never accept a capitalist form of large-scale farming, which left no other option but the kolkhoz. The kolkhoz was important to Stalin as a means of subjecting the peasants to state control, but had he not been a Marxist and had he realised that large-scale socialist agriculture was less rather than more productive than capitalist, he would have concluded that collectivisation



could only undermine his power in the long run. He would then have sought other means of control over the peasantry. Even more strikingly, when in the early 1930s the collective farms proved to be an economic disaster Stalin decided not to abandon them. Although economic disruption threatened the stability of his regime, he remained convinced of the long-term superiority of socialist agriculture. He put his power at risk because a misguided doctrine told him that in the long run that power would be served by sitting it out. Thus, even if we for the sake of argument suppose that Stalin cared nothing for the socialist system and only for his power, then it was still his doctrine that dictated collectivisation – precisely to secure that power. And this is not even putting my case as strongly as it might be put. The fact is that, apart from power motives, Stalin did also believe in the historical inevitability of socialism. Collectivisation was not only the best way to secure his power but also historically inevitable and therefore in a sense the very purpose of that power. Trying to find an answer to the question of which element – power or doctrine – was the more important one in Soviet Russia, we run into serious trouble. The best model is that, time and again, circumstances provided the leadership with a problem that in the long run threatened their power. This provided the main motive to act. Thus the question of power is mostly observable in the background of a new policy decision. But various options are always available, various answers to the question of which course will solidify power most in the short and long run. And which answer is given depends again on which interpretation of the events, which set of doctrines, is triumphant. Power provides the question, but doctrine provides the answer. Take for another example Stalin’s theory of “socialism in one country.” One can argue convincingly that he embraced it for the simple reason that the “world revolution” had failed to break out; because there was only socialism in one country. Better focus most attention on constructing the one real power base that exists, Stalin must have thought. Yet, because of that very same circumstance of isolation, Trotskii drew precisely the opposite conclusion, namely that the Soviet government should focus most attention on trying to break out of its isolated state. Both were concerned with the survival and power of the Soviet state. But the dilemma of how to preserve that power produced two different answers, depending on the ideological preferences of their authors. And this, again, leaves even unsaid the fact that for both Trotskii and Stalin how to preserve the Soviet state was not the only relevant question. Both were also interested in the long-range perspectives of world communism as such. Yet, having said all this, did not Stalin after all change his principles at will, dependent on circumstance? Pushing the Communist International first into an all-consuming struggle against “social-fascism”, then moving on to a “popular front” policy, and then in 1939 shamelessly embracing Joachim von Ribbentrop – all that does not testify to a principled stand. In other



words, it may be so that Stalin’s doctrines were among the determining factors of Soviet life, but were these doctrines themselves not so malleable that they nevertheless counted for little? However, although Stalin was flexible to the point of being unprincipled when it came to tactics, in his broader goals and perspectives he was inflexible. In the first aspect, he was indeed a pragmatic, even a cynic, but in the second he was a fanatic and a true believer. The broad outlines of Soviet foreign policy were remarkably constant throughout Stalin’s era. His main goal was to preserve the USSR and to extend its power through diplomacy and, if necessary or useful, war. At the same time, the world revolution always remained on his agenda as a secondary and subordinate goal, to be pursued through the world communist movement, which he attempted to guide towards victory in the long run. Stalin never changed this basic framework. Only when it came to questions of tactics did he feel free to make and break alliances just as it suited him. It is the latter point that tempts observers into thinking that the dictator was a mere opportunist, but that ignores the element of fundamental constancy. The same can be said about, for example, Stalin’s economic policies. To return to the case of collectivisation: whatever happened, the kolkhoz was there to stay. It was only in subordinate arrangements, such as the private plots, that the dictator was prepared to compromise. To repeat: it is simply not true that Joseph Stalin adapted his ideas at will. In many cases he stubbornly stuck to them against all common sense, even to the point of, unintentionally, endangering his own power. This brings me to the question that will play the central role in the present book, namely that of the nature of Stalin’s doctrine. That doctrine developed in interaction with the developing circumstances in the country and in the world at large in answer to the challenges to communist power produced by these changing circumstances. As I have argued above, doctrine and circumstance were mutually influential. But circumstance is more than what is immediately found. It contains the political tradition of a country as one of its important constituting elements. The question is in what ways Stalin’s doctrine was influenced by the Russian tradition. As a good point of departure for treating this question, we may note that Stalinism, as well as bolshevism in general, was a phenomenon on the intersection of two traditions. It originated at the point where German Marxism, imported from the West, mixed with locally existing political traditions. Common sense makes us expect that Stalinism reflected both. That was the case, but what particular kind of mix was it? Many thoughtful Western historians have emphasised the Russian traditional factor. Richard Pipes defines pre-revolutionary Russia as a patrimonial state, a term from Hobbes denoting a variety of dynastic rule in which a country and state are the personal property of the monarch. This was never a complete reality. The Russian monarch was never effectively in charge of all landed estates throughout the empire. But after the Middle



Ages the tsarist system took a form that did approach the patrimonial ideal type. However, under Catherine the Great the landowners’ estates reverted to privately owned property. This fundamentally undid the patrimonial system as a socio-economic reality. Then again, Russia never made a clean break with the past. Despite the introduction of a limited parliamentarianism in 1905, the government remained responsible to the emperor alone. In other words, the autocratic polity survived until March 1917. For Pipes, the bolshevik dictatorship largely copied the practices of the old autocracy.2 In Robert Tucker’s understanding of the matter, the roots of Stalin’s thinking lay in Marxism. The latter was and remained a revolutionary philosophy. But in practice Stalin turned to other sources of inspiration. The Soviet dictator was especially fascinated by Ivan the Terrible’s efforts to create a centralised state against boyar resistance, and even more by Peter the Great’s formula to overcome his country’s backwardness. Peter created a colossal, strictly centralised, bureaucratic state, with the purpose of speeding up his country’s modernisation and feeding a great army. In Tucker’s understanding, Stalin’s model of “revolution from above” by means of a centralised state bureaucracy represented a reversion to that Petrine model.3 Pipes’ and Tucker’s models have the weakness that they observe no direct continuity of the Soviet state with the imperial system as it existed by 1917, but rather a reversion to its earlier stages – as it were skipping a few centuries in reverse. Yet this does not seem to be a fatal flaw. As noted, patrimonialism had been undone by 1917, but the autocratic system was still alive. And although later emperors did not repeat Peter’s revolution from above on the same heroic scale, the model of state-organised industrialisation was not abandoned. Moreover, it would not be impossible as a matter of principle for revolutionary rulers such as Lenin and Stalin to be inspired by examples set centuries ago. Although Tucker does not accuse Lenin of that crime, this is indeed his understanding of the latter’s successor. The pre-revolutionary Russian tradition of statecraft has a number of characteristics that are too obviously similar to what the bolsheviks did after 1917 to be overlooked. There was the strong state, organised along the lines of bureaucratic centralism. There was the tendency of that state to achieve its goals through mobilisation of society from above. And there was, of course, the fact that the state knew a system of one-man rule. Even more simply put and leaving out all analytical subtleties, the attractiveness of models such as Pipes’ and Tucker’s, making the Russian tradition the dominant influence on Stalinism, rests on the undeniable fact that imperial and Stalinist Russia were both centralist states unchecked by popular democratic control. However, this analysis has not remained unchallenged. Martin Malia and Stephen Kotkin argue that bolshevism was no perverted product of traditional Russia. Their basic claim is that, despite the obvious similarities between the pre- and post-revolutionary orders, the differences between them were so substantial that we are dealing with fundamentally different



systems. For Malia and Kotkin, the destruction of the land-owning, capitalist and peasant classes set the bolshevik state fundamentally apart from what existed before 1917. In their understanding, Stalin did in fact realise “socialism” – if we define this as full non-capitalism, i.e. as the complete abolition of private ownership of the means of production. Despite the socalled “Great Retreat” of the 1930s, Stalin never retreated to capitalism. Under tsarism, the strong state was a dominant factor in society, as it would remain under bolshevism. But the pre-revolutionary economic elites were land-owning and capitalist classes. The agricultural system of the village commune periodically redividing the land might be described as a midway station between collectivism and private ownership. The tsarist state recognised private property as the legitimate basis of society. However, the bolshevik state did not and destroyed that property, taking everything into its own hands. It thereby created a very different way of life. The introduction of complete state ownership of industry and of collectivised agriculture represented a transition to a fundamentally new system, supposedly operating on a totally planned basis and hoping to regulate the life of the people on new criteria of social welfare and justice.4 Taking a closer look, we will recognise important differences between the pre- and post-revolutionary regimes in all important fields – not only in the economic field. For example, in the case of the emperors and Stalin we are dealing with different forms of one-man rule. Like the emperors before him, Stalin was a single ruler whose will dominated all. But the emperors formed the pinnacle of an ancien régime. They were hereditary dynasts. Joseph Stalin was the dictator of a modern political party. Looking more closely, what at first seems to be an identity between the two consecutive systems breaks down. And the elements of discontinuity become the more striking the closer we look, which importantly supports Kotkin and Malia’s basic thesis. However, having arrived at this point a disturbing thought comes up. Are we not dealing with a problem, the solution of which is basically arbitrary? Toning down polemics and looking at the matter as soberly as possible, we have the following situation. One regime was replaced by another. Inevitably, some things remained the same and others changed. We can more or less objectively point out what remained the same and what changed. But the relative weight of these aspects remains a subjective matter. What the similarities and differences between pre- and post-revolutionary Russia were can be established fairly accurately, but whether we find the similarities or the differences the more striking depends on our choice of criteria. This problem is far from academic, as both the continuities and discontinuities are quite significant. The fact that the tsarist and Stalinist states were centralised bureaucracies is no minor detail; nor is the fact that the one preserved and the other destroyed private ownership of the means of production. On what objective basis could one possibly decide which of these two facts must be considered the predominant aspect of the matter?



If making the choice of attributing primacy to either of the factors is basically arbitrary, then the whole debate would not only be endless but even pointless. At this point, an adherent of the thesis of discontinuity might bring in a powerful new argument. Political science enables us to categorise political systems, and whatever its many points of similarity with the tsarist regime, and whichever significance we attribute to these points, the fact is that, as a system, Stalinism must be classified as thoroughly modern. For example, and as noted above, whereas tsarism was a hereditary monarchy, a typically ancien régime form of government, in the Stalinist case we are dealing with a dictatorship by a political party, which again subjected itself to the leader of its own bureaucracy. Whatever its horrors, as a system this was part of the modern world. For another example, the old tsarist state was organised on the basis of estates. People were categorised into social strata, each of which had a different legal definition and rights; which, moreover, a person took with him should he change profession; and which were hereditary. The only way out for a non-serf was to climb high enough up the bureaucratic ladder to be ennobled, but he would then find himself in another estate. The influence of this pre-modern tradition is easily observable in Stalinist Russia. It was a hierarchical society, with different strata – party leaders, workers, peasants, prisoners, etc. – having vastly different rights and privileges in terms of access to scarce goods, freedom of movement and other points. However, these were no estates. The rights and privileges were completely linked to the present occupation of a person. Should a nomenklatura official be dismissed, he would no longer be classed as part of the nomenklatura and would lose all his privileges at a stroke. In contrast to workers, kolkhozniki had a limited right of individual trade. Should a person move to the city and become a worker, he would no longer be classed as a peasant and would lose this right to trade. Moreover, the Stalinist system officially recognised formal equality before the law of all citizens. Despite this, privileges tied to social position were in some cases defined in law, but mostly, as in the case of the nomenklatura privileges, the matter was of an extra-legal character. All this defined the Stalinist system again as an odd, marginal variety of modernity. The scholar defending the thesis of discontinuity would have no problem in admitting that Stalinism adopted many elements of the tsarist system. But he would add that only such elements of the ancien régime were adopted as were themselves already part of modernity. For example, Stalin adopted bureaucratic centralism, the model that Westerniser Peter the Great had furthered in order to modernise his country. The hierarchical model of Stalin’s state had many analogies with Peter’s Table of Ranks, but, significantly, the Soviet dictator did not reintroduce the system of noble titles. Nor, we may add, did he reintroduce serfdom, whatever limitations he set on the peasants’ freedom of movement. This classification of Stalinism as part of modernity, setting it fundamentally apart from the pre-modern ancien régime, is in my view basic to an



understanding of what Stalinism was all about. In the course of the present book, I will discuss why it did indeed not represent a resurrection of the old world. But the proponent of the thesis of continuity will easily recover from this blow. He or she may note that, even though the transition from tsarism to Stalinism meant moving from pre-modernity to modernity, the fact that Russia “chose” precisely this form of modernity highlights the historical continuity. Is it a coincidence that, when Russia became modern, it did not opt for democracy but for totalitarian dictatorship? Is it not characteristic that in this country, with its autocratic tradition, modernity took a dictatorial form? Hereby we are returned to the situation of stalemate. Whether we find the fact that Stalinism was a fundamentally new system the more significant aspect of the matter, or decide to attach most importance to the specific form the new system took, remains a matter of choice. As long as we limit ourselves to simply comparing the tsarist and Stalinist systems, we will be unable to break the deadlock. This does not mean that such comparisons are pointless. But the only conclusion that can validly be drawn from them is that the elements of continuity and discontinuity are both so substantial that it is hard to strike a balance. There is no objective criterion to decide how to strike that balance. The question seems to be reduced almost to a matter of taste. The present book hopes to avoid remaining trapped in this dilemma by focusing on the motives and thinking of the man mainly responsible for constructing the Stalinist system: Joseph Stalin himself. Returning to the original question of the factors of influence in the development of his political thought, we must ask ourselves where he found his sources of inspiration. Did he look to Marx and Lenin, or did he feel more at home with Ivan and Peter? Did he see himself primarily as a Marxist revolutionary or as a Russian statesman? Common sense tells us that it will be a little of both. Nevertheless, to approach the question from this angle of Stalin’s motives and sources of inspiration does bring us a step further. We will find less ambivalence here than a simple comparison of the tsarist and Stalinist orders suggests. I will argue that the Soviet dictator was more inspired by Western revolutionism than by the Russian tradition. Western revolutionism predominated in the shaping of Stalin’s political thought. To make this case, let me first make some crucial observations on the Western revolutionary tradition. In many scholarly works dealing with Stalinism, that tradition is treated oddly. And this way of treating it, often seemingly of marginal significance in the argument of the scholars concerned, has in fact great consequences for that argument. In accounts of Stalinism, it is quite common to find the scholars in question insisting that the idea of transforming society by a powerful state bureaucracy differed vitally from what Marx and Engels understood by socialism. Their socialism was capped by a decreasingly stratified commune-state. Their society was based on equality and emancipation. The brotherhood of man was their guiding principle. This interpretation of the ideas and practice of original



Marxism precludes us from using them as a context for understanding Stalinism. It forces us to treat Stalinist etatism as a deformation of the Marxist ideal. And the Russian tradition then easily offers itself as the natural alternative context. Students of Stalinism, as well as of Leninism, tend to single out a number of theories and practices that are allegedly in obvious contrast to early Marxism. Beginning with Lenin, one observes the idea of the vanguard party and the resulting practice of minority dictatorship, which goes against the grain of all Marx’s strictures against Blanquism. And whereas Marx is alleged to have been a convinced opponent of state terror and bureaucracy, Lenin introduced these mechanisms of government without apparent pangs of conscience. What is more, the whole revolution of October 1917 in an industrially backward country like Russia was a blatant affront to Marx’s theory that socialism can only be introduced under the conditions of developed capitalism. Turning to Stalin, the argument continues that the dictator added a number of crucial deviations from classical Marxism of his own. They mainly concerned the national question. To begin, in open defiance of classical Marxism, the Soviet dictator insisted that socialism can be constructed in one country. Furthermore, he introduced a strict state centralism oppressive of the national aspirations of the non-Russian peoples, after the Second World War climaxing in anti-Semitic “anti-cosmopolitanism.” In the cultural field, Stalin replaced Marxist revolutionary values with Russian nationalism. Finally, in foreign policy, the dictator turned in Marxist internationalism for great power chauvinism. But scholars of Leninism and Stalinism make it too easy for themselves if they define original Marxism in the glowing terms of proletarian solidarity and the stateless society. In doing so, they present a framework into which Stalinism cannot be fitted. This leads the reader gently on to the Russian tradition. For what other framework but this remains? But is all this an acceptable way of presenting the revolutionary tradition, which was produced in nineteenth-century Western Europe and exported to Russia? For example, did Marx and Engels really reject state centralisation and national oppression? What if they did not? What if they would in fact have been convinced exponents of this? And, for another example, let us assume that Marx and Engels did indeed reject dictatorship by revolutionary minorities. Even if that were the case, other Western European revolutionary tendencies, notably the Jacobins and Blanquists, did not reject that option. They – and I might add not any Russian socialist – were its original exponents. Let us now make an extraordinarily bold conjecture and suppose that there is no fundamental doctrine in the work of Lenin and Stalin that cannot be found in the Western European revolutionary tradition – Jacobin, Marxist or other. Let us suppose that proletarian revolution in backward countries, revolution from above, revolutionary minority dictatorship, state ownership of the means of production, state terror, bureaucracy, centralism,



socialism in one country, nationalism and great power chauvinism, that all of these Leninist and Stalinist features would under closer scrutiny be seen to have an important presence in Western European revolutionary doctrine; that they were not marginal phenomena to be discovered with the help of a bright lamp but important everyday features of nineteenth-century Western revolutionism; that the only really significant difference would be that in the West the Jacobins had just a few years to experiment, whereas the bolsheviks could give it a go for many decades. In other words, that the only specifically Russian thing about all these concepts was that Lenin and Stalin turned them into practice on an incomparably larger scale than ever happened in the West. What would this tell us? It would tell us one thing at a minimum, namely that the Western revolutionary tradition unexpectedly offers itself as a possible and quite complete framework for understanding Stalinism. For then it would become possible to understand, for example, Stalinist bureaucratic centralism not only within a Russian traditionalist framework but also within the context of Western revolutionary doctrine. If it is only a tenacious myth that Marx denied the possibility of proletarian revolution in industrially backward countries, then Lenin’s decision to carry it out does not necessarily need to be explained by his adapting Marxism to Russia. It might alternatively be explained from his Marxist revolutionary orthodoxy. If Marx and Engels were in favour of forcefully assimilating small peoples into the German cultural nation, then Stalin’s policies of national oppression need not necessarily mean his digression from Marxism. He may as well have been acting in its spirit. It would not be fair to suggest that this approach represents a completely new departure. There has always been a section of Western scholarship analysing bolshevik practice as revolutionary utopianism turned into gruesome reality. One of the first to present this point of view was J.L. Talmon, who argued many decades ago that Stalinism must be understood as a final product of the totalitarian branch of the Western European Enlightenment tradition. Stalinism embodied the ultimate consequence of the Western ideas of rational order and equality if developed one-sidedly without due respect for personal liberty. In Talmon’s view, bolshevism replayed the French Revolution on a gigantic scale and more consistently than the Jacobins ever conceived.5 Whether this is a valid analysis of how Stalin’s political doctrines came about remains to be seen. It cannot be determined in the abstract. We must investigate on the basis of the available sources which influences worked on the Soviet leader – in his youth as well as during his mature years in power. The present book sets out to do this as far as the author is able. My own belief in the Russian tradition as the main key to understanding the development of Stalin’s political thought was shaken when I visited Moscow in 1994 and studied the private library with its handwritten marginal notes that the Soviet leader had left behind. As I will discuss in more detail later, this collection of books is overwhelmingly Marxist in



composition. It shows Stalin’s lively interest in history – general, Russian and even ancient – but it does not give any indication that its owner had been interested in systems of thought other than Marxism. Leaving literary works and those by historians aside, it contained nothing written by Slavophiles, pan-Slavists or other orthodox or conservative Russian thinkers. To put it bluntly, the Soviet dictator may have been a fan of Peter the Great as a statesman, but there is no indication that he ever read anything of his court ideologist Feofan Prokopovich. In contrast, the handwritten notes in the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin leave no doubt that their author considered himself a pupil of these revolutionary luminaries. Even in copies published in 1950 and 1951, one can still see the old man marking passages on the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and materialist philosophy. Meanwhile, more and more archival materials were published, such as part of the Stalin–Molotov correspondence. Publications like these confirmed that the private Stalin was as convinced a Marxist as the public figure speaking from the rostrum of a party congress. In his private notes and letters there figured the same “Trotskyite saboteurs” and “imperialist warmongers” we know so well from his speeches. The Soviet leader seems not to have forgotten the “international working class”, “world revolution” and the “struggle against bureaucracy” even for a moment. All this was odd, to say the least. From the angle of the mind of Stalin himself, the thesis of continuity seemed to evaporate almost totally. The latter conclusion would be stretching the point too far. Nevertheless, my research led me to conclude that Stalin developed his political thought mainly in a Marxist framework. First of all, Lenin’s influence was overriding. This presents an analytical problem, because the student of Leninism is again confronted with the same question of Marxist and Russian sources. I will deal with this matter in the first section of the book, as far as necessary in an argument dealing not with Leninism as such but as a factor in the development of Stalinism. As we will see, next to Lenin’s dominance, Stalin was also influenced by a number of other Marxist authors and political activists. As to Russian thinkers of a non-Marxist persuasion, Stalin nurtured special sympathy for nineteenth-century “revolutionary democrats” such as Vissarion Belinskii and Nikolai Chernyshevskii. Typically, these were prominent Westernisers. Stalin’s inspiration by Ivan and Peter, crucial in Tucker’s understanding, is not to be denied. His appreciation of these tsars epitomises his link with the Russian tradition of strong-armed statecraft. The Soviet dictator appreciated Ivan the most. He found him a prince of strong national inclinations, whose efforts to strengthen autocratic power in the face of boyar resistance were historically progressive. As far as his state-building efforts were concerned, Peter too could count on Stalin’s favourable comments. What is more, not only did Stalin believe in Ivan’s and Peter’s progressive roles, he also recognised the parallel between what they had done and what he was doing. Nevertheless, I will argue that Stalin’s appreciation remained limited



and conditional. The Soviet dictator did absorb the Russian etatist tradition, but only as far as it fitted into his Marxist framework. Otherwise put, his positive evaluation of Ivan and Peter did not contradict his Marxism but followed from the Marxist premisses to which he clung tenaciously. However, it would be an oversimplification to describe Stalin’s political thought exclusively in Marxist terms. Following its developments over the years, we will observe the growth of a strange compound of Marxism and nationalism. In time, the nationalism grew ever stronger in Stalin’s mind, to the detriment of the Marxist component. Yet the former never crowded out the latter. There is something paradoxical about Stalin’s nationalism. To begin with, he absorbed it partly from the Marxist tradition itself. Furthermore, the nationalism he came to admire most was that of the nineteenth-century “revolutionary democrats” mentioned above. But that was precisely the nationalism of the Westernising school of Russian thought! Even in his most xenophobic and anti-Semitic old days, the “anticosmopolitanism” to which Stalin referred was Belinskii’s. Stalin’s nationalism was of the revolutionary type, which does not mean that it was not murderous in its effects but does show that revolutionary nationalism can have that effect. I will conclude that, from the point of view of the history of ideas, no genuine conservative and traditionalist element can be discovered in Stalin’s political thought. Stalinism remained part of the Marxist and revolutionary nationalist universe imported from Western Europe in the nineteenth century. Stalin’s curious brand of “revolutionary patriotism” did absorb the Russian etatist tradition but was not overwhelmed by it. Yet this conclusion does not shatter the position of those who recognise the powerful Russian traditionalist imprint on Stalinist doctrine. They can point out that, even though Stalin found his defence of dictatorship, centralism and state terror in Marxism and not directly in the Russian past, it remains significant that he selected these particular elements from Marxism. He might as well have adopted its democratic aspects, but he did not. In other words, even if Stalin drew his inspiration mainly from Marxism, his Russian background made itself felt in his selectivity. I will admit this point. Although the present book will hopefully provide powerful support for the thesis of discontinuity between tsarism and Stalinism, debates such as these are never finally resolved.



In the eighteenth century, French philosophers concluded that human society should be made all over again. It should be returned to harmony with the basic laws and principles that were inherent in nature itself, but which had unfortunately been put under a dark cloud when classical antiquity went to its ruin – or perhaps even since the dawn of mankind. The principles that had been lost and waited to be retrieved were those of reason. At some point in history, man lost sight of his own inherent rationality. He plunged himself into ignorance and darkness, and thus caused unreason to prevail. The philosophes believed that society should be mercilessly stripped of the crust of unreason that it had allowed to grow upon its own rational essence. But reason clearly did not have its way spontaneously. If the people understood their own rationality of themselves, the tragedy of unreason would never have occurred in the first place. Reason ought to be assisted, and this is where the “Enlightenment” came in. Wise educators showed the world the road back to its lost essence. The philosophes made themselves available for the historic task of bringing liberation to the people from the obscurantist priests and kings who had led them into slavery. They showed the people the way out of this rotten “feudal” world. Reason is a concept with many interpretations. It may have associations of either common sense or logic. Forming a contrasting pair with emotion, it always has to do with the mind in the narrow sense – the intellect. But it is not immediately clear what a “reasonable” society is. In the eighteenth century, it was believed to be one based on the twin principles of freedom and equality, but there were, again, different interpretations of these ideals. In his The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, Talmon argued that, on account of their respective interpretations of these basic ideals, the various tendencies of Enlightenment thought could be broadly divided into two. One tendency was bound to develop into modern liberalism and the other into modern totalitarianism. This is a highly schematic division, and it should be understood as ideal-typical. But provided that that is understood, it is illuminating. For the proto-liberals, freedom and equality turned mainly around individual rights. “Feudal” society hindered individuals in their rightful

Jacobinism 19 endeavours. Citizens should be endowed with equal rights and be free to do anything not violating the rights of their fellows. According to the other interpretation, reason found its home not primarily in the individual citizen but in the community as a whole. A “reasonable” society was homogeneous and unified. Instead of the chaotic “feudal” structure, in which each of the various estates had its own specific powers and privileges, it was a tightly bound, compact community in which all individuals were not only equal in rights but also renounced their own “particular interests.” The highest virtue was “virtue” itself: total dedication, denial of everything that smelled of selfishness, unreserved association of the individual citizen with the general good. According to Talmon, this interpretation carried the danger that, although all citizens had the equal right to participate in the life of the community, no one had any “particular” rights as opposed to the community. A society built on total dedication has extraordinary features to show for. On the one hand, the citizen has no basis on which to defend his private rights. Rights are not legitimate once they conflict with the common good. But dedication means that citizens are at the same time expected to engage actively in the body politic. Not to participate means not to dedicate oneself but to withdraw behind the protective walls of one’s “particular interests.” Dedication to the common good means ideally that citizens unite with their fellows in all respects – in deed, in word and even in thought. In this state, community of purpose and community of action are among the most respected values. It is a strongly integrated society, pervaded by an atmosphere of active participation of the whole citizenry. The principle of equality in its “totalitarian” interpretation is not primarily an equality of rights but an equality of sacrifice and effort. According to Talmon, the godfather of “totalitarian democracy” was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The latter proceeded from a concept of total and indivisible popular sovereignty. He was driven by fear of any articulation of “particular interests” that might put itself up against the collective of the people. His teaching was at once ultra-democratic and dictatorial. On the one hand, Rousseau believed that in a system of representative democracy the delegates of the people inevitably developed into a particular interest group. Therefore the people should not allow themselves to be represented. The state should consist of assemblies of the people – pure self-government with popular participation developed to a maximum. But in this direct democracy, the individual rights of citizens were also a dangerous expression of “particularity.” To endow the people with rights in opposition to the democratic state meant to throw the common good to the lions of private interest. Therefore he demanded the “total alienation by each associate of himself and all his rights to the whole community.” Each put his person “under the supreme direction of the general will.” And with that act of association there would be created an “artificial and collective body composed of as many members as there are voters in the assembly.” Thus that body acquired “its unity, its common ego, its life and its will.”



There remained the problem that even the sum of private wills might not add up to a real universality. Even the collected people could be misled and therefore will the wrong thing. “There is often,” Rousseau wrote sadly, “a great difference between the will of all and the general will.” The assembly could even unanimously diverge from the general will, making the democratic vote a futile exercise. To avoid this, the philosopher hoped that a ban on factional organisations of citizens prevented a process of hardening of private interests. He also considered whether private property, which formed the basis of the particular interest that he so despised, should be banned. Rousseau remarked that once the citizens joined in a social contract, the state naturally became “master of all their goods.” But he was not prepared to take this step in all seriousness. Having received the property of its citizens, the state returned it. Every owner was regarded as a “trustee of the public property.” Had he taken the final step towards collective property, Rousseau would have ended up a communist. Meanwhile, the philosopher acknowledged that pure direct democracy did not work. Some kind of bureaucracy, which I will simply define as a body of professional administrators, must exist. Now according to Rousseau, “sovereignty, being nothing other than the exercise of the general will, can never be alienated.” But while the will could not be delegated, power could. Thus he introduced a distinction between the legislative power, representing the general will, and the executive power, which could not belong to the sovereign people, since this was “exercised only in particular acts.”1 For the executive power, the bureaucratic principle was acceptable, provided that the directly democratic legislature remained in sovereign charge. The executive power was never more than a humble servant, the one to take the sin of “particularity” on its shoulders. Thus, although accepting the inevitability of a bureaucracy, there was established a marked hostility towards the executive. To summarise, Rousseau’s popular sovereignty combined radical direct democracy and popular participation, a totalitarian concept of subjection of the individual interest to the state and the acceptance of a subjected, limited bureaucracy. Finally, the rich work of Rousseau also provides a natural starting point for our discussion of the problem of patriotism. The French philosopher was a declared opponent of what he called “cosmopolitanism.” In his view, patriotism was a wholesome passion, because it stimulated virtue. Self-love was a negative trait in man but one hard to suppress. But love of one’s own fatherland allowed a person to indulge in it, but in virtuous ways because in that case the self-love was combined with dedication to a whole greater than oneself.2 How, then, did this patriotic pride tally with democracy? The philosopher would have considered this a strange question. For him the nation, the true fatherland, was the democratically collected citizenry. Thus the pride of the patrie was, really, the pride of democracy. But there was more to it. Essentially, the French Enlightenment doctrine operated with a purely political concept of the nation. Nations were rational

Jacobinism 21 communities that need not have specific cultural marks. But there was a paradox hidden here, and Rousseau discovered it. If all countries established their own democratic “general wills,” one ended up with a number of particularities after all – namely those countries themselves. The new world consisted of a large number of separate communities, the members of which were expected to surrender themselves completely to them. Thus all these nations would naturally tend to be inward-looking and acquire a specific cultural identity and character of their own. Despite its primarily political character, the popular community, the “nation,” was coloured in by providing it with a cultural identity common to all its members. The idea that nations had a cultural character of their own was not unique to Rousseau among the Enlighteners. The same thesis can be found, for example, in the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert. The idea was widely shared in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hegel believed in it, and so did Goethe. The most important ideologist of national character and culture was not Rousseau but Johann Gottfried Herder, who also abhorred cosmopolitanism but identified it with French classicism.3 Nevertheless, there was an important difference in accent between the cultural nationalism of the “French” type and the “German.” In the case of Rousseau, national cultures remained a variety of universal culture. The universal remained the yardstick by which to measure the national. For Herder, although he believed firmly in the peaceful co-operation of nations, national specificity was the point of departure. Furthermore, the German nationalists were less inclined to see the nation as a product of the break-up of the old world than the French. They were, on the contrary, always searching for the medieval roots of their culture. The nation should be consolidated by making it conscious of its own origins instead of by overcoming them. During the French Revolution, the consequences of Rousseau’s concepts, the wholesome as well as the terrifying, came to light. France soon fell under the dictatorship of the Jacobin Club. This party was based in Paris with its artisans, while the rival Girondins had their main constituency in the outlying, peasant provinces. Correspondingly, the former stood for state control of prices and for all-out war against “food speculation” on behalf of the urban poor; against the latter, who favoured a liberal price policy. In the political field, Jacobin Paris stood for strict centralism, for la République une et indivisible, against the provinces, which hoped for a federalist structure of the new state. Repression was severe. Aristocrats accused of plotting were executed, and the property of suspects was confiscated and divided among poor “patriots.” This raises the question of whether this “despotism of liberty,” as Robespierre called his own regime, represented a betrayal of the original democratic idea. However, the crucial principle of equality before the law was upheld even more consistently by the Jacobins than by their predecessors. And they did not abolish civic participation in the state but established it. The French nation was prepared for war in 1793 through the



first great mass mobilisation in modern history, the levée en masse. Rather than seeing it as the abandonment of the democratic revolution, the Jacobin project can be more fruitfully understood as a totalitarian interpretation of it. The logic behind Robespierre’s rule was not a very complex one. The Incorruptible was a great believer in Rousseau’s general will, and what he did essentially was to develop it in a ruthless way. First, he believed that the people needed the direction of an enlightened agency to show them what they truly “willed.” That justified his own dictatorship. And, second, he knew for a fact that a community truly living according to a united will lived by total virtue. All citizens were expected to forget about themselves and dedicate themselves totally to the nation. Those who could not live up to this high standard should be destroyed.4 Thus dictatorship and the elimination of individual freedom arose from an interpretation of democratic community. The Jacobins were great patriots. Hobsbawm has nicely caught the revolutionary character of their original “patriotism” – a term pioneered by Dutch revolutionaries – in the following terms. Patriots were those who showed the love of their country by wishing to renew it by reform or revolution. And the patrie to which their loyalty lay, was the opposite of an existential, pre-existing unit, but a nation created by the political choice of its members who, in doing so, broke with or at least demoted their former loyalties.5 Jacobin patriotism was of a primarily political rather than cultural type. The state was not first conceived as a cultural community but as a political unit establishing itself by the very act of the establishment of legal equality. Legal equality was the birthmark of the nation, and it continued to be perceived as its essence. But the Jacobins also enthusiastically accepted Rousseau’s conclusion that modern nations necessarily had a cultural identity of their own. That identity was also created, not found. The French revolutionaries were the first to make an attempt at a modern policy of linguistic homogenisation. The republic was not only une et indivisible but also française. Small local languages should be rooted out as counter-revolutionary, barbarian and backward.6 Furthermore, the Girondins were accused of forgetting the interests of the French people in the name of abstract internationalism. The concepts of political equality and French cultural identity were closely mixed up, because the “feudal” classes embodying traditional inequality were at the same time believed to be far removed from the nation as a cultural community. The Jacobins decried the aristocracy as a “cosmopolitan” parasite on the body of the nation. With their old family ties and properties throughout Europe, and their international court culture, they lacked any dedication to their own land and people. In Joep Leerssen’s words, the Jacobins saw the aristocracy as a “transnational jetset without national roots.”7

Jacobinism 23 And this brings me, finally, to the Jacobin model of foreign policy. The revolutionary French state accepted Danton’s doctrine that a modern, sovereign nation could not do without “natural frontiers.” In reaction to the old dynastic world, where princes ruled over scattered territories that they could acquire and exchange at will according to their family ties, modern states needed a homogeneous national basis. Correspondingly, they were entitled to a more or less fixed, consolidated existence within secure frontiers. For France, this meant the sea, the Alps, the Pyrenees and the River Rhine. As “revolutionary patriots” the Jacobins further hoped to transform the world abroad. The French state acted as a kind of replicator of nations. For the purpose of spreading “liberty” to patriots abroad, a network of “sister republics” was established along the French borders. There is no doubt about it that the French considered themselves the vanguard nation. They lorded it over the other nations they were supposed to liberate. But it is equally the case that they attempted to eradicate the “feudal” type of inequality in the wake of their armies. They hoped to create a new world of nations and legal equality. And that cause continued to be pursued even after Napoleon took over. For all his imperial arrogance, the emperor spread it throughout Europe. The Jacobin state collapsed before many of its goals could be achieved. But radicals all over Europe hoped for a replay, and they tortured themselves wondering what had gone wrong. Why had the wonderful ideal of the virtuous community of equals gone sour? A new understanding was reached by the radical Jacobins Babeuf and Buonarotti, who concluded that nations could only achieve unity of interest and will if they abolished private property, the source of the evil of “private wills.” Robespierre had been incoherent. He failed to create a communist economic foundation appropriate to his reign of virtue. This analysis provided the starting point for the growth of the communist branch from the Jacobin tree. It also fortified the notion of revolutionary minority dictatorship. For, as Babeuf and Buonarotti concluded, people whose opinions were formed under a regime of inequality were unsuitable to elect their leaders. The general will ought to be expressed temporarily by an agency other than the popular assemblies. Popular sovereignty ought to be prepared by an educational dictatorship.8 The tenets of Jacobinism continued to influence radical socialist European opinion throughout the nineteenth century. The great revolutionary Louis-Auguste Blanqui provides a powerful example of the strength of the tradition. Like Babeuf and Buonarotti, he believed in universal manhood suffrage, but he too was an opponent of its immediate introduction. In order to become ripe for sovereignty, the people should first be enlightened by the revolutionary dictatorship. Blanqui’s name is mainly associated with the conspiratorial societies that he set up with an eye to the organisation of a socialist coup d’état. He created the model of the disciplined vanguard organisation of professional revolutionaries.



In nineteenth-century Europe, nationalism was still understood as a revolutionary project. It was not strange for the International to be sung together with the Marseillaise, with its “Allons enfants de la patrie.” Socialists recognised the struggle for statehood of cultural nations like the Poles, Germans and Italians as their own. It was hoped that newly created states would become radical democracies. The Paris Commune was a fine example of the fusion of the old patriotic and democratic ideals. It expressed the desire of the population of the French capital to determine their own fate both as the vanguard of the French nation against the German invaders and as the vanguard of the masses in their social struggles. For Blanqui, socialism and patriotism were still hard to distinguish. His summons in 1870 was Danton’s La patrie en danger. As a leftist chauvinist, he yearned for another great European war in the revolutionary tradition. France should again spread the principles of liberty and equality at the point of its guns.9 Meanwhile, however, there had arisen a new revolutionary tendency: Marxism.


Marxism, Leninism and the state

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels developed their doctrine of modern communism partly from a critical digestion of the work of the German classical philosopher Hegel. The latter had regarded society, the collective of individual citizens, as a mere sum of “particulars.” In contrast, the state, the class of bureaucratic officials, was the true “universal.” Marx and Engels turned this around. They declared civil society itself to be the “universal” and degraded the state bureaucracy to a mere “particular.” But civil society was as yet fractured by private property. It was therefore not yet a real “universal.” In order to turn society into a true “universal,” two “particulars” needed to be abolished: private property and the bureaucratic state. The resulting communist society would be a self-governing one based on collective ownership of the means of production, a radical democratic community in the spirit of Rousseau but with the additional characteristic of a nationalised economy. The Communist Manifesto defined communism as the abolition of private property. Communism was the condition where the land and the factories were in the hands of the community. In order to achieve that goal, the brochure called out the workers for the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie. The immediate purpose of this revolution was “to win the battle of democracy.” Under the newly achieved democratic constitution, the workers’ representatives should gain the upper hand. And they would use their majority to “wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state,” which they defined as “the proletariat organised as ruling class.” This expropriation implied “despotic inroads” into the rights of property. However, once all capital had been expropriated, the “public power loses its political character.” The state would then be replaced by “the associated individuals.”1 This, then, was the groundwork of the communist utopia. But there was much more to it. Under communism, the whole economy would form one nationalised unit and be run like a gigantic enterprise, according to a single, integrated plan. Production would no longer be for the market. There would be no “commodities,” no production for the purpose of exchange, and no money. Also, the great divisions of labour would be


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overcome. The cities would fuse into the countryside, creating a new type of human settlement and resulting in a homogeneous distribution of mankind over the globe. Industry and agriculture would merge into a new synthetic activity. Mental and physical labour would also be fully integrated, and people would no longer be tied to a single profession but could hop from one activity to another. Even the family as a separate unit would disappear and be replaced by some kind of new collective life. Finally, people would no longer be remunerated according to their productive achievements. They would be free to take according to their needs. Eventually, Marx and Engels concluded that after the expropriation of the capitalists, communism would not automatically acquire all these traits at once. Initially, the toilers would continue to be remunerated according to their respective productive achievements. However, the notes with which they might draw their share of the social product, proving the time they had worked, should not be considered as money. Moreover, remuneration should only be differentiated according to the time one had worked. Qualified and unqualified work should be paid equally. Society would pay for the education that people received, so the benefits need not go to the individual toiler. And, finally, the new system would already be communist, because income on the basis of property was excluded. However, all this notwithstanding, it would not yet be a full communism. For that second stage, where all would receive “according to their needs,” to arrive, several conditions should first be met. The division of labour between mental and physical work would have to be overcome. Furthermore, the workers would have to have come to consider labour no longer as a means to an end but as the fulfilment of their lives. And, finally, the productive forces would have to have reached an unprecedented level, creating abundance in every field.2 Having hereby laid out the Marxist utopia in its essentials, I will further concentrate on the question of the state. One of the main arguments in support of the thesis that bolshevism cannot be understood in terms of Marxist premisses concerns its concept of the state. Marx, so the argument goes, did not believe in minority party rule. And he understood under the “dictatorship of the proletariat” a small, quickly diminishing state. However, Lenin re-established the kind of centralised and bureaucratic state that Russia had known under the tsars. And he placed it under the dictatorial control of his bolshevik sect. Therewith his unscrupulousness in the application of Marxism is considered sufficiently proved. And the Russian tradition is easily discovered as the background for that lack of scruple. In my opinion, this argument has a flawed side to it. For Marxists, the question of the state is a complex one because its future development is conceived in stages. It is not clear whether both Marx and Engels envisioned a complete abolition of the state under communism. As we saw, this was not literally what the Manifesto said. And Marx continued to talk of a “Staatswesen of the communist society,” a vague term suggesting that something like a state would remain.3 Engels wrote, in his so-

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called Anti-Dühring, that in communist society the state would simply cease to exist. The first act in which it really operated as the representative of the whole society, i.e. the expropriation of the means of production, would also be its last independent act. The state would become superfluous in one field after another and eventually fall asleep spontaneously. The state “will not be ‘abolished’, it withers away.”4 However, whether the state would be a very limited one or completely overcome, there is no doubt about it that both Marx and Engels were convinced that under communism the great, deep divide between state and society would be a thing of the past. Social selfgovernment was indeed their cherished goal. But things were different in the transitional period leading up to communism, the period when the victorious proletariat was expropriating the capitalists, the period of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” That concept of Marx’s is often believed to have conveyed almost nothing. Chiefly responsible for this is Karl Kautsky. According to this German social democrat, in Marx’s work the “proletarian dictatorship” was only a “little word.” In his The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, written shortly after the bolshevik takeover, Kautsky argued that Marx had not referred to any particular “form of government” but only to a “condition.” Real dictatorship would mean the suspension of constitutional rights and freedoms, and that had never been Marx’s intention. The father of modern communism had only intended to show that, under the conditions of a parliamentary democracy, the majority of the population, the working class, would be automatically dominant.5 Thus, for Marx, the “dictatorship of the proletariat” meant, really, nothing but democracy. But is this a valid conclusion? We should not forget that Kautsky made his claims about Marx in the heat of a polemical struggle, when he and Lenin were locked in a fierce battle over Marx’s mantle. He was interested in interpreting the latter’s work in his own spirit. And would it not be slightly odd if Marx, who was well acquainted with the meaning of the term “dictatorship,” were to use it as sloppily as Kautsky suggested? Kautsky’s thesis that for Marx and Engels the proletarian dictatorship was synonymous with radical democracy has been defended by distinguished students of Marxist doctrine, most notably Richard Hunt and Hal Draper.6 However, despite the sophistication of their argument, I do not find it convincing in the end. Hunt and Draper are on safe ground when they argue that the archfathers of modern communism rejected dictatorship by a revolutionary party. In contrast to the Blanquist idea of minority dictatorship, they propounded the thought that the liberation of the working class was the work of that class itself. Marx and Engels did not want their pleas for dictatorship to be understood as sympathetic to the project of “educational” minority rule. They always insisted on the democratic basis of the revolutionary state. However, this does not automatically imply that their dictatorship was simply synonymous with majority rule.


Marxism, Leninism and the state

In the same month of February 1848, when the Communist Manifesto appeared, another revolution broke loose in France, resulting in the proclamation of the Second Republic and the election of a constituent assembly on the basis of universal male suffrage. However, angered by their socioeconomic suffering, the Paris workers again rebelled. The rebellion was suppressed after three bloody days. It was on account of these events that Marx first used his famous slogan, in a series of articles published in 1850. He described how the Paris workers took to the streets with the bold slogans: “Overthrow of the bourgeoisie!” “Dictatorship of the working class!” According to Marx, communism was the “declaration of permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary point of transition to the abolition of class differences as such.”7 Draper discovered twelve cases in total where Marx and Engels used the term.8 The question arises of how Marx and Engels harmonised their abhorrence of minority rule, to which Draper and Hunt point correctly, with a plea for dictatorship. In their days, many revolutionary democrats continued the tradition established by Rousseau of mistrust of the executive power of the monarch and his bureaucracy. These powers should be firmly subjected to the legislative power, to the democratic popular assembly. From this perspective, Montesquieu’s principle of “division of powers” was not a positive one to prevent undesirable concentration of power but an attempt of the old world to protect its autonomy in relation to the sovereign people. The development of the concept of “dictatorship of the proletariat” can be understood in the context of this Rousseauist model. The point is that, even before the invention of the term “proletarian dictatorship,” Marx and Engels had already propagated dictatorship itself. In the revolutionary year of 1848, the two men were politically active in Germany. They demanded insistently that the National Assembly take all power into its hands and take all necessary measures to thwart the attempts of the reaction against “popular sovereignty.” They pleaded for a “revolutionary dictatorship” of the representative assembly. That dictatorship should not only act forcefully but also temporarily abolish the division of powers and completely take up all executive prerogatives. Marx noted that every provisional state after a revolution demanded an “energetic dictatorship.” The new rulers should not be lulled by “constitutional dreams” but should “smash and remove the old institutions.” Otherwise, the defeated party would strengthen its positions in the bureaucracy and the army.9 As far as the idea of the revolutionary state was concerned, Marx’s later concept of proletarian dictatorship added little to this. In 1852, Napoleon’s nephew Louis abolished the Second Republic and turned France into an empire again. Marx interpreted the event as the “victory of Bonaparte over the parliament, of the Executive Power over the Legislative Power.” In his view, as long as a powerful bureaucracy existed, such things would occur time and again. Marx spoke scathingly of “this Executive Power with its horrendous bureaucratic and military organisation,

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with its extended and artificial state machinery, an army of officials of half a million next to an army of another half million, this terrible body of parasites.” The bureaucracy prevented the “self-activity” of society, and he concluded bitterly: “All revolutions perfected this machine instead of breaking it up.”10 The Paris “Commune” provided Marx and Engels with the definitive model of their democratic republic. They described it as a “government of the working class” and a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” The Commune had shown that the old bureaucracy could not be adopted and made to work but should be smashed. Elected by universal suffrage, the Commune was “no parliamentary body, but a working body, executive and legislative at the same time.” Police and other officials were to work for workers’ wages and be eligible and recallable at all times.11 Hereby we have discovered the essential meaning of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” It referred to the rule of the elected legislative assembly, in which the proletariat would have the majority, over the executive power, behind which the forces of the old world barricaded themselves. To return to Draper and Hunt, this is precisely the conclusion that they also reach. The paradox is, then, that Marx’s dictatorialism flowed from his passionate demand for direct democracy, which brooked no limitation. The dictatorship of the proletariat was the Diktat of the legislative power, boundless democracy. But the question remains of what form Marx and Engels expected democratic rule to take. According to Hunt’s interpretation, the main point they made was that a democratic state arising from a revolution was necessarily a provisional one. Its rule was outside any established legal framework, for the simple reason that the old law was defunct and there was no new one as yet. However, the matter cannot be confined to this. As we saw, there was involved not merely a new unitary model of the state, in which the executive power was absorbed by the legislative, and which could, for example, also be recognised in the present British system. Marx’s was a much more sweeping model, in which the executive power was considered essentially as a hostile force and treated as such. It should be “crushed” and “smashed.” In practice, this could not but lead to a tenacious battle to subjugate officialdom. Marx did not expect the officials to take their defeat easily. Some kind of state of emergency was clearly foreseen by him. In fact, his very use of the term “dictatorship” suggests this. “Dictatorship” in its classical sense refers to a form of unlimited government in which rights are not abolished but suspended. It is not intended to abolish democracy but to prevent it being definitely undone under exceptional circumstances. But in order to reach this goal, martial law, a state of emergency, is called. If we assume that Marx had the classical meaning in mind, the term “proletarian dictatorship” would refer to a dual system. On the one hand, it would rest on the authority of a democratic assembly and remain of a temporary nature. On the other hand, it would call for emergency measures, temporarily – in force only until the demise of classes – but


Marxism, Leninism and the state

no less real. According to David Lovell, who researched the degree of Marx’s “responsibility” for the Soviet dictatorship, Marx predicted the need for a policy of emergency measures to break resistance against the communist regime, which should also serve as an instrument to make possible the complete expropriation of capital. His dictatorship was real.12 In my opinion, this interpretation is more tenable than Hunt and Draper’s. Marx and Engels’ views on red terror confirm that they expected a system of violent emergency measures. Both men criticised the Jacobin Terror. In their opinion, Robespierre had adopted an impossible mission, namely to found a regime of virtue, inspired by ancient democracy, on an economic basis of modern private ownership of the means of production. Such an incoherent project would force the power into a never-ending struggle against ever new oppositions. Engels called the Terror of 1793 a policy of “for the greatest part useless cruelties,” committed by frightened politicians.13 But never did he or his friend condemn the Jacobin Terror in toto. Even the passage just quoted implied a partial acceptance of it. Marx too acknowledged that the Terror had been the “plebeian way” to deal with absolutism and feudalism. With their “powerful hammer blows,” the French masses cleared away the feudal mess in a more effective way than the frightened bourgeoisie would ever have dared to do.14 It is well known that in 1848 Marx spoke up powerfully for “revolutionary terrorism” as the only way to speed up the dying process of the old society. And in 1850 he urged workers in bloodthirsty terms to force the democrats “to carry out their present terrorist phrases.” He left no misunderstanding as to what he meant by this: “Far from opposing the so-called excesses, the cases of popular revenge against hated individuals or public buildings…one must not only tolerate such cases, but take charge of them oneself.”15 These were revolutionary times, but Marx did not change his opinion later. The point is that he and Engels were convinced that the bourgeoisie would take up arms to resist the democratic state once it began to expropriate them. Only firm terror could frighten the old owners into submission.16 Even in countries where a democracy already existed, and where the proletariat might therefore be able to come to power peacefully, such as Britain, “slave owners’ rebellions” would speed up the transformation process “by putting the sword into the hand of the Social Revolution.”17 In summing up, in his own view Marx’s revolutionary dictatorship was only the expression of democracy, but, for all that, it was not any less of a reality. The dictatorship would be carried out by a legislative assembly, elected by universal suffrage and operating as the apex of a pyramid of directly democratic, commune-like councils. But, although Marx did not explicitly argue for suspending rights and freedoms, this legislative power would be compelled to place the executive power and the property owners under dictatorship. Only ruthless action, if necessary not shrinking from terror, could force the bureaucrats to accept the total dismantling of their institutions and the rich to accept their losses. Only the weapon of terror

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could force the powers of the old world to accept the decisions of the new democracy. Meanwhile, Marx’s extreme abhorrence of bureaucracy was not to survive in the Marxist movement. It always had a problematical side to it, for the ideal of a totally planned economy made a wide extension of bureaucracy, instead of its limitation, a practical inevitability. Marx may not have acknowledged it, and the conclusion would have appalled him, but it is difficult to imagine a society running its own economy completely without a huge apparatus. There were others among his followers who did have the courage to recognise this. In the years around the turn of the century, the Marxist principles were subject to a process of gradual erosion. In Marx’s view, there would in general be need of a violent revolution to establish democracy. But gradually in many European countries the suffrage was extended and parliaments acquired ever more power without such a preceding revolution. Understandably, the aim of bringing about catastrophic and bloody upheavals receded in the minds of the foremost social democratic leaders, like Kautsky, an “orthodox Marxist” and leader of the Second International. The new society of the future was also painted in softer, less utopian colours. For example, in his comment on the so-called Erfurt program of the Socialist Party of Germany, Kautsky rejected the tenet of the abolition of money under communism and the system of remuneration according to performance or need. He failed to see how money could be abolished in a complex mechanism such as the “modern production system with its incredibly ramified division of labour.” As long as nothing better was found, it was best to preserve the money form. The wage system would stay, and in all kinds of different forms. There would not be one ruling principle, and any exaggerated Gleichmacherei was rejected. As part of this kind of thinking, Kautsky also adapted his views of the state. He insisted that the social democrats intended to strengthen the power of the elected parliament to a maximum. “State socialists” who hoped to take over the existing state unchanged were wrong. But it was unclear which other changes in the state structure Kautsky envisioned except for the establishment of complete parliamentary dominance over the executive power. A true parliamentary regime was in his view even compatible with the preservation of a monarchy like in Great Britain.18 For Kautsky, establishments like the railways simply could not operate without a “bureaucratic organisation.” The apparatus could at best be democratically controlled. Against the radical social democrat Anton Pannekoek, he argued that socialism did not aim for the abolition of officialdom but only for making the highest positions open to all. The proletarian takeover would diminish neither the number nor the significance of the bureaucrats. In short, the state apparatus should be captured, not destroyed.19 This kind of thinking became the new dogma in the Second International, gradually driving out the memory of Marx’s more radical


Marxism, Leninism and the state

schemes. There was involved here a parallel process of increasing acceptance of the state bureaucracy and of a decreasing willingness to consider dictatorial forms of government among Marxist socialists. This inverse parallelism cannot surprise us, as in Marx’s own work dictatorialism was closely connected with a determination to root out bureaucracy. Another problem to look into concerns the general question of state centralisation. Although Marx hated bureaucracy, he did not hate centralism. On the contrary, he and Engels enthusiastically adopted the formula of the République une et indivisible. In 1848, they presented the purely Jacobin demand that “All Germany will be declared a single, indivisible republic.”20 The preference of the German democrats for a federal model represented a case of treachery. The workers needed the “most decisive centralisation of power in the hands of the state,” and they should not let themselves be confused by “democratic talk of freedom for the municipalities, self-government etc.” Referring to the France of 1793, they made the strictest centralisation the order of the day.21 Ironically, this plea for state centralisation was based on the same argument as the plea against bureaucracy. The national, democratic legislative assembly should be allpowerful. Nothing might stand in its way. And that included autonomous local authorities no less than government bureaucrats in the capital. Like their Jacobin predecessors, and directly inspired by them, Marx and Engels were anti-bureaucratic centralists. I should add that in the course of time this standpoint was somewhat mitigated. The experience of the Commune opened up Marx to the value of “local self-government.” The provinces would have had their own communes, managing their own affairs. But he continued to deny vigorously that he had embraced Girondin federalism. The democratic communes would have to form a nationally integrated government, creating rather than obstructing “the unity of the nation.”22 Engels eventually concluded that for some large countries like the United States, federalism, i.e. a system in which the local units retained some legislative sovereignty, could be useful. But for Germany the “one and indivisible republic” remained the only acceptable model. Moreover, in all countries the centralist republic remained the final goal.23 To sum up, by the end of the nineteenth century the Marxist movement, which became embodied in the Second International, had worked out a doctrine of the state with various contradictory elements. The workers should in any case create a democracy based on universal suffrage, but as to what would happen further, various interpretations were possible. According to the original radicalism of Marx and Engels, adopted from the Jacobins, the state should be administered along centralist lines. Federalism was a necessary evil at best, and then only a temporary construction. Furthermore, there was a high probability of the need to declare a state of siege in order to suppress the reactionaries by the force of terror; and the bureaucratic apparatus should be almost totally dismantled. Against this,

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Kautsky’s “orthodox Marxists” no longer expected the need for terror and dictatorship, and they hoped that the new democracy would capture and put to use the existing state bureaucracy rather than smash it. The Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, of which the bolsheviks formed the radical faction, was part of the Second International. It received the various Marxist views of the state, as sketched above, as part of its doctrinal input. Bureaucratic centralism being the Russian tradition of government, it causes little surprise that the bolsheviks adopted precisely such elements from the available Marxist tradition. Take for instance Lenin’s ideal of the centralist state. In State and Revolution, he pointed out that this ideal was derived from the formula of the “one and indivisible republic” of the French Revolution. The famous 1917 pamphlet was the first occasion for Lenin to admit that, under certain circumstances, federalism might be a step forward compared with an initial situation of monarchy. He believed that this exceptional situation might apply in Russia. But he insisted that a federal republic could never be more than a transitional form on the road to full centralism, and he quoted Engels in support.24 Lenin’s centralistic conception of the state, so fitting for a Russian revolutionary, was nevertheless inspired by Marx and Engels, who were again indebted to Robespierre and his fellow revolutionaries. In State and Revolution, Lenin further expounded a concept of the state that was at once directly democratic and centralist. The new democracy rested on workers’ councils, soviets, and the old bureaucratic machinery was to be smashed. The state would be unitary instead of holding on to a division of powers. The result of all this smashing and concentrating of power in the hands of the armed workers would be a totally centralised state, with all citizens transformed into “workers and officials of one huge ‘syndicate’ ” and the whole economy organised like a “post office.”25 Lenin did his very best to prove, against Kautsky, that the idea of smashing the state apparatus instead of capturing it represented the right interpretation of the original Marxism. And, in that regard, he was certainly right. But, surprisingly, he almost immediately retracted this thesis, which he had defended so vigorously in State and Revolution. In September 1917, he wrote that the existing economic apparatus of the state, the banks and the syndicates, should not be smashed but be captured intact and subjected to the soviets.26 Thus we see Lenin the state bureaucrat emerging. After the bolshevik takeover, he continued to value forms of popular participation through soviets, trade unions and other bodies. But, as a practical man, he did not hesitate to preserve the tsarist administrative apparatus. Specialists, administrators, technicians and army officers were welcomed aboard. After the Civil War, Lenin’s enthusiasm for the state bureaucracy diminished. He remembered his former appeals for a small state and demanded that the party strengthen its hold on the apparatus and sweep it clean. But he never returned to the consistent anti-bureaucratism that he had laid down in State and Revolution. There was no return to Marx’s complete


Marxism, Leninism and the state

hostility towards the executive power. The state bureaucracy was there to stay. But, although harmonising with the Russian state tradition, all this did not represent a moving away from Marxism – only from Marx’s own original radicalism – for by capturing and putting to use the old state machinery, Lenin in fact adhered to the established Kautskyan approach, dominant in the European socialist movement of his day. He did not admit that that was what he was doing, but he must have been completely aware of it. It was only on the point of the dictatorial aspect of the state that Lenin removed himself from an important element of Marxist political doctrine. In State and Revolution, he still conceived the future Soviet state as overarched by a constituent assembly, but he announced an “exclusion from democracy” of the rich. Quoting Engels with approval, to the effect that the “democratic republic” was the “specific form of the dictatorship of the proletariat,” Lenin commented shrewdly that the democratic republic formed the “nearest approach” to that dictatorship – which meant something quite different. This formulation suggested that the dictatorship could no longer be considered a democratic republic.27 As we know, the new bolshevik rulers soon dispersed the constituent assembly. And in the 1918 Constitution it was laid down that certain groups of the population, i.e. the bourgeoisie and all who were counted among that class, could be temporarily deprived of the suffrage. Furthermore, from now on the vote of four village inhabitants counted for that of one person from the city.28 Thereby, the principle of universal and equal representation was abolished. Even the term “democratic republic” was removed from bolshevik jargon. One of the most authoritative works from the Leninist period, Nikolai Bukharin and Evgenii Preobrazhenskii’s 1919 ABC of Communism, noted: Formerly many believed that the dictatorship of the proletariat would be possible in the form of a so-called ‘democratic republic’, which should be established by a Constituent Assembly, and governed by a parliament elected by all classes of the people.29 Thus the “exploiters” were confronted by a state that not only responded to their resistance by terror but even took away their formal rights. Thereby, Lenin took Marx’s “proletarian dictatorship” literally in a sense not anticipated by its author, for whom universal suffrage had precisely been the legitimisation of the proletarian dictatorship. What is more, Lenin’s dictatorialism was also more extreme than Marx’s in another respect: he created a party dictatorship. That too was definitely alien to the Marxist tradition as such. Almost all Marxists outside Russia agreed that dictatorial rule by a single socialist party was a sectarian aberration. But Lenin was of the opinion that the degradation of the people under capitalism made them unfit to rule for the time being. To my knowledge, the earliest occasion when he referred to minority dictatorship was in 1906, when he wrote that in present-day society people were so crushed morally by

Marxism, Leninism and the state


false pacifist theories and by prejudice, habit and routine that the revolutionary dictatorship could never be “realised by the whole people but only by the revolutionary people.” The people as a mass should only be made to participate in state activities.30 Thus the people would lose their sovereign power to the revolutionaries. Democratic organs would function as institutions not of self-government but of participation. The people should help the revolutionary minority to carry out its dictatorship and be educated in the process. In State and Revolution, he repeated that the Marxist “vanguard of the proletariat” should take power and lead the people to socialism.31 And after the bolshevik takeover, Lenin did not hesitate to declare openly that his regime was a “dictatorship of one party,” that it was, “in essence,” a dictatorship of the “organised and conscious minority” of the working class.32 In summary, Lenin’s concept of dictatorship went beyond what Marx had envisioned, in its measures as well as in its form of organisation. The notion of a closely organised vanguard was traditionally influential in the Russian revolutionary movement. The main group to come to mind is Norodnaia volia. Among those important ideologists who influenced the doctrine of this party was the communist Petr Tkachev. He believed that, left to themselves, the people would never be able to bring about the revolution. The broad masses were blinded by their private interests. As a result of centuries of miseducation, they would always lose sight of the general interest. Only a revolutionary minority dictatorship could temporarily fill the gap until the masses were regenerated enough to recognise where their “true needs” lay.33 But, as I noted in the introduction, this argument was no Russian invention. Tkachev and other nineteenth-century Russian revolutionaries who thought like him did not promote themselves publicly as Jacobins.34 Nevertheless, their doctrine of revolutionary minority dictatorship was a restatement of earlier views of communist Jacobins such as Babeuf and Buonarotti. In 1881, Tkachev admitted on Blanqui’s grave that the latter had been his inspiration and model.35 Unlike Tkachev, who was not burdened by a self-imposed duty to be an orthodox Marxist, Lenin never admitted that he had reinterpreted Marxism in a Blanquist spirit. The name of Blanqui was taboo among Marxists. But he did admit to being inspired by Jacobinism. The locus classicus for this was his famous 1904 statement: “The Jacobin, indissolubly linked with the organisation of the proletariat, which has recognised its own class interests, that is precisely the revolutionary social democrat.” When he provided this definition, he accused the mensheviks–Girondins of fearing the proletarian dictatorship and believing in the “absolute value of democratic demands.”36 In other words, when he pointed to the precedent of the Jacobins he knew exactly what he was talking about, and he was indeed thinking precisely of their dictatorial style as most worthy of emulation. When he, in order to keep his party in power, suspended universal suffrage, Lenin broke with Marxism, but in doing so he merely took refuge within another Western tradition, namely that of Jacobinism–Blanquism – and he was well aware of it.


Marxism, Leninism and the state

To sum up, the thesis that Lenin’s terrorism, his party rule and his bureaucratic centralism testify to a reassertion of the Russian tradition is as apt as it is problematic. It is apt in the sense that the idea of a terrorist minority dictatorship was influential among nineteenth-century Russian revolutionaries; and bureaucratic centralism was the model of the Russian state apparatus. Lenin took to such practices because he was a man of Russia and because he had little choice – provided that he wanted to keep his party in power at all costs. However, in doing so he did not create anything new compared with the prescriptions for revolutionary rule developed in the West. The bolshevik leader could adopt the ideas of minority rule and bureaucratic centralism straight from the world of nineteenthcentury Marxism and Jacobinism.


Proletarian revolution in a backward country

The thesis of the bolsheviks’ adaptation of Marx’s heritage to the realities of Russia also rests crucially on their organising a proletarian takeover in a “backward” country. This is considered to be in obvious contradiction to Marx’s views on the necessary preconditions for communism. That system was the product of developed capitalism in a twofold way. Politically, the industrial proletariat had to comprise a majority of the population in order for a democratic republic to start moving towards communism. And only a predominantly industrial country was economically and technologically fit to introduce communism. One cannot have a centrally planned economy in a fragmented agricultural world. And here, then, the case essentially rests. Quod erat demonstrandum – with his proletarian, socialist revolution Lenin adapted Marxism to Russian conditions. However, in my opinion this thesis is again fatally flawed. A forceful argument for its inadequacy has been provided by Alan Gilbert, but the consequences of his argument have not been recognised by those who study Soviet history. In his Marx’s Politics, this author argues that Marx never made the triumph of socialism in any particular country dependent on the proletariat comprising a majority segment of the population. Instead, throughout his career he urged the workers of predominantly peasant countries to take power in a coalition with peasant parties.1 Present-day thinking on Marx and Engels’s strategy is often muddled by a curious misunderstanding. We tend to visualise a contrast between “developed” countries like Germany, France and England on the one hand and “backward” ones like Russia on the other. But how “developed” were countries like Germany, France and England in 1848 or 1871? Only in England did the working class, if defined in an extremely loose sense, form a majority of the population. In France, and even more so in Germany, it formed a small minority. As soon as one realises that in Marx’s lifetime France and Germany were overwhelmingly peasant countries, his comments on revolutionary strategy in such states acquire a different significance from the one usually attributed to them. In the Manifesto, the German communists were advised to join with the bourgeoisie against the absolute monarchy and its feudal hangers-on. But


Proletarian revolution in a backward country

after the democratic revolution the workers should immediately begin the struggle against the bourgeoisie. The overthrow of the monarchy was the “immediate prologue of a proletarian revolution.”2 Two years later, Marx and Engels expected a revolution of the petit bourgeois democrats. Subsequently, the proletarians should again immediately form “revolutionary workers’ governments” in order to “make the revolution permanent, until all more or less propertied classes are removed from power, [and] state power has been conquered by the proletariat.” Although the completion of this process would take a “rather long” period, there was no hint of waiting with the second, proletarian, revolution until the workers formed a majority of the population.3 A few months later, Marx ridiculed those communists who aimed for an immediate proletarian revolution in Germany. He warned the workers that they might perhaps be fit to rule only after fifty years of civil war.4 But in 1856 he regained his optimism. The victory of the “proletarian revolution” in Germany depended on the possibility of backing it up by a “second edition of the Peasant War.” Under such conditions, its chances of success looked excellent.5 As we saw in the previous chapter, Marx called for a “dictatorship of the working class” in the predominantly peasant France of 1850. He expected the peasants to accept the urban proletariat as their natural leader, because only an “anti-capitalist, proletarian government” could stop their social degradation. And once the French peasants understood where their true interests lay, then, Marx said, “the proletarian revolution will obtain that chorus without which its solo song becomes a swan song in all peasant countries.”6 And Marx and Engels did not hesitate to call the Commune a workers’ government. Had Paris been triumphant, the peasant majority would have recognised the “spiritual leadership” of the cities, and the workers as their “leaders and educators”, their “natural representatives.”7 Hunt quotes a particularly interesting comment by Marx in his 1874–75 notebooks on Bakunin, which summarises Marx’s view on the matter very well: A radical social revolution depends on particular historical conditions of economic development; they are its prerequisites. Thus a revolution is possible only where, together with capitalist production, the industrial proletariat occupies at least an important place within the population. And to have any chance of success it must mutatis mutandis be able immediately to do at least as much for the peasants as the French bourgeoisie during its revolution did for the French peasants of the time.8 “An important place within the population” – no more. In summary, in the predominantly peasant countries of the continental Western Europe of his day, Marx hoped for the establishment of democratic republics under proletarian minority governments supported by the peasantry. But what about the economic conditions of communism? In 1847, Engels called for the revolutionary establishment of democratic governments under

Proletarian revolution in a backward country


proletarian domination in Great Britain and also in France and Germany, where, as he mentioned explicitly, the working class still formed a minority of the population. He continued to explain that in all these countries the democratic government should start “immediately” to attack private property. He accompanied this with the following comment: Once the first radical attack on private property has been carried out, the proletariat will be forced to go ever further, to concentrate ever more all capital, all agriculture, all industry, all transport, all trade in the hands of the state. All measures work in that direction; and they will become realisable…in the measure in which the productive forces of the country are being multiplied by the labor of the proletariat.9 The same line of thought was developed in the Communist Manifesto: the workers should centralise all means of production in the hands of the state and simultaneously “multiply the mass of the means of production as quickly as they can.”10 Hal Draper interpreted these lines as in my opinion they should be. This was a “transitional program” adapted to a situation of societies that were not yet ripe for communism but that could be steered on the road to it by a revolutionary government. The conditions for the abolition of private property were not yet there, the productive forces were not yet developed enough for it, but, as Draper pointed out: “One of the tasks of proletarian rule itself is to bring this about.”11 And here we have found the answer to the question of how Marx and Engels could have believed that one could never create communism without the proper economic conditions – and could yet believe in proletarian revolution in a situation where such conditions were lacking. The solution was simple: it was precisely that revolution which would create those conditions by a program of accelerated industrialisation. For Marx and Engels, the “democratic revolution” signified essentially a political event – the establishment of a democratic republic – not a necessary economic transition to full capitalism. But what about the peasantry? Would its patience with the proletarian government not run out once it started communising agriculture? Not so, according to Marx: in 1874, he noted that in all Western European countries except England the peasants still formed a “considerable majority.” Under such circumstances, the latter might wreck any workers’ revolution unless the government took “measures by which the peasant sees his situation immediately improved and which therefore win him over to the revolution.” The revolutionary government should take measures that facilitated “the transition from private property in land to collective property, so that the peasant comes to it by himself, in an economic way.”12 In 1894, Engels reaffirmed his commitment to a program of voluntary socialisation of agriculture in France and Germany. Through good example and aid, peasant enterprises might be turned into “co-operative” ones.13 Thus, according to Marx and Engels, the peasantry could be convinced that its best chances lay with communism.


Proletarian revolution in a backward country

Given a prudent policy, a proletarian government ruling a peasant nation could slowly start to prepare the communisation of agriculture. In summary, it is simply a myth that Marx and Engels denied the possibility of proletarian revolution in an industrially backward country, and of the subsequent communist transformation of that country. Interestingly, Engels himself has furnished some kind of final proof of the correctness of the above interpretation of his and Marx’s thinking. In 1895, shortly before his death, he wrote that in 1848 and 1871 he and his friend had been much too optimistic. Still under the influence of the original French Revolution, they had believed that the days of the final proletarian revolution in France and Germany had arrived. Only now did he understand that “the situation of the economic development on the continent had then been by far not ripe enough for the replacement of capitalist production.” But even then he did not indicate that the proletariat should necessarily become the majority class as a condition for a takeover.14 Engels’s new analysis is also symptomatic of the shift towards moderation in the Second International. The question of proletarian revolution in backward countries becomes more complex once we draw in Russia. The Russian populists hoped that the obshchina, the village commune, might serve as a starting point for a socialist transition of their country. Marx and Engels agreed that Russia was so backward (the industrial proletariat was much smaller even than in Germany and France) that the democratic revolution could only be a peasant one.15 As far as I am aware, proletarian participation in a Russian revolutionary government was never discussed by them. They also acknowledged the possibility of a quick breakthrough to communism, skipping an extended capitalist stage, if a revolutionary government could stop the disintegration of the obshchina. However, against the Russian populists, they insisted that without support from revolutionary governments in Western Europe it would be impossible for any Russian government to prevent the commune disintegrating. In that case, the road would be opened for a further development of Russian capitalism.16 But this latter prediction must not be misrepresented as indicating that a full development of capitalism in Russia was a precondition for a proletarian takeover. The thesis that, in the absence of support from a revolutionary Western Europe, capitalist disintegration of the commune was inevitable meant just that and no more: capitalism would develop further to the point of dominating the Russian countryside. This is much less sweeping a claim than the one that before any socialist transformation could be started in Russia, capitalism should have turned that country into a developed industrial state with a majority working class. To my knowledge, neither Marx nor Engels ever made such a claim. Their thesis of the probable capitalist disintegration of the commune does not therefore indicate that in the Russian case they denied the possibility of a proletarian takeover until that class became the dominant segment of the population.

Proletarian revolution in a backward country


All this means that Lenin’s proletarian revolution in backward Russia was, after all, an operation in correspondence with Marxist orthodoxy. We recognise that, at least for its economic part, the formula of Stalin’s “revolution from above”, state-organised industrialisation at an accelerated pace, was also provided in embryonic form in the work of the archfathers of communism. Thus, with a closer look, the argument for a bolshevik adaptation of Marxism to the realities of backward Russia also breaks down on this point. The point is not to deny that the bolsheviks developed Marxism in such a way as to allow them to make revolution in their backward country. They did just that – but in doing so they arrived at a doctrine that still corresponded to Marx’s original ideas. And, from the point of view of circumstance, that can hardly cause surprise. After all, did not Marx himself develop his own doctrine of revolution for the circumstances of backward Germany and France? However, in the Second International of the early twentieth century, even among the bolsheviks, the radicalism of the original Marxist strategy of revolution was no longer fully understood. Lenin for example wanted a democratic Russian government, thrown up by a popular revolution, to take measures like redistribution of the land to the peasantry and the introduction of an eight-hour working day. It should be mainly instrumental in a further development of capitalism.17 Only on rare occasions did he express the hope that socialism might be on the Russian agenda very soon. In 1905, he suggested that nationalisation of the land be tried out. Large-scale capitalist estates should be transferred to associations of agricultural workers instead of being divided up among the peasants. And, he concluded: from the democratic revolution we will immediately begin to make the transition to the socialist revolution. We will begin to make that transition precisely to the measure of our strength, of the strength of the conscious and organised proletariat. We favour an uninterrupted revolution.18 But, then again, Lenin did not believe that without the aid of a victorious proletarian revolution in the West such a project in backward Russia could ever be crowned with success. When the Russian proletariat moved towards socialism, the peasant majority would turn against it and defeat it. Only the assistance by the proletariat in the West would permit their Russian comrades to establish socialism.19 Lev Trotskii defended the “uninterrupted revolution” more insistently. He was adamant that the revolutionary government should quickly begin a socialist reconstruction of society. But he too believed that only direct state support of the European working class could convert a proletarian domination of Russia into a lasting socialism. Left on its own, the Russian proletariat would stumble over the technological backwardness of the country. And it would be crushed by the counter-revolution the moment the peasantry turned its back on it.20


Proletarian revolution in a backward country

At this point, two questions should not get mixed up, namely that of socialist construction in a backward country and the chances of such a project in a single country – whether backward or developed. The two questions are intimately linked with each other, because Lenin believed that the construction of socialism in an isolated revolutionary Russia was impossible precisely because of its backward socio-economic conditions. Nevertheless, the two questions must be carefully distinguished in order to be able to make a fair assessment of the place of Stalin’s doctrine of “socialism in one country” in the history of the Marxist movement. Next to Lenin’s plan for bringing the proletariat to power in a backward country, Stalin’s subsequent thesis that socialism could be built in an isolated state serves as another important argument for those who observe a perversion of Marxism by the Russian tradition. In this case, it is not Lenin who is alleged to have been instrumental in the process of Russification but his successor. Lenin held fast to the original Marxist internationalism, which Stalin betrayed in the name of Russian nationalism. Let me begin to state that in Marx and Engels’s view the construction of a socialist society was indeed impossible in a single country, even in the most advanced one. In their view, communism presupposed a simultaneous revolution of all “ruling peoples,” overturning the major “civilised” countries such as England, America, France and Germany essentially in one blow. The crucial point in their argument was the “universal development” of the productive forces and the world economy. The world market and large industry had brought all civilised peoples of the Earth so closely together that each was dependent on what happened to the other. This made communism in a single country unfeasible.21 And there is the well-known critique of Marx on the passage in the Gotha program, inspired by Lassalleanism, that the working class should strive for its emancipation first of all within the framework of the present-day national state. Marx did not like any suggestion of nationally confined socialism. The matter also had a military-political aspect. Marx and Engels expected the world revolution to begin in France, but to crown a proletarian revolution with success within the “national walls” of France was impossible because of its dependence on foreign trade. Great Britain, the “despot” of the world market, would ruin any isolated communist project in France. Therefore, upon the victory of the French revolution, France should declare war on England. This “world war”, as Marx called it, would sweep the English revolutionaries to power too. And where Britain represented economic reaction, the Russian autocracy was its political bulwark. No revolution in Western Europe could be “definitely and finally victorious as long as the present Russian state exists at its side.” Therefore the overthrow of the tsarist state was the other great purpose that a revolutionary France and Germany should set themselves.22 In summary, the world revolution could only come about through revolutionary war against the despots England and Russia. Marx and Engels were true heirs of the great French

Proletarian revolution in a backward country


Revolution. They believed in the example of export of revolution set by the Jacobins and Napoleon. All this seems to confirm that with his “socialism in one country” Stalin showed a sovereign disregard of Marxist fundamentals. But things are, again, not so simple. It turns out that important “orthodox Marxists” of the Second International did not agree with their teachers. In 1878, the German social democrat Georg Vollmar published a small book called The Isolated Socialist State. It was his intention to treat a question that had until then not been given the attention it deserved, namely, whether for a planned socialist economy to function, a simultaneous proletarian takeover was needed in the whole civilised world, or whether “a single socialistically organised state would also be possible and viable.” Vollmar acknowledged that most socialists felt that the latter option was unrealisable, but he disagreed. In his opinion, “the final victory of socialism in at first only one single state or several states” was even the most probable course of things. And to back up this claim he discussed how a socialist economy could function on a limited territory, and how the respective state might successfully defend itself against the military onslaughts of the bourgeois world.23 In October 1891, the Social Democratic Party of Germany adopted a new program at Erfurt. Kautsky wrote a comment, which served in the Second International as an introduction to Marxist social democracy. He acknowledged that the “separate socialist nations” would ultimately fuse into a world republic. But initially socialist economies should function on a national basis. According to Kautsky, the present internationalisation of economic life was less determined by technological progress than by capitalist principles. Capitalism led to excess production to be sold abroad. Under socialism, international trade would be “strongly reduced.” A “certain degree” of international exchange must continue to exist, but “economic independence” was the fundamental model of a socialist economy.24 Kautsky implicitly referred to a situation of various socialist states existing next to each other, and not to one socialist state in a capitalist environment. Nevertheless, he sketched autarkic socialist economies, organised within a national framework. Thereby, he set up an ideal of self-reliant socialism rivalling Marx and Engels’s internationalist model. Thus “Marxism” offered not one but two orthodoxies to the bolsheviks. And from the point of view of one of them there would be nothing heretical about “socialism in one country.” In the debates concerning the strategy of the Russian revolution the questions of the chances of socialism under backward conditions and under nationally isolated conditions were not always carefully distinguished. During the First World War, leftist bolsheviks formulated the thesis that the world revolution would take the form of, as Georgii Piatakov formulated it, a “united action of the proletarians of all countries. They destroy the borders of the bourgeois state, tear down the boundary posts, blow up the national community and establish a class community.”25 Against this model, which was in close correspondence with Marx’s views, Lenin wrote in August 1915:


Proletarian revolution in a backward country The unevenness of economic and political development is an unconditional law of capitalism. It follows from this that the victory of socialism initially in some or even in one, separately taken, capitalist country is possible. After having expropriated the capitalists and having organised socialist production at home, the victorious proletariat of this country would stand opposed to the remaining capitalist world, attracting to its side the oppressed classes of the other countries, arousing an uprising against the capitalists in them, and in case of need even coming out with military force against the exploiting classes and their states.26

Thus Lenin embraced the suggestions previously developed by Vollmar and Kautsky – although without acknowledging his debt. Trotskii defended Marx’s heritage against Lenin. He conceded that the view of the world revolution as a simultaneous process was indeed a primitive one, but due to the mutual dependence of the European states, an isolated revolutionary state could never survive for long. The revolution should begin on a national basis, but “it would be hopeless to think…that, for instance, revolutionary Russia could survive in the face of conservative Europe, or a socialist Germany could remain isolated in a capitalist world.”27 But for his part Lenin reconfirmed his earlier position in September 1916.28 This small debate has been much commented on. Years later, Lev Kamenev argued that Lenin had not referred to Russia but to Western European countries. Stalin denied that, but Kamenev was probably right.29 However, although he probably believed that it only applied to developed countries, there is no denying that Lenin defended the principle of socialism in one country. When the tsarist regime was overthrown, Lenin was forced to think again about the perspectives of the Russian revolution. Shortly before his return to Russia he wrote that the Russian proletariat could not “complete the socialist revolution victoriously when it uses only its own forces.” But it could create such conditions that “it will be begun in a certain way.” And that would again make it easier for the European and American proletariat to engage in decisive battles.30 These remarks about the possibility of beginning a socialist transformation in backward Russia confirmed his suggestions of 1905. More importantly, they indicated a growing optimism even compared with that latter position. Previously, he had held that without world revolution a socialist project in Russia would collapse. Capitalist restoration was inevitable due to peasant resistance. But now he only suggested that the project of Russian socialism would remain crippled; it could not be “completed.” In his so-called April theses of 1917, Lenin emphasised that it would be foolish to think about the “ ‘introduction’ of socialism as our immediate task.” Nevertheless, the revolution should be oriented towards a transition to socialism. Although not yet expropriating the private owners, the workers’ soviets should establish some form of control over production. The banks and land should be nationalised immediately. Furthermore, although

Proletarian revolution in a backward country


a general collectivisation of agricultural enterprises was not yet foreseen, large estates should not be split up but administered as a unit by the local soviets. Such a transitional program could be carried out by the proletariat in an alliance with the “poorest layers of the peasantry.”31 The crucial point in this argument was the notion that the lower strata of the peasantry could apparently be convinced that turning in the direction of socialism was in their own interests. In that way, although a minority in the population, the proletariat could get majority support for its socialist efforts.32 We see Lenin returning, perhaps without realising it, to the original Marxist radicalism. At a bolshevik conference in late April, Lev Kamenev spoke up against an “immediate transformation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a socialist one.” And Aleksei Rykov added: “From where will the sun of the socialist revolution rise? …the initiative of the socialist revolution does not belong to us. We don’t have the forces, the objective conditions for it.” Lenin responded as follows: Comrade Rykov says that socialism must come from other countries with a more developed industry. But that is not true. It is impossible to say who will begin and who will end. This is not Marxism, but a parody on Marxism. Marx said that France will begin but the Germans will complete it. But then, the Russian proletariat achieved more than anyone. Later, he spoke explicitly of the ripeness of Russia for socialism: Usually one draws such a conclusion…: “Russia is a backward, peasant, petit bourgeois country, and therefore one should not speak of the social revolution,” but one forgets that the war put us in unusual conditions and that next to the petty bourgeoisie there is big capital. …Russia will come to stand with one foot in socialism, with one – because the peasant majority leads the other economic side of the country. That the change has ripened economically cannot be denied. In order to realise [the transitional measures] politically one has to have a majority, and the majority is made up of peasants who are understandably interested in these transformations.33 Lenin proceeded from the fact that, although not the dominant factor in the economy, Russian “big capital” was as modern as that in, say, France or Germany. It was therefore developed enough to serve as a basis for national planning of the industrial sector itself. Thus, with its one industrial “foot,” Russia could as easily step into the world of socialism as the French or Germans. The “other foot,” the small peasant economy, was economically unripe for socialism. Yet the poor peasant majority was interested in a program of transitional measures. This, then, is how we might interpret Lenin’s earlier remark that, without world revolution, Russia could not


Proletarian revolution in a backward country

“complete” its socialist transformation. Industrially it could, but in the Russian countryside only a sort of transitional order, midway between capitalist and socialist agriculture, might be established, with nationalised land and some large estates administered by peasant soviets. But the old doomsday scenario of an angry counter-revolutionary peasantry inevitably overthrowing the proletariat had vanished from Lenin’s book.34 After the October Revolution, the process of “socialist construction” began in a Russia which was at once backward and internationally isolated. What is more, the bolsheviks were not overthrown, either by foreign imperialists or by angry peasants. This circumstance allowed Lenin to adapt his views further in an optimistic direction. Most acute was the question of foreign intervention. Initially, Lenin remained convinced that revolutionary Russia would inevitably be crushed by the imperialist powers if there was no socialist revolution in the West. At the Seventh Party Congress in early 1918, he said that “the final victory of our revolution would be hopeless, if it would remain alone, if there were no revolutionary movement in other countries.” Peace with imperialism could never be more than a “breathing space for war,” and eventually military defeat against imperialism was a certainty: Because it is an absolute truth that we would go under without a German revolution – perhaps not in Piter, not in Moscow, but in Vladivostok, in even more faraway places, where we shall perhaps be forced to move ourselves.35 But the surprising survival of Soviet Russia through the Civil War gave the lie to such pessimistic predictions. To my knowledge, after the summer of 1918 Lenin never repeated the inevitability of Soviet military defeat. As bolshevik fortunes improved, he became ever more confident of the military viability of his regime.36 In July 1921, he remembered that originally the bolsheviks had thought that “either immediately or at least very soon the revolution will come in other, capitalistically more developed countries, or, in the opposite case, we must go under.” But in reality the movement did not go “so straightforwardly as we expected.”37 A few months later, he repeated that he had once assumed that only a victorious revolution abroad could have saved Soviet Russia from certain doom. But, as it turned out, Russia had received “support of another kind, indirect support” in the form of the “solidarity of the toiling masses.” The Western workers prevented the imperialists organising large-scale intervention. And “I must say that already now we can rely on it.”38 Thereby, the thesis of the impossibility of isolated revolutionary Russia’s military survival was finally abandoned. As to the other, economic, aspect of the matter, at first Lenin held on to the conclusions he had drawn just before the revolution. The socialist project might not collapse due to peasant counter-revolution, but it could not be completed either.39 From January 1918 onwards, one can collect a string of quotations by Lenin to the effect that “the final victory of socialism in one

Proletarian revolution in a backward country


country is impossible.” To win “completely, definitively on a world scale” it was necessary for the proletariat to be victorious in at least “several of the large, advanced countries.” Mostly Lenin used the words polnaia (complete) and okonchatel’naia (final) to describe the kind of socialist victory that was not achievable in an isolated Russia.40 Stalin later claimed that Lenin had referred only to the danger of imperialist intervention. The victory of socialism could never be absolutely certain in any country as long as the imperialist threat existed. However, that was not the only thing Lenin had in mind. In November 1918, for example, he remarked that the complete victory of socialism demanded the “most active co-operation of, at least, several advanced countries.”41 The problem of the inevitable “incompleteness” of socialism turned mainly on agriculture. That was where the bolsheviks believed Russian “backwardness” had its focus. In 1919, for example, Bukharin and Preobrazhenskii wrote that until Western socialist countries delivered enough industrial products to Russia, the Soviet state could never help the village enough to draw the peasants into the state sector. As long as it was not assisted by more developed socialist states, the agricultural sector would remain based on the small private owner. Soviet Russia could at most organise a limited number of collective farms.42 Trotskii was even more pessimistic. In 1922, he wrote a preface to his book The Year 1905, in which he summarised his old theory of “permanent revolution.” A proletarian government in a backward country with a huge majority of peasants, but which nevertheless attacked bourgeois property, inevitably ran into hostile actions of the peasantry. And such contradictions “could find its solution only in the international arena, in the arena of the world revolution of the proletariat.” In his opinion this assessment was still completely justified.43 At times, though, Trotskii suggested, more in line with Lenin, that socialism in isolated Russia need not collapse but might only lack real strength. In a new afterword to his 1915 “The programme of peace,” which he also wrote in 1922, he asked whether the old thesis that “the proletarian revolution cannot be victoriously completed in national frameworks” was outdated. But it was not. Although military defence had been successful, “a real upsurge of the socialist economy in Russia becomes possible only after the victory of the proletariat in the most important countries of Europe.”44 Lenin soon concluded optimistically that full collectivisation was feasible. Even if surrounded by a capitalist world, Russia could produce enough tractors to convince the peasantry to support the “commune.” The Russian proletariat had the strength to lead the peasant majority into collectivised production.45 But what would collective agriculture represent from a Marxist point of view? It was not easy to “classify” it within the duality of capitalism and socialism. Socialism had been defined as the negative of private property – property of the community as a whole, represented by the state for as long as that institution existed. But what would be the status of


Proletarian revolution in a backward country

co-operative property? It was not really private, but it did not belong to the community as a whole either. By 1921, Lenin was still arguing that the peasant co-operative, although a step forward, was merely a “variety of state capitalism,” an essentially capitalist enterprise controlled by the proletarian state. “Complete socialism” would mean that there would be no difference between workers and peasants.46 In other words, like industry, agriculture should be nationalised to deserve the name “socialist,” and that, apparently, could not be done by the forces of Soviet Russia alone. However, in the course of 1922 Lenin’s views finally began to shift. He predicted that Russia could be socialist within several years.47 As appears from “On Co-operation” of January 1923, the optimism of the leader was based on a redefinition of the nature of co-operative property. He noted that, if they were founded on land and used means of production that belonged to the proletarian state, peasant co-operatives “do not distinguish themselves from socialist enterprises.” Therefore the growth of the peasant co-operative was “identical” to the growth of socialism. With state power in the hands of the proletariat, a “complete socialist society” could be constructed on the basis of the co-operatives. Lenin admitted that this notion reflected a “fundamental change of our whole point of view regarding socialism.”48 Thus in early 1923 he redefined peasant co-operatives as fully socialist enterprises. Thereby, shortly before his death, Lenin created the basis of a new doctrine of the possibility of “complete socialism” in isolated Soviet Russia. Without spelling it out, he reached the conclusion that “socialism in one country,” the notion he had accepted in general terms even before the revolution, was applicable to backward Russia too. Summing up, we find that neither the thesis of the possibility of constructing socialism in a backward country nor the perspective of an autarkic socialist economy in a single state was invented by Lenin or Stalin. The former thesis was basic Marxism, and the latter followed Vollmar and Kautsky. The claim that the bolshevik project of revolution and socialist transformation in Russia was at odds with the Marxist tradition thereby collapses. It was undoubtedly the opportunity, offered by the Great War, to make a proletarian revolution in peasant Russia, and the subsequent survival of the Soviet state, that formed the background for Lenin’s reformulations. But, again, the result remained a clearly recognisable Marxism with few new elements. At the end of his life Lenin took a step further. His motive was again somewhat opportunistic. Realising that the nationalisation of Russian agriculture was not a feasible project for the foreseeable future, he simply redefined collective farms as socialist too. But the interesting thing about this is that, from that point onwards, the only thing lacking remained the explicit recognition of the applicability of the formula of “socialism in one country” to Russia. The later Stalinist thesis was clearly foreshadowed in Lenin’s last works.


Marxist nationalism

Joseph Stalin’s nationalist excesses are commonly understood as one more proof of his sharp deviation from Marxism. However, all too often the internationalism of Marx and Engels is interpreted in a crude, simplistic way. The original Marxism did in fact contain a strong nationalist component. The odd thing is that there is an extensive body of literature to document this, but the respective conclusions have not found their way to researchers of Stalinism, who continue to present us with a caricature of Marxism as a consistently internationalist doctrine. Let me begin my discussion with one of the most famous passages from the 1848 Communist Manifesto, which is routinely quoted to show the committed internationalism of the communists: “The workers have no fatherland. One cannot take from them that which they do not have.” These resounding words were immediately followed by this: In the sense that the proletariat must first conquer political rule for itself, raise itself to the status of a national class, constitute itself as [the] nation, it is itself still national, although not at all in the sense of the bourgeoisie. Already with the development of the bourgeoisie the national boundaries and conflicts among the peoples vanish more and more…. The rule of the proletariat will make them vanish even more.1 Communist nationalism was less consistent than the Jacobin original, in that it foresaw an eventual fusion of nations. The nation was only a midway station on the journey to a unified world. The Marxists treated the nation as they treated the state. Once the task of “nationalising” the means of production had been completed, it would disappear. Not only would the state sink back into society, it would also merge simultaneously with the other states surrounding it. Nevertheless, the Manifesto was very clear that the workers had first to constitute themselves as the nation. For nineteenth-century revolutionaries this was a self-evident truth. Revolutions inevitably resulted in the formation of nations, communities of equal citizens establishing their sovereignty in the state. National formation was the whole point of revolutions. In a way, the Marxists went even further than the Jacobins. With their

50 Marxist nationalism program of “nationalisation” of the factories and land, they hoped to create a more compact “national” community than their predecessors. It all comes down to this: at the time of writing the Manifesto the proletariat, lacking both property and the vote, was for all practical purposes excluded from the nation. In that sense the workers did indeed have no fatherland. But by taking power, and thereby acquiring property and the vote, they could acquire a fatherland. In other words, the Communist Manifesto contained a message of proletarian patriotism. The notion that the triumphant proletariat should first establish itself as the nation was no hollow phrase. On many occasions, Marx and Engels discussed the industrial proletariat as a patriotic force in the original sense of an agency of regeneration of the fatherland. In 1848, Engels typically complained that the backward Germans did not move along with the new times. They compromised themselves in front of all other nations, turning themselves into the laughing stock of Europe. But if the cowardly German bourgeois did not defend the nation, he set his hopes on the German workers. They would rise and “put an end to the whole filthy, confused official German business and restore German honour through a radical revolution.”2 Similarly, Marx insisted decades later that it was impossible for France to be saved from ruin without revolution. The victory of the Paris Commune would have led to the “rebirth of France”.3 In such statements, we can still recognise the origin of Marxism as a communist interpretation of Jacobin patriotism. One could object that, all this notwithstanding, the dominant feature of Marxism remained an ideal of international proletarian unity. That may be right, but only as far as it goes. Here we enter a complex field of interpretation. The case for the consistent internationalism of the young Marx has been argued by Roman Szporluk in his study of the latter’s relation with the nationalist Friedrich List.4 Szporluk shows that Marx rejected List’s program of economic development of backward Germany. Protectionist national capitalist development was a mere reactionary illusion; free trade was a more progressive system. Only a proletarian Germany with a socialist orientation was a feasible project, but even that only as part of a socialist Europe. Not the nation but mankind was the relevant unit. Szporluk more or less ignores the issue of the temporary existence of national proletarian states predicted in the Manifesto.5 But he does acknowledge that after 1848 Marx and Engels’s internationalism was diluted. They supported the national causes of what they called the “historic” nations, in particular the Germans, Hungarians and Poles.6 This brings us to the question most famously discussed by Roman Rosdolsky.7 Marx, and especially his friend Engels, took an extreme position in the various “national questions” of their times. Central Europe was the territory of the multinational state. Before the destruction of their state in the late eighteenth century, the Poles had formed the nucleus of a Polish–Lithuanian commonwealth. Likewise, the Germans and Magyars

Marxist nationalism


formed the urban, ruling elites of the Habsburg Empire, dominating peasant peoples of Slav and Romanian stock. Marx and Engels strongly supported the dominant nations. While sympathising with a restoration of Poland within its old borders, as well as with the German and Hungarian nationalist efforts, they resisted the nationalism of the small peoples under their control. And when in 1848 the Croats and Czechs chose the Habsburg side, against German and Hungarian assimilatory policies, the two communist revolutionaries condemned them in the most horrifying terms. The following quotation from Engels is characteristic: We reply to the sentimental phrases of brotherhood which are offered to us…in the name of the most counter-revolutionary nations of Europe that hatred of the Russians was, and still is, the first revolutionary passion of the Germans; that since the revolution a hatred of the Czechs and the Croats has been added to this, and that, in common with Poles and Magyars, we can only secure the revolution against these Slav peoples by the most decisive acts of terrorism…. We shall fight “an implacable life-and-death struggle” with Slavdom, which has betrayed the revolution; a war of annihilation and ruthless terrorism, not in the interests of Germany but in the interests of the revolution!8 This is no isolated passage quoted out of context but one in a long string of brutal pronouncements against the Slavs. Together with peoples like the Gaels, Bretons and Basques, they are described as “national refuse” and “ruins of peoples.” Lacking the capacity for survival, they are worthy of being exterminated, “to perish in the universal revolutionary storm.”9 Rosdolsky notes that Marx and Engels adopted Hegel’s approach of dividing peoples into historic and non-historic nations. The former had proved capable of independent state formation. Those with less energy and vitality were unable to constitute themselves as independent nations. They were obstacles to progress and should allow themselves to be assimilated. Engels believed that the peasant nations, those unable to adapt to the modern world, in case they refused to disappear, had no other choice but to turn for protection to the reactionary powers. The Czech and Croat alliance with the Habsburgs in 1848 was a case in point. More importantly, they turned under the flag of pan-Slavism to the Russian tsar. The Russians were not a non-historic nation, but as the mainstay of bureaucratic absolutism it was an even greater danger to progress. Thus the German, Polish and Hungarian “bearers of progress”10 battled against small, dying peoples hiding under the mantle of Russia. In this general scheme, Marx and Engels demanded a German declaration of war against Russia as a contribution to the “propaganda of civilisation.” Similarly, they supported the Prussian government in its war with Denmark for possession of Schleswig-Holstein. Engels commented that Germany took Schleswig with the “right of civilization against barbarism,


Marxist nationalism

of progress against stability.”11 The scheme was flexible enough to recognise that the Russians, although barbarians compared with other Europeans, were advanced in relation to Asians. Engels noted characteristically that, for all its “Slavonic dirt,” Russian rule had been a civilising force among the Bashkirs and Tatars.12 Marx’s conditional support for British colonialism in India can be understood in the same light. For all their cruelty, the Europeans had a progressive mission. Of all national sentiments, Marx and Engels’s German sympathies were the strongest. In one of his last years, Engels wrote that if it came to a war between France and Russia on the one hand and Germany and Austria on the other, German social democracy would stand solidly behind its government. France was a more progressive nation than the present Germany, but once it linked up with Russian “oriental barbarism” this lost all significance.13 It appears that Lenin’s later neutral stand in the Great War was not the model of the way Marxists looked at conflicts between capitalist states that it is sometimes considered to have been. Marxists could very well side with one capitalist power against another. The notion of the political superiority of certain nations was also applied to the socialist movement. After the defeat of the Paris Commune, German social democracy gradually turned into the vanguard of international socialism in Marx and Engels’s eyes. Already in 1870 the former had written that “the centre of gravity of the West European workers’ movement” moved from France to Germany. This was fortunate enough, as the German working class was “theoretically and organisationally superior to the French”.14 Engels’s enthusiasm for German socialism knew few bounds. Soon after the Franco-Prussian War he noted that the “really internationalist attitude” of the German workers during that war had provided them with a leading position in the European movement. He was happy that it was “precisely a German, Marx,” who had developed scientific socialism, and that “socialist Germany” now occupied the “leading, most honourable and most responsible position in the international workers’ movement.” The German working class showed more discipline, courage and energy than any other. It was possible, then, that Germany rather than France would become the theatre of the first great proletarian victory.15 At the end of the century, admiration for the Slavs grew among German social democrats. After the murder of Alexander II in 1881, Marx and Engels admitted that Russia now formed the “vanguard of the revolutionary action in Europe.” They hoped that a Russian revolution might spark off one in Germany.16 Kautsky went even further. In 1902, he remarked that the unspoiled Russian revolutionary movement still knew the old “passionate devotion” that was lost in the West. Not only had the Slavs “entered the ranks of the revolutionary nations,” it was even the case that the “centre of revolutionary thought and revolutionary action” had shifted to them. Russia had ceased to be “merely a bulwark of reaction and absolutism in Western Europe.” Today the very opposite was the case. “Western Europe is

Marxist nationalism


becoming a bulwark of reaction and absolutism in Russia.”17 In 1902, Lenin too predicted that, by destroying tsarism, the Russian proletariat would become the “vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat”.18 These predictions seemed to come true with the revolution of 1905. To sum up, we have found that nationalist hopes and preferences formed a part of the original Marxism. It was, first, not in contrast with this original tradition to treat the proletariat as a force for patriotic regeneration. Second, nothing could be further from the truth than to assume that Marx and Engels were pure internationalists in the sense that they valued all nations equally. They divided the European nations into forces of “barbarism”, embodied in small-scale, peasant backwardness and monarchical-bureaucratic empires, and those of “civilisation” – to be identified with modern nationalism, urbanism and democracy. This fact has given rise to a debate among scholars as to whether Marxist nationalism was an aberration or a coherent part of the internationalist doctrine. Rosdolsky takes the first position. The theory of non-historic nations stood in contradiction to the materialist interpretation of history and the class approach. That Marx and Engels nevertheless adopted it was due mainly to the objective situation in Central Europe. The need to keep the German, Hungarian and Polish elites as revolutionary allies, as well as the Russian tsarist threat, forced them to insert an odd element into their thinking.19 Horace Davis takes a similar position. He argues that class internationalism remained the dominant element in Marx and Engels’s work. Their position on nationalism, state formation and colonialism was contradictory, without real coherence.20 In contrast, Ephraim Nimni argues that Marx and Engels’s quasiHegelian position was a coherent part of their communist conception. Central to his argument is the fact that the fathers of communism recognised the progressive significance of the formation of the modern state as part of the process of overcoming feudal fragmentation and the establishment of capitalism. In order to be politically and economically viable, states should be sufficiently large. Marx and Engels adhered to the Jacobin model of the state as a centralised and linguistically homogeneous entity, i.e. as a nation into which small nationalities were assimilated. If the proletariat assumed power it would only play the role of a “national class” for a short period, quickly advancing to the higher, developmental stage of the abolition of the national state. Nevertheless, historical development to nationless communism proceeded from feudalism through the national state. Involved here was an evolutionary view of history as “progressive centralisation,” in which the national state was a stage on the road to the most centralised unit, namely the unified communist world.21 This makes the defence of great nations – those capable of independent state formation and thereby of modern capitalist development – and the demand to the small nations to admit their defeat and let themselves be absorbed understandable in a Marxist context. Formulated more generally, a


Marxist nationalism

paradox of communist doctrine is involved here. As a fundamentally internationalist system, communism aimed to establish the eventual unification of the proletarians of all countries on a basis of equality. But as a doctrine of universal progress it also held that, although potentially equal, different nations were more or less advanced on the yardstick of progress. There were advanced and backward nations, the former pointing mankind towards its historical goal of international unity and the latter holding it back in the particularistic and despotic dark ages. It stood to reason to support the former against the latter, which produces nationalist conclusions. After the death of Marx and Engels, the debate about the national question in the Second International remained focused on the relations between nations within the multinational states of Central and Eastern Europe. The Jacobin model of the centralist state was problematic in the case of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. One could start from the republican formula and transform these empires into huge, centralised “indivisible” proletarian wholes. But one could also take the existing cultural nations (including those with a peasant identity) living in these empires as the point of departure, and explode the old states into their components, creating a string of new, nationally homogeneous states, each “one and indivisible.” As we saw, Marx and Engels tended to take a middle position, supporting a limited number of assimilating national states of Poles, Germans and Magyars. The gut reaction of the Second International remained to hold the empires together and turn them into unitary states of a democratic proletarian type. From the standpoint of proletarian internationalism, it would be unfortunate to break up the existing frameworks uniting workers of various nationalities, however oppressive the frameworks might be. This leftist position was most classically defined by Rosa Luxemburg, who strongly opposed a right to secession of, for example, the Poles from Russia. In her view, a right to secession represented a form of capitulation to petit bourgeois nationalism.22 But the social democrats understood that the small nations could not be ignored, so at its congress in London in 1896 the Second International granted them a right to “self-determination”. However, it remained a matter of fierce debate what that right implied. Like Luxemburg, Lenin was an outspoken proponent of centralistic internationalism, but unlike her he defended a right to secession from the empires of nationally homogeneous territories. He hoped that, given that opportunity, nations would prefer remaining within their large, centralised states, gradually merging into one, to developing their own separate statehood. But the right to secede was essential to win the trust of the proletariat of the small nations. A third model, especially fitting for a country in which nations often lived not in homogeneous but in nationally mixed areas, was developed by the socalled Austro-Marxists, most prominently represented by Otto Bauer and Karl Renner. They favoured a system of “national cultural autonomy” in the nationally heterogeneous regions of their multinational empire. In their

Marxist nationalism


model, citizens registered individually according to nationality and formed collective institutions to administer and develop their own cultural affairs. In other words, here was a program of “national self-determination” serving mainly the preservation not of the political but of the cultural identity of nations. Bauer and Renner developed a corresponding theory of what nations were. According to Kautsky, the modern nation was the product of capitalism. Commodity production demanded the breakdown of barriers between mutually separated but adjoining territories and the creation of one centralised economic and political “organism.” Furthermore, the need for smooth economic traffic brought about the development of one national language, replacing Latin and local dialects. As a result, he concluded that “community of language” and “community of territory” were the defining characteristics of the modern nation. In this scheme, the psychological aspect of nations was reduced to that of its members having a common language. Kautsky refused to endow nations with self-consciousness in a meaningful sense. He did not deny that something like a “community of national character” might exist, but that was not a necessary condition for the existence of a nation. It was too vague a notion. Finally, Kautsky also expected economic internationalisation and socialism to bring about the eventual demise of nations, to be replaced by a unified world culture and language.23 But in 1902 Renner challenged Kautsky’s authority with his Der Kampf der österreichischen Nationen um den Staat. He defined the nation as a “cultural community” not linked to the “soil.” Nations were known for their strong “organic unity”. A nation was a real union of identically thinking and speaking persons, it “thinks, feels and acts as a unified whole.” In summary, for Renner nations were self-conscious cultural communities.24 Bauer, the other important Austro-Marxist, made his own contribution to the question when he published Die Nationalitätenfrage und die Sozialdemokratie in 1907. His starting point remained the materialist analysis that community of economic life lay at the basis of the development of nations. But he went much further than Kautsky, claiming that close economic links had induced endogamy and shared biological characteristics among people, and then produced a community of language and culture. As a result, nations developed in the course of time into relatively unified “communities of character.” In this scheme, community of territory was contributory but not essential to the formation of nations. Perhaps Bauer’s most revolutionary thought was that socialism would not lead to a fusion of nations but rather to their increasing differentiation. He expected the modern nation to survive for a long time into the socialist era.25 Lenin’s attitude towards the question of national culture was an ambivalent one. Like Kautsky, he refused to accept the idea of a national culture as relevant to the definition of nations. He was deeply disturbed by the theories of Bauer and Renner, which he believed guided the workers into collusion with the bourgeoisie, with whom they supposedly formed one national


Marxist nationalism

cultural community. This denial of the reality of national culture would seem to prevent Lenin from nurturing any national pride. However, this emotion was not alien to him. In What is to be Done?, he pointed with obvious satisfaction to the universal significance of nineteenth-century Russian revolutionary democrats like Gertsen, Belinskii and Chernyshevskii, and he even noted the worldwide significance of Russian literature.26 Lenin chose Kautsky’s side in the polemic against the Austro-Marxists because he abhorred their program of national cultural autonomy; but he did not really reject the idea that nations had a cultural identity of their own. In 1913, he called the “slogan of a national culture” a bourgeois fraud, but he explained: In each national culture there exist, though perhaps undeveloped, elements of a democratic and socialist culture, because in each nation there exists a working and exploited mass…. When we put forth the slogan of an ‘international culture of democratism and the workers’ movement of the world’, we take from each national culture only its democratic and its socialists elements. He then summarised that there were “two nations within each modern nation” and “two national cultures within each national culture.” There was for instance the reactionary Great Russian culture, “but there exists also the Great Russian culture characterised by the names of Chernyshevskii and Plekhanov.”27 In other words, Lenin’s rejection of the idea of “national culture” merely meant rejecting wholesale adoption of it. There did after all exist a specific Great Russian cultural identity. It was only split up into a reactionary and a progressive part; and social democrats could only be rightfully proud of the latter elements of the Great Russian culture, not of that culture as such. Interestingly, we also know that Lenin realised that nations were tenacious phenomena that did not disappear immediately after the revolution. In 1920, he wrote that “national and state differences between peoples and countries” would continue to exist “for a very, very long time after the realisation of the dictatorship of the proletariat on a world scale.”28 In other words, Lenin’s view of nations had more elements of the Austro-Marxist culturalism than he would care to admit. There is, finally, also ample proof that, like Marx and Engels, Lenin saw revolution as an instrument of patriotic regeneration. And he was aware that this interpretation of the meaning of revolutions went back to the Jacobin prototype. For Lenin, the coming Russian revolution served not only the working class but also to reinvigorate Russia, to make it strong economically and militarily. Just before the October events, he wrote: One always points to the revolutionary patriotism and the miracles of military courage of the French in the years 1792–93…. The example of France tells us one and only one thing: in order to make Russia capable of defence, in order to achieve ‘miracles’ of mass heroism here, we have

Marxist nationalism


to blow away all that is old with ‘Jacobin’ ruthlessness and to renew Russia and let it be reborn economically. …either we’ll go down, or we’ll come alongside the advanced countries and overtake them economically too.29 And in March 1918 he wrote – under a poem about “Mother Russia” – that the recent peace with Germany had been forced upon him. In due course, the country would be liberated from the shame and recover. The bolshevik leader avowed his firm determination to ensure whatever the cost “that Russia [Rus’] will stop being miserable and powerless.” There remained enough space and natural wealth to create a truly powerful and prosperous Russia.30 It did not even insult Lenin’s Marxist sensitivities to compare his own work with that of national hero Peter the Great. The emperor had hoped to Westernise barbarian Russia with barbarian instruments; and likewise the bolsheviks should not hesitate to use dictatorial instruments to introduce Western administrative culture into Russia in order to improve the administration of the country.31 To sum up, many elements of Stalinist nationalism often considered to have been proof of a “betrayal” of the Marxist tradition in fact remained well within that tradition. It was never odd for Marxists to see the revolution as an instrument to save the fatherland from degradation. Marxists also considered it essential to support the cause of progressive nationalism against allegedly backward nations. And, finally, the analysis of nations as entities arising out of the integrative working of capitalism made Marxists from the Austrians to Lenin sensitive to the phenomenon of national culture and character. The idea that nations did not disappear with the advent of socialism, but were cultural entities stable enough to survive into the socialist era, was no Stalinist invention either. It was defended by the most distinguished social democratic theorists of the national question, the Austro-Marxists. On all such points the Russian tradition influencing Stalin did not subvert the existing Marxism. There was no need for any subverting.


The years before October

When Joseph Stalin was suggested for membership of the commission to formulate a new party program at the Seventh Party Congress in 1918, it was objected that he had never written any articles of programmatic significance. Only when the chairman pointed to his writings on the national question was he voted in.1 The revolutionary activities and writings of Stalin in the period before the October Revolution are a subject worthy of attention in themselves, but for the development of the Stalinist doctrine, which is the proper subject of the present book, his work on the national question was most significant. What is more, nationalism seems to have been the first important influence shaping the later Stalin’s political thought. Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, the later Stalin, was born in 1878 in the small Georgian town of Gori, the son of a leather worker and a washerwoman. He grew up under very poor circumstances but as a bright child managed to enter the local church school. He completed it successfully in 1894, whereupon he was admitted to the Tbilisi theological seminary to receive an education as a priest. In 1899, Iosif was expelled from this institution, without having completed the course. During his days at the seminary, the future Stalin was at first involved with the Georgian nationalist movement. That appears from his earliest publications, the six poems he wrote in 1895 and 1896. The first five were published in the Georgian nationalist journal Iveriia, edited by the celebrated writer Il’ia Chavchavadze. The last one appeared in Kvali, a weekly established by Georgii Tsereteli, a liberal nationalist, who favoured the introduction of industrial capitalism and democracy in Georgia. Chavchavadze resented industrialism, but he was no conservative. The writer was a typical representative of nineteenth-century cultural nationalism. His overriding aim was the rebirth of Georgia as a cultural nation, which in the long run was supposed to create the condition for Georgian independence. Culture provided a focus of broad national unity and epitomised the country’s spiritual and material development. Chavchavadze expected much of popular education. In order to promote a cultural renaissance among the peasantry, he established the so-called Society for the Spread of Literacy among the Georgians, which ran a network of schools,

Stalin: the years before October


Figure 2 Il’ia Chavchavadze: Stalin’s first teacher in nationalism

bookshops and libraries throughout the country. The whole Georgian people, from the elite down to the popular masses, should be moulded into a homogeneous community, structured around an axis of shared cultural values. But Georgia should also be a modern political community, where there was no room for any “feudal” privilege. Although he believed in the landed proprietor, Chavchavadze had been among the most irreconcilable opponents of serfdom.2 It seems that the young Iosif became acquainted with the milieu of Georgian revival even before he moved to Tbilisi. This might be deduced from the fact that he was a frequent visitor to a bookshop in Gori owned by a member of Chavchavadze’s society. At the shop, which was most probably part of the network of the society, Iosif obtained books by Georgian writers like Chavchavadze himself, Vazha-Pshavela, Aleksandr Kazbegi and Rafael Eristavi.3 In the work of these and other writers, the themes of patriotism and the struggle of the peasant masses against the Russian rulers and their own cruel landlords played important parts. That Dzhugashvili after his arrival in Tbilisi began publishing in Chavchavadze’s journal suggests that he felt close to the latter’s brand of nationalism. This conclusion is supported by the content of the poems. The earliest one painted Georgia’s flowers and birds, and it concluded: “Be full of blossom, o lovely land, rejoice, Iberians’ country, and you, o Georgian, by


Stalin: the years before October

studying bring joy to your motherland.” Here we have the program of cultural nationalism, of the regeneration of the motherland through education and enlightenment. In the second poem, Iosif compared himself to a man who had been driven out by his enemy, but “again becomes worthy of his oppressed country.” The fourth poem was a tribute to Eristavi, who was moved to tears by the “laments of the toiling peasants.” It ended on the following note: “Hurray for Raphael! May there be many sons like thee in the fatherland!!!” Again a patriotic tone dominated, but for the first time Iosif also spoke of the peasantry, as opposed to the motherland in general. But would the peasants listen? In Iosif’s fifth poem, a “bard” ran into trouble. His voice “enlightened many a man’s mind which had been cast into uttermost darkness.” But instead of glorifying him, “the mob set before the outcast a vessel filled with poison” and made him drink it. “We do not want your truth nor these heavenly tunes of yours!” It seems that Iosif began to doubt the effectiveness of the nationalist message. The third poem contains the sentence “The Lord’s Providence is great,” which suggests that at the time Dzhugashvili was still a believer – not surprising for a boy in a seminary. Yet this belief quickly faded. The sentence was the first and last indication of religiosity in Stalin’s whole work. In later years, he continued to sprinkle his writings with biblical references, but as far as one can ascertain, the religious influence on his thinking was limited to style and his preference for dogmatic formulation. In the summer of 1896 he switched to Kvali, in which his last poem was published. It described a man, “scythed down by old age” and exhausted by his work in the fields.4 The peasant question replaced the nationalist theme. Around this time, Iosif became a member of a socialist student circle, which was active at the seminary. This brought him in touch with Marxism. However, Georgian Marxism was not completely devoid of the nationalist spirit. The dominating figure of the early Marxist movement, Noi Zhordaniia, rejected nationalism as the central pillar of political strategy. Nevertheless, he believed that the Russian oppression of his native land made some forms of class collaboration unavoidable. And his concept of nationality was wide enough to provide a theoretical basis for this. Capitalism not only divided countries into opposing classes but also promoted their economic integration. Thereby, it created the basis of the modern nation. And Zhordaniia believed that modern nations knew a “community of consciousness.” For him, it was even the essential characteristic of nationhood whether or not people felt themselves to constitute a nation. In his own words, “nationality, culture” formed a country’s “I.” Correspondingly, Zhordaniia’s patriotism was a program not only of common action against Russian oppression but also of cultural affirmation. Georgia’s future lay in rationalism, but Europeanisation should never be wholesale. The country should not lose its cultural identity. Zhordaniia even insisted that the psychological bond between the Georgians preceded the capitalist era. His list of characteristic

Stalin: the years before October


marks of nations – “history, culture, ways and habits” – emphasised the nation’s roots in the pre-national era.5 Zhordaniia’s understanding of nations was more encompassing than Kautsky’s and close to the Austro-Marxist model of the cultural community. Despite his great influence in the early years of Georgian social democracy, his pleas to integrate nationalism into the socialist platform were challenged by other comrades, who found the class struggle the only acceptable business for social democrats. But even they often shared his theoretical understanding of nationhood. In 1902, the later bolshevik Filipp Makharadze wrote that the modern nation was characterised not only by a community of economic life and territory but also by a cultural community of the people constituting it.6 And the bolshevik Stepan Shaumian wrote in his 1906 pamphlet, “The national question and social democracy,” that human beings tended to join into ever larger “social organisms.” The formation of modern nations was a process covering “dozens and hundreds of centuries,” and the centralisation resulting from the rise of capitalist commodity production gave only the final push. Nations were characterised by a community of language, religion, custom and ancestry.7 Thus the notion of nations having a specific cultural identity, and roots going back deep into history, was broadly shared among trans-Caucasian social democrats. Iosif Dzhugashvili immediately joined the Tbilisi branch of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP) when that party was established in 1898. In 1902, he was arrested for the first time and exiled to a village near Irkutsk, from where he escaped early in 1904. By the time of his return, his party had split into bolshevik and menshevik factions. Until the end of 1904, the whole trans-Caucasian party stood on the bolshevik side, and “Koba,” as Dzhugashvili was nicknamed, naturally joined that faction. He became a man of some importance in the regional party apparatus. But it was from conviction that he became a bolshevik, for he remained one when during 1905 the overwhelming majority of trans-Caucasian social democrats deserted to the menshevik camp. Dzhugashvili’s views on the national question during his early Marxist career were quite extraordinary. His first essay on the theme, “How social democracy understands the national question,” appeared in 1904. Its main thrust was directed against the ideal of Georgian autonomy. Koba acknowledged that nationalities had the freedom of language and local self-government, but he added that the RSDWP program was nevertheless based on “political centralism.” Moreover, although nations had a right to political separation, “generally speaking, the proletariat will not support a socalled ‘national liberation movement.’ ” On these points, the article was a rather standard reflection of the views shared by most bolsheviks and mensheviks at the time, but Koba’s views of the Georgian nation and its culture betrayed a leftism of the crudest type, denying as he did the whole concept of cultural identity of nations. There existed no community of


Stalin: the years before October

interest whatsoever between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, or a “national spirit” of any kind. In the original version of the article, even the existence of “national characteristics” as such was denied. The word “nation” was written between inverted commas. Furthermore, acknowledging that “reactionary ‘national’ habits” were to be defended against the onslaught of the tsarist government, Koba stressed that in themselves they were not worth defending: “as such the so-called ‘national interests’ and ‘national demands’ have no particular value.” They were “only worthy of attention in so far as they further…the class selfconsciousness of the proletariat.” The whole “national question” consisted merely of the problem: “how can one destroy national isolation, in order to bring the workers of Russia more closely together.” In other words, Georgian culture could best be uprooted as a barrier dividing the Georgian worker from his Russian brethren and sisters.8 Surprisingly, national identity and culture had become non-items for Dzhugashvili. Nations were almost a figment of the imagination. Hereby, he landed far to the “left” of his fellow social democrats Zhordaniia, Makharadze and Shaumian. It looks as though, as a man coming from the Chavchavadze movement, he made an extreme effort to prove his Marxist credentials by shedding everything reminiscent of his nationalist days. Yet nationalism would in various direct and indirect ways continue to be discernible in Dzhugashvili’s thinking. To begin with, in practical terms his anti-nationalist position resulted in a defence of Russian centralism. We would be mistaken, though, to assume that he was inspired by secret sympathies for the tsarist rulers. In July 1905, for example, he criticised a menshevik pamphlet that had cried out after the Russian naval defeat against Japan: “Can a true Russian stand such a humiliation of the fatherland?” Quoting Marx and Engels that the workers had no fatherland, Dzhugashvili accused the mensheviks of seeking “common ground” with the autocracy.9 And a few months later, he insisted that all “reactionary, chauvinistic tendencies” were to blame for the violent conflicts between Armenians and Tatars – including Zionism, pan-Islamism, pan-Armenianism and “Russian ‘patriotism.’ ”10 Dzhugashvili appreciated Russian culture more highly than that of the Caucasian nations, but in a somewhat paradoxical way – not because he liked things specifically Russian but because Russia embodied modernity. In June 1906, he explained that those who demanded trans-Caucasian autonomy separated “the fate of our country from Russian culture and link it to Asian barbarism”: In comparison to the Turks and the nationalities of the trans-Caucasus, Russia is indeed a civilised country. That is the reason why we consider such “farsighted” politicians like you, who demand trans-Caucasian autonomy, to be reactionaries. Today young Russia stands at the head of struggling mankind, while Turkey did not yet emerge from the barbarian state.11

Stalin: the years before October


Russian culture was to be supported against trans-Caucasian culture because it had evolved further on the ladder to modernity, on the scale running from barbarism to civilisation. The remark that Russia was at the head of struggling mankind referred to the 1905 revolution, where the Russians had taken the lead in attacking the old world. A similar argument showed in Dzhugashvili’s early remarks against the Jews. In an article about the party congress of 1907, he noted that among the menshevik delegates Jews and Georgians predominated, as opposed to the predominantly Russian bolsheviks. He commented: But such a composition of the factions is not difficult to explain: the centres of bolshevism are mainly districts with large-scale industry, which are, with the exception of Poland, purely Russian districts, while the menshevik districts, the districts of small production, are at the same time the districts of the Jews, Georgians etc. Bolshevism was “the tactic of the real proletarians”; and he called the Jewish Bund a group of “petty dealers”.12 In other words, Dzhugashvili preferred the Russians to the Jews and Georgians because they knew a more advanced industrialisation and proletarianisation. To sum up, in these early writings we see two closely connected themes emerging. To begin with, it was denied that separate nations had a specific cultural identity of their own. Ironically, this negation of the reality of national identities is the quintessential thesis of socalled “cosmopolitanism,” which Joseph Stalin later castigated. On a more concrete level, Dzhugashvili seemed to acknowledge cultural identities after all. He counterposed the Georgians and Jews on the one hand and the Russians on the other – in terms of “barbarism” versus “civilisation,” smallscale production and trading versus large-scale industry. But this was only a different way of formulating the same thing. The essence of backward national cultures was, as it were, that they were still national and specific, while the essence of the modern Russian culture was that it had largely shed its national specificity and become part of the universal culture of modernity. In 1907, Dzhugashvili moved to Baku, one of the few trans-Caucasian areas where the bolsheviks preserved a strong position. In the following years, his stay in this city of oil was interrupted several times by new arrests, and in 1912 he transferred his party work to the capital. By now he was a member of the bolshevik Central Committee. In 1913 he was once again arrested, to be exiled to the Turukhansk district, where he spent several hot summers and cold winters before the February Revolution of 1917 set him free. But in the short St Petersburg period he did develop his views on the national question further. The occasion was Lenin’s anger when the mensheviks at last accepted the Austro-Marxist principle of national cultural autonomy in August 1912. When they managed to have the point included in a statement of the joint social democratic Duma faction, he was outraged and called his comrades to war to defend the party program on this point.


Stalin: the years before October

In November 1912 and January 1913, three articles of Stalin’s hand appeared on the subject in Sotsial-demokrat.13 They held that, while nations had a right to federation, or even to separation, the party would never support such demands. And they contained an especially blistering attack on the strategy of cultural autonomy. The Bund was attacked for its false idea that the Jews formed a culturally defined nation. The author sarcastically slighted the concept of a “historical culture” and particularly the defence of the rights of “the backward part of the Jewish petit bourgeoisie, its sabbaths, its jargon, religious holidays etc.” Traditional Jewish culture was reactionary and should not be defended by any modern social democrat.14 A few months later, “The national question and social democracy” appeared in the March, April and May 1913 issues of the bolshevik monthly Prosveshchenie. The article, later known as Marxism and the national question, was one of the most important ones Stalin ever wrote.15 Most of it was in the spirit of his previous work. It contained a virulent attack on Bauer and Renner (whose work Stalin read in translation) and their ideal of nurturing the cultural identity of nations. The author did concede minority nations the right to self-determination, and even to political separatism from the Russian state, but separation would only rarely be supported by the RSDWP. The radical edge of Stalin’s thinking showed especially in the way he attacked Bauer’s slogan of “organise the nation.” This was no more than a “replacement of the socialist principle of class struggle by the bourgeois ‘principle of nationality.’ ” This set the tone, for it made the contrast between socialism and nationalism a total one. Stalin still refused to see any positive significance in national cultures. All peoples had the right to stick to their “harmful habits and institutions,” but the party never supported them. With relish the author observed that “primitive” nationalities like the Abkhasians and Tatars were “assimilating” into the Georgian and Russian nations. He was particularly scathing when he discussed Tatar habits like ritual self-flagellation and the “right to revenge.” The Georgian bolshevik did support “regional autonomy” for the Caucasus, but this should serve as a form of trans-Caucasian integration and undermine rather than develop the separate nations living in the region. “The national question in the Caucasus,” he explained, “can be solved only in the spirit of drawing in the backward nations and nationalities into the general bed of higher culture.” Regional autonomy “does not strengthen national boundaries – on the contrary, it breaks down these boundaries and unites the population.” The basis of Stalin’s “cosmopolitan” argument lay in the thesis that, while capitalism had at first produced nations and national identities, further capitalist economic development was now inexorably undermining these phenomena. Capitalism first as it were nationalised and thereupon denationalised the world. In Stalin’s words: National autonomy contradicts the whole course of the development of nations. …can one artificially weld them together, when life, when the

Stalin: the years before October


economic development tears off from them whole groups and scatters the latter over various regions? Undoubtedly nations draw themselves together at the first stages of capitalism. But…at the higher stages of capitalism there begins the process of scattering of nations…. At the first stages of capitalism one can still speak of “cultural community” of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. But with the development of largescale industry and the sharpening of the class struggle the “community” begins to fade away.16 The one nation singled out for special stricture were the Jews. From Stalin’s point of view their culture was uniquely reactionary because it was constructed around a religious pillar. Moreover, whatever it was, the Jewish nation was ceasing to exist: “the Jews are assimilating.” And, parroting Kautsky and Lenin, Stalin argued that the Jews were in fact no nation at all. They had “a religion, a common descent and some rudiments of national character,” but that did not make them into a “unified nation.” The point was that they lacked necessary attributes of nationality such as a common territory and language. Furthermore, to survive nations needed a “broad, stable layer connected to the land, naturally fortifying the nation not only as its skeleton, but also as its ‘national’ market.” But only a small minority of the Russian Jews were peasants. Almost everywhere they lived as scattered minorities on the territory of other nations, whom they served as “industrialists and traders, as well as people of the free professions.” The lack of a toiling peasantry rooted in a territory of their own prevented the formation of the Jews as a nation.17 Stalin believed that in his days all nations were assimilating. The process of dilution of nations into a new rational universality was a general one, rooted as it was in the trend of development of capitalism. But the Jews were assimilating even more than others because they had not even been a nation in the first place. Stalin’s treatment of the Jews seemed a curious one. The fact that they formed no nation in his understanding should have been particularly commended by him. From the cosmopolitan point of view, the Jews should have figured as the most progressive segment of the population of Russia. But one would search in vain for such an acknowledgement. However, within his historical scheme Stalin’s treatment of the Jews was not incoherent. To allow oneself to become one with the other nations is one thing, but never to have formed a nation is something else. From Stalin’s historical perspective the Jews with their diaspora had not participated in the process of integrating the scattered medieval world into separate states with consolidated territories, languages and economies. The Jews formed a people who as it were had never become modern. They were a living rudiment of pre-national feudal relations. The 1913 article also knew the same ambivalence towards the Russians that had characterised his earlier writings on the subject. Stalin rejected the whole idea of national identity in the name of cosmopolitan modernity. But


Stalin: the years before October

he did expect the other nations to assimilate into the Russian body. As a result, although small minority nations were to disappear, the Russian nation would be preserved and perhaps even strengthened. One reason for this I have already mentioned: Stalin believed that Russian culture was more universalist than that of the other nations of the empire and therefore entitled to more respect. Now he mentioned a further point, concerning earlier history. In the period of transition from feudalism to modernity the Russians had served, like the Germans and Magyars, as a “unifier of nationalities.” They had proved to be “most suited to the organisation of a state.”18 One can easily recognise in this historical scheme, in which Russians and Jews formed opposite poles, the duality of historic and non-historic nations that we met in Engels’s work. Strong, progressive nations, like the Russians, Germans and Magyars, operated as historical avant-gardes. They were the ones who integrated the scattered feudal world into viable modern states. In the next historical stage they continued to be in the vanguard, for they pointed to even further progress towards a cosmopolitan future. Primitive peoples like the Jews and trans-Caucasians, on the other hand, were always holding mankind back. In the past they were unable or unwilling to integrate themselves into modern states, and at present they were stubbornly sticking to their barbarian identities, holding up the further internationalisation of the world. By mentioning the historic role of the Germans and Magyars in this context, Stalin placed himself in the tradition of thought as defended among Marxists mainly by Friedrich Engels, although it cannot be ascertained whether he was directly influenced by the latter’s work. The theoretical first chapter of Stalin’s article defined the nation as a “historically formed, stable community of people, united by community of language, of territory, of economic life, and of psychological make-up, which expresses itself in community of culture.”19 This was a synthetic definition fusing Kautsky’s nation based on only two “communities” – of language and territory – with the cultural approach of the AustroMarxists.20 Stalin’s definition, which included a community of culture, was in itself not in conflict with what followed in the further chapters. In the later parts of the article he insisted on the absence of a cultural community between the classes of nations, but he did not deny that such a community had once existed. The point was only that nations were now falling apart, and their cultural identity disappeared with them. However, although there was no logical problem, one wonders why Stalin did not simply reproduce Kautsky’s definition, which was after all the one Lenin preferred. Why would he care to include the Austro-Marxist notion of the “community of culture” in an article that was dedicated to the destruction of AustroMarxist nationalism? What is more, by describing nations as “stable” communities he suggested that their disintegration might perhaps take more time than was to be expected, which was another silent concession to Bauer’s line of argument.

Stalin: the years before October


Interestingly, Stalin even took pains to provide his synthetic definition with substance. He spoke of “national organisms” and described nations as living entities with a real identity. They would characteristically be no “paper ‘nations’ ’’ but rather “real nations, acting and moving.” The nation was something “living and acting,” with its members living a “common…life,” and its “separate parts [united] into one whole.” Stalin seems to have visualised the ideal-typical nation as a kind of large-scale individual, lumping together its economic, territorial and linguistic community as its “conditions of life” and treating the psycho-cultural characteristic as its “state of mind” (dukhovnyi oblik).21 This organicist view of “living and acting” nations again sounds remarkably like Renner’s, an author whose work he was attacking at the top of his voice. The Austro-Marxist influence was undeniable. Why did Stalin, who was so utterly nihilistic in his views of the nation, appropriate part of the Austro-Marxist theoretical heritage? One source of inspiration may have been a booklet by the Dutch social democrat Anton Pannekoek, Klassenkampf und Nation, published in 1912. Lenin read the book in its year of publication and appreciated it as one of the few good social democratic pamphlets on the national question.22 He may have familiarised Stalin with the contents of this German work, which the latter could not have read himself. The point is that Stalin’s work was remarkably similar in construction to Pannekoek’s. In the first part of his pamphlet, the Dutch author supported Bauer’s definition of nations as cultural communities, but he then turned his argument completely around, noting that with the development of class struggle all national unity evaporated, and there remained only the need for a united proletarian world culture. More importantly, Stalin’s acceptance of “cultural community” as a defining characteristic of nations represented the resurgence of that notion present in the work of authors like Zhordaniia, Makharadze and Shaumian. We may surmise that in 1912–13, when he began to study the subject seriously for the first time, Koba realised that, in his abhorrence of his own past in the Chavchavadze movement, he might have gone too far. He began dimly to realise that the cultural identity of nations could not be rejected out of hand. And, when reaching these conclusions, he could easily return to the work of his old trans-Caucasian comrades with which he was familiar. At the same time, I should stress the limitations of Stalin’s debt to the Austro-Marxists. Otto Bauer believed that nations were defined, among other points, by a common biological ethnicity, but Stalin denied this vigorously. He was insistent that nations had no biological connotation whatsoever. National characters were not inborn. For Stalin, the nation was “neither racial nor tribal, but a historically formed community of people.” The national character did not “constitute something given once and for all.” Differences in character developed “from generation to generation as a result of different conditions of existence.” Consequently, national character should be seen as a “reflection of the conditions of life,” in other words as a “lump of impressions, received from the environment.”23 Thus, for Stalin,

68 Stalin: the years before October national character remained shaped primarily by education and circumstance, not by biological or racial factors. Nations were no outgrowth of the world of tribes but modern, newly integrated entities representing the overcoming of such ethnic communities. Stalin’s debt to Zhordaniia and Shaumian was also limited. He was insistent that “the process of the formation of people into nations” was a concomitant of “the process of the liquidation of feudalism and the development of capitalism.” In particular, the third characteristic of nations, community of economic life, was realised only as a result of capitalist unifying processes. And if one of the four necessary characteristics of a community was lacking, one could not define it as a nation. Nations could therefore only come into being with the rise of the capitalist system.24 Stalin did not deny that national cultures had roots in traditions preceding capitalism, and, conversely, Zhordaniia and Shaumian agreed that modern nations arose only fully with capitalism, but the latter valued the historical roots of nations to such a degree that they included community of “history” and “ancestry” in their definition of them. Stalin did not. For him, the rise of nations represented a break with religious, feudal and patriarchal traditions rather than a culmination of them. To sum up, the young Marxist Dzhugashvili/Stalin saw the national question fundamentally in terms that he was later to decry as “cosmopolitanism” and “national nihilism.” Nations were fundamentally obsolete. They were in a process of merging into a larger universality. To hold on to national traditions and character, to attempt to provide nations with a separate political or cultural life of their own, was a reactionary fantasy. The reason nations like the Tatars, Georgians and Jews should orient themselves towards the Russians was not because the latter nation had the best character but because it had, as it were, the least. While the Jews and Tatars were still locked in their ridiculous world of sabbaths and self-flagellation, the Russians had overcome all that. They were furthest advanced on the road to the nationless, abstract civilisation of the future. But Stalin’s views were not one-dimensional. In two ways, the nation did play a role in his thinking even at this stage. First, he perceived a two-step historical process. Nations were now obsolete, but in early modern times their formation had represented a tremendous step forward for the peoples of Europe. The old feudal and patriarchal world, the world of tribes and traditional ethnic communities, had been shaken up and reorganised into much more integrated and centralised units – the modern nations. The developing capitalist market was the basis of this process of integration, and the rise of the modern state its climax. Like Engels, Stalin believed that some progressive, historic nations like the Russians, Germans and Magyars had pushed forward this process of state formation, whereas other, more barbaric, peoples had been unable to shed their tribal past and take the step towards modernity. Only the Russians could profit from this. Neither cultural autonomy nor federalism nor state separation for the minority

Stalin: the years before October


nations of the empire could count on any sympathy from Stalin. Whichever way you looked at it, these nations should always orient themselves towards the Russians, for the latter had taken the lead in the process of state formation as well as in adopting a cosmopolitan world culture. I should add that, in his conclusions, Stalin was less extreme than Luxemburg, who explicitly rejected the right to secession. He at least agreed with Lenin that in principle such a right existed. The second way in which Stalin recognised the nation – and here we do not hear Engels’s echo but the voices of the Austro-Marxists, transCaucasian social democracy and perhaps even a memory of what he learned as a young Georgian nationalist – concerns his theoretical recognition that all nations did after all have a cultural identity. For the time being, though, this admission, implicit in his definition of the nation, was of no political significance. The young Stalin’s underlying nationalism betrayed itself mainly through his pride in the revolutionary achievements of the Russian proletariat, especially its performance during the first Russian Revolution. In April 1905, he wrote in a pamphlet to the workers of Batumi that no other proletarian party had ever had to deal with such a great matter as this: The Russian social democracy is responsible not only to the Russian proletariat, not only to all peoples of Russia, moaning under the yoke of the barbarian autocracy – it is responsible to all of mankind, to all of modern civilization.25 Some of his writings suggest that Dzhugashvili hoped that his fatherland would become some kind of new France, as it were the France of the twentieth century, the new international vanguard of the world revolution. He described, for example, how the French Revolution once “crossed the borders of France and spilled over Europe in a powerful stream.” Whereupon he added proudly that the heroic revolutionary actions of the young proletariat of Russia likewise provoked applause all over Europe. The German workers told their leaders to organise the struggle “in the Russian way.” And as a result of the Russian Revolution the French proletariat took courage and threatened the bourgeoisie with a second Commune.26 Dzhugashvili always remained aware of the fact that the Russian struggle was part of a wider historical process begun by the French. What the Russians should do was in many respects similar to what their French brethren and sisters had attempted to accomplish. For instance, in June 1906 he wrote that the democratic republic that the Russian social democrats hoped to establish should be similar to the French republic of 1793 and the Paris Commune.27 As late as July 1917, he could make a comparison between the French municipalities and the soviets.28 And he repeatedly praised the French revolutionaries for the patriotic defence of their country against the counter-revolutionary coalition.29


Stalin: the years before October

But it was never a question of copying the French original. Rather than something to be emulated, the French Revolution was to be surpassed. The Russians could do better. This conviction especially concerned the bolshevik strategy of democratic revolution. Koba extolled Lenin’s strategy orienting the proletariat towards the peasantry instead of towards the bourgeoisie as an original Russian contribution to Marxist revolutionary thought. Whereas in France the bourgeoisie had been the leaders of the revolution, in Russia it was the workers. The mensheviks, who in Dzhugashvili’s interpretation set their hopes on the liberal bourgeoisie, were only slavishly following the French original. The point was that in France the workers had lacked social democratic education and the kind of party that the Russian workers now had. Moreover, France had not known large-scale industry, and the class contradictions had not been sharply developed.30 In 1917, Stalin also followed Lenin in his further conclusion that the workers and peasants of Russia could not only take power but could also quickly begin marching to socialism. In the early days after the February Revolution he did not acknowledge this immediate socialist perspective. But he was soon convinced. At the Sixth Party Congress opening in late July 1917, he and Bukharin were, in Lenin’s absence, the main speakers to defend the socialist perspective.31 Stalin noted that the Russian workers should collect the poor strata of the peasantry around them, and that the revolution had begun to take the character of a “socialist, workers’ revolution.” Socialism had become practically unavoidable due to the catastrophic effects of the war: Some comrades said that it is utopian to put the question of the socialist revolution, because capitalism is weakly developed with us. They would be correct if there were no war, if there were no disruption [razrukha], if the foundations of the economy were not shattered. But these questions of the intervention into the economic sphere are necessarily being brought up in all states. The second reason why the Russian Revolution would assume a socialist character was the unprecedented degree of organisation of the workers. Nowhere in the world did the proletariat have such broad organisations as the soviets. In Stalin’s view, this made “non-intervention of the working masses in economic life” impossible. In summary, socialism was now on the agenda in Russia because the economic distress and the high degree of proletarian consciousness made state intervention in industry unavoidable.32 But there was also the question of the peasantry, and on that point there was an important difference between Bukharin and Stalin. The former noted that the coming revolution knew two stages. During the first the participation of the peasantry was guaranteed, as it “strives to receive the land.” But in the second stage of proletarian revolution, which should follow immediately upon the first, the “satisfied peasantry” abandoned the

Stalin: the years before October


proletariat. Only the Western European proletariat remained to support the Russian workers. This was the old model of uninterrupted revolution, as Lenin and Trotskii had expounded it in the early years of the century. The missing element here was Lenin’s new idea that the poor peasantry might continue to support the social democrats and provide them with a majority for a transitional program, so that not only the industrial sector but also the countryside could begin to move in the direction of socialism. Stalin sided with Lenin: According to [Bukharin], we are going to have a peasant revolution in the first stage. But it must of needs meet the proletarian revolution, coincide with it. It cannot be that the working class, forming the vanguard of the revolution, would not struggle for its own demands at the same time. Therefore I consider the scheme of comr. Bukharin not thought through. According to comr. Bukharin the second stage is a proletarian revolution supported by Western Europe, without the peasants, who received the land and are satisfied. But against whom is this revolution directed? In his playful scheme comr. Bukharin does not answer that question.33 In other words, Stalin suggested, first, that the proletariat should start to move towards socialism immediately. And, second, he did not believe that the peasantry would then abandon the working class. At the time, he still thought that Russian socialism was ultimately dependent on the proletarian revolution in the West. He explained that if “the link between the Russian workers and the revolutionary workers of the West” was not as close as the link between the Russian and Western imperialists, it would take the imperialists not much effort “to strangle the Russian revolution.” But this referred to the danger of military intervention. As far as internal factors were concerned, Stalin joined Lenin in believing that the peasantry need not necessarily rebel when the Russian proletariat set course towards socialism. This strategy of a proletarian–peasant coalition for socialism remained fuelled by the powerful emotion of Russian revolutionary pride. Like Lenin had done in April, Stalin rejected the idea of waiting with the socialist revolution for initiatives from the West. It would be “undignified pedantry to demand that Russia ‘wait’ with its socialist transformations until Europe ‘begins.’ That country ‘begins’ which has the best opportunities.” In the resolution proposed by Stalin, it was said that the task of the proletariat and the urban and village poor was to orient revolutionary state power towards a “socialist reconstruction of society.” This led to a famous debate, when Preobrazhenskii proposed to make the socialist orientation dependent on a proletarian revolution in the West. Stalin disagreed. Again parroting the remarks Lenin had made in April, he noted that it was not impossible “that precisely Russia will be the country that will pave the way to socialism”:


Stalin: the years before October Until this time not one country enjoyed such freedom as in Russia or tried to realise workers’ control over production. Moreover, the basis of our revolution is broader than in Western Europe, where the proletariat stands completely alone face to face with the bourgeoisie. With us the poorest strata of the peasantry support the workers. Finally, in Germany the apparatus of state power operates incomparably better than the imperfect apparatus of our bourgeoisie, which is itself a dependency of European capital. We must reject the obsolete view that only Europe can point us the way. There exists a dogmatic Marxism and a creative Marxism. I stand on the basis of the latter.34

From the early years of the century until the revolution Joseph Stalin was a Russian patriot. But his patriotism remained strictly of the revolutionary type. It consisted of a proud awareness of the fact that Russia was on the point of becoming the new vanguard of the world revolution, a country on the verge of overtaking France and Germany in pushing the world forward. Russia was the detonator to set off the explosion that would destroy the old world, the first country to set course to socialism through a strategy of proletarian coalition with the peasantry. In adopting this line of quick transition to socialism in a predominantly peasant country, Stalin joined Lenin in his return to Marx and Engels’s original radicalism.


The years under Lenin

After the October Revolution, Stalin quickly accumulated an impressive number of positions. Most importantly, he was elected a full member of the Politburo when it was officially established in 1919. His speciality being the national question, he became a People’s Commissar of Nationalities on day one of the revolution. In 1919, he also acquired the People’s Commissariat of State Control, a function that he kept when the commissariat was renamed Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection the following year. He lost that position when he became General Secretary of the communist party in 1922. From the theoretical point of view, during the years before Lenin’s death it was again the questions of nationality that Stalin paid most attention to and that are therefore mainly of interest for our purpose. But in his position of commissar responsible for the proper functioning of the state apparatus he also had to develop an opinion on the question of bureaucracy. Prior to the revolution, Koba/Dzhugashvili’s views on the proletarian dictatorship had been almost anarchistic. In his “Anarchism or socialism?” published in instalments in 1906–07, he responded to the charge that a proletarian dictatorship resulted in Blanquist rule of individuals over the class. He insisted that it would be a “dictatorship of the whole proletariat, as a class.” In this system, “the masses stand at the head of the dictatorship, there is no place here for a camarilla or secret decisions, here everything is done openly, on the street, in meetings, and that is because this is a dictatorship of the street, of the masses.” The essential difference between social democrats and anarchists was not the fact that, in contrast to the latter’s irreconcilability towards the state, the former hoped to preserve that institution temporarily. The real difference was that the anarchists favoured the slogan “Everything for the individual,” whereas the socialists believed in “Everything for the mass.”1 Dzhugashvili seems to have visualised the proletarian dictatorship as a kind of anarchist self-government, only more disciplined – orderly mob rule. Despite these semi-anarchistic outpourings, Stalin had in his pre-revolutionary days been a man of the apparatus, one of the party’s typical “committee men.” Leading strikes and demonstrations had not been his strong side. In his new position at the head of the organs of state control, Stalin put his proven organisational abilities to good use. His preference for


The years under Lenin

Figure 3 V.I. Lenin: Stalin’s greatest teacher

the apparatus was soon reflected in his views. The people’s commissar did not hesitate to follow Lenin in his neo-Kautskyan rehabilitation of bureaucracy. In October 1920, he addressed a conference of officials of the Worker–Peasant Inspection. He noted that the old state apparatus had been smashed, “bureaucratism was broken, but bureaucrats remained.” The old officials who had been allowed to stay had not overcome their “old bourgeois habits.” Stalin did not define bureaucracy as an apparatus, but as an apparatus with bad apparatchiki. There was nothing wrong with having a professional executive machinery in itself. On the contrary: Comrades, the country is in fact not administered [upravliaiut] by those who elect their delegates to parliaments under the bourgeois order or to congresses of Soviets under a Soviet order. No. Actually the country is administered by those who in fact take hold of the executive apparatuses of the state, those who lead these apparatuses. If the working class really wants to take hold of the state apparatus to administer the country, it must have experienced agents…. The WPI must be a school for such cadres from the workers and the peasants.2 Stalin did not say that, instead of the legislative organs, the executive bureaucracy was in power. It merely “administered,” i.e. ran the country on an everyday basis. He took care not to overstep the boundaries of official

The years under Lenin 75 Leninist dogma. As we saw, even before he came to power Lenin acknowledged that the soviets could not work effectively without a bureaucracy of their own. But he held on to the fiction that this remained a soviet power, albeit under party control. By presenting state officials as agents of the working class, Stalin implicitly acknowledged the dogma of the primacy of the legislative organs. But for those who could listen he admitted that, for all practical purposes, the state bureaucracy was in charge of the soviets. Thus he went as far as he could in polishing up the significance of the bureaucracy, to the very limit of what remained acceptable in Lenin’s new neo-Kautskyan orthodoxy. Stalin never entirely abandoned the concept of popular participation. He valued the soviets as an instrument for attracting support among the workers and peasants for the practical work of the state. But the apparatus became his main concern, and it would remain so until the end of his days. In the last part of his life, Lenin became ever more discontented with the sheer size of the state. Although he did not dream of dismantling it, he wanted the party to take stricter control of it and reduce it to more acceptable proportions. But this campaign never attracted much sympathy from Stalin. At the Twelfth Party Congress in April 1923, the General Secretary commented that Lenin was right when he complained that “our apparatus is a fake.” The “car” of state did not move in the direction the driver, the communist party, wanted it to move. But he had a more limited conception of the failings of the apparatus than his leader: Our policy is correct, the driver is an excellent one, the type of car itself is o.k., it is of a Soviet type, but parts of the car of state, i.e. some officials in the state apparatus, are bad, they are not our people…. The state apparatus is of a correct type, but parts of it are still alien, bureaucratic, half of it is tsarist-bourgeois. The state apparatus should, sure enough, be reduced in staff, simplified and made cheaper. But for Stalin the main thing was only to chase away “thieves and swindlers” and replace them with more reliable personnel closer to the party.3 Thus, whereas before the revolution Stalin’s idea of the proletarian dictatorship was more radical-democratic than Lenin’s, once he had had a taste of power his reservations about the bureaucracy became even less than Lenin’s. Although he took care not to break up the new theoretical framework established by Lenin and in which the bureaucracy remained subjected to the legislative powers, in practice Stalin adapted himself almost instinctively to the etatist tradition of government of his country. In the area of nationality policy Lenin and Stalin operated in close tandem during the first years of the Soviet regime. In a previous chapter we saw that in State and Revolution the possibility of a temporary federalisation of Russia was suggested. Stalin was thinking in the same direction. In a letter of February 1916 to Lev Kamenev from Turukhansk, he mentioned


The years under Lenin

his writing two new articles on the national question. They contained the thesis that in the era of imperialism the national movement was in decline. The old framework of the “national state” was no longer sufficient, and the idea of national separation suffered a “fiasco.” Small and medium-sized states could no longer exist on a completely independent basis. Hence the “popularity of the idea of a narrow union of states, not only military but also economical.” Stalin observed a “tendency to form ‘multinational states [gosudarstva natsional’nostei],’ ” but he acknowledged that this tendency promoted resentment among small nations and a movement for national self-determination. Therefore he hoped that the inevitable “broadening of frameworks” would take a democratic form. He thought of a model of “autonomy of national regions.”4 It was social democratic dogma that multinational states should know a system of limited regional autonomy, but Stalin now mentioned that national regions would enjoy that autonomy. Apparently, the borders of the self-governing areas were to be determined by national composition. That was new. At the April 1917 bolshevik conference, he noted that the more democratic a state was, the less national oppression it knew in general. Nevertheless, even in a new democratic Russia nations should have the right to secede. For those nations willing to stay in Russia the party proposed autonomy for regions that “distinguish themselves by particularities of way of life, language.”5 In August 1917, Stalin wrote in Proletarii that he still supported “the unification of small states into big ones.” It made the realisation of socialism easier. But there was the option of a “federal republic.” “The peoples” had a right to “determine their territories and the forms of their political structure at their own constituent assemblies.”6 Obviously, federalism on a national basis could not be avoided. After the revolution, the bolsheviks had a hard time reconciling their defence of the right to secede with their unwillingness to allow it to be exercised. That unwillingness made reformulation of the right hard to avoid, but it should be done in such a way that the propagandistic value of having this right on paper was not lost. It was the People’s Commissar of Nationalities who attempted to provide the saving formula. Discussing the right to Ukrainian independence in December 1917, Stalin noted that such a right existed, but it could not be exercised by the counter-revolutionary elements of the nation: “We are in favour of self-determination of peoples.”7 The Third Congress of Soviets in January 1918 was the occasion for him to formulate his new interpretation of self-determination authoritatively. According to the Pravda report, he said: Only the Soviet power has openly proclaimed the right of all nations on self-determination including complete separation from Russia. …the principle of self-determination has been used by the bourgeois-chauvinist circles of Ukraine to further their own imperialist class aims. All that points to the need to interpret the principle of self-determination as

The years under Lenin 77 a right to self-determination not of the bourgeoisie but of the toiling masses of a given nation.8 The solution was to uphold the right on paper but reformulate it in such a way that it could never be exercised against the will of the Soviet authorities. Only the “toilers”, i.e. the soviets, might legitimately articulate the wishes of the nation. However, Stalin’s shrewd formula of a right of peoples to selfdetermination never made it to bolshevik doctrine. At the Eighth Party Congress in 1919, Bukharin proposed that in the new party program the slogan of the right of nations to self-determination be dropped. “Basing myself on the declaration made by comr. Stalin at the 3rd congress of Soviets, I proposed in the commission the formula: self-determination of the toiling classes of each nationality.”9 But Lenin rejected Bukharin’s proposal, although not on principled grounds. He recognised that “self-determination of the toilers” existed in Soviet Russia, but as it did not elsewhere it could not be included in a party program that contained only generally applicable slogans.10 In the end, the right to secession was qualified in a simpler way. In February 1920, Lenin argued that, in the light of the common struggle against imperialism, the secession of Ukraine and other republics from Russia was “criminal.”11 Stalin followed this up in October 1920 when he suggested that the right to secession of autonomous republics from the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (RSFSR) was suspended. He argued that without the mutual support of central Russia and its border lands the victory of the revolution was impossible. The border lands had minerals, fuels and consumption goods vitally necessary for Russia, and they could not defend themselves against the imperialists without Russian protection. Therefore the demand for secession of border lands from Russia must be “excluded.” Stalin did add: Of course, the borderlands of Russia, the nations and tribes that populate these borderlands, as well as all other nations, have the inalienable right to secession from Russia, and if any one of these nations would by majority decide to separate from Russia…then Russia would probably [veroiatno] have to take this for a fact and accept the secession. But…the interests of the popular masses say that the demand of secession of borderlands at the given stage of the revolution is deeply counter-revolutionary.12 Thus, although all nations preserved a right to secede from Russia, no nation would actually be allowed to exercise that right. The right was preserved on paper but in fact suspended. Theoretically, this was a less elegant solution, but the message was clear enough. Realising that the national feelings of the peoples of Russia could not be ignored without endangering their regime, Lenin and his Commissar of


The years under Lenin

Nationalities firmly decided on implementing the federalist option after the bolshevik takeover. This was a bitter pill for them to swallow, for it meant abandoning the unitary Jacobin ideal passed on to them through Marx. Basing the new federalism on nationally defined territories was even more of a concession. But, clearly, it was felt this was the only practical solution. A more forceful and straightforward policy of Russifying modernisation carried too great a risk of rebellion in the national territories. The concept worked out jointly by Lenin and Stalin was for national territories to be awarded autonomous rights and to be included in the RSFSR on a federal basis. The republics were handed authority on cultural/educational, juridical and local administrative matters. Military, political and economic decisions fell under the RSFSR people’s commissariats. The result was a new, Soviet system of national cultural autonomy, differing from the AustroMarxist proposals in having a territorial instead of an individual basis. This construction entailed an important reinterpretation by Stalin of the national question. In April 1918, he explained in Pravda that in the “border areas, which are populated by elements which are backward in a cultural respect,” Soviet power was as yet relatively unpopular. It was urgently necessary to win over the toiling masses of these areas for the Soviet cause. But that was impossible without the autonomy of these border areas, i.e. without the organisation of the local school, local courts, local administration, local organs of power, and local socio-political and educational institutions, with a guarantee of a fullness of rights for the local language, spoken by the toiling masses of the district, in all spheres of socio-political work.13 Stalin held on to his old assumption that Russian culture was more progressive than that of the minority nations, but instead of working towards their assimilation, he now proposed the more roundabout approach of allowing them to preserve and develop their own culture so that they might become receptive to the Soviet and socialist message. The idea was not to aim for Russification but to lift the other cultures up to Russia’s “advanced” level. Perhaps the commissar was not really happy with the federal idea. During a conference with Tatars and Bashkirs in May 1918 he stressed the need for a “strong, all-Russian power.” He felt that “the creation of local and regional sovereign organs of power parallel to the central power would in fact mean the collapse of all power.” If federalism is the devolution of a degree of sovereignty, i.e. of legislative power, to local units, then the above remark may reflect Stalin’s doubts about this principle. But there is no doubt that he wanted the Soviet nations to be able to organise their own cultural life, as long as they did not violate the political dominance of the federal authorities. He explained: But passing the national question by, ignoring and denying it, as some of our comrades do – by doing so nationalism is not yet crushed. Far from it! National nihilism only damages the cause of socialism, playing in the hands of the bourgeois nationalists.14

The years under Lenin 79 Here we see the spectre of “national nihilism” raising its head. Stalin now apparently realised that the national identity of the non-Russian nations could not be ignored. No longer did he rave about assimilation and the need to abolish national differences. Instead, national cultures were to be nurtured. This was a huge change compared with 1913. That he was able to make this change quickly must be attributed not only to his flexibility but also to the fact that he had in 1913 already absorbed the Austro-Marxist thesis of the cultural identity of nations. Although the Soviet model of cultural autonomy differed in practice from the Austro-Marxist, Stalin could use their theoretical insight for the reformulation of his thinking on this matter. In that indirect way, Austro-Marxism played an important role in the new “nationalist” direction that Stalinist doctrine took. At the same time, however, Stalin’s new national realism did not diminish his feeling of Russian superiority. In late 1919, he explained the communist victories in the Civil War by the superiority of Russia over the other areas of the former empire. He noted that in order to achieve military success “unity” was absolutely necessary, the “closedness of that living human environment with the elements of which these troops feed themselves and with the juices of which they support themselves.” Russia, the basis of the Reds, was more developed and more united than the border regions, in which the Whites based themselves: Inner Russia with its industrial and cultural-political centres – Moscow and Petrograd – with its nationally homogeneous population, mainly Russian, turned into the basis of the revolution. But the borderlands of Russia, mainly the southern and eastern borderlands, without important industrial and cultural-political centres, with a population to a high degree nationally heterogeneous, …turned into the basis of the counterrevolution. To attribute Russian superiority to a higher degree of industrialisation and urbanisation was a traditional claim to make for Stalin. But this was the first time that he extolled national homogeneity as an ideal. He held it up as a positive goal to unify the population of a state around a more or less unified body of culture and habit. This contributed to the strength of the community. If this argument was thought through to its end, Russification and assimilation would once again be the logical policy to follow. This was not Stalin’s immediate goal, though. He added that the White generals made the disintegrative effect of the national heterogeneity of their territories even greater by their “true Russian, autocratic” policies.15 To enforce national cultural homogeneity through a policy of cultural Russification was counterproductive. Stalin was even prepared to accept the Shar’ia in Muslim republics.16 Nevertheless, assimilation into the leading Russian nation in the name of universal progress remained visible as an option in the background. Stalin did not burn all his boats. He could always revert


The years under Lenin

from Austro-Marxist-style equal recognition of all national identities to the model of historic and non-historic nations expounded by Engels. At the Tenth Party Congress in 1921, Stalin once again explained that the Russians had been the foremost nation in the early period of state formation. First he pointed to the way states had been formed in Eastern Europe: In Eastern Europe…the process of formation of nations and of the liquidation of feudal fragmentation did not coincide in time with the process of the formation of centralised states. I have Hungary, Austria, Russia in mind. In these countries there was not yet a capitalist development, perhaps it was only just getting started, when the interests of defence against the onslaught of the Turks, Mongols and other peoples of the East demanded the immediate formation of centralised states. In Eastern Europe, the modern state arose not as a result of the formation of people into nations but prior to that. In contrast to the way national states had been formed in Western Europe, the eastern pattern was one of multinational states “with one, more developed nation at the head and with the other, less developed nations finding themselves in political and then also economic subjection to the ruling nation.” The common trait of all non-Russian nations of the country was that they “lagged behind central Russia in the development of their own statehood.”17 Obviously, Stalin hoped that the Russians would continue to serve as the cement of the state. But he did not forget his new insight that the non-Russian nations could be more easily convinced to remain in one state with the Russians if they were accorded a possibility of developing their own culture. In November 1922, he spoke up for economic unification of the national republics, but he emphasised once again that “Russification” was only “reactionary Don Quixotism”: the national republics…cannot be abolished, cannot be robbed of…their national foundation, as long as the nationalities which have given birth to them exist, as long as there exist a national language, a national culture, way of life, norms and habits.18 In the last months of Lenin’s active life, there was a remarkable clash between he and Stalin on the question of how the multinational state should be organised. During the Civil War, a number of new Soviet republics had come into being, the main example being Ukraine, which were not autonomous units within the RSFSR but nominally independent republics, working towards treaty relations with Soviet Russia. This latter model was not foreseen in the Russian constitution of 1918. In August 1922, a commission was formed, with Stalin among its members, to decide on future relations between the RSFSR and the nominally independent republics. Stalin produced a draft resolution proposing the entry of Ukraine, White

The years under Lenin 81 Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia into the RSFSR. This would have restored the old constitutional structure. In September, Stalin defended his “autonomisation” in a letter to Lenin. Moscow should make a clear choice between giving the independent republics true independence and letting them alone, and including them in the RSFSR, subjecting them to the centre in all fundamental respects and particularly welding them into “one economic whole.” The second option, favoured by Stalin, signified the replacement of “fictitious independence,” which had never been more than a “game” for diplomatic reasons, by “genuine internal autonomy” of the republics in the cultural, juridical and other fields.19 However, Lenin proposed amalgamation of the RSFSR and the other independent republics into a new federative union. Stalin and other members of the commission accepted this and proposed that the RSFSR, Ukraine, White Russia and the Trans-Caucasian Federation be fused into a “Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.”20 In October, the Central Committee adopted Stalin’s USSR proposal. Hearing of this, Lenin, who had been absent during the decision, declared a struggle against “Great Russian chauvinism.” He proposed that the Central Executive Committee of the new union establish a rotating chairmanship of a Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and others.21 Stalin had no problem with this, writing “Correct!” on the note when he received it.22 The rotating chairmanship was accepted, and Lenin was now satisfied. One does well to realise that, in a way, the whole debate until this moment was something of a fake. RSFSR dominance remained guaranteed in the new union as much as in Stalin’s original RSFSR proposal, for the simple reason of the numerical preponderance of the RSFSR in the union.23 However, in December Lenin unexpectedly changed his mind. He concluded that the new union was after all a flawed structure; it was “premature.” He proposed to turn back the decisions that had been taken, leaving only armed forces and foreign affairs under the federal authorities and restoring independence in all other fields. Furthermore, he accused Stalin of waging a “truly Great Russian nationalist campaign” for prematurely bringing the non-Russian republics within the scope of the union.24 Although he probably wanted the situation for the autonomous Muslim republics within the RSFSR to remain as it was, Lenin now in effect adopted a confederal rather than a federal model for the union as a whole. Lenin’s unexpected change of mind apparently provoked Stalin and caused him to waver in his commitment to the policy of cultural autonomy. In early February 1923, he proposed to upgrade the people’s commissariats of Education, Internal Affairs, Justice, Health and Social Security of the republics to the category of commissariats jointly run by the federal and republican authorities.25 If realised, this proposal would have overturned established bolshevik policies by turning the USSR into an almost unitary state. But the Central Committee rejected the suggestion.26 Lenin soon suffered his last stroke, which put him out of action. As a result, his


The years under Lenin

confederalist proposals were ignored at the Twelfth Party Congress in April 1923. Stalin had his way at this party forum. But it then appeared that he had not after all changed his views. As usual, he insisted on Russian leadership in the Soviet state in the light of the fact that the Russians formed the most industrialised nation: We are told that we shouldn’t insult the nationals…. But to create from that a new theory, that we should put the Great Russian proletariat in an unequal position in relation to the former oppressed nations – this would mean to say an absurdity. …it is clear that the political basis of the proletarian dictatorship is first and foremost made up by the central regions, the industrial ones, and not by the border areas, which constitute peasant countries. But he also argued that Soviet power was transformed into “a power not only Russian, but also international.” To collect all threads of government around a “Russian principle” was counterproductive. It would destroy the trust in the Russian proletarians among the other nations. Instead, the Russian proletariat, “the most cultured layer of the proletariat of our whole federation,” should use its predominance to help the “culturally and economically backward nationalities.” Local industrial development was essential. Schools should be “nationalised,” and local institutions should work mainly with local personnel, in the local language and according to local custom.27 The last struggle between Lenin and Stalin did not in the end make the latter change course. He stuck to the compromise model of Russian political dominance balanced by local cultural autonomies adopted in 1917. Robert Tucker argues that in the early 1920s Stalin represented a “Russian red patriotism” among the bolsheviks. His “true Russian” sympathies were allegedly at odds with Lenin’s policies, more internationalist and more sympathetic to the interests of the non-Russian nations.28 This conclusion is problematic. Stalin was indeed a Russian red patriot, if this term refers to his insistence on Russian leadership as the most advanced nation of the multinational state. He used a purely Marxist argument, proceeding from the progressive socio-economic and state development of Russia compared with the border lands, which at the same time harmonised perfectly with the traditional centralism of the Russian state. But until December 1922, Lenin had no less than Stalin defended the concentration of all strategic decisions in Moscow. If Stalin was a “Russian red patriot,” so had Lenin been one, at any rate until December 1922. The real point of interest in Stalin’s views in the years 1917–23 is not that he favoured centralised authority and Russian dominance. That was in the spirit of what he had written all along before the revolution. The new thing was that despite this he agreed to federalism and cultural autonomy for the non-Russian nations. He and Lenin apparently concluded that, from the point of view of power, the most stable solution was to combine Russian

The years under Lenin 83 central leadership with local autonomy. From the point of view of doctrine, one observes a further step in the “re-nationalisation” of Stalin’s thinking. In 1904, he derided the whole concept of nations. In 1913, he still held fast to this “cosmopolitan” approach; however, having read Renner and Bauer, he adopted a partly culturalist definition of nations. Now, as a responsible People’s Commissar, he put the deed to the word and adopted cultural identity as an element of policy.


Socialism in one country

After Lenin’s death in January 1924, it took Stalin five years to become the uncontested leader of the Soviet Union. From now on he was free to interpret Leninism without the chance that the master might correct him. Although the written works of the founder of bolshevism remained, and could only be ignored at the peril of losing legitimacy in the eyes of his party comrades, Stalin was free to develop his own political thought in relative independence. In the rest of this book, I will treat the development of that thought in thematic chapters. The main doctrine for which Stalin became known, and which is the subject of the present chapter, is that of “socialism in one country.” We saw that after 1918 Lenin concluded that an isolated Soviet Russia stood a good chance of holding its own against the military threat of the imperialists. Furthermore, he no longer believed in the inevitability of a clash with the peasantry. The peasant could be convinced to accept co-operative agriculture. In the very last period of his active life he concluded that, provided they used land and means of production owned by the proletarian state, peasant co-operatives were socialist in nature. Thereby, he almost admitted in so many words to the applicability of his idea of the possibility of socialism in one country to a backward country like Russia. Stalin’s position on the matter was somewhat undetermined. In general he followed Lenin’s optimistic assessment. In October 1920, he wrote that “some participants of the October revolution” had been convinced of the fact that the Russian socialist revolution was solid only when it was immediately followed by a revolutionary explosion in the West. But this view was also proven wrong by events, for socialist Russia…successfully continues its existence and development already for three years. It appeared that the socialist revolution might not only begin in a capitalistically backward country, but also be successful and advance, while serving as an example for capitalistically developed countries. Favourable conditions distinguished Russia from countries like Hungary and Italy. As a “gigantic country,” providing space for military manoeuvre

Socialism in one country 85 and an abundance of fuels, grain and minerals, it might survive as “some kind of oasis of socialism.”1 In December 1921, Stalin concluded that, although the international working class was not yet strong enough to bring down imperialism, the bourgeoisie was no longer strong enough to strangle Soviet Russia either.2 At times, Stalin even suggested that the Russian proletariat was able to construct a complete, rounded socialist society under the circumstances of international isolation. For example, in July 1921 he explained that in backward countries like Russia it was much easier to make a revolution than in the classical countries of capitalism, where the bourgeoisie had turned into a “serious leading force of the whole social life.” Of course, once begun, more favourable conditions existed in Germany, France and England to carry the revolution to its end, i.e. “to organise a socialist economy.” But Stalin suggested that such conditions also existed in Russia, for he wrote that a revolution in the West should make it “easier for us, i.e. for Russia, to carry our revolution to the end.”3 Apparently, it would not be impossible to accomplish that task without revolution in the West. But Stalin was not always so optimistic. In August 1923, he even warned the Politburo that in case of a collapse of the German revolution the Soviet federation would be “smashed.”4 This was an odd alarmist notion, long ago abandoned by Lenin and most other bolshevik leaders. Stephen Cohen suggests that Bukharin was the real father of the idea of socialism in one country.5 The party leadership followed Lenin’s suggestions of agricultural co-operativisation, and Bukharin hoped that peasant cooperatives in the field of “circulation” – buying, selling, credit and so on – would provide a peaceful way to make the peasantry move in the direction of socialism. And in February 1924 he argued that in “one isolated country” only an evolutionary road to socialism was feasible.6 But it is questionable to treat this as the first suggestion of the possibility of socialism in an isolated Russia. Lenin’s last writings can hardly be interpreted in any other way. Moreover, Bukharin was not even as insistent as Lenin, who had been talking of “complete” socialism. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that, with its explicit mention of socialism in an isolated Russia, Bukharin’s article “Lenin as a Marxist” was a milestone. Stalin associated himself with Bukharin’s policy of co-operativisation as the road to socialism. In June 1923, he pleaded for “gradual involvement of the millions of small agricultural proprietors in socialist construction through co-operatives.”7 Around this time, he began to realise that a socialist perspective in backward Russia might not be at odds with Marx’s original teachings. In November of that year, he wrote that the “banner of socialism” had become attractive to the Russian peasants. He quoted Marx on the dependence of the German proletarian revolution on a peasant war, adding that this was written “about the Germany of the 1850s, a peasant country.”8 But he still had serious doubts about the degree to which the socialist project could be completed. In April and May 1924, Pravda carried


Socialism in one country

Figure 4 N.I. Bukharin: economic autarky

his On the Foundations of Leninism, a series of recent lectures containing a summary of the essentials of the thinking of the deceased leader. Stalin argued that mass co-operativisation was the way to lay the “foundation of a socialist economy.” He pleaded for drawing in the majority of the peasants into socialist construction through the co-operative, …gradual introduction of the principles of collectivism into agriculture, initially in the sphere of sales, and subsequently in the sphere of the production of products of agriculture…. [In that way we will] lay under the dictatorship of the proletariat that necessary foundation without which the transition to a socialist economy is impossible.9 The formula of laying merely a “foundation” for socialism suggests that Stalin had not yet absorbed Lenin’s thesis that the co-operative should be considered a full form of socialism. This is confirmed by another passage in the lectures, which the author later removed and which shows that in early 1924 he did not yet see the possibility of constructing a Russian socialism in a full sense in the absence of world revolution:

Socialism in one country 87 But to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and to establish the power of the proletariat in one country does not yet mean that the complete victory of socialism is guaranteed. The main task of socialism – the organisation of socialist production – still lies ahead…. For the final victory of socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country like Russia, are insufficient – for that the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are necessary.10 For the bolsheviks, the question of whether Russia could approach socialism through peasant co-operativisation was connected with the question of industrialisation. Bukharin and Stalin argued that Soviet industry was mainly dependent on the peasant market. One should therefore guarantee that the village had enough financial means to buy industrial goods on favourable terms. In the long run, industry too would profit from increased sales. This approach was favourable for the peasant trading co-operatives, which were provided with a sound financial basis. However, the so-called Left Opposition, with leaders like Trotskii and Preobrazhenskii, argued that industrial production was too low. It was useless to provide the peasants with more financial space to buy non-existent goods. The only sensible thing to do would be to drain funds from the wealthier parts of the village to be used for increased industrial investment.

Figure 5 L.D. Trotskii: the speed of accumulation as the fundamental criterion


Socialism in one country

The leftists believed that in the long run agriculture too would profit from a larger supply by industry and from the lower prices resulting from increased industrial efficiency. But in the short run their policy was less considerate towards the agricultural sector, and therefore also towards the peasant co-operatives. Was this relative indifference of the leftists to the well-being of those co-operatives not surprising? Whether one agrees that these enterprises were socialist or not – no bolshevik could disagree that they represented a step in the right direction. Would one, then, not expect leftists to argue more instead of less insistently than Bukharin and Stalin for collectivisation? However, that was not the case. Trotskii and his comrades concentrated their attention on industry and did not care much for the progress of agricultural co-operativisation. How might that be explained? A systematic exposé of the leftist economic proposals for a sharp price and tax policy to the benefit of industry was provided in the work of Preobrazhenskii. He pleaded for it that the state should consciously not apply “exchange of equivalents” between city and countryside. This was a position all bolsheviks, with their industrial bias, took, but Preobrazhenskii wanted to maximise the overpumping of funds. He also believed there could be no durable equilibrium between socialist industry and private agriculture. The state must devour the latter sector, for which only “degradation” lay in store. Preobrazhenskii showed little interest in the co-operativisation of the private sector. In his opinion, trading co-operatives were still on the “capitalist road.” They were meaningless from a socialist angle, because their productive basis remained private. Productive co-operatives did represent a form of transition to socialism, but they could only get under way when large-scale industry, the “only active principle of socialist co-operation,” first became much stronger. Co-operative agriculture could never assume an important scale “until the period of primitive socialist accumulation is completed.”11 Trotskii also took the position that as long as industry was not the dominant sector of the Russian economy co-operatives inevitably remained only an instrument of the capitalist strata among the peasants.12 The leftist position, then, was that, Russia being an industrially underdeveloped country, peasant co-operativisation was either a capitalist or an unfeasible project. As long as Soviet Russia was a predominantly agricultural country, the perspective of socialist agriculture, and thereby of socialism in any full sense, was a chimera. This was the ideological stalemate when the debate on “socialism in one country” broke lose. In the fall of 1924, Trotskii published his pamphlet Lessons of October, in which he mentioned in passing his old theory of “permanent revolution.” Trotskii’s colleagues reacted immediately to this, although the matter was not the real issue in the pamphlet and the question of the long-term viability of socialism in a single country was not even mentioned. Grigorii Zinov’ev and Bukharin indignantly rejected Trotskii’s old idea that an isolated Soviet Russia could not avoid being blown up by a violent conflict between the workers and the peasants.13

Socialism in one country 89 In December 1924, several newspapers carried Stalin’s “October and comrade Trotskii’s theory of permanent revolution.”14 It treated two closely related problems, namely the alliance with the peasantry and the confinement of the Russian revolution to one country. On the first issue, it confirmed that there was no such thing as an inevitable and fatal conflict with the peasantry when the road to socialism was taken. Russian socialism need not collapse due to a peasant war. He then proceeded to discuss Lenin’s “law” of the unevenness and abruptness of the economic and political development of capitalist countries. The resulting wars for the redivision of the world broke up imperialist unity and made that world system vulnerable at its weakest links – separate countries – where isolated socialist revolutions might then occur. He concluded: under the condition of the preservation of capitalism in the other countries, the victory of socialism in one country is completely possible and probable – even if this country is capitalistically less developed and these [other] countries are capitalistically more developed…. It goes without saying that for the complete victory of socialism, for a complete guarantee against the restoration of the old order, the joint efforts of the proletarians of several countries are needed. What exactly Stalin meant by “complete victory” was unclear. He did mention that foreign intervention could bring about a restoration of the old order. The solidarity of the European workers with the Russian revolution might prevent an intervention, but one could never be sure. However, Lenin’s solemn formula of “complete socialism” was not mentioned in the article.15 Thus it only expressed a view already held by many bolsheviks at the time, to the effect that an isolated Soviet Russia need not inevitably collapse, either from a peasant rebellion or from an imperialist intervention. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about it was that it expressed this for the first time in so many bold words: “socialism in one, backward country is possible.” In April 1925, the matter came under discussion at the Fourteenth Party Conference. In the meetings of the Politburo preceding it, it appeared that the party leaders who had jointly set out to destroy Trotskii’s name did not see completely eye to eye on the matter. According to Bukharin’s report, Kamenev and Zinov’ev defended the position that “we cannot complete the building of socialism [stroit’ do kontsa] due to our technological backwardness.”16 In other words, they too defended the now rather common point of view that Lenin had taken from 1917 to 1922, that some kind of socialism could indeed be built in an isolated Russia, but that it would remain defective. However, this no longer satisfied Stalin and Bukharin. At the conference, the thesis of socialism in one country was formulated as follows: the presence of two directly contradictory social systems produces a permanent threat of capitalist blockade, of other forms of economic


Socialism in one country pressure, of armed intervention, of restoration. The only guarantee of the final [okonchatel’naia] victory of socialism, i.e. guarantees against restoration, is therefore the victorious socialist revolution in several countries. From this it does not follow at all that the building [postroika] of a complete [polnoe] socialist society in such a backward country like Russia without “state support” (Trotskii) of technologically and economically more developed countries is impossible.17

Thus Lenin’s last sayings about a “complete socialist society” were finally integrated into party dogma. After the conference, Stalin dotted the i’s. In May 1925, Pravda carried his “Concerning the results of the work of the XIV conference of the RKP(b),” in which he discussed two groups of contradictions. The first comprised “the internal contradictions, existing between the proletariat and the peasantry.” These could “be overcome by our own efforts,” because the peasantry was interested in the socialist system of production. Through the co-operatives, “we can and must build a complete socialist society together with the peasantry.” As to the second, external group of contradictions, Stalin produced a further simplification compared with the resolution of the conference. While the conference held open the option that bolshevik Russia might be destroyed by an economic blockade, Stalin noted that as long as the capitalist encirclement existed “there will be the danger of military intervention.” The final victory of socialism “equals the complete guarantee against attempts at intervention, and therewith against restoration.”18 In summary, of all the possible threats only military intervention was a potentially mortal one. This was the first text where the thesis of socialism in one country in its classical form was fully expounded. In 1925, Stalin received a letter from a party comrade, who pointed to Engels’s thesis that socialism in one country was impossible. The General Secretary solved this problem by proclaiming that the thesis reflected “the era of pre-monopoly capitalism, the pre-imperialist era when there were not yet the conditions of an uneven, abrupt development of the capitalist countries.”19 Stalin apparently preferred confining Lenin’s “law” (which its author had declared to be unconditionally valid under capitalism) to the imperialist stage of that system to saying that Engels had been wrong. In January 1926, he gave his most well-known formulation of “socialism in one country” in On Questions of Leninism, but this added nothing to what he wrote in May 1925.20 In the course of 1925, Bukharin wrote his own summaries of the new doctrine.21 Thus in that year he and Stalin jointly fathered the classical theory of socialism in one country.22 Initially, neither Zinov’ev nor Trotskii contradicted the conclusions of the party conference, but in September 1925 the former opened fire in his book Leninism. Its main thesis was incoherent. The author insisted that socialism in one country was a real possibility. In any case, a “large measure of socialism” could be preserved in an isolated Russia. But he also said that

Socialism in one country 91 only a socialist revolution in several countries could prevent a “restoration of bourgeois relations” in Russia.23 At the Fourteenth Party Congress in December 1925, Zinov’ev confirmed that one could “build [stroim] socialism,” but he did not believe that one could “finish building [postroim]” it in one country, especially in a peasant one like Russia.24 Zinov’ev was a hesitant adherent of the thesis of an incomplete socialism in one country. The bolsheviks would be able to build a socialism of sorts, but the agricultural stamp on Russia would not allow them to finish the project. Thus he held on to the position that Lenin had taken prior to his last change of mind. In the meantime, the debate about the construction of socialism in Russia acquired yet another component. In Bukharin’s arguments the peasant market was always central. He acknowledged that there could be no real equivalent exchange between town and country. Socialist industry should receive some surplus value from the small producers, but prices should not discriminate against the peasants to such a degree that the absorbing capacity of the internal market was harmed. This approach was not only favourable for the agrarian sector, it was also of consequence for industry. Socialist industry should mainly orient itself towards the internal peasant market instead of attempting full-scale integration in the international division of labour. This implied a more or less autarkic model of development, which made it inevitable that Soviet Russia would build a heavy industry of its own. Although earlier he had emphasised the importance of light industry, Bukharin acknowledged that his model implied that the centre of gravity gradually moved to the heavy sector. Finally, his careful price policies and non-use of the advantages of scale connected with international specialisation inevitably reduced the tempo of industrial growth. But Bukharin was willing to pay that price to preserve the orientation towards the peasant market. Trotskii was a vigorous opponent of the autarkic model. He favoured an orientation towards the world market and hoped to make optimum use of the international division of labour. The leftist leader feared that a closed economy with full proportional development of all branches lowered efficiency and thereby the tempo of development. Under the present international conditions of “capitalist encirclement,” Soviet Russia needed to maximise its industrial growth rate in order to survive. “The fundamental criterion of our economic policy must be the tempo – the speed of accumulation.”25 At first, Trotskii championed heavy industry, but eventually he concluded that a priority development of light industry was most suitable. It provided quicker profits and thereby allowed a faster tempo of development.26 Thus there arose a new conflict between the moderate party majority and the Left Opposition around industrial policy. Two models faced each other – that of slow-growing autarky with a heavy industrial focus; and that of orientation towards the world market, which set its hopes on high speed and the quick profits of light industry.

92 Socialism in one country The theoretical question of “socialism in one country” came back on the agenda at the Fifteenth Party Conference in October–November 1926. Kamenev took a position almost identical to that of Stalin and Bukharin. Acknowledging that “given a correct policy in relation to the peasantry, the proletariat can and will successfully construct a complete socialist society,” his only critique on Bukharin and Stalin concerned their exclusive focus on the dangers of military intervention. Under the condition of an insufficient tempo of economic growth, imperialist economic pressures might suffice to destroy bolshevik Russia.27 Kamenev defended the line adopted at the Fourteenth Party Conference. Trotskii was another matter. In his To Socialism or to Capitalism? (1925), he had given a glowing comment on the first attempts at planned economy. In the dry economic data, the author recognised the “majestic historical music of growing socialism.” He hoped that his booklet would show “how the form of the proletarian state should be filled with the economic content of socialism.”28 At the party conference, Trotskii quoted angrily from this pamphlet to prove his innocence of excessive pessimism.29 But Stalin noted that he had only discussed how to “go [itti] to socialism” but not acknowledged that one could “arrive [pritti] at socialism.”30 This sounded disingenuous, but it was not so strange a remark after all. The book proved that Trotskii was confident that at least a good measure of socialism could be achieved in isolated Russia. But it did not answer the question of what would happen in the long run, should the world revolution not occur.31 By this time, when he discussed the slogan of socialism in one country, Trotskii usually treated it as the formula of economic autarky. In his view, this was a self-defeating policy, as it slowed down the tempo of development of the Soviet economy and thereby contributed to Russia’s defeat by the imperialist powers.32 Richard Day concludes from this that the debate was really only about autarky or integrationism. The point was not whether socialism could be built but only how.33 This is an overstatement of the point. There was also a real difference over the question of ultimate perspectives, whatever economic policy was chosen. At the conference, Trotskii admitted that Russia had sufficient means to “take socialist construction forward.” Nevertheless, the constructive effort was “internationally determined.” If European capitalism gained strength for a considerable period, “we would be strangled or shattered.” In the alternative case of a rotting capitalism, the European proletariat would probably take power and save Soviet Russia. But if the Western comrades would not act there was little hope of survival.34 Thus even an integrationist policy could not prevent ultimate doom if the Western working class failed to topple its rulers.35 After his expulsion from the Soviet Union, Trotskii lost all hesitation he might have had. In 1929, he wrote: In an isolated proletarian dictatorship, the internal and external contradictions grow inevitably along with the successes achieved. If it remains

Socialism in one country 93 isolated, the proletarian state must finally fall victim to these contradictions. The way out for it lies only in the victory of the proletariat of the advanced countries.36 Trotskii made a full return to the old thesis that he and Lenin had nurtured in the early years of the century and which held that an isolated socialist project in Russia was doomed to utter collapse. To sum up, although it was not recognised in the heat of the factional struggles, the real division in the debate was not between Stalin and Bukharin on the one hand, and Trotskii, Zinov’ev and Kamenev on the other. The situation was rather that all of the “old bolsheviks” – Stalin, Bukharin, Zinov’ev and Kamenev – followed Lenin’s lead, and to a greater or lesser degree recognised the possibility of constructing socialism in a single country. Their differences were minor. Only Trotskii held on to the idea that capitalist restoration in Soviet Russia was inevitable unless the world revolution saved it. In the late 1930s, Stalin sharpened some aspects of his doctrine. In an unpublished speech to a conference of “propagandists” in October 1938, he complained that not only was the idea that socialism in one country was possible ignored but also that the simultaneous victory of socialism in all countries was impossible. And, this time taking Engels to task by name, he added: “This was formerly impossible and so it is today.”37 Thereby, he admitted that even in Engels’s day the hope of a simultaneous world revolution had been unreal. However, Stalin chose not to make this new discovery public, for he had committed himself publicly too often to the fact that in their day Marx and Engels had been right in their assessment.38 The following year the Soviet leader brought “socialism in one country” to its natural conclusion. At the Eighteenth Party Congress he revealed that the state remained in existence even in the post-socialist, communist stage of development if the capitalist encirclement was not liquidated.39 This implied that not only “complete socialism” but even communism could exist on the scale of one country. In September 1946, he proclaimed this as a new solemn formula: “‘Communism in one country’ is completely possible, especially in a country like the Soviet Union.”40 Curiously, Stalin told G.F. Aleksandrov the next month: “The teaching of the victory of communism in one country is Lenin’s. Complete socialism is the same as communism.”41 In fact, Lenin’s “complete socialism” had only referred to the thesis that the peasant productive co-operative should be considered a socialist form of economy. However, under communism the collectives would have to be raised to the level of property of the “whole people” and the system of remuneration fundamentally changed. But by this time the leader could afford to be sloppy in his formulations. Stalin arrived at his thesis that socialism could be constructed in a single, backward country simply because of the fact of Soviet Russia’s survival for so many years. He saw no reason why it could not survive indefinitely, and he was confident that the peasantry could be made to accept collective


Socialism in one country

agriculture. To back up these conclusions, he had Lenin’s statements of 1915–16 and 1922–23. The intellectual history of “socialism in one country” did not go any deeper than this. But this is not to deny that Stalin was aware of the fact that he continued Marxist traditions older than Lenin. In September 1927, he mentioned two elements that Lenin had allegedly contributed to Marxism: the possibility of constructing a complete socialist society in an isolated country; and the policy of drawing the peasantry into socialism through co-operatives.42 But, as we saw, he knew that Marx had believed in peasant support for the proletarian revolution in backward Germany. What is more, he also realised that Lenin had not been the first to suggest the possibility of an isolated socialism. In June 1927, the following occurred at a plenary session of the Central Control Commission: Trotskii: …And who was the predecessor of the “optimist” Stalin, do you know that? …It is the article of Vollmar, well-known afterwards as a German social patriot, written in 1879. This article is called “The isolated socialist state.”… Ordzhonikidze: We read it. Trotskii: Ah, you read it – that’s even worse, it means you hid that too from the party.43 Vollmar’s book was not translated into Russian before 1990, so Stalin cannot personally have read it.44 But Ordzhonikidze’s answer shows that he realised the ancestry of the theory. Stalin did read Kautsky’s Erfurter Programm, with its proposals for an autarkic socialist economy.45 Ironically, his desire to give Lenin credit as a renewer of Marxism and his refusal to make favourable references to Kautsky and Vollmar contributed to the myth that socialism in an isolated, backward country was a Russian invention, a Russian aberration of Marxism. The final test of the idea of “socialism in one country” came with the creation of the socialist camp. The establishment of the “people’s democracies” after the Second World War was accompanied by a new debate on the possibility of isolated socialist efforts. The Soviet leaders were not prepared to accept that option. It would undermine their hegemony in the new camp. In June 1948, the Second Conference of the so-called Cominform discussed the alleged defection of the Yugoslav communists. Tito and his comrades were accused of betraying “proletarian internationalism,” i.e. the “militant co-operation of the peoples headed by the great Country of Socialism.” The Yugoslav claim that they could manage “by their own forces” was derided as a bourgeois nationalist illusion. The Italian leader Togliatti explained that this development along the road to socialism would be impossible if these countries were isolated, if the close co-operation of these countries with the country of socialism would be absent…the Marxists reply positively on the question of the possibility of a quick development towards

Socialism in one country 95 socialism even in backward countries. Lenin and Stalin spoke about this possibility, but a necessary condition of such a development must be the unbreakable link with that country where socialism is already victorious. The Bulgarian leader, Kostov, insisted that without the Soviet Union “the construction and development of the countries of the new democracy” would be impossible. Without Soviet assistance, “they would turn into a plaything in the hands of the imperialist forces.”46 Thus “socialism in one country” was more or less formally declared inapplicable to small countries without the kind of economic and military resources that Russia had. This did not represent a complete turnabout though. When Stalin drew his conclusions in the 1920s, he did not present isolated socialism as a desirable option but merely as a possibility. He preferred a situation where Russia need not be an “independent economic unit” but formed one socialist economic space with a revolutionary Germany and France. The autarkic economy was forced upon Russia.47 However, after the war autarky was preserved. Stalin could have transformed the whole of Eastern Europe into an integrated economic zone, with the various states functioning as specialised departments of the Soviet economy, but he did not take that direction. The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, established in January 1949, never amounted to much during the leader’s lifetime, because all member states were expected to develop their own autarkic, comprehensively developed economies. In other words, “socialism in one country” turned from a necessity into an ideal of self-reliant economic development. And an inefficient one at that, a good example of how ideological determination may result in counterproductive policies in terms of efficiency and power.


Stalin’s economic thought

According to Marxist dogma, under socialism, i.e. in a system without private ownership of the means of production, products were no longer made for the market. They were distributed over the producers according to their respective achievements, but the distribution took place without the intervention of money under a form of direct regulation by the community or the state. That system was referred to by the term “direct product exchange.” In the early period of the Soviet system, the establishment of such a form of distribution was attempted, but this was at a time when agriculture was still in private hands. In other words, a socialist form of distribution was superimposed over a partly capitalist system of production. The New Economic Policy (NEP) put an end to this anomaly, later dubbed “war communism.” And the NEP not only placed the market between state industry and private agriculture but also introduced various money and market forms in the sphere of state industries themselves. But it remained dogma that, once the private ownership of the means of production had been overcome, money and the market would be replaced by direct product exchange. Through the best part of the 1920s Stalin defended the NEP. In July 1928, when his coalition with Bukharin was already breaking up, he defined the NEP as the policy that “aimed to overcome the capitalist elements and to construct a socialist economy by using the market…and not through product exchange.” Conversely, “war communism” aimed to distribute products directly by the state, partly by military means. Characteristically, Stalin claimed that all countries traversing the road from capitalism to socialism needed to pass through a stage of the former kind, whereas “war communism” was not unavoidable.1 Nevertheless, Stalin’s perspective was never completely identical to Bukharin’s. Gradually, his views on industrialisation began to diverge from the latter’s. In the early 1920s he had, like Bukharin, believed in the primacy of light industry.2 And in 1925 he concluded, again like Bukharin, that metal was the “fundamental basis of industry.” The Soviet Union needed an all-round heavy industrial base of its own. He visualised its future economy “not as a subordinate enterprise of world capitalism, but as an independent

Stalin’s economic thought 97 economic entity, depending mainly on the internal market.” The problem was that the capitalist countries had achieved their industrialisation through unacceptable means – by colonisation and aggressive war or by subjecting others to humiliating conditions. But Stalin was convinced that alternative means could be found.3 The General Secretary was not always the extreme industrialiser he was to become. In November 1926, he took Preobrazhenskii and Trotskii to task for underestimating the need to uphold the purchasing power of the peasantry. The opposition did not understand that “industry is the leading principle of the economy, but agriculture forms in its turn the basis upon which our industry can deploy itself.”4 Nevertheless, in the course of 1926 he began to stress the Trotskyite theme of tempo. He would say that, as industry was “the foundation, the beginning and the end of socialism,” it should develop “with as high a tempo as possible.” And although capitalism showed a “furious” tempo of development, the potential of socialism was superior. The Soviet economy could move forward “in seven-league boots.”5 As we saw in the previous chapter, the leftists hoped to realise a high tempo of industrial development, which they thought unavoidable, by draining the countryside of funds. During 1927, Stalin too explained that it was impossible to close the so-called price “scissors” between industry and agriculture immediately. A “certain harm” to the peasant economy was acceptable in order to industrialise the country. Furthermore, the so-called “goods famine,” the fact that not enough industrial goods were available for the peasantry, was another inevitable consequence of the fact that the rate of growth of heavy industry should be higher than that of the light sector. To a certain extent, heavy industry could not but develop at the expense of the consumer sector.6 At the plenary session of the Central Committee of July 1928, Stalin confirmed the significance of heavy industry for the village. The alliance between town and countryside rested not only on satisfying the personal needs of the peasantry through textiles but also on providing them with agricultural machinery and fertiliser. “Thus the alliance [smychka] has not only textile but also metal as its basis.”7 On the same occasion, Stalin repeated that the “scissors” could only be closed gradually: our peasantry…pays not only ordinary taxes to the state, direct and indirect ones, but on top of that it overpays for the industrial goods with relatively high prices – that’s point one, and more or less underreceives for agricultural products in terms of prices – that’s point two. This is an additional tax on the peasantry in the interests of the upsurge of industry, serving the whole country, including the peasantry. It is something like a ‘tribute’, something like a supertax, which we are forced to take temporarily in order to uphold and develop further the tempo of development of industry.8


Stalin’s economic thought

This remark drove Bukharin to great anger. However, even he wanted the peasants to overpay. That had not been the issue between him and Preobrazhenskii. The issue had been whether one should try to maximise this “overpumping” or to keep it within moderate limits. Stalin was now undoubtedly embracing Preobrazhenskii’s argument, but not because he spoke up for a “tribute” but because he hoped to increase it as far as possible. At the same plenum, Stalin remarked that Soviet state farms did not need maximum profits but could do with minimum ones, “and sometimes they may even temporarily get around with no profits at all.”9 In other words, he suggested that the “tribute” might be large enough to absorb all agricultural profits. The coalition between Stalin and Bukharin finally broke down during 1928 and 1929, when grain procurement for the cities ran into trouble and the former responded with radical measures unacceptable to the latter. The question of the tempo of industrial growth was one of the issues at stake. At the November 1928 Central Committee plenum, the General Secretary indicated: the high [bystryi] tempo of development of industry in general, and of production of the means of production in particular, is the fundamental principle and key to the industrialisation of the country. …we determine [our control figures] and realise them under a sign of tenseness. …it is necessary to succeed in catching up and overtaking the advanced technological level of the developed capitalist countries…. This is correct also from the point of view of the defence of our country in a situation of capitalist encirclement. Except for the focus on heavy industry, this was almost literally what Trotskii had been saying for years. During the next few years, Stalin’s calls for an increasing tempo became ever more outrageous. In order to overtake the capitalist world, the tempo should be “accelerated,” “furious” and “forced.” The Soviet dictator recognised that there should be some kind of balance, but that did not prevent him demanding a permanent driving up of the targets. This should not be understood as undermining the plan principle. The economic plan was anyhow not “something finished and given once and for all.” The plan was only a first approximation, only “the beginning of planning.”10 Tempo overruled balance. Perhaps the most extreme statement came in 1931, when Stalin said that the criticism that the industrial plan was unrealistic was wrong, for the following reason: It is realistic if only because its realisation now depends exclusively on ourselves, on our ability and on our will to use the very rich possibilities we have…. The reality of our program consists of living people, it is you and me, our will to work, our readiness to work in a new way, our resolve to carry out the plan.11

Stalin’s economic thought 99 This turned plan targets almost exclusively into a question of will. However, this extremism did not last. Under the impression of economic dislocation caused by his extremism, the leader finally put an end to the madness in January 1933. He claimed that in the future industrial growth rates would still remain higher than in capitalist countries, but it was now possible to return to a policy of “less accelerated tempos.”12 In July 1934, Stalin distributed an angry letter to the Politburo, criticising a recent article by Bukharin in Izvestiia for, among other points, having covered up the fact that heavy industry was the “leading and reorganising” branch of the economy.13 Thus Stalin did not abandon such fundamental points, but the time of pure extremism was over. Next to accelerated industrialisation, with a heavy industrial focus, the second pillar of early Stalinist economics was the twin campaign of collectivisation and dekulakisation. Stalin interpreted the unpreparedness of the peasants in the winter of 1928 to sell their grain against the price he found acceptable as a form of class struggle, and he was prepared to meet the challenge head-on. In July 1928, he famously noted that: as we move forward, the resistance of the capitalist elements will grow, the class struggle will become sharper, and Soviet power, of which the forces will grow ever more, will carry out a policy of isolation of these elements, …a policy of suppression of the resistance of the exploiters.14 In 1923, Lenin had proposed to shift the “centre of gravity” of the party’s activities to “peaceful organisational ‘cultural’ work” as the way to convince the peasants to join the co-operatives.15 The leader of bolshevism did not make a pledge that under different circumstances a violent course in the countryside would be excluded. Nevertheless, Stalin’s new course represented a major tactical change compared with the course set in the early 1920s. When the peasants refused to comply with his demands, Stalin shifted to Lenin’s earlier methods of forced grain procurement and repression. In December 1929, he announced the dual policies of “total collectivisation” and “liquidation of kulakdom as a class.” The kulaks were to be expropriated.16 In this speech, Stalin elaborated on some theoretical aspects of the collectivisation movement. He began with an attack on what he called “the so-called theory of ‘balance’ of the sectors of our economy,” which he ascribed to the Right Opposition. In his interpretation, this theory held that the socialist and the “non-socialist, if you wish – capitalist” sectors of the Soviet economy co-existed peacefully and did not touch each other, until in a mysterious way the former triumphed. According to Stalin, this theory defended “the positions of the individual peasant economy” and in particular its kulak elements. It overlooked the fact that the classes behind these two sectors were locked in a life or death struggle. Moreover, whereas largescale production had the potential of “expanded reproduction,” the small

100 Stalin’s economic thought peasant economy was so ineffective that it seldom even realised “simple reproduction.” To enlarge the scale of agriculture was the only way out.17 Stalin had argued for years that the “middle peasant” economy produced too limited marketable surpluses, but with this new and more extreme formulation he repeated almost to the letter Preobrazhenskii’s predictions that the non-socialist sector was heading for degradation. He also turned against what he called the theory of “spontaneity” (samotek). This “theory” allegedly held that as under capitalism the village spontaneously followed the city, under socialism the same thing could be expected. Stalin did not believe this. Under capitalism, both the city and the village had been organised on the basis of private property. But one could not expect a privately organised village to follow a socialist city spontaneously. He concluded: The socialist city can lead the village of small peasants along in no other way than by implanting collective and state farms in the village and by transforming the village according to a new, socialist order.18 This was an admission that, if left to the peasantry, there would never be any collectivisation at all. It was almost admitted in so many words that the process could only be involuntary. This too was strikingly in the spirit of Preobrazhenskii and Trotskii’s thesis that the countryside could not collectivise itself, the city being the only “active principle” of socialism. But there was one crucial difference: the leftists did not believe that the time was ripe for such a socialist transformation of the countryside. However, attacking the further “theory of the ‘stability’ of the small peasant economy,” which held that the peasant would never willingly give up his piece of land, Stalin noted that because there was no private ownership of land, “we also lack that slavish dedication of the peasant to his plot of land.” If put under pressure from the city, the peasant would accept the kolkhoz after all. Stalin considered Engels’s proposal to provide the peasant with as much time as possible to think collectivisation over exaggeratedly cautious.19 In other words, in contrast to the leftists, who found a more or less completed industrialisation the precondition for collectivisation, Stalin saw the nationalisation of land as a sufficient condition. As in industry, madness reigned in agriculture too, but some sobriety soon returned. The brutal campaign threatened to provoke civil war, and Stalin saw no other option but to apply the brakes. In March 1930, he wrote an article under the cynical title “Dizzy with success” in which he noted indignantly that many party officials violated the “principle of voluntariness.”20 One month later, he explained that the root cause of the mistakes had been the idea to “implant kolkhozy by compulsion.” The peasant masses should be brought to collectivisation by convincing them of the superiority of the collective principle. Stalin hoped to stop the mass withdrawal from the kolkhozy by providing these farms with privileged treatment in terms of

Stalin’s economic thought 101 taxes, credits and technical assistance.21 It did not take long for the percentage of collectivised households to start its steep climb again.22 But it did not go quickly enough for Stalin’s taste. In July 1934, he complained at a party conference in the Kremlin that sometimes individual peasants worked under better circumstances than the kolkhozniki: We need a gradual but systematic march forward. Not by chasing people administratively, but through economic means and by agitation…. The individual peasant must see that it’s better to be in the kolkhoz…. That doesn’t mean that I favour destroying the individual peasants, arrest, punish, execute them etc.… We must educate them by economic and financial measures…turn the tax screw.23 It is clear what Stalin meant by a voluntary kolkhoz movement. He rejected direct force to pressure the peasantry to join up, but there was no return to voluntariness in a full sense. Gradually, economic circumstances would be made so unbearable for the individual peasant that he would have little option but to join up after all – “voluntarily.” But then again, the collectivised peasantry were allowed some freedoms. While the main means of production remained kolkhoz or state ownership, the peasants were allowed to keep their own houses, as well as a private plot, birds, small livestock and a cow.24 Collective farms and individual kolkhozniki were allowed to trade the surplus, which they did not have to sell to the government, in open markets. In 1935, Stalin recognised that the collective farm represented a mixed system, resting on a combination of social and individual interest.25 To sum up some conclusions concerning the early Stalinism of the period of the Great Turn, let me first note that the General Secretary himself saw his new course as a revolution organised from above by the proletarian state. The most concise definition was given in the notorious Short Course, the 1938 history of the communist party, where it was said that the expropriation of the kulaks was of equal importance to the October Revolution. The originality of this revolution consisted therein that it was brought about from above, at the initiative of state power, with the direct support from below by the mass of the millions of peasants.26 In a previous chapter, I noted that the idea of “revolution from above,” in the sense of a state-sponsored program of accelerated industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation, was part of Marx and Engels’s concept of proletarian revolution in peasant countries. It was their solution to the problem of a proletarian party taking power in a country that was economically not yet ripe for communism. Stalin did not realise this, or at least he never mentioned it. Lenin had not realised it either. The experience in the Second International had clouded their understanding of the radicalism of Marx and Engels’s original program. Nevertheless, although there is no indication


Stalin’s economic thought

that Stalin’s change of direction was inspired by the writings of the fathers of communism, the fact remains that by organising his revolution from above, he restored the continuity with original Marxism rather than breaking it. Fortunately, we do not have to look far and wide for Stalin’s sources of inspiration. To point to his familiarity with Bukharin and Trotskii suffices. The accusation that, after defeating Bukharin, Stalin hijacked the leftist program is an old one, but it is only partially accurate.27 In important respects Stalin remained loyal to Bukharinism. The new Stalinist course fused the Bukharinist and Trotskyite models. Stalin took Bukharin’s idea of the autarkic development of an all-round economy with its own heavy industry; but he refused to accept the corollary of the slow growth rate. Instead, he grafted Trotskii’s obsession with tempo on to it, but without the specialised economy with its quick profits. Likewise, the collectivisation of agriculture was fundamentally Bukharinist, but Stalin refused to accept that in a backward country the tempo of transformation should be slow. Instead, he hoped to push it through by adopting the Trotskyite urban socialist initiative, which was intended for a later period. In other words, Stalin held on to the Bukharinist strategy, but speeded it up artificially by injecting Trotskyism into it.28 The question arises of whether Stalin was not inspired by Russian patriotism and by the Petrine precedent as well. According to Tucker, the Soviet dictator’s identification with Peter made his Marxism diverge widely from Lenin and Trotskii’s.29 But the logic of making Russia powerful enough to withstand foreign threats through crash development was purely Trotskii’s. It was he who argued for years that any lowering of the tempo presented a mortal danger in view of the capitalist encirclement. What is more, the need to catch up with the capitalist world and overtake it had first been expounded by Lenin – and for the same reason of preventing Russia being crushed by the imperialists. In his well-known February 1931 speech on the subject of driving Russia forward, Stalin quoted a poem about “mother Russia.”30 Ironically, the General Secretary may have actually used Lenin’s March 1918 article on the saving of Russia when he prepared the speech. The poem was the same one Lenin had used in his article.31 The patriotic motive was not Stalin’s privilege but part of the bolshevik outlook. Having said this, the continuity between Stalin’s bureaucratic revolution from above and Peter’s is obvious enough. But it seems an overstatement of this point to assume that Stalin was directly inspired by Peter when he embarked on his Great Turn. What he said about the first emperor does not in any case confirm this hypothesis. In April 1926, the General Secretary made fun of comrades who believed Ivan and Peter to have been the first industrialisers. Their efforts had not been worth much. Industrialisation was not a matter of simply enlarging the share of industry in the national product but of increasing in particular those sectors (such as fuels, metals and machinery) that strengthened the economic independence of a country.32 In November 1928, he explained to the Central Committee:

Stalin’s economic thought 103 When Peter the Great, having to deal with the more developed countries of the West, feverishly built mills and factories to supply the army and to strengthen the defence of the country, then that was a special kind of attempt to leap from the context of backwardness. It is completely understandable, however, that not one of the old classes, neither the feudal aristocracy nor the bourgeoisie, could solve the task of eradicating the backwardness of our country.33 In his 1931 discussion with Emil Ludwig, Stalin denied the parallel between Peter’s modernising programme and his own. He recognised that the emperor “did much for the elevation of the class of the landlords and the development of the beginning merchant class,” for the “creation and strengthening of the national state of landlords and merchants.” But that was accomplished over the back of the peasantry. He, Stalin, set himself the task of the “elevation of another class, to be precise – the working class.”34 Reading between the lines, these various comments show that Stalin did in fact appreciate Peter’s efforts to organise a quick “leap from backwardness.” He sympathised with this statesman, who heroically mobilised the country to strengthen the state. But the hero had failed. We need not take Stalin’s commitment to the well-being of the workers and peasants very seriously. This was only genuine in the sense that he believed that the socialist system served these classes in the long run. But Stalin did undoubtedly believe that only the socialist system was capable of modernising and industrialising the country. From Stalin’s perspective, only socialism – the new system of state and collectivised ownership and planning – could accomplish the modernisation that Russia’s old rulers had attempted but failed to bring off. The dictator positively despised old Russia. As he wrote to Maksim Gor’kii in 1930: The USSR will be a first-class country with the largest-scale, technologically equipped industrial and agricultural production. Socialism is invincible. No longer will we have “miserable” Russia. An end to that! We’ll have a powerful and prosperous advanced Russia.35 Ironically, it is precisely his most patriotic speech of February 1931 which shows that Stalin can have been inspired by Peter in only a very conditional sense. In pre-revolutionary days, the leader said, Russian workers did not have a fatherland. Only after the overthrow of capitalism “we have a fatherland and we’ll defend its independence.” Russia was fifty to a hundred years behind. It had to make good this distance in ten – or be destroyed by its foreign enemies. History taught that it would be impossible to reduce the “bolshevik tempos.” In the past Russia had been beaten by the Mongols, the Poles, the Swedes and many others for its backwardness. One should not risk this again. No, we cannot, comrades! We cannot reduce the tempos! On the contrary, we must accelerate them to our capabilities and opportunities…. To


Stalin’s economic thought reduce the tempos means to fall behind. And those who fall behind are beaten. But we don’t want to be beaten. No, we don’t want that! The history of old Russia existed among other points therein that it was permanently beaten because of its backwardness.36

Stalin’s patriotism was all too real, but it was precisely this patriotism that fed his deep hostility towards the tsarist past, including the Petrine era. He sympathised with Peter’s idea of crash modernisation by a strong state. That is where the continuity between Petrine and bolshevik Russia lay, and Stalin must have realised this well enough. But his comments on Peter and old Russia leave no doubt that, in his own mind, the aspect of discontinuity between the socialist system and Peter’s was of greater weight. It meant the difference between failure and success. And that means, again, that to let himself be inspired too much by his imperial predecessors was the most foolish thing to do. It spelled no less than doom. To copy Peter would mean to repeat his failure.

The “law of value”
The slowing down of the tempo of industrialisation and the change from large-scale terror to economic pressure on the peasantry was forced upon the Soviet leadership by the dramatic failures of the First Five Year Plan. Stalin did not intend to land up in the history books as one who launched bold attacks but could not stabilise the front. Already during the First Five Year Plan he had stressed the importance of a practical orientation in work. In 1928, he emphasised that the proletariat should educate reliable economic directors. Many believed it to be impossible for communists to master chemical and technical knowledge. But “there are no fortresses in this world which the toilers, the bolsheviks, couldn’t capture.”37 During the climax of economic madness in 1931, the Soviet leader repeated his attack on managers lacking in technical expertise, concluding: “It’s time that the bolsheviks themselves became specialists. In the reconstruction period technology decides everything.”38 And in 1935 he replaced this slogan, which did not express his respect for professionalism sufficiently, with “Cadres decide everything.” It was time to understand that “people, cadres, are the most valuable and the most decisive capital.”39 One of the main questions to be solved in the practical running of the socialist economy was that of “direct product exchange” and its counterpart – money and markets, i.e. the question of the so-called “law of value.” This Marxist “law” referred to two interconnected phenomena. First, in commodity-producing economies values are expressed in money form, as prices fluctuate around the true labour value. And, second, it is this market process that spontaneously directs the flow of investments. According to Marx and Lenin, the law of value would no longer be operative under socialism. In December 1929, Stalin proclaimed the kolkhoz a socialist

Stalin’s economic thought 105 production unit.40 Thus, with the completion of collectivisation, the USSR would be a socialist country. From the start of the winter of 1929–30 it was obvious that this was only a matter of time, which forced the Stalinists to face the question of whether they had to abolish money. During the early years of the NEP it was accepted that state enterprises operated on a “commercial” basis. This policy was unchallenged, but it caused theoretical confusion. The leaders of the 1925 New Opposition, Zinov’ev and Kamenev, made it a point to claim that, in a sense, the Soviet state sector was still “state capitalist” because money wages were paid and it produced for a market.41 Against them, Stalin argued that the state sector was socialist, for the simple reason that the proletarian state was its owner: The point is not at all that trade and the money system are methods of the ‘capitalist economy’. …the socialist elements of our economy capture these methods and arms of the bourgeoisie in order to overcome the capitalist elements…. The point is consequently that, thanks to the dialectic of our development, the functions and significance of these instruments of the bourgeoisie change fundamentally.42 Money and the market were not exclusively characteristic of capitalism. During the period of transition to socialism, these capitalist weapons might be used against capitalism.43 But at the time it was still taken for granted that under socialism itself money and markets would disappear. In February 1930, Stalin wrote that the NEP would be discarded only “when we have the possibility of arranging economic links between town and countryside via product exchange, without trade with its private turnover.”44 A few months later, he noted that the country was still in the stage of NEP, for “commodity turnover and the money economy still remain.”45 Apparently, socialism would be a system without trade and money. But, in this case, Utopia did not stand a chance. To abolish money would have meant to lead the country to complete economic breakdown in the immediate future. Although history knows cases of communist leaders willing to pay this price for Utopia, Pol Pot being a case in point, Stalin was obviously too much of a realist to consider that option. And theory had to be adapted correspondingly. According to R.W. Davies, the idea that only a moneyless system deserved the name “socialist” was gradually abandoned in the course of 1931 and 1932.46 At the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934, Stalin made the conclusion official when he criticised “leftist petit bourgeois” communists holding that money would soon be replaced by direct product exchange. He concluded that money was there to stay “until the completion of the first stage of communism – the socialist stage of development.”47 At the November 1934 plenum of the Central Committee he was even more outspoken. Commodity circulation and the money economy should be strengthened “by all means.” He described money as a very “flexible” system:


Stalin’s economic thought The money economy is one of those few bourgeois apparatuses of the economy which we, socialists, must use ad fundum…and we’ll set it to work in our own way, to make it serve our cause, rather than capitalism’s…. Under our circumstances it is unthinkable to organise the exchange between city and countryside without commodity circulation, without buying and selling.48

In 1936, Viacheslav Molotov reminded Stalin that, according to Marx and Lenin, the first stage of communism was already a system without money and commodity production. But the latter answered that although theoretically this might be so, life dictated otherwise. Money would only disappear in the higher stage of complete communism.49 Stalin not only accepted money because of the plain impossibility of abolishing it. As we will see, he positively appreciated it as an instrument for increasing economic efficiency. That had been recognised during the 1920s. The leader saw no good reason to reconsider this matter after the victory of socialist ownership in the 1930s. Two specific conditions of the early 1930s did urge Stalin on to reformulate Marxist doctrine. First, after the horrors of the famine of 1933 some improvement of the standard of living of the population would have to be implemented if his regime was not to run into serious trouble. Second, by now the party elite lived extremely privileged lives compared with those of the ordinary population. A theoretical justification for the different standards was urgently demanded. As a result, during 1934 Stalin expounded a new, “consumerist” interpretation of socialism.50 Two themes were discussed by the leader, namely the significance of consumption as such – the rejection of an idea of socialism based on poverty; and the necessary differentiation of tastes and income. At the Seventeenth Party Congress, Stalin insisted that socialism could not come about “on a basis of poverty and privations [lisheniia].” Its basis was rather an abundance of consumer goods, a “comfortable life of the toilers” and a “tempestuous growth of culturedness.” The slogan of the party should now be “to make all kolkhozniki well-off.” Stalin rejected any “neglect of the demands of assortment and of the demands of the consumer.” Moreover, incomes for qualified and unqualified work should be differentiated. One should not expect everyone to dress in identical costumes and eat the same kind of food: levelling in the field of needs and individual life is a reactionary, petit bourgeois absurdity, worthy of some primitive sect of ascetics, but not of a socialist society, organised in a Marxist way, for one cannot demand that all people would have identical needs and tastes, that all people would live their personal life according to one model…. Marxism assumes that the tastes and needs of people are not and cannot be identical and equal in quality and quantity, either in the period of socialism or in the period of communism.51

Stalin’s economic thought 107 All this should certainly not be taken at face value,52 but the new “consumerism” was no mere sham either. Even the leader’s well-known outcry – “Life has become better, comrades. Life has become happier” – was more than a classical case of cynicism.53 An element of deliberation was involved. The Soviet leader went out of his way to claim that the combination of “individual interests and the interests of the collective” was a fundamental principle of socialist society.54 To provide the citizens with a more comfortable life and opportunities for individual betterment was a way of seducing them to work harder for society, as Stalin himself admitted.55 It was a form of material stimulus. The question of differentiation of income and consumption patterns was of some theoretical importance for the definition of socialism as a system. Stalin abhorred a niggardly interpretation of the principle of reward according to achievement. In early 1936, he reformulated the socialist principle of distribution as one of being “in accordance with the quantity and quality of contributed labour. Therefore there still exists a wage, which is even unequal and differentiated.”56 In a 1941 discussion with Soviet economists, he made this official when he noted: Engels confused our people. He incorrectly believed that under socialism everyone – qualified and unqualified people, leaders and those in executive jobs – must receive an average wage. And now we have people who want to jump directly through socialism to communism, when we’ll have such equality…. We have to stop being pigs, we have to be cultured, clean up things, then we’ll arrive at communism.57 Meanwhile, in 1936, when socialism, according to Stalin, had been “fundamentally” achieved,58 an order had gone out to the experts to produce a new handbook of “political economy.” Before the Second World War, six subsequent versions were produced, to be checked by Stalin personally.59 In a maket of December 1940 he made a number of notes, underlining the significance of money and the market. Next to a passage claiming that socialism did not know rent, he wrote that it was not abolished “but transformed into income of society (as with ‘profit’).” He crossed out a passage from Engels to the effect that under socialism labour was social in an immediate sense, without interference of the law of value, and commented: “foolish.” Next to a line concerning “Soviet trade, money, credit and budget,” we read in pencil: “And the market?” And next to the thesis that the plan had replaced the law of value he wrote: “And the cost price?” “And do we have, let’s say, a kolkhoz market?” “But the price must not be below the cost price.” The handbook also said that under socialism prices were not determined on the basis of market conditions, but Stalin wrote: “Not so” and “The market and its particularities under the Soviet system.” Finally, next to the heading “Socialist wages” he wrote: “Personal interest” (zainteresovannost’).60 In January 1941, Stalin called together the authors’ collective to inform it

108 Stalin’s economic thought of his criticisms. He noted that Marx only provided the “general road.” People should use their “own heads.” Furthermore, in the handbook it was said that the “law of value” had been overcome in Soviet Russia. Stalin commented: This is not clear, why overcome? We have payment of kolkhozniki, workers and also of the intelligentsia according to work done. People of different qualification receive differently…. With us categories like price and cost price have not disappeared. We are, for instance, still a long way from controlling prices…. The law of value has not been overcome, it is active. Only when we’ll begin to distribute according to needs, and not according to work done, then the law of value will be overcome…. Once you have money, you have also commodities. All these categories have stayed, but their significance has changed, their functions have changed.61 Hereby Stalin confirmed that money and the market were there to stay during the whole first stage of communism. One of the motives for preserving the monetary system concerned the question of personal interest in production. Characteristically, Stalin said in the same speech that, while Trotskii had believed that under socialism money was only a means of “calculation,” it should be recognised that even under socialism people work “not only because with us they are in power…but also because we give them an interest in it…. We have to hook people on their personal interests.”62 Stalin’s argument can, perhaps, be divided into two closely related elements. First, as long as output was not so plentiful that people could receive according to their needs, they had to receive according to their achievements. And, with the differences between qualified and unqualified labour being as wide as they were, a fair distribution was so complex that it could not be done without the “flexible” instrument of money. This pointed to the function of money as an efficient instrument of trade, mainly in consumer goods. Second, money could serve as a productive stimulus for the individual producers. This second function could be compared to the use of money as an instrument of control and accounting for enterprises as a whole.63 After the end of the war Stalin repeated his demand for a new handbook, and a new maket was ready by 1946. But it was again found wanting. And again new texts were ready by 1948.64 In 1947, Gosplan chairman Nikolai Voznesenskii wrote a book on the Soviet economy during the war. The manuscript was checked and corrected by Stalin, the book received a Stalin Prize, and it served as a substitute handbook for some time.65 But the matter with the handbook dragged on. In 1949, Stalin told D.T. Shepilov that he was dissatisfied with the work of its main author, Leont’ev. The handbook was of the utmost importance. The new society could only be constructed on the basis of a correct economic theory. “Communism does not rise like

Stalin’s economic thought 109 Aphrodite from the foam of the sea.”66 In February 1950, Stalin ordered yet a new text to be made, but when it was ready a few months later he was again dissatisfied. Now he suggested that on the basis of the next version a public debate should be organised. In April 1951, the new maket was ready. It became the subject of a conference of experts held in Moscow in November–December 1951.67 Stalin’s reaction to the debate, four articles, was published in Pravda and Bol’shevik in October 1952 under the title “Economic problems of socialism in the USSR.”68 Interestingly, the leader now reverted to a more rigid position. He acknowledged that the law of value was operative in socialist Russia, namely in that part of the economy “where commodities and commodity production exist,” mainly in the buying and selling of “commodities of personal consumption.” Furthermore, it worked as a means of economic accounting, khozraschet. Commodity production existed prior to capitalism, so there was no reason why it could not serve socialism “for a certain period” as well. Furthermore, by stating that “in the second stage of communist society” “value and its forms” would disappear, Stalin suggested, as he had before, that the commodity–money complex was to be preserved until that moment.69 However, on a second look he became less bold. Reacting to Engels’s remark that once society had taken the means of production in hand, commodity production would disappear, Stalin said that this was only the case when “all means of production were turned into property of the whole people.” That was obviously not the case in Russia with its collective farms, which therefore “want to get rid of their products only in the form of commodities.” And then he said: Of course, when instead of two basic production sectors, state and collective, there will appear one all-embracing production sector with the right to dispose of the whole product of consumption goods of the country, commodity circulation with its “money economy” will disappear. Stalin believed that this would initially not take the form of nationalisation of the kolkhozy but occur through the establishment of one joint organ of the state and collective sector, which could organise the new “product exchange.” It is unlikely that Stalin intended to put the deed to the word quickly. He understood that the introduction of a new system, under which the kolkhoz would receive products instead of money for their surplus, demanded an “enormous increase” in industrial production. It should be introduced without any “particular hurry.”70 Nevertheless, theoretically the only remaining condition for the abolition of money and the market was that the collective farms be placed under stricter control, allowing the state to divide their output directly among enterprises and consumers. Thereby Stalin implied that the abolition of “commodity–money relations” need not wait for the arrival of full communism.71


Stalin’s economic thought

To sum up this part of my discussion, in the mid-1930s Stalin abandoned the idea that socialism was a moneyless economy. He concluded that money could only be abolished in the second, higher, stage of communism. The socialist principle of remuneration according to performance made a moneyless economy unworkable for two reasons. Money was needed for the efficient distribution of consumption goods among the toilers. Furthermore, to encourage individuals and enterprises to work properly, financial stimuli were essential. By the end of his life, Stalin had made a partial retreat on this matter. Now he saw, at least theoretically, the possibility to put kolkhoz output under more direct state control, which might create the conditions for a system of state distribution of consumption goods even before full communism was reached. But in practice money and a limited market for consumer goods remained an accepted part of the Stalinist economy. The second aspect of the “law of value,” concerning capital allocation policies, was of no less significance. Stalin made his position known in January 1933, at the time of the great famine caused by the relentless procurement campaign. The General Secretary was angry at those who proposed to shut down the kolkhozy and sovkhozy because they were not profitable. The black metallurgical sector was not profitable either, he retorted. If one looks at profitability like that, the state might as well develop only the most profitable branches, like the pastry and flour-grinding industries, the perfumery and tricotage industries and children’s toys. One should not “look to profitability as petty dealers, from the point of view of the present moment.” Profitability was a matter of the economy as a whole and seen from the perspective of many years.72 In his talk in January 1941, Stalin acknowledged that the planning organs should not allow “disproportions in the economy.” But their main task was to ensure that the USSR was economically independent. This presupposed that profit by branch could never be the main goal, for the profitable light industries were strategically less important than the heavy sector.73 As we saw above, in the same speech Stalin pointed out that the “law of value” remained operative in the USSR, but in his view it obviously did not influence allocation decisions. Nevertheless, the authoritative pronouncement forced Soviet economists to formulate what might possibly be the relation between the law of value and capital flows in Soviet Russia. In 1943, it was written in Pod znamenem marksizma that, since the distribution of capital among the different branches of production was regulated by the plan, allowing “the development of a branch of production which at first must run at a loss,” the law of value “functions under socialism…in a transformed manner.”74 The formula of the plan resting on a “transformed” version of the law of value came originally from Bukharin, who had meant the opposite by it, however. His thesis had been that there existed a single “law of labour expenditures” that determined the proportions in capitalist as well as socialist economies, and that appeared under capitalism in the form of the “law of value.” The precise proportions of investment were not neces-

Stalin’s economic thought 111 sarily the same under the two systems, but under socialism all sectors should in any case be profitable, just like under capitalism.75 In his 1947 work, Voznesenskii insisted on priority for the production of the means of production and other orthodox points,76 but he also wrote: The most elementary law of the expenditures in production and of distribution of products in the Soviet economy is the transformed law of value…. In the Soviet economy the state plan uses the law of value to realise the necessary proportions in production and the distribution of social labour and the product, subordinated to the tasks of strengthening and developing the socialist system…. The state plan uses the law of value for a correct distribution of social labour between the various branches of the economy.77 This suggested that the relative cost of production and profitability of the various sectors did influence investment decisions.78 Voznesenskii further wrote that “the main means of production and the labour force” were excluded from the sphere of buying and selling. Nevertheless, money–commodity transactions concerned not only consumption goods but also “the exchange of commodities between socialist enterprises (among which between state enterprises and kolkhozy).”79 That opened the possibility that certain means of production were commodities after all. And that would again imply that state enterprises would have to be cost-accounting in a fundamentally self-reliant way. It suggested an economic model in which individual profitability of sectors and enterprises set boundaries to the state’s ability to redistribute funds. In other words, the abstruse formula of the “transformed law of value” could be interpreted as referring to a Bukharinist standpoint that the separate enterprises and sectors needed to be profitable. Profitability might serve as a criterion for the allocation of capital among the various branches. During the November–December 1951 economists’ debate the priority of heavy industry came under fire from two angles. First, most participants defended the view that the law of value operated in socialist Russia “in a transformed shape.” Some explicitly concluded that the law influenced investment proportions. This might lead to an improved position for the profitable light industrial sector. Second, some defended another of the views originally developed by Voznesenskii in the 1930s, namely that the economic laws of socialism were no more than creations of the Soviet state. Surprisingly, this voluntaristic thesis might also serve to undermine the leading position of heavy industry. Heavy industrial priority was allegedly rooted in a “law of proportional development,” but if the state could change economic laws at will, could it not also abolish this latter law? Was heavy industrial priority really objectively necessary?80 In Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, Stalin indicated that the laws governing a socialist economy were a “reflection of objective processes,


Stalin’s economic thought

taking place independently of the will of people.” People could use economic laws but not create new ones. Consequently, the Five Year Plans could not dictate economic proportions at will but had to remain within the boundaries set by the “objective economic law of the planned, proportional development of the economy.” What is more, the objectively existing laws could not be changed, even by the state. This had the following consequence: People say that some economic laws, among which is the law of value, which are operative with us under socialism, are ‘transformed’ or even ‘fundamentally transformed’ laws on the basis of the planned economy. That’s not true either. One cannot ‘transform’ laws. Thereby Stalin declared both of Voznesenskii’s concepts anathema: the state as the creator of new economic laws and the notion of the “transformed law of value.”81 Thus he exploded both formulas that might threaten heavy industrial priority. Theoretically, Stalin’s argument was weakly elaborated. As the main law of socialism, he formulated “the guaranteeing of a maximum satisfying of the permanently growing material and cultural needs of the whole society by an uninterrupted growth and perfecting of socialist production on the basis of the highest technology.” This contrasted with capitalism, where maximum profit was the main goal. Stalin argued further that his “law” was of greater weight than that of the “planned, proportional development” of the economy. While the former provided the goals, the second showed only how to reach these goals without upsetting the economic balance.82 Thereby Stalin in fact returned to Voznesenskii’s old formula of the state defining its purposes at will and only afterwards taking the proportions into account.83 Nevertheless, Stalin’s purposes with this theoretical exercise were clear enough. He acknowledged that, since consumption goods were still commodities, in that field the law of value continued to have “within certain limits the role of a regulator.” But only “objects of personal consumption” were commodities. Labour power was not, and neither were the means of production, which were not sold by one socialist enterprise to another but distributed among them according to plan. The law of value did not serve as a “regulator of production” under socialism. He concluded: Completely incorrect is also the claim that [under socialism] the law of value would regulate the “proportions” of the distribution of labour between the different branches of production. If that would be true, then it is incomprehensible why we do not go all the way in developing light industry, as the most profitable, and superior over heavy industry, which is often less profitable, and sometimes even completely unprofitable. Stalin also reacted fiercely against the economist Iaroshenko, who doubted the validity of Marx’s so-called “reproduction schemes” under socialism,

Stalin’s economic thought 113 and which Lenin believed implied the priority development of the sector producing the means of production.84 It did not take long for it to come into the open that Voznesenskii had indeed been the target of Stalin’s attack. In December 1952, Mikhail Suslov publicly condemned the views of the by now executed Gosplan chairman as a “mishmash” of “voluntaristic views on the role of the plan and the state in Soviet society” and “a fetishisation of the law of value, as though the latter was a regulator of the allocation of labour among the branches of the USSR’s national economy.”85 Thus until the end of his life Stalin resisted the view, associated with Bukharin, that the law of value, albeit in a “transformed” way, would somehow continue to influence the proportions between socialist production branches. Summing up, on the central question of the “law of value” Stalin’s economic thought was ambivalent. What he did was to split the law as it were into two. He remained faithful to the Marxist dogma, in that the market mechanism was no longer allowed to influence capital allocation decisions. Only in that way could the priority development of heavy industry be guaranteed. The guiding thought behind this was a concern for the power and independence of the Soviet state, demanding a technologically advanced defence sector. On the other hand, Stalin rejected the dogma of socialism as a moneyless economy, for equally pragmatic reasons. Without the flexible instrument of money to stimulate production by individuals and enterprises and to regulate trade in consumption goods, it was impossible to guarantee a minimum of economic efficiency.86 Thus motives of power and efficiency were Stalin’s overriding concern in his preserving as well as in his reformulating of Marxist economic dogma. The main point that he reformulated concerned his introducing a “commercial” element into socialism. No longer was socialism considered to be irreconcilable with money and markets as a matter of principle. For a bolshevik, this was new and even bold. Under the New Economic Policy, the commercial principle had been partly rehabilitated. But Lenin never made commercialism part of his concept of socialism. Under socialism, money and markets would be no longer. Ironically, Stalin was not only the man who destroyed the NEP but also the one to preserve some of its elements. Then again, from a wider perspective of Marxist thought, Stalin’s innovations were not so bold after all. As we saw, long before him Kautsky had insisted that Gleichmacherei was nonsense and that socialism could not do without money. In this respect, what Stalin did was merely return to the mainstream of Second International thinking.


The sharpening of the class struggle

Leninism was an ideology of class struggle. For the Leninists, the class enemy comprised a wide variety of people. The category covered not only foreign imperialists and the defeated Russian bourgeoisie but also parts of the intelligentsia, priests, former policemen and other strata of the “old world” believed to have been in league with the bourgeoisie. Furthermore, there were all those political activists – conservatives, liberals, moderate socialists and oppositionists within the bolshevik party – who were believed to defend a position benefiting the old order. One of the main theses that Stalin became notorious for was that of the inevitable sharpening of the class struggle as socialism is approached. In July 1928, when he was embarking on his course of extraordinary measures in the countryside, the leader noted solemnly: It has never been seen and will never be seen that obsolete classes surrender their positions voluntarily, without attempting to organise resistance. …the movement towards socialism must lead to resistance by the exploiting elements against this movement, and the resistance of the exploiters must lead to an inevitable sharpening of the class struggle.1 Class struggle became more violent, to the degree that Soviet power became consolidated. The next year, Stalin observed that “precisely because the relative weight of the capitalist elements decreases, the capitalist elements scent a mortal danger and strengthen their resistance.” They fought harder as they became weaker. That was “the mechanics of the sharpening of the class struggle.”2 This hypothesis on the psychology of the class enemy became a red thread in Stalin’s thinking. But although often attributed to him, it also ran through Lenin’s thinking in the years of the Civil War. The latter insisted that, after the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship, the class struggle became more bitter in many respects. Capitalism resisted the more furiously the closer it came to its death. Precisely their defeat would enormously increase the “energy of…resistance” of the exploiters.3 Lenin again probably derived the perspective of an “energy of despair” among the

The sharpening of the class struggle 115 defeated classes from Georgii Plekhanov.4 In 1921, Lenin further warned that the proletarian dictatorship needed to continue the class struggle as long as the capitalist encirclement existed.5 As collectivisation drew nearer, the General Secretary more often quoted Lenin to the effect that the individual peasant economy spontaneously generated capitalism. As long as the individual economy predominated, capitalism had a sounder economic basis than communism.6 Stalin was careful to call publicly for “liquidating” the kulaks only “as a class”; he did not aim for their destruction as individual people but merely for “depriving [them] of the productive sources of existence and development,” i.e. for their expropriation. But he also spoke of “dying classes” and called his own policy towards them one of “terrorisation” (ustrashenie).7 Within a few years, the kulaks had been expropriated and collectively deported, if they had not been shot or starved. The destruction of private farming did not lead to a more conciliatory view on class struggle. At the January 1933 Central Committee plenum – during the famine – Stalin insisted that the “people from the past” did not take their defeat easily. The leader attributed the problems to the resistance of the last rudiments of the dying classes. They had become too weak to act openly, but in their dying agony they put up a terrible fight. The former kulaks and reactionary intellectuals had put up a “mask” and engaged in large-scale sabotage. They set storage buildings on fire, broke machines, stole kolkhoz property, injected cattle with the plague and spread meningitis among the horses. The Central Committee should take seriously the need to “kill off the rudiments of the dying classes and organise the defence against the capitalist encirclement, which has not yet been destroyed at all and will not be destroyed soon.” And once again Stalin formulated his celebrated principle: “The destruction of the classes is not achieved by an extinguishing of the class struggle but by its strengthening.” In Stalin’s opinion, one of the reasons for the persistence of class struggle was that “the consciousness of people lags behind in its development in comparison to their actual situation.” Although the kolkhozniki were now collective farmers, “their consciousness is for the time being still the old one of the private proprietor.” Many ordinary kolkhozniki sympathised with the class enemies and their hostile work. According to the “law of atavism,” there might even arise new private traders and speculators from among the collectivised peasantry.8 At the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934, Stalin formulated his conclusions as a general thesis: But can we say that we already overcame all rudiments of capitalism in the economy? No, we cannot say that. The more so we cannot say that we overcame the rudiments of capitalism in the consciousness of people. We cannot only not say that because the consciousness of people lags behind in its development in comparison to their economic situation,


The sharpening of the class struggle but also because there still exists the capitalist encirclement, which attempts to revive and support the rudiments of capitalism in the economy and consciousness of the people in the USSR.9

Hereby the class struggle could be stretched almost indefinitely after the destruction of the class of private owners. The momentum of bourgeois ideology and the presence of capitalist states guaranteed that the struggle continued under socialism. In 1936, the leader proclaimed that, with the completion of expropriation, all exploiting classes had been liquidated.10 But this changed nothing as far as the class struggle was concerned. At the plenary session of the Central Committee in February–March 1937, Stalin repeated that the idea of a fading class struggle was a “rotten” theory. The class struggle could only become more desperate as a result of the communist successes. The bourgeois states were still plotting to attack the USSR. In their support, they mobilised the Trotskyites and the Zinovievites, who had agreed to undermine the Soviet state by espionage, terror and sabotage, so as to make it ripe for military intervention and a restoration of capitalism. In return, the bourgeois states provided these desperate oppositionists with an opportunity to return to power. He concluded bluntly: “As long as there exists the capitalist encirclement, we’ll have wreckers, spies, saboteurs and murderers sent into our hinterland by foreign states.”11 These ominous words were not spoken in vain. Soon the so-called Great Terror broke loose, a bloodbath of astounding proportions. According to official figures, almost 700,000 people were executed during 1937 and 1938.12 In these two years, Stalin signed lists with almost 40,000 names of party and state cadres and other dignitaries to be shot.13 The main target of the terror was not the Soviet and party apparatus. In terms of numbers of victims the murder of the allegedly oppositionist elements in the Soviet elite was a minor affair compared with two other “operations.” In the summer of 1937, a campaign of mass arrests and executions started against “former kulaks, active anti-Soviet elements and criminals.” The anti-Soviet elements included a variety of categories, such as former officials of non-communist political parties, priests, White Guardists and tsarist police officials. Stalin alleged that many former kulaks and criminals who had returned from their places of exile engaged in activities such as sabotage. The operation was in part directed against common criminals and socially marginal people, who were seen as enemies of the system. But another part was a final “mopping up” of the remaining “people from the past,” a crackdown on the former classes and on those whom Stalin thought were their political representatives.14 Altogether, this one campaign resulted in 350,000 executions.15 Simultaneously a second mass operation started against so-called “counter-revolutionary national contingents” among certain minority communities: Poles, Latvians, Germans, Estonians, Finns, Greeks, Iranians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Chinese, Rumanians and others. Those arrested

The sharpening of the class struggle 117 were accused of criminal activities in the service of the respective foreign governments with which they were ethnically linked.16 In this operation, around 250,000 people were executed.17 It highlighted Stalin’s Russian patriotic orientation but also the fact that the leader continued to understand the struggle in defence of the Soviet state as part of a global battle between revolution and counter-revolution. The foreign governments were enlisting the services of Soviet citizens as part of a plot to restore capitalism in Russia. For Stalin the terror, including its “national” department, remained a climactic form of class struggle. In November 1938, Stalin and Molotov signed a decision ending the Great Terror. The “great work to destroy the enemies of the people and to clean up [ochistka] the USSR” had been accomplished. The method of mass repression need not be used again.18 Mass executions on this gigantic scale were indeed not repeated. Stalin explained that Russia was now “free of class collisions” because even the rudiments of the exploiting classes had been liquidated. The last internal sources of capitalist restoration had been destroyed. Had Russia been an island, the victory of socialism would have been “final.”19 However, the leader never relaxed. In 1941, he noted that it remained a task of the planning authorities “to close all channels for a restoration of capitalism.”20 In 1952, he wrote that if the kolkhozy were allowed to own their own tractors, they would become so independent of the state that a “rebirth of capitalism” would be inevitable.21 Thus, although the internal conditions for capitalist restoration were abolished, they might be recreated if the party made serious mistakes.22 Even leaving the imperialist threat out of account, there was no room for complacency. Stalin never withdrew his thesis of the sharpening class struggle.

True believer
It is not difficult to recognise the operations against the criminals, kulaks, anti-Soviet elements and counter-revolutionary nationals during the Great Terror as part of a “class” operation. The Stalinist authorities believed such groups to be a direct threat to the stability of their socialist system. Next to doubts about the loyalty to the Soviet state of the national minorities, the issues underlying the climactic events were often of an economic nature. Soviet industry and agriculture faced severe functional problems, which needed to be explained and addressed. The doctrine of class struggle represented the terms in which Stalin as a Marxist understood the socio-economic problems he faced. He attributed these problems to specific strata of the population, interpreting these groups in terms of class. In that way, Stalinist class doctrine remained an interpretation of reality but, because of the outrageous nature of that interpretation, it introduced a new element of murderous extremism into reality. But Stalin’s murdering of tens of thousands of his own party and state officials – can that operation too be understood as a result of the leader’s

118 The sharpening of the class struggle insistence on “continuing the class struggle?” Publicly, Stalin treated the former oppositionist leaders – Trotskii, Zinov’ev, Bukharin and others – as traitors, conspirators and political representatives of the bourgeois class. To destroy them was a matter of defending the socialist state against the threat of capitalist restoration. But was the Soviet dictator serious when he made such outrageous allegations, or was he deceiving his audience to cover up other and more real motives? It is not my purpose to discuss the whole complex of backgrounds and motives of the Great Terror, but we must know whether Stalin took his own publicly avowed doctrines seriously. The evidence is overwhelming that he did. It appears that already in the early 1930s Stalin was convinced that the oppositional leaders, who had given up their resistance against him, were involved in a widely ramified imperialist conspiracy. Starting in the summer of 1930, a number of prominent specialists in various state institutions – N.D. Kondrat’ev, Leonid Ramzin and others – were arrested on charges of sabotaging Russian finance, industry and agriculture on the orders of emigrant Russian capitalists and Western European governments, who were preparing an invasion of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s correspondence suggests that he believed in the accusations. In a letter to OGPU chairman Menzhinskii he wrote: Ramzin’s testimony is very interesting. I think the most interesting in his testimony is the question of the intervention in general, and in particular the question of the timing of the intervention. It appears that they aimed for an intervention in 1930, but postponed it to 1931 or even to 1932. This is very probable and important. Stalin wanted Ramzin to be questioned to find out why they had postponed it. The arrested people, “being (unquestionably!) interventionists,” should know about this. He was convinced that in this way the attempts at intervention could be paralysed for at least one or two years.23 In September 1930, Stalin privately ordered Molotov to publish the testimony of “Anglobastards,” who were the “organisers of the explosions, fires and destruction of our factories.” Their evil deeds were to be made known widely.24 And he directly linked the old oppositionists in the party to these cases. He wrote to Molotov that former leftist leader Piatakov was inspired by the plotters. He did not doubt that there existed a “Rykov–Piatakov bloc,” allied with the “Kondrat’ev–defeatist tendencies.”25 And that was not all. During 1930, Stalin received a report from Menzhinskii that chief of the general staff Tukhachevskii might be preparing a coup d’état. Thereupon Stalin wrote to his comrade Ordzhonikidze that he did not know whether to believe this. But there existed at least the possibility that the “Kondrat’ev–Sukhanov–Bukharin party” aimed for “a military dictatorship, if only they can get rid of the CC,

The sharpening of the class struggle 119 of the kolkhozy and sovkhozy, of the bolshevik tempos of development of industry.” Fortunately, the leader convinced himself some time later that, as he wrote to Molotov, Tukhachevskii “appeared 100% pure. That’s very good.” Subsequently, the matter petered out.26 Nevertheless, strikingly, in 1930 we already have the fully developed concept of a bloc of rightists and leftists, in league with conspirators in the Red Army and bourgeois specialists, who again co-operated with the imperialist powers to prepare military intervention against the USSR. And all this appears not from statements for public consumption but from Stalin’s private mail. In the years 1930 to 1933 new opposition groups were again formed in the party. However, in no case did they gain any significant scale. But if he found out about it Stalin was genuinely alarmed. In 1930, the authorities were informed that RSFSR Prime Minister Syrtsov was conspiring with First Secretary of the trans-Caucasian District Committee Lominadze. Stalin took this “Left–Right bloc” seriously. He commented to Molotov about the “anti-party (in essence right deviationist) little factional group” and added: “They played at a takeover.”27 Another affair concerned highranking government and party officials Eismont, Tolmachev and A.P. Smirnov, who were accused of having formed an opposition group. The reality behind this was that they had been complaining privately about Stalin’s policies. The leader understood that there was not much to it, but a letter of his to Klim Voroshilov of December 1932 shows that he nevertheless considered it to be a case of opposition: It appears to be an oppositional group around the vodka of Eismont and Rykov, Tomskii’s wild boar hunts, …Smirnov’s growling and rumbling and all kinds of Moscow gossips for dessert.28 Stalin always suspected even his closest comrades of not recognising counter-revolutionary plots. In August 1932, for example, he complained to Kaganovich that Politburo member Stanislav Kosior failed to recognise that, through his “direct agents” in the Ukrainian party, Polish leader Pilsudski was organising an espionage network.29 The murder of Leningrad party leader Sergei Kirov on 1 December 1934 further excited Stalin’s fears. He was afraid that he would be next. He was warned by history – or so he thought. In June 1935, he commented on the Kirov murder to the French writer Romain Rolland in the following way: In such circumstances the power must be strong, firm and fearless. Otherwise it is no power and it will not be recognised as such. It appears that the French Communards did not understand this, they were too soft and indecisive. Karl Marx reprimanded them for that. And this is the reason why they lost, and the French bourgeois did not show mercy for them. That’s a lesson for us.30


The sharpening of the class struggle

In early 1935, a large group of Kremlin staff – from librarians to guard personnel – had been arrested. In March, Stalin gave a speech in the Orgbureau in which he explained what was going on. It is forceful testimony to the mental state of the Soviet leader. He was dissatisfied with the way the party organisation was run. The bolsheviks had gained power, but they did not know how to handle it: “we turn it over, like a monkey smelling at a pair of spectacles, we lick it, and that’s all.”31 He asked in particular how it could be that the “elements hostile to us” were operating more shrewdly than the communists. People didn’t understand that the greater our victories and the quicker we proceed forward, the sharper will be the struggle against us…. You’ve heard what went on in the Kremlin. A single person who has access to the apartments of our leaders – a cleaning woman who cleans the rooms, or a librarian who visits an apartment under the pretext of bringing the books in order. Who are they? Often we don’t know that. There exists a very great variety of poisons which are very easy to apply. The poison is put in a book – you take the book, you read and write. Or the poison is put on a pillow – you go to bed and breathe. And a month later it’s all over…. We have two eyes, but we must have four.32 The first great trial, at which Zinov’ev and Kamenev were condemned to death, took place in August 1936. The so-called Trotskyite–Zinovievite bloc was accused of having organised the murder of Kirov. More or less simultaneously, cases were prepared against other former leftists Piatakov, Sokol’nikov and Radek, and against the former rightist leaders Bukharin, Rykov and Tomskii. We have several documents to suggest that Stalin was under the impression that the confessions that were beaten out of his victims were genuine. There is for example his comment on the report of the questioning of Sokol’nikov on 4 October. It concerned discussions the latter had had with an English journalist. Stalin wrote in the margin, presumably for his own eyes only: But did he then inform him of the plan to kill the leaders of the VKP? Of course he did…. Of course Sokol’nikov provided Talbot with information on the USSR, on the CC, on the PB, on the GPU, on everything. Therefore Sokol’nikov was an informer (an intelligence man, a spy) of the English intelligence service.33 Stalin’s speech at the December 1936 plenary session of the Central Committee also provides an insight into his state of mind. The Soviet leader continually broke in during People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Ezhov’s speeches with informative questions on points such as what kind of links Kamenev and Piatakov had entertained with which imperialist governments. He also told Rykov that “you, and Tomskii definitely, and perhaps also

The sharpening of the class struggle 121 Bukharin, simply had to know that these bastards were preparing some dirty business.” When Rykov and Bukharin asked desperately to be trusted, Stalin answered: All right, let’s talk of sincerity and trust. When Kamenev and Zinov’ev declared in 1932 that they revoked their mistakes and recognised the correctness of the position of the party we believed them. …but we made a mistake…. When Smirnov and Piatakov declared that they revoked their views, declared about that openly in the press, we believed them…. We made a mistake. Try to believe in the sincerity of people after that! We drew one conclusion: one cannot believe former oppositionists on their word.34 Bukharin and Rykov were arrested at the next plenary session of the Central Committee in February–March 1937. They did not come to trial until early 1938, but with their arrest the repression of the former oppositionists was more or less completed. But the Great Terror was only beginning. First, Stalin’s old suspicions about the military were revived. In June 1937, a group of leading Red Army commanders, among whom Tukhachevskii was the most prominent, were condemned to death. They were accused of having organised a putschist group, linked with the Trotskyites and rightists and working for the German intelligence service. The most complete reflection of Stalin’s interpretation of the events that we now have is his speech in early June at an extended meeting of the USSR Military Council, shortly before the trial. A group of thirteen people was involved in the conspiracy, the leader told his audience, among whom were a few “political leaders” such as Trotskii, Rykov, Bukharin and Politburo candidate member Rudzutak. Former Commissar of Internal Affairs Iagoda was also part of the group, and then there were the military men. “What kind of people are these? It’s very interesting to know that,” Stalin said, as if he was giving a lecture. He first explained that what linked these bastards was not their social origins. That was not even relevant. Lenin was of noble descent, and Engels was a capitalist. Stalin condemned the “biological approach” as un-Marxist. “We consider Marxism not as a biological science, but as a sociological science.” Of the thirteen culprits, “ten of them were spies.” Trotskii’s motive for providing espionage services to the imperialists and for organising industrial sabotage was to prove that he really had “people” in Russia, i.e. that he could not be ignored. And then Stalin explained what espionage was in his interpretation: “You remember Radek’s testimony, you remember Livshits’s testimony, you remember Sokol’nikov’s testimony – they gave information. Well, that’s espionage too.” Take Iagoda: “He informed the Germans who of the GPU officials has such-and-such vices. He sent such chekisty abroad for holidays.” In essence, Stalin accused these people of having been too easygoing, too loose in their relations with officials from capitalist countries. And he interpreted that as a form of espionage, adding in the process his


The sharpening of the class struggle

own unfounded suspicions to their small transgressions. And then there was the crucial fact of personal “links,” “relations” – sviazy in Russian – a word that continually returned during the Great Terror: “We have no data that [Bukharin] himself provided information, but Enukidze, as well as Karakhan and Rudzutak, were very strongly linked to him.” And then he explained how it could all have happened: You can ask, of course, a question like – how can it be, these people, yesterday they were still communists, and suddenly they became a ruthless instrument in the hands of the German espionage service? The point is that they were recruited. Today they demand from them to provide information. If you don’t provide it, we already have written proof [tvoia raspiska] that you have been recruited, we’ll publish it. And so it went on; the imperialists blackmailed them to go ever further on the road to murder and sabotage. “They tell them, organise a group which must arrest the government. Reports are sent that there is such a group, we’ll do everything, we’ll make the arrest etc.” But how did the imperialists manage to recruit so many people in the first place? That’s a very serious question. I think that here they operated as follows. A person is disgruntled about something, for instance, he is disgruntled about it that, as a former Trotskyite or Zinovievite, he is not promoted so easily…. They begin with small things, with a small ideological group, and then they went further. Among themselves they talked as follows: look here, boys, what do we have? We have the GPU in our pocket, Iagoda is in our pocket, we have the Kremlin in our pocket…. We have everything in our pocket. Either we move up today, or tomorrow – when we’ll come to power – we’ll be left out in the cold.35 This was a speech for a large group of military men, intended to convince them that their commanders had been arrested for a real reason. Theoretically, it is possible that Stalin was putting on a show, that he knew it was all a fake. But the speech sounds genuine, as if Stalin was speaking to himself. He was convincing himself that the suspicions which his own mind had produced were really not unfounded. He too doubted, he found it difficult to believe that so many good communists had turned traitor. He too wanted to understand what was going on. And here he laid out the answer he had come up with himself.36 We have confirmation from the Bulgarian communist leader Georgi Dimitrov that Stalin believed in the accuracy of the charges. In November 1937, the dictator told him that the arrested people were “weak elements”: [They] did mentally not accept the party line, they did especially not digest the collectivisation (when it was necessary to slit the throat of the

The sharpening of the class struggle 123 kulak), they went underground. They joined up with the enemies abroad, promised Ukraine to the Germans, White Russia to the Poles, the Primor’e to the Japanese. They expected a war and in particular insisted that the German fascists soon began a war against the USSR. Stalin added that he had known already in 1936 that something was going on, “but we waited to get a hold of more threads.” The conspirators planned to strike early in 1937, but they could not decide. Then they wanted to attack the Kremlin in July, but they became afraid. “I told our [comrades]: they won’t dare, they won’t act, and I laughed about their plans.”37 In the summer of 1937, the Terror was spilling over to the Stalinist cadres themselves. Tens of thousands of Stalin loyalists in the apparatus were accused of being personally “linked” to the former oppositionists and subsequently condemned to death. And all the time Stalin continued to write to his confidantes in exactly the same terms as were used in the columns of Pravda. Take for example his important correspondence with Ezhov. In August, he ordered him to detain all wives of “traitors to the motherland and members of the Right–Trotskyite espionage and wrecking organisation.”38 And in December he notified Ezhov and other comrades that the editorial board of Izvestiia was “the object of Trotskyite–Bukharinist wrecking.”39 On another occasion, Stalin complained to Ezhov about Kosior’s behaviour. The latter’s brother had been a Trotskyite. Stalin wrote to his security chief that the brother was “a subject alien to the working class” and that it was surprising that his colleague in the Politburo had intervened for his sake.40 The brother of another Politburo member, Kaganovich, was also arrested. Again Stalin seemed convinced of his guilt. Kaganovich later remembered that Stalin told him at a Politburo meeting: “we received testimony that your brother Mikhail is part of a conspiracy.” When Kaganovich said that this was a lie, Stalin reacted: “What do you mean, a lie? I received testimony.”41 The Soviet dictator could even believe in the guilt of members of his own family. Witness the case of his brother-in-law and NKVD official Redens. According to the leader’s son, Vasilii, when Lavrentii Beriia proposed to arrest him his father commented: “look into it very carefully…I don’t believe Redens is an enemy.” But later he told his son: “I was mistaken in Redens.” The latter was shot.42 One of the cases against an important Stalinist we know most about is that of Komsomol leader Aleksandr Kosarev. In July 1937, Stalin accused him of not assisting the NKVD in tracking down enemies in his organisation. In response, Kosarev denied that a particular Komsomol official was an enemy.43 Later, Kosarev accused a Komsomol activist of discrediting honest comrades. She complained in a letter to Stalin, who thereupon said to Matvei Shkiriatov: “We have to verify this case carefully. We should not only cherish honest people, but also defend them when they are treated incorrectly.” The showdown came at a Komsomol CC plenum in November

124 The sharpening of the class struggle 1938. When Kosarev dared to doubt whether some members of the organisation were enemies, Stalin said: It seems that all understand [the mistakes made], except the CC of the Komsomol…. But maybe [Kosarev] did understand them, but he does not want to understand them…. But maybe this is a system instead of mistakes? There are simply too many mistakes after everything that happened. Two years of wrecking have been liquidated, but there still remain very many mistakes.44 The Komsomol leader was subsequently arrested and shot. All such instances strongly suggest that Stalin believed he was fighting real traitors to the cause of the working class and the Soviet Union. We have to do here with private notes made by the leader, his mail to close collaborators and his words at limited forums of party leaders. I should add that I am unaware of the existence of any remark by Stalin found among the great quantity of archival material that has come to light in the past few years that would suggest he realised he was tracking down innocent people. There is no observable difference between what Stalin said and wrote privately and publicly.45 But how could someone believe accusations he made up himself ? Perhaps the answer to this question is not as complex as it seems. The point of departure was Stalin’s a priori conviction that the leaders of the oppositional groups of the 1920s were still plotting against him. He could not believe that experienced politicians like Trotskii (whom Stalin privately called a “criminal gang boss and menshevik charlatan”46), Zinov’ev and Bukharin would give up so easily. And he believed that, to survive politically, they had no other choice but to enter into a coalition with the imperialists. At some point, his suspicions against certain people would become acute, for instance after the occurrence of frequent accidents in certain industries. He would interpret such events as confirming his suspicion of treason. He trusted his own instincts enough to feel sure that the accidents were caused by deliberate sabotage. When Kirov was killed, he was immediately convinced that an opposition group was behind this. That had to be the case. But the Soviet dictator realised that he did not know the details of the plots. Therefore, after those he suspected were arrested, the investigators were ordered to question them – if necessary by prolonged physical violence and blackmail – in order to find out the details of the conspiracy. Stalin might even suggest answers to their questions in case he nurtured suspicions of a more specific nature. And thereby the process began, for most of the accused would break down. They “confessed” and indeed produced details of criminal activities. The police triumphantly reported back to Stalin that his suspicions had been confirmed. The leader as well as the interrogators were fully aware that the confessions were forced, but that did not necessarily make them false. Stalin was so convinced of the guilt of his victims

The sharpening of the class struggle 125 that he believed he was forcing the latter to unveil the truth.47 This model of a vicious circle of suspicion, interrogation and confession is more fruitful than the assumption that cases were “fabricated.” It explains why Stalin, the security services and the party organs operated with the same conspiracy theory in their internal communications as they did in public. It also explains why confessions were demanded even when cases were tried in secret or did not come to court at all. People were questioned because Stalin wanted answers.48 The doctrine of class struggle, which Stalin inherited from Lenin, was no empty rhetoric. It fed his suspicions and thereby provided a starting point for the Great Terror. The doctrine predicted that the defeated enemy would in desperation strengthen his resistance and turn to the imperialists. This expectation set Stalin off on his fatal course towards mass murder. The doctrine served, as it were, as a powerful hypothesis; and the dictator had the power to produce the proof of the hypothesis, whereas he was ideologically blinded enough not to realise that he was producing the proof rather than discovering it. All this is not to deny that power was the real issue. That it was is recognisable in Stalin’s own understanding of the events. He did after all accuse those he murdered of wanting to take power. His own goal was to prevent that and to make his own power more absolute. For Stalin’s part, the Great Terror in the party was obviously a power struggle, but the form it took was determined by the Leninist system of ideas he adhered to.

10 Total unity

In the early years of the century, Koba Dzhugashvili defended an even more total ideal of party unity than Lenin’s. The latter stood for plenipotentiary power of the Central Committee. In his classically dictatorial concept, democracy signified the right to elect the Central Committee (CC) at the congress. Until the next congress, the membership was for all practical purposes subjected to the leading board. The CC had the right to prevent undesirable debates and to appoint local committees. Dzhugashvili’s adoption of an even more radical model was rooted in an abhorrence of what he considered the feudal tradition. In October 1904, he commented as follows on the way in which the mensheviks and their alleged sympathisers treated differences in the party: These people – Rosa, Kautsky, Plekhanov, Aksel’rod, Vera Zasulich and the others – seem to have worked out some sort of family traditions, like old acquaintances. They cannot…“betray” each other, and defend each other as the members of a clan of the patriarchal tribes defended each other, without examining the guilt or innocence of their relative.1 In his “The class of the proletarians and the party of the proletarians” of January 1905, Dzhugashvili explained why he sided with Lenin. He compared the RSDWP, with its Central Committee leading the local organisations according to one plan, with a “complex organism (consisting) of a great number of very simple organisms.” The party should be “no coincidental accumulation of individuals but a closed, centralist organisation.” The RSDWP was no “philosophical school or religious sect” but a party of struggle. Complete “unity of views” was demanded of all members. Only he who “completely accepts” the party’s views could enter it. Only he who considered it his duty “to merge his wishes with the wishes of the party” could become a member. The party demanded of all members that “we merge our personal interests with the interests of the party.” Koba disdainfully rejected the easy conditions of access proposed by the menshevik leader Martov. This could only benefit professors and gymnasium students. The menshevik party resembled a “hospitable patriarchal family.”2

Total unity 127 It appears that the reason why Stalin rejected a decentralised and relaxed party life was that it reminded him of tribalism, of the patriarchal system of clans and families of traditional Georgia. These families and clans protected their members against the outside world whatever sin they committed. Serving as a shield against the central authorities, they protected those not worthy of being protected, thereby preventing society from functioning properly. The party should break with this harmful tradition and function as a compact community based on unreserved dedication of its members. Mercilessness, not to protect one’s unfit or erring comrade against the party, to give oneself totally to it without asking anything in return – only that created an efficient fighting machine. In the January 1905 article, centralism was taken to a remarkable, totalitarian extreme. If one “merges” even one’s wishes with those of the party, nothing can be left of any particular point of view. If taken literally, Koba’s thesis implied that someone who was prepared to defend the party program and publicly swallow all his doubts about it, but who continued to have such doubts, would be unfit for membership. All party members should not only act as one, not only speak as one, they should also think as one. This ends in the eradication of the personality as such. Dzhugashvili’s totalitarian interpretation of the united will can easily be seen as rooted in Russian traditions. The nineteenth-century Slavophiles, for example, nurtured the ideal of complete organic unity. Only through absorption in the collective and dedication to the community did the individual find his freedom. In the work of Konstantin Aksakov, the village commune was treated as an association of dedicated people renouncing their personal egoism, a “moral choir” in which collective self-abnegation was the highest virtue.3 A similar analysis of the organisation of the Orthodox Church was presented by Aleksei Khomiakov with his principle of “sobornost’” – conciliarity or collectedness – according to which the Church was a living organism fusing all believers into one.4 However, I found no indication that Stalin, at any stage of his life, was even aware of these Slavophile notions. We are on safer grounds with the Orthodox Church itself. Theoretically, this Church rules out any doctrinal diversity. Full doctrinal unity is alleged to be attainable, as all members are united in one and the same Holy Spirit. This is the “common mind” present in each of them separately.5 This notion is founded mainly in St Paul’s letters, in which the Church is described as a body held together by one Spirit. We know for certain that Stalin was well acquainted with this. The model of the Church must have been the first organisational theory he became acquainted with, as a former seminarian. Again, however, I did not find any occasion when Stalin, at any time in his life, referred positively to the Church as a model of strongly integrated organisation. Common sense suggests that it must have played at least an unconscious role in developing his ideal of a closely organised party, but the lack of evidence does not bring us much further.


Total unity

Robert Williams suggests that Dzhugashvili’s demand that party members fuse their personality into the party whole had its origins in the tradition of the so-called “collectivist” tendency among the bolsheviks, headed by Lenin’s comrade in the Bolshevik Centre, Aleksandr Bogdanov. Their collectivism apparently appealed to Dzhugashvili, and he set it up as an ideal working model of the party organisation.6 Bogdanov provided a radical interpretation of his own of the Marxist idea that humankind progressed from primitive communism through class society to the communism of the future. Mankind had in its primitive stage been characterised by the homogeneity of an undifferentiated embryo, of a lower organism. The person did not yet really exist. There had been no “I” as a centre of separate interests and strivings. Modern egoist individualism was a product of the break-up of primitive communism by the advent of classes. The very concept of the individual, the “separate I,” was a historical construct. With the future new collectivisation of mankind, there would once again be a complete “merger of individual lives into one grandiose whole.” In the totally unified communist society, individuals would be like the cells of an organic being.7 Thus the human personality, the individual mind, was to be absorbed completely into the collective of the future. Williams’s analysis of Koba’s indebtedness to the Bogdanovites is supported by the fact that, in respect of

Figure 6 A.A. Bogdanov: total unity

Total unity 129 political tactics, he was close to Bogdanov for a period of time. In 1907–08, he initially sided with the latter in his conflict with Lenin.8 A further indication that Williams is right is Dzhugashvili’s use of the terminology of the Bogdanovites in his writings of 1905. He shared with them the curious obsession with the flattening of the “I,” as the individual was mostly called in Bogdanovite publications. For example, in a pamphlet of May of that year he accused Plekhanov and Martov of having no real differences with Lenin. They felt insulted and therefore invented differences. Their real motive was that they did not “subject their ‘I’ to our sacred cause.”9 A few months later he wrote that the party and its interests mean nothing whatsoever to the “mensheviks,” …they take the party for a warm fur coat, which is needed only when it’s freezing, but which can be discarded when it’s warm…as soon as their party “I” gets into conflict with the group “I” of the “mensheviks,” they will trample on the “holy of holies” of the party, its central institutions.10 Meanwhile, despite this “collectivist” interpretation of party unity, after 1905 Stalin did not in practice turn out to be a hard-liner when it came to enforcing discipline in the bolshevik faction or to relations with the mensheviks. He was even guilty of the sin of “conciliationism,” as the more easy-going approach to party unity was called.11 Lenin’s views of party democracy were not static either. When the bolsheviks and mensheviks reunited in 1906, he accepted the menshevik principle of “democratic centralism,” under the provisions of which free debate and eligibility of local committees was guaranteed. However, once in power the bolshevik leader began to work his way back. The Tenth Party Congress in March 1921 signified the beginning of the end of party democracy, as far as it ever existed. The congress is known for banning factions – organised groups in the party with a platform and discipline of their own – but that was not all. In his speech, Lenin complained that the party was no “debating club.” No longer did it need any opposition. Henceforth, exchange of opinions should be confined to special publications so as to avoid struggles that might harm the party’s striking power. The congress banned all what it called “unbusiness-like” criticism of the party line. Not only belonging to an organised opposition group but also propaganda for its ideas was made incompatible with membership of the party.12 For all practical purposes, the communist party was reduced to an organisation where, except at the congress, only one line was legitimately defended. Stalin let himself be drawn along with Lenin’s new, strict interpretation of democratic centralism. He felt increasingly uneasy about his own “conciliationist” errors. Shortly after the Tenth Party Congress, he wrote that Lenin had been right in his struggle against the conciliators. Without this “the party would have been diluted and would not have been an organism, but a


Total unity

conglomerate of heterogeneous elements.” Lassalle had been correct to note that parties strengthen themselves by purging themselves.13 In other words, those who defended a line differing from the one laid down at the congress should be excluded from the ranks. In his position of General Secretary, Stalin was responsible for upholding the new regime in the party. But Lenin was not happy with the way his pupil handled this responsibility. In his notes of December 1922 and January 1923, he proposed to strengthen the Central Committee in order to be able to contain the conflicts between the leaders in the Politburo. Stalin in particular should be removed as General Secretary, for with his rudeness and lack of tolerance he was bound to provoke a conflict with Trotskii, which might escalate into a split in the party.14 Ironically, Lenin’s last move against Stalin might be interpreted as the climax of his campaign to undo party democratism rather than as a last ditch attempt to save it. In 1921, the bolshevik leader had muzzled the party membership in order to silence dissenting voices. His demand to Stalin, Trotskii and the other leaders of the Politburo to co-operate peacefully among themselves amounted to an attempt to extend this enforced unity to the top of the party. With his demand to stop bickering, he put the muzzle over the only remaining branch of the party where real debate was still allowed, namely its very summit. Seen from this perspective, it is not surprising that, once Lenin’s illness had definitely incapacitated him, Stalin adopted his suggestions. At the 1923 party congress, he confirmed that there indeed existed a risk of a split. Over the years quarrelsome habits had formed, which created an unhealthy atmosphere. Therefore he supported Lenin’s proposal to strengthen the Central Committee with new people who were free from such traditions.15 In 1923 and 1924, when he emerged from under Lenin’s shadow, the General Secretary elaborated an original concept of the party as a phenomenon to be treated from two angles – “as an organism, living its particular life, and as an apparatus, giving out slogans and checking on their fulfilment.” A political party was a system of institutions with superior and subordinate officials, but a healthy party, a real fighting organisation, should also be a “self-active [samodeiatel’nyi] organism.” In this context, the organic metaphor did not refer to total ideological unification but more or less to its opposite – to the need for a party to be alive, to have an actively committed membership, which presupposed a measure of debate. Turning his 1905 argument around, “complete one-mindedness” reminded Stalin of a “sect” or a “philosophical school.” He acknowledged that debate had atrophied in the past few years, which he attributed to the militarised style of war communism, to the unfortunate example of hierarchical state bureaucracy and to the lack of education and cultural development among the majority of party members. But then again, debate was not supposed to undermine the regime that Lenin had established in 1921. Stalin insisted that as long as the capitalist

Total unity 131 encirclement lasted there could never be full party democracy. Therefore debate should be limited in several ways. First, for the party to be a “selfactive organism with a united will,” there should in any case be a “complete unity of views” on all fundamental questions. Second, criticism of the party should be moderate and raise rather than undermine the membership’s faith in it. Debate should serve to fortify conscious discipline. Healthy debate aimed at reaching consensus. Stalin insisted that after the struggle of opinions ended and a decision had been taken, the “unity of will and the unity of action of all members” should be established. This touched on a third point: debate should also strengthen the party’s unified activity. Stalin typically described the party as a “monolithic organisation, carved from one piece, having one will and uniting in its work all shades of thought in one stream of practical action.” To enhance active commitment of the membership was the whole point of democratic debate: For [the opposition] freedom of groupings and democracy are unbreakably linked. We don’t understand democracy like that. We understand democracy as the raising of the activeness and consciousness of the party mass, as the systematic involving of the party mass not only in the discussion of questions but also in the leadership to work.16 To conclude, Stalin used the organic metaphor of the ideal party ambivalently. Already before the revolution he had on occasion used it not to refer to total unity of views but to other needs such as organisational integration, a committed membership and a degree of free debate, i.e. to the need to be “alive.”17 The organic metaphor knows this ambivalence in itself. An organism is typically an integrated unit of one mind, which in practical terms implies that debate, as far as it can be allowed at all, must result in full consensus. However, an organism is never static either, and it knows an inner life of its own. One cannot force members to think identically by decree without the danger of demoralising them and driving them away from the party. Therefore some debate cannot be avoided. From Stalin’s perspective, the boundaries of what represented acceptable and unacceptable debate were fluid and could not be captured in a simple formula. But as the years went by, he interpreted party discipline in ever stricter terms. Gradually, unity of mind became the party organism’s main characteristic. In October 1926, Stalin told the Politburo that the comrades of the minority should “openly admit” that they were wrong. It was defined as the task of the party “to make the opposition bloc admit that their views are wrong.”18 This was new. Lenin did his utmost to forge a steel unity in the party and to prevent the expression of rival political lines. The ideal of the monolithic party was his, and so were terms like “unity of action” and “unity of will.” But he never demanded that oppositionists castigate their own views. Stalin’s initiative was the beginning of a slide downwards to an unprecedented form of psychological terrorism.

132 Total unity At the Fifteenth Party Congress, Stalin once again demanded of the oppositionists “to disarm fully and completely in the ideological and organisational respect” and “to take back their anti-bolshevik views openly and honestly, before the whole world.” Such formulations show that even more was demanded than public self-criticism. The demand that self-criticism should be “honest” implied that a true change of mind should have occurred. This might force the oppositionists, on pain of expulsion, to comply with the demand against their real convictions, which would make them vulnerable to the charge of insincerity. Stalin was aware of this dilemma. When Kamenev noted that it was not part of the bolshevik tradition to demand public self-criticism, the leader insisted that the opposition “drop its mask,” and he added: History shows, the facts show, that no one as yet jumped so easily from one set of principles to another, no one as yet changed his own views so easily and freely as the leaders of our opposition. Why, then, couldn’t they take their own views back now too, if the interests of the party demand this?19 Stalin demanded an “honest” transformation in his opponents. In May 1929, the dictator treated the problem of factionalism in two speeches in the Executive Committee of the Comintern. The problem with factions was that members would characteristically spend their valuable energy in endless intrigues and manoeuvres to outflank each other instead of dedicating their efforts to the party. Factional struggle was “the most furious of all kinds of struggle.” It “blinds the most objective of people.” The only way to avoid factionalism was a true mental transformation, to sacrifice pride: the highest mark of courage does not consist in defending one’s own convictions and showing oneself a Demiurg, declaring oneself a superior power in comparison to the will and decision of the Comintern. True courage, the highest spirit of courage consists in rising above oneself, overcoming oneself and submitting to the decision of the Comintern. …without the preparedness to overcome oneself – if you please: one’s self-love – and to submit one’s own will to the will of the higher level, there is no collective, no leadership, no communism.20 It was understood by some perceptive party members that Stalin’s new demandingness represented a resurrected Bogdanovism. In late October 1927, A.M. Kollontai reported in Pravda on the rise of a “very special and new concept” in which discipline was not seen “as subjection to an ‘order’ but as a fusion of one’s own will with the will of the collective body.” She called this “collectivist thinking.”21 And some of the defeated opposition leaders understood what Stalin demanded of them. Referring to his own “capitulation,” Piatakov professed to a friend that a true bolshevik “will

Total unity 133 readily cast out from his mind ideas in which he has believed for years.” To become one with the party “he would fuse himself with it, abandon his own personality, so that there was no particle left inside him which was not at one with the party.”22 But some did not understand it. At the Sixteenth Party Congress in 1930, Stalin complained that Tomskii did not “expiate his sins.” He was not selfcritical enough. Apparently, he hoped to outsmart the party, but “he didn’t understand that millions of eyes look at each one of us and one can’t outsmart anybody here.” Stalin demanded that the former leaders of the opposition break with their anti-Leninist views “openly and honestly.” To make public confessions without convincing enthusiasm only proved that they were still “not completely convinced of the correctness of the party line.” And, he added: Here you have, comrades, the circumstances which hinder the former leaders of the rightist opposition to come closer to the nucleus of the party leadership and to merge themselves completely with it…. For that there is only one means: to break finally with their own past, to re-arm anew and to merge into one with the CC of our party.23 These totalitarian demands caused a redefinition of factionalism. Any private critical conversation between party members fell within its scope. At the January 1933 Central Committee plenum, Stalin loyalist Shkiriatov discussed the group of Smirnov, Eismont and Tolmachev. “Wherein does this faction consist?” he asked and answered: “Three people met and had a talk, they met and discussed the work of our party and our shortcomings, but not at all in order to help the party, but in order to change its line.” If that constituted a faction, then no private critical talk was allowed. And Shkiriatov confirmed that party discipline demanded that “once a decision of the party has been taken, one must defend it absolutely everywhere – not only at meetings, but also in separate talks.” There was no room in the organisation for “individual party members who disagree with the line of the party.”24 At the Seventeenth Party Congress in early 1934, Stalin triumphantly concluded that there had at last been established a “complete unity of views of our party leaders on, you might say, all questions of party politics.”25 Under these conditions of a disciplining of mental life the defeated party leaders were denied any remaining individuality. One of the most tragic expressions of this are the letters Zinov’ev wrote to Stalin after his arrest in December 1934. In the first, he claimed that for the past period he had “not said one word, not written one sentence, not had one thought, which I had to hide from the party, from the CC, from You personally.” The next month he confessed to being a hypocrite: because we were unable really to submit to the party, to merge with it to the end, to get filled with those feelings of complete recognition toward


Total unity Stalin with which the whole party and the whole country has been filled, because we continued to look backwards, to live our own particular “mental life”…to live according to our own particular psychology.26

Zinov’ev did not in his despair overstate Stalin’s goal of mental conformism. The leader did indeed aim for the rooting out not only of the expression of deviating opinions in the party but of these very opinions themselves. In November 1937, he insisted that anyone “who with his deeds and thoughts – yes, also with his thoughts – attacks the unity of the socialist state will be mercilessly destroyed by us.”27 It is hard to formulate the psychology of totalitarianism more concisely. An interesting confirmation that Stalin realised that his model of the “merging” of minds was more extreme than Lenin’s exists. In January 1932, he asked himself how it could be that the Trotskyites had not been able to shed their menshevik heritage after they entered the bolshevik party in 1917. This was his explanation: having shed their anti-bolshevik views and thus entering the party, the Trotskyites did nevertheless not take back these views, and because of that they, these very views, made themselves known with particular force at every turn by the party.28 Thus Stalin realised that Lenin had not forced people to admit that their views were wrong. Meanwhile, the demand to think identically created the need to know exactly what to think. Most important was the creation of a new body of party history. In 1935, there appeared On the Question of the History of the Bolshevik Organisations in the trans-Caucasus, presented in a long speech by Lavrentii Beriia. It contained a falsified account of Stalin’s role in the development of trans-Caucasian bolshevism.29 Of the greatest significance was the 1938 History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). Short Course.30 In a speech on 1 October, Stalin commented on its publication that people were “confused” by the great number of party histories. “With such an abundance of textbooks there is no practical unity of views…. All that created chaos in the heads of the people.” That was why the Central Committee had decided to create a “compass,” one new, authoritative textbook, so that “there would be no doubt…that this is what the Central Committee officially recommends, how to express the thoughts, views, instructions of the party.”31 Gradually, the drive for unanimity spilled over from the party into society at large. The Short Course mentioned a new phenomenon of “moral–political unity of society,” which had now allegedly been created in Soviet Russia.32 This total unity was, of course, never attained. But Stalin hoped for it, and he provided some kind of theoretical underpinning. According to Leninist doctrine, socialist ideology was embodied in the party. The toiling masses were to a certain extent the victims of bourgeois ideology. Logically

Total unity 135 speaking there could, then, exist no ideologically unified society. But Stalin did not like this conclusion. In May 1935, he told a group of participants in the First of May Parade that one could well be a bolshevik without being a member of the party. Many “non-party bolsheviks” served the cause of the working class as well as any member. What is more, according to him, the majority of the bolsheviks remained outside the organisation. They were often the best, most modest bolsheviks, for they did not join because they did not consider themselves worthy.33 In a speech in February 1946, Stalin explained the matter from a fundamental angle. In former times the communists mistrusted those outside the party. But now we have different times. A barrier, called the Soviet social system, now divides those outside the party from the bourgeoisie. This same barrier unites those outside the party with the communists into one common collective of Soviet people…. The only difference between them exists therein, that the ones are members of the party and the others are not. But this is a formal difference.34 In other words, Stalin suggested that the Soviet system shielded the people more or less from the ideological influence of the bourgeoisie. As a result, the people at large too embraced communist ideology. This was the death stab to Lenin’s theory of the vanguard, but with a vengeance. From now on everybody could be expected to support party doctrine. The demand for mental conformism spread from the party to society as a whole. As we saw in the previous chapter, Stalin realised that society could never be really monolithic. He was highly suspicious of bourgeois influences filtering in from across the border. Nevertheless, the Soviet people as an integrated community of thought expressed the totalitarian ideal perfectly.

11 Stalin and the state

As we saw in a previous chapter, People’s Commissar of State Control Joseph Stalin was an outspoken defender of the need for a powerful state bureaucracy.1 Stalin never wavered in his commitment to the strong state. His claim that as socialism was approached, the state grew stronger all the time is well known. From the leader’s own perspective, the proletarian state should be strengthened as an instrument of class war. There was involved a paradoxical outflow of the Marxist thesis that the destruction of the hostile classes – national and international – was the main precondition for the disappearance of the state. Destroying the enemy classes could only be accomplished by a state operating at maximum strength. At the January 1933 Central Committee plenum, the dictator said authoritatively: The dying of the state takes place not through the weakening of state power, but through its maximum strengthening, necessary in order to kill off the rudiments of the dying classes and to organise the defence against the capitalist encirclement.2 Next to repressive and military tasks, the proletarian state had important economic ones. Marginal notes in some of the books in his library suggest that Stalin believed he was on this matter defending Marxist orthodoxy against Engels. In the Communist Manifesto, it had been announced that after the proletariat begins expropriation, the state has to develop the output of the factories it takes in hand to a maximum. In a 1935 copy of State and Revolution, Stalin inserted “1)” and “2)” into Lenin’s quote of the respective Manifesto passage next to the state’s tasks of expropriation and stimulation of production. And he added in the margin “Marx = better than Engels.” Two pages later, Lenin wrote that the proletariat needed the state not only for the purpose of striking down the resistance of the exploiters but also to lead the peasants to socialism. Stalin added “Lenin Marx,” another implicit slight at Engels’s address.3 Incidentally, these notes show that after 1935 Stalin was aware of the continuity between his own state-organised industrialisation and the original Marxist idea, although he oddly believed that Engels had taken another view.

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Figure 7 Karl Marx: “better than Engels”

From a theoretical angle, the most interesting question is what happened with the Soviet state once the classes of private owners had been liquidated. According to Marx and Engels, a proletarian democratic state remained in existence for the period leading up to communism. After the expropriation of capital, it was replaced by social self-government – although Engels was more explicit than Marx in insisting that this implied the state’s total disappearance. Making a distinction between primitive and full communism, the two men never suggested, though, that the state only withered away during the latter stage. However, this had been Lenin’s opinion. In State and Revolution, he reminded his readership that in Marx’s first stage of communism, “which is usually called socialism,” there was still a differentiated remuneration according to productive achievements. This made the survival of the state under socialism unavoidable. Without classes, there was no class to be repressed. But as long as citizens could not take freely according to their needs, one could not do without a regulating institution.4 The idea of an inevitable survival of the state under socialism was originally Lenin’s – not Stalin’s. After collectivisation had run an important part of its course, the question of the state became acute. Stalin never contemplated abolishing it, for the same kind of reasons that he never contemplated abolishing money. He was realistic enough and not enough of a utopian to embark on a course of self-destruction. But keeping the state in business after it should according to Marx have disappeared demanded doctrinal justification. Stalin’s


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marginal notes show him studying the matter by reading Marx, Engels and Lenin. He was concerned to find a Marxist interpretation of state socialism not only for the public. He searched for an ideological context of the phenomenon of a socialist state as much for himself as for his audience. Stalin saw the Soviet state after the demise of classes as a classless institution. This is suggested by a 1934 copy of the party program, in which he underlined a passage holding that all states had a “class character” and that, after the demise of classes, the state would disappear. Next to it he wrote simply: “Not so.”5 Likewise, in a 1937 copy of Marx’s Der Bürgerkrieg in Frankreich, Stalin underlined a passage in Engels’s introduction to the effect that the state was nothing but a machine of class suppression, commenting: “not only.”6 The most extensive notes are found in the above-mentioned 1935 copy of State and Revolution, in which Stalin marked a passage on the survival of the state in the first stage of the classless society. This proves his awareness of Lenin’s pioneering of the thesis. He then critically examined other points that Lenin had written in the book and found them wanting. Lenin quoted Engels to the effect that all states were instruments of class oppression. Realising that this contradicted Lenin’s own notion of a state in a classless socialist society, Stalin commented: “under capitalism” and “No!” When Lenin wrote that states existed only under the condition of class contradictions, he commented: “This concerns states of exploiters.”7 Stalin realised that, in preserving a socialist state, he followed up on Lenin, but his predecessor had not thought through the matter sufficiently. In defending the need to preserve a socialist state, the Soviet dictator referred mainly to its military tasks in the context of international class struggle. In a speech on 1 October 1938 at a meeting of party propagandists, Stalin noted that the one eventuality not foreseen by Marx and Engels was the international isolation of the socialist state. If the proletariat had triumphed in Germany and in the majority of the countries surrounding Russia, the state would most probably have disappeared. The state had three functions: class oppression, economic-organisational and military defence. In a socialist country the first two, remaining police work and “economic leadership” – although the latter grew “tremendously” due to the planned character of the economy – could be carried out through social self-government. But defence could not. Although there remained no hostile classes in the USSR, the international class struggle did remain. “We represent the interests of the toilers, but in the other countries the power of the state represents the interests of the exploiters and there exists an antagonism between them.” And a military threat could never be countered by a workers’ militia. “One rings the alarm, workers arrive, they take their guns and go out to battle – that won’t do.” A standing army was unavoidable: the existence of an army leads to a situation where one needs means to feed the army. One has to mobilise all resources of the country, and for that one needs a state apparatus, and one needs officials, and not such

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ones whom we could elect, all of them: today they are elected, tomorrow they would be chased away. We need such officials…as would be experienced…. Therefore, as soon as there is an army, there is a state, a state apparatus. The professional army formed the “basis” of the Soviet state. Moreover, as long as the capitalist encirclement existed, the Soviet state should “not only not die, on the contrary – it will be strengthened.”8 The Soviet leader repeated all this in his speech at the Eighteenth Party Congress of March 1939, although with some minor adaptations, such as his description of the second function of the state as including “cultural-educational” management next to economic work.9 The reason Stalin gave for his preserving the socialist state was that no effective army could be built on the basis of the communist principle of social self-government. Only a professional army could stand up to professional armies.10 But he was being insincere when he claimed that, under socialism, police work and economic-cultural management could as well have been carried out directly by the masses. In an earlier speech of 27 September 1938, he had indicated that his preference for professional, bureaucratic administration was not confined to the army: The intelligentsia, that are all people who are leading cadres…we want to turn the whole working class and the whole peasantry into an intelligentsia, to raise their level…. Not one state can administer a country without officials, without a leading cadre [komandnyi sostav] for the economy, for politics, for culture. Because, by what is our state distinguished from any bourgeois state? Thereby, that it absorbed all fundamental lines of the economy and culture…. It is a gigantic organism of administration of the country. …we have about 8 million officials. Just imagine. This is the apparatus, with the assistance of which the working class governs the country.11 Thus the need for a professional army was in fact only one aspect of the matter. The economic and cultural sectors also demanded a professional apparatus. The dictator believed in the overall wholesomeness of the bureaucratic model of organisation. Whereas Lenin had rehabilitated the Kautskyan thesis that the state could not do without a professional bureaucracy only for the period of transition to socialism, Stalin also accepted this conclusion for the socialist era. In his all-round defence of bureaucracy, Stalin believed himself to be operating from a Marxist perspective. Whereas we are struck by the obvious continuity between Stalinist and traditional bureaucratism, this was not how Stalin interpreted the matter himself. In his own mind, the size of his state distinguished it from the political machinery of his predecessors, rather than being a point of similarity. He was mainly struck by the fact that the


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bolshevik state was bigger than the imperial had been. This was the first time for Stalin to indicate that it was a general characteristic of socialist states to be bigger instead of smaller than bourgeois ones. He explained the need for state gigantism mainly with reference to the socialist ambition to own, plan and administer the whole economy. In May 1940, the dictator repeated the same thing to V.A. Malyshev, noting that bourgeois states “have not absorbed the economic organisations, but our state is not only a political organisation but also an economic one. The more so we need [state] control.”12 I might add that Stalin’s insistence that the state completely embrace not only the economy but all spheres, including cultural life, has a firm Marxist precedent too, although this is less directly relevant, for he may well have been unaware of this. In his Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom, Andrzej Walicki treats this problem extensively, quoting Engels to the effect that in communist society the “administrative body” would have to manage “not merely individual aspects of social life, but the whole of social life, in all its various activities, in all its aspects.”13 In any case, for himself Stalin argued the need to preserve a socialist state and to strengthen it to a maximum, mainly from the demands of international class struggle and from its ambition to administer the whole economy. Meanwhile, the problem of the class character of the socialist state haunted Stalin for years. Under Lenin, the “proletarian dictatorship” turned into perverse reality in so far as the electoral system excluded the bourgeoisie and positively discriminated in favour of the industrial working class to the detriment of the rural masses. The abolitin of universal and equal suffrage became a defining characteristic of the proletarian dictatorship. And Stalin defended it. The Soviet state did after all not belong to the “whole people” but represented the exclusive power of the proletariat – a proletarian edinoderzhavie, “monocracy.”14 However, the proletarian dictatorship was no longer mentioned as a functioning reality in the new constitution of 1936. The text held that “all power in the USSR belongs to the toilers [trudiashchiesia] of the city and the village.”15 In his speech to the Congress of Soviets in November 1936, Stalin commented that all exploiting classes had been liquidated. There were no longer any mutually “antagonistic,” irreconcilable classes. The population was divided into three gradually merging strata: workers, peasants and intelligentsia. In the absence of any class to be suppressed, universal and equal suffrage could be restored. The USSR became a “democracy for the toilers, i.e. democracy for all.” But Stalin hesitated on the right formula. He added that the “state leadership to society (the dictatorship) belongs to the working [rabochii] class.” To prove that the dictatorship of the working class was still in force, the leader pointed to the article that described the communist party as the “leading nucleus” of all social and state organisations.16 But that proved little, for the same constitution defined the party as “the advance guard of the toilers,” whereby the toilers again encompassed all those working, i.e. not only the industrial workers.17

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From a practical point of view, the constitution’s failure to claim an exclusively proletarian character reflected the new reality of the introduction of general and equal suffrage, which brought positive discrimination in favour of the urban working class to an end. The proletarian dictatorship, for what it had been worth, was in practice thereby abolished. According to Molotov, Stalin admitted privately that the proletarian dictatorship was a thing of the past.18 In his speech of 1 October 1938, the latter observed that in its first, class stage the proletarian state served to oppress the bourgeoisie. Soviet power was now in a second stage, “when power becomes the power of the toilers. I wouldn’t say that it is now a class power, that it is the power of one class.”19 Remarkably, however, in his speech at the Eighteenth Party Congress the leader omitted the thesis of the classless state. The 1939 party rules defined that organisation again as the vanguard of the working class, providing “leadership” to society and strengthening the “dictatorship of the working class.”20 Nevertheless, in the end Stalin overcame his hesitations. In a discussion with the Polish communist Bierut in May 1946 he remarked that “in essence” there was “no dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR now either. We have a Soviet democracy.” The reason was that there were only external enemies to suppress.21 The party rules adopted at the Nineteenth Party Congress in 1952 removed all specific references to the working class. The party was redefined as a “union of like-minded communists, organised from people from among the working class, the toiling peasants and the toiling intelligentsia.”22 Finally, we must discuss the question of the ultimate fate of the state under full communism. At the Eighteenth Party Congress Stalin declared that, with capitalist encirclement, even under full communism the state would remain in business.23 But he never abandoned the idea that, with the global demise of classes, the state would come to an end.24 His views of the future stateless society were ambiguous though. Before the revolution he had written that, with the disappearance of classes, the state would be replaced by a “free and equal association of the producers.” But this association looked suspiciously like a state: for the carrying out of the common affairs…there will be necessary a central statistical bureau, which must collect information on the needs of the whole society and subsequently assign the various work tasks among the toilers…. There will also be necessary…congresses, the decisions of which will be unconditionally binding until the next congress25 This suggested that the stateless society knew the same commune-like system as the transitional period of proletarian dictatorship. The reference to a “bureau” even suggested the survival of a limited bureaucracy. Stalin later explained that the “stateless society,” the commune, would come about by strengthening the soviets and reducing the bureaucratic apparatus.26 He

142 Stalin and the state continued to pay attention to the matter, his notes suggesting that something like a state might be preserved under full communism. In the same copy of State and Revolution of 1935 he put a quotation mark near a passage explaining that under full communism the need for “governing [upravlenie]” people would disappear. He was enthusiastic about Lenin’s discussion of whether Marx had been more of an etatist (gosudarstvennik) than Engels. He marked Marx’s reference to a “statehood of communist society.”27 Shortly before his death, he wrote that “the state will not exist forever. With the widening of the sphere of action of socialism in a majority of the countries of the world, the state will die.” But stateless communism knew some kind of political structure: The state will die, but society will stay. Consequently, it will not be the state (which will have died) that will act as the next holder [preemnik] of the property of the whole people, but society itself in the person of its central, leading economic organ.28 It seems that Stalin interpreted the stateless society as an association of toilers with a commune or soviet structure. The transition from the socialist state to communist statelessness consisted, then, of the gradual absorption of most of the professional bureaucracy by the soviets. In other words, the demise of the state equalled the demise of the apparatus, but not of democratic representative organs. Moreover, Stalin’s bureaucratism was strong enough to convince him that even under full communism there remained some kind of professional apparatus to assist the elected representatives of the toilers. His etatism was strong enough to make him envision “stateless” communism with a state-like structure. But, then again, he believed to be following Marx on this point, an assumption in which he may well have been right.

Stalin on the tsarist state
Previously, I noted that Stalin’s etatism fitted well into the political tradition of his country, but that it would overstate this point to assume that his statebuilding efforts were much inspired by the example of Ivan and Peter. Between 1926 and 1931, he commented on various occasions on their work but gave them little credit. As representatives of the feudal and bourgeois classes they had been powerless to accomplish much. However, Stalin’s views began to shift in 1934. In August of that year he, Andrei Zhdanov and Kirov wrote a negative comment on the manuscript of a new textbook on the history of the USSR. They complained that the difference between “the autocratic system of the state and the feudal system, when Russia had been divided into a multitude of semi-states,” had not been duly noted.29 Underlining the positive significance of state centralisation by the early tsars against the boyars and other forces of “feudal” decentralisation, this set a new tone.

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Figure 8 Ivan the Terrible: Stalin’s favourite tsar

On 27 January 1936, Izvestiia carried an article by Bukharin, checked by Stalin personally and mentioning “the relatively progressive historical activity” of Peter the Great.30 In March 1936, it was decided to organise a competition for a new textbook of the history of the USSR. A.S. Bubnov, who was involved in this work, criticised the progress of the respective historians. Referring to directives from Stalin and Zhdanov, he noted their failure to make a clean break with the so-called Pokrovskii school. They continued to watch historical events “only through the prism of their class limitations” and ignored the “progressive side” of the consolidation of the Muscovite state, the unification of the Russian lands and the later Petrine reforms. Zhdanov mentioned several points that the authors should take into account, among which was “the progressive meaning of the centralisation of state power.”31 Ivan IV the Terrible was also the subject of reappraisal. In a short history of the USSR to appear in 1937, his oprichnina was praised as an instrument to strengthen “autocratic power in the Russian state by destroying the privileges of the boyars.” Ivan completed the work of gathering together the scattered appanage principalities into one strong state.32 In the new 1939 History of the USSR, Ivan and Peter were given a positive reading for having fought feudal fragmentation and consolidating strong central


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power.33 In the same year, there also appeared a collection of articles summarising the struggle against the deceased historian Pokrovskii. The latter was accused of having neglected the “progressive role” of Peter the Great. And it was noted that “the creation of a big state on a territory where there existed until recently still dozens of small states would be impossible without strengthening the central political power, which at that time could only be an autocratic power.” Therefore, Ivan IV, although still representing the interests of the nobility, had waged a wholesome struggle to create a “homogeneous order” throughout the country.34 During the war, in September 1943, Stalin commented positively on Eizenshtein’s scenario of the film Ivan Groznyi: “Ivan the Terrible as a progressive force of his time, and the oprichnina as his effective instrument.”35 Unfortunately for Eizenshtein, in September 1946 the Central Committee condemned the second part of his film.36 The decision was taken after a speech by Stalin at the Orgbureau in August. According to the leader, Eizenshtein had completely deviated from history. He showed the oprichniki as the worst lice, degenerates, something like the American Ku Klux Klan. [Eizenshtein] hasn’t understood that the forces of the oprichnina were progressive forces, on which Ivan the Terrible relied in order to collect Russia into one centralised state against the feudal princes, who wanted to scatter and weaken it…. Russia…had to unite in order to avoid falling under the Tatar yoke a second time.37 Finally, in February 1947, Stalin, Molotov and Zhdanov received Eizenshtein and the actor Cherkasov in the Kremlin to discuss the matter. The leader repeated that Ivan had united Russia so as to have a stronghold against the Tatars. Centralisation was necessary and therefore the oprichnina was a positive force. It had been a “royal troop. As opposed to a feudal army, which could fold its tents any time and leave the battlefield – a regular army, a progressive army.” Ivan had been “a great and wise ruler. If one compares him with Louis XI, …who prepared absolutism for Louis XIV…, then Ivan the Terrible was in a much higher class.” The tsar’s ruthlessness had been unavoidable. One of his errors was that he “failed to knife through five large feudal families. Had he wiped out these five families, there would have been no Time of Troubles.”38 In 1949, Stalin told Malyshev that Peter the Great had made a mistake by moving the capital to St Petersburg. But there had been some justification for the step: “Peter was afraid of the boyar intrigues in Moscow.” Nevertheless, with its central position Moscow was most suited to be the capital.39 Stalin appreciated the state-building efforts of Ivan and Peter for their dedicated centralism. The Soviet dictator believed that all states should be organised along centralist lines. In September 1947, he wrote a characteristic tribute to Moscow, on the occasion of its founding eight hundred years

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earlier. The city’s merit consisted above all in the fact that it had welded scattered Russia into a “unified centralised state.” And this was more than a historical event. The achievement remains universally relevant to this day. According to Stalin, “not one country in the world can count on preserving its independence, and on serious economical and cultural growth, if it could not liberate itself from feudal fragmentation and from the princely mess.”40 Stalin’s straightforward praise for Ivan and Peter during the 1930s and 1940s shows that he became more aware of the continuities between their and his rule. He and they were state centralists, and we may safely assume that, as Tucker stresses in his work, the Soviet dictator began to see himself as a Russian statesman. However, this is not to mean that his new appreciation for his predecessors signified a reduction of his Marxist commitment. It was rather his Marxist beliefs which made him acknowledge the historical value of Ivan’s and Peter’s work. Let me first note that, to appreciate state centralism and the struggle of the early monarchs against “feudal” lords, was common enough among earlier revolutionaries. Among the Enlightenment philosophes, there had always been those who argued back from their preferences for a rationalist centralism to support for the prince. Voltaire, for one, was known for his thèse royale, according to which the king was supported in his struggle against feudal anarchy, so that France could be a unified state. And state centralism was an essential part of the Jacobin understanding of modernisation. The nation could not be forged into a true national community without overcoming local particularism and forging a centralised state. Marx and Engels stood in this tradition. They too were principled centralists. Correspondingly, they appreciated early modern rulers whose efforts at state unification created favourable conditions for capitalist economic development. The overthrowing of the Golden Horde and the unification of the Russian lands into one state by fifteenth-century Moscow prince Ivan III was acclaimed by them, to be compared with similar feats in that period by the royal power against the feudal princes in countries like Spain, Portugal, France and England. In their view, the absolute monarchies represented the progressive phenomenon of “national unity.” Russia was even further developed in this respect than Italy and Germany.41 Stalin’s enthusiasm for Ivan IV’s efforts to break the backs of the boyars fitted in this Marxist scheme of historical progress. It would have been odd from a Marxist point of view had he not taken that position. However, Marx and Engels were at the same time highly critical of the later state-building work of the tsars. The process of development that Peter embarked on was a flawed one – Russia remained essentially an “Asian” power. Peter delivered a blow to Russian barbarism but, as he did it paradoxically “by barbarism,” the result was a deceptive civilisation based on serfdom instead of on modern capitalism.42 The point is that, whereas Marx and Engels saw centralisation as a progressive phenomenon, they rejected bureaucracy as stifling modernisation. As I noted before, they were anti-


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bureaucratic centralists, and this point of view determined the way they looked at European history. Stalin did not share Marx and Engels’s anti-bureaucratic sentiment. His love of bureaucratic order and all its trappings runs through much of what he wrote, said and did. For a small but typical example, when in 1943 uniforms and signs of rank in people’s commissariats and other state services were reintroduced, the argument was that the new dress enhanced the “authority” of the respective officials.43 And when in 1946 the name of “people’s commissars” was changed back to “ministers,” Stalin argued again that this enhanced their authority: It is fitting to turn from the name commissar to the name minister. The people will understand this well, because there are too many commissars. The people get confused. Only God knows who is the highest of them. Everywhere we have commissars, but here we have a minister.44 Correspondingly, the fact that tsarist centralisation had taken a bureaucratic form did not bother Stalin as it had bothered Marx and Engels. There was in his view no other way to administer a centralised state. His sympathies for the bureaucratic authoritarianism of the tsarist system were genuine enough. Andrei Gromyko, for example, quotes the leader during a discussion on the problems of Moscow’s city administration: “And why couldn’t we restore something from the past? For power lay once in the hands of a ‘head’ [golova]. He, the ‘head’, was the final authority…at a city level.”45 Here we have clear proof of Stalin’s readiness to borrow consciously from the past, and literally to establish a continuity with it. But, then again, although during the 1930s Stalin began to appreciate the continuity between his and the tsars’ bureaucratism, he continued to argue from his own model and preferences. He did not hope to copy the tsars’ model of bureaucracy. Peter’s state, with its “table of ranks,” had been a curious hybrid of bureaucratic order and the hereditary principle. It was a modern bureaucracy, open to others besides the nobility. But it remained a typical ancien régime institution in that the mass of the Russian population were serfs by birth and not free to follow a bureaucratic career. Moreover, those who climbed sufficiently high were awarded with hereditary noble titles. In contrast, the Stalinist state apparatus was a pure bureaucracy, as hierarchical and graded as the imperial one but without rudiments of the hereditary principle. Stalin never showed any appreciation of the feudal rudiments in the imperial state. In understanding Stalin’s treatment of the tsarist past, we must take his own thinking as the point of departure. The Soviet leader believed in a historical march towards modernisation as a dual process of centralisation and bureaucratisation. As a centralist, he was simply a classical Marxist in the tradition of Marx and Engels. At the same time, though, he had adopted Lenin’s basically positive appreciation of state bureaucracy as an organisa-

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tional model, which he had again adopted from the mainstream Second International reappraisal of Marx’s radicalism. In that way, bureaucratic centralism became the synthetic viewpoint for Stalin to look back from to Russian history and admit that much good had been done by his tsarist predecessors. In the process, an element of continuity with the Russian tradition was re-established. But that tradition never provided the point of departure of Stalin’s thinking. It was only partially absorbed.

“Democracy for the toilers”
Stalin’s concept of the state is not exhaustively treated if we confine ourselves to his bureaucratic centralism, however important that may have been. Let us now turn to his views on “democracy for the toilers.” Lenin was not afraid to admit that his regime was a party dictatorship, but he did not deny the significance of popular participation. Beginning with Rousseau’s direct democracy, mobilisation of the popular masses was a revolutionary tradition. The Jacobins destroyed it by laying power in the hands of a revolutionary minority, but they continued to value citizen participation. In their “educational dictatorship,” the participatory aspect of direct democracy was preserved, with an eye on preparing the misguided masses for their assumption of sovereignty in the future. After Marx restored the ideal of popular self-government, Lenin again took to Jacobin revolutionary elitism. But he invited the toiling masses to make an active contribution. The executive apparatus of the Soviet state worked on the same bureaucratic principles as that of “bourgeois” states, but the soviets themselves, an outgrowth of direct democracy, differed from ordinary parliamentary forms of representation. The members of these councils were not professional politicians but workers, peasants and “toiling intellectuals” serving as popular representatives in their spare time. Therefore, although they lost all power to the party and the state bureaucracy, the councils nevertheless served as instruments of participation. This was reflected in Lenin’s doctrine. Acknowledging that the party “realises the dictatorship,” he insisted that it could not operate in a vacuum. The dictatorship was a “complex system of several cog wheels,” the party necessarily using the “transmission belts” of the soviets and trade unions to reach the masses. Such organisations were educational in nature. The workers should not be approached like soldiers but with a proper mix of “compulsion and persuasion.” Through their organisations, which were “schools of communism,” they should be stimulated to participate in the administration of the country and thus gradually learn this trade.46 Instead of military commands, a propaganda effort was made to convince the organised proletariat of the correctness of the policies followed. In case of crisis, the fall-back method of “compulsion” was available. One of Stalin’s oldest definitions of democracy had been given in an article in June 1906 on inner party life. “True democratism” existed only


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“when the party masses are active in the party organisation, …when the party masses propose their own resolutions and force their own organisations to carry out these resolutions.” Democratism does not consist exclusively in democratic elections. The democratism of elections cannot yet be called true democratism: Napoleon III was elected by a general vote, but who doesn’t know that this elected emperor was the greatest enslaver of the people? We are referring to a democratism of action, when the party masses themselves decide questions and themselves act.47 The value of elections was not denied, but emphasis was laid on the participatory aspect of democracy. After the revolution, there was never any doubt in Stalin’s mind that the class should be led by only one party.48 But he continued to appreciate mass participation, especially through the soviets: “most popular” organs embracing potentially all workers and toilers and forming “an organism of the most mass-like character.”49 They were a new type of state.50 In January 1921, he wrote that, like Lenin, he favoured the “methods of influencing like explications, mass propaganda, the development of initiative and the self-activity of the working masses, eligibility etc.” It was necessary to convince the masses of the correctness of bolshevik policies. “Conscious democratism” was more reliable than blind obedience. But, again like Lenin, he was careful to preserve the right of the party to back up words by force if necessary. There exist two methods: the method of compulsion (the military method) and the method of persuasion (the trade union method). The first method does not at all exclude elements of persuasion…. The second method in its turn does not exclude elements of compulsion, but the elements of compulsion are subjected here to the demands of the method of persuasion and form a means of support for it.51 The proper relation between the party and the working class remained an important subject of Stalin’s thinking in the 1920s. Initially, he merely parroted Lenin’s prescriptions. The proletariat had the power “in the person of its party.” The party should achieve such authority that the working class turned, as it were, into its “army.” Nevertheless, the proletarian masses should be persuaded to follow the party voluntarily. The “direct organisations of the masses” – trade unions, co-operatives, youth and women’s organisations, and soviets – should never be formally subordinated to party leadership. They should be used to organise maximum “participation” in the state, providing the proletariat with the opportunity to educate itself as a force capable of governing the country.52 The soviets formed a “school of government” for hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants. The state apparatus should be strengthened by bringing it closer to the population through the soviets.

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This was the way to the “transition of society from the dictatorship of the proletariat to communist society.”53 Lenin could not have agreed more. Interestingly, Stalin went further in his pleas for voluntary participation when after Lenin’s death he rejected his formula of the “dictatorship of the party,” which he insisted his predecessor had used only metaphorically. The party was the directing force in the state, giving leading instructions – and “in that sense…the dictatorship of the proletariat is, in essence, a ‘dictatorship’ of its vanguard.” Nevertheless, although leader and teacher, the party’s authority over the class did not rest on force but on trust.54 But what if the party was unable to convince the class? Stalin insisted that the party could never thrust its leadership on the workers by force, because the result could not last. The party should wait with new policies until it had at a minimum guaranteed the “sympathetic neutrality of the majority of the class.”55 Stalin’s rejection of the formula of “party dictatorship” was not merely for public consumption. His concern appears from his notes in the margins of Lenin’s works. In a 1919 copy of State and Revolution, he wrote on the back flap that one could only speak of a dictatorship of the party if referring to “leadership by the party.” One could not have two real dictatorships at one and the same time – of the party and of the class: “Which one of them is the most real? Magic formulas won’t help.”56 In a 1922 copy of a volume of Lenin’s works, where it was denied that there was a contradiction between class dictatorship and one of individuals, Stalin wrote that the proletarian dictatorship was no dictatorship of individuals.57 Then again, in a 1923 Lenin volume he commented on a passage holding that the party led the class: “Yes, but that is not a dictatorship of the party.” And in a longer comment: What must the dict. of the party signify? A state power resting on force? No, that’s rubbish! Unlimited rights by the party? Not that either! The point is not about rights, the point is about trust in the party, and trust does not at all presuppose unlimited rights of the party as its necessary condition. The point is about leadership.58 Stalin heartily disliked the formula of “party dictatorship.” His motive for this odd denial of reality is not hard to find. Realising that the party was the only holder of power, he wanted to keep it that way just as surely as Lenin. But he found the term “dictatorship,” with its hint of naked force, inapplicable. He was deeply aware of the fact that the bolshevik regime could not survive without working-class support. It was therefore absolutely vital to gain the trust of the proletariat to avoid collapse.59 There is something ironic about this insistence on gaining the workers’ trust. It not only meant that one should at times be prepared to adapt policies to public opinion but also, conversely, that unusual efforts should be made to bring public opinion into line with the demands of the party. Stalin’s rejection of the formula of party dictatorship was part of a frame of mind that ended in totalitarian “moral–political unity of Soviet society.”60


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The enthusiasm of the General Secretary for workers’ participation was on the rise during the First Five Year Plan, when the party hoped to mobilise every available force for the economic effort. Workers were encouraged to comment critically on industrial policies, resulting in the upgrading of the “workers’ control commissions,” the so-called “production conferences” and the establishment of “shock brigades.”61 Mass participation was complementary to the power of the party. In April 1928, Stalin noted that under the condition of its undivided power, the party should mobilise the necessary critique on its own work. There was no one else to do it. It was time to organise a “permanent and unbreakable contract between [the leaders] and the masses.” The point is to organise a broad public opinion of the party in the form of self-criticism and criticism of our shortcomings, a broad public opinion of the working class, as a living and vigilant moral control. But he never forgot the limits of the critical process. “Counter-revolutionary criticism” by workers would not be accepted.62 The next month he made another vigorous plea for the production conferences and “control commissions” of the trade unions at a Komsomol congress. He hoped to unleash the “rage of the toiling masses,” explaining: It would be wrong to think that only leaders have experience of construction. That’s not true, comrades. The millions strong masses of the workers, who build our industry, accumulate a gigantic experience of construction every day, which is not at all of less value for us than the experience of the leaders. We need the mass critique from below, the control from below.63 Some time later, the General Secretary wrote that mass “self-criticism” was a permanent feature of the bolshevik style of leadership because the bolsheviks were in power. Power naturally stimulated complacency, making public criticism essential to avoid mistakes. Mass participation provided a correction of the inevitable negative consequences of the bolshevik monopoly of power. But “self-criticism” would have to strengthen labour discipline and fortify the authority of the leaders. Criticism of alleged “degeneration” of the Soviet system was intolerable.64 After 1930, Stalin’s commitment to workers’ participation gradually waned, although it resurfaced in 1935, when the leader promoted the Stakhanov movement with slogans like: “Leaders come and go, but the people [narod] stay. Only the people are immortal. All the rest is transitory.”65 Mass mobilisation also applied within the party. The organisation should have an active membership, with regular meetings and (controlled) debates and elections. Like the soviets, the party was a “school” to educate future state leaders.66 The membership might also be mobilised against enemies. At

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the February–March 1937 CC plenum, Stalin criticised his fellow party leaders for ignoring party rules. Some comrades believed only in control from above, but he, Stalin, appreciated “control from below, when the masses, when those who are being led check up on the leaders, note their mistakes and point out ways to correct them.” The point was “not only to teach the masses, but also to learn from the masses”: We, the leaders, see things, events, people only from one side, I would say – from above. Our viewpoint is therefore more or less limited. In contrast, the masses see things, events, people from the other side, I would say – from below. Their viewpoint is therefore also to a certain degree limited. In order to reach a correct solution of a problem, one has to combine these two experiences. The leader compared the party to the mythological hero Antaeus, son of the Earth goddess Gaia, who was invincible only as long as his feet touched his mother, i.e. the masses. Stalin’s intentions with the mobilisation of the party membership became clear enough when he gave some examples of the activities of people he admired. One such “ordinary ‘small person’ ” was Comrade Nikolaenko from Kiev, who had been unmasking Trotskyites for a whole year but had not been taken seriously by the party leadership.67 Beginning in the summer of 1937, the Stalinist clique used the local party memberships – through meetings, debates and elections – as an additional means next to the NKVD to remove undesirable leaders. In retrospect, the Great Terror formed the high point of mass participation. Stalin reproached local leaders for violating the rules by not holding regular meetings and elections, but he was himself guilty of the same sin in a higher degree by continually postponing the party congress. This negligence was part of a tendency of retreat from mass participation. Stalin’s growing doubts on its use were expressed in the 1935 edition of State and Revolution. Next to passages which read that the whole population should participate in the running of the state, that officials should be recallable at all times, that the “armed proletariat” should control the economy, and that the state itself should consist of “armed workers,” Stalin commented each time: “Nu…,” expressing great hesitation.68 On occasion, the dictator continued to pay lip service to the people; witness his famous July 1945 toast at a meeting of participants of the victory parade, to the people who are considered the “little screws” of the great state mechanism, but without whom we all – marshalls and commanders of fronts and armies, to put it rudely, are worth nothing. Some “little screw” gives up – and it’s all over. I propose a toast to the simple, ordinary, modest people, to the “little screws” who hold our great state mechanism in a state of activity.69

152 Stalin and the state But organised campaigns of mass participation became less frequent and less intense. This was not only a matter of decreasing enthusiasm. It had an institutional aspect as well. Under the new constitution of 1936, the element of direct democracy was further reduced. Elections became direct and secret. No longer did the Congress of Soviets consist of representatives of lower soviets. From now on, citizens voted directly for the two chambers of the Supreme Soviet. This new system reduced the element of mass participation in two ways. First, direct elections to the supreme organs automatically reduced the significance of the grass-roots soviets, in which citizens had at least some influence. Second, the old system of voting for the lower soviets in open meetings by a show of hands disappeared. Nevertheless, although ritualised, citizen participation was never abolished. The soviets continued to be populated by non-politicians. Soviet citizens were expected to organise themselves in mass organisations and to show up periodically at meetings and in the streets to support government and party campaigns. Mass mobilisation was one aspect of Stalinist “democracy of the toilers.” Another aspect was the training of new cadres from among the popular masses. It was again particularly during the First Five Year Plan that the education of new state and economic personnel from among the working class became a matter of prime attention. Stalin noted that, in sharp contrast to the land-owners and bourgeoisie in their times, the working class occupied an unfavourable position. As a poor class, it had in the past not been able to give its children proper education. The workers had not been able to form their own educated section of society. There were still too few “red specialists.” But “not one ruling class could manage without its own intelligentsia.” Stalin therefore insisted that “the working class must create its own production-technical intelligentsia.”70 The doors of higher education were opened widely for people from among the popular classes. Furthermore, a great number of workers were promoted directly from the bench to leading positions. But in 1935 the criteria for selection for higher education, which discriminated positively in favour of workers and peasants, were dropped. In his speech at the Congress of Soviets in November 1936, Stalin noted that the Soviet intelligentsia, the category of “officials” (sluzhashchie), formed no class. It “was and remains a layer, recruiting its members from among all classes of society,” mainly from among the workers and peasants. The intelligentsia should from now on be treated as a “full and equal member of Soviet society.” It was a “completely new intelligentsia.” The overwhelming majority of it “have come from the working class, the peasantry and other layers of the toilers.”71 This shrewd reference to other layers suggested that it was no longer problematic for the intelligentsia to be partly recruited from among themselves. In the next few years, Stalin repeated the theme of the intellectuals as the equals of the workers more than once. In his speech of September 1938, he firmly rejected the ideas of the Polish socialist Machaiski, who allegedly held that the party needed no intellectuals but only workers, as foolish and

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idiotic. “Our factory is something like a laboratory,” Stalin noted, “something like a pharmacy, it is no longer a matter of pure callosity. Callosity is a thing of the past.” He repeated that no class could “keep power and lead the state if it is unable to create its own intelligentsia.” But this intelligentsia had already been created. After all, “what is our Soviet intelligentsia?” Stalin answered: “On the one hand it is us, old bolsheviks, …and on the other 9/10 youth, people from the workers and the peasants, and also from the small toiling intelligentsia.”72 A few days later, he again turned against the “stupid, disdainful attitude towards the intelligentsia”: The intelligentsia work in our apparatus, they are former workers, former peasants, our people, who became educated, who after all also rule the country together with us…. They carry out our decisions, i.e. they govern, but we don’t appreciate them, we treat them disdainfully, we consider them alien. Yesterday he was a worker at the bench, a capable man, a Stakhanovite whom we trusted. He need only go to school and receive an education, and we begin to spit on him.73 At the Eighteenth Party Congress the following year, the Soviet leader presented it solemnly as a “question of theory” that the Soviet intelligentsia were no longer “second-class people.”74 The congress abolished stipulations making it more difficult for intellectuals to enter the party than for workers or peasants.75 The policy of proletarianisation of the apparatus was abandoned for good.76 However, Stalin continued to recognise the importance of periodical renewal of the composition of cadres. His policy of creating a new proletarian intelligentsia had not been motivated only by the desire to change the class composition of his officials but also by a strong belief in the promotion of young people as such – irrespective of class. A healthy organisation should be subjected to permanent overhaul of its cadre stock. This was usually explained by the organic metaphor. In 1927, Stalin told the party congress: Our party is a living organism. As in any organism, a metabolism takes place in it: the old, obsolete falls off [applause]; the new and growing things live and develop [applause]. Some leave the stage, at the top and at the lower levels. New forces grow up, at the top and at the lower levels, and carry forward the work. This is how our party grew. This is how it will continue to grow in the future.77 In July 1929, he described it as a “feudal” (barskii) habit to promote only “lords” and to forget the “hundreds and thousands of capable young people” anxious to get ahead.78 He often treated the problem of new cadres from the perspective of a gardener. In a December 1934 speech to a meeting of metallurgists, discussing the need for qualified people to work with the new technology, he noted that one had to “cultivate people with care and


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attention, like a gardener cultivates a beloved fruit tree.” To educate people, to help them “grow,” to transfer and promote them in time, was the way to create a new body of cadres.79 In a speech in September 1940, he made another characteristic plea for the promotion of new people: How did Lenin forge cadres? If he had only seen those who worked in a party environment in leading positions and so on for 10–15 years, and hadn’t noticed those young but capable people, who grow like mushrooms, if Lenin had not…broken with the traditions of seniority, he would have failed. The party, literature, the army – they are all organisms, of which some cells should be renewed without waiting for the old ones to die.80 To create upward mobility in the apparatus was the second aspect, next to mass mobilisation, of Stalinist “democracy.” And there was a third aspect, namely the establishment of formal equality of rights under the 1936 Constitution. During the latter part of the 1930s, the working class lost its privileges in terms of suffrage and entrance conditions for educational facilities and the party, changes that, whatever their social significance, increased formal equality. The peasantry remained discriminated against. They did not obtain internal passports, which drastically restricted their freedom of movement. Then, the party and state elite had at their disposal a network of special shops, schools, hospitals and other institutions, providing privileged access to goods and services. At the other end of the social pyramid, the exiles and prisoners were denied normal human living conditions. Nevertheless, at the formal legal level, it is fair to say that the Soviet state came more or less to represent a homogeneous “toiling people.” Lenin’s decision, unprecedented in the international Marxist movement, to abolish universal and equal suffrage and formal equality of rights was undone. In summing up, Stalin’s etatism expressed his determination to have a powerful machine available for the ongoing international class struggle and for the administration of the whole economy of the country. He continued the Russian etatist tradition, but he found Marxist arguments for the inflation of the state. Moreover, for him the discontinuity with the tsarist past was more striking than the continuity. It struck him that the class struggle and socialist ambition demanded a stronger rather than a weaker state compared with the imperial one. During the 1930s and 1940s, Stalin’s sense of affinity with the state-building work of Ivan and Peter grew, but he continued to evaluate their work from a perspective of historical progress seen in terms of centralisation and bureaucratisation. His analysis synthesised classical Marxism with the recognition in the Second International (adopted by Lenin) that, contrary to Marx’s views, bureaucracy was after all a mark of modernity. Finally, to strengthen his party dictatorship, Stalin preserved some democratic rudiments – citizen participation, cadre mobility and formal equality before the law.

12 The cult of personality

One of the main characteristics that Stalinism became notorious for was the cult of the leader’s personality. Stalin was presented in books, journals and newspapers, in prose and poetry, in song, painting and sculpture, as a flawless genius and hero, on a par with similar extraordinary historical personalities like Karl Marx and Vladimir Il’ich. The cult reflected the dictatorial power that its object established in real life. Stalin established this personal dictatorship by crusading against all informal centres of power with a degree of autonomy, in the party, in the regions and in state institutions. He waged this crusade under the banner of struggle against the old “family traditions,” which he denounced even before the revolution. The struggle against entrenched “families” (autonomous groups based on personal relations, friendship and mutual protection) reflected his harsh views of how a party should function as well as his strategy for personal rule. At the party congress in 1927, the leader complained that problems were often solved “in a family way, as if at home.” When Ivan Ivanovich makes a mistake, his friend Ivan Fedorovich “does not want to criticise him, bring to light his mistakes, correct his mistakes.” The latter Ivan hoped that his leniency would be rewarded in the future when he was in trouble. Was it not ironic, Stalin asked, that the bolsheviks, who were out, in Marx’s words, to storm the heavens, were not prepared to storm each other? They should understand that bad things do not disappear from themselves. “That which dies, does not simply want to die, but it struggles for its existence, defends its lost [otzhivshee] cause.” And conversely, that which is newly born must shriek and cry out to defend its right to exist. Correspondingly, true leadership was to combat, to spare no one irrespective of friendship, and to reject the tendency to “swim with the current.”1 This was the irreconcilable spirit in which Stalin waged the factional struggle. When in 1929 Bukharin mentioned his personal friendship with him as a matter alleviating their mutual problems, he answered: I think that all these lamentations and screams aren’t worth a penny. We don’t have a family circle, no collective of personal friends, but a


The cult of personality political party of the working class. We can’t allow interests of personal friendship to be put above the interests of the cause.2

The atmosphere of mutual protection to the detriment of the organisation was also what Stalin referred to when he attacked bureaucratism. In his letters to Molotov and Kaganovich of the early 1930s, he complained endlessly about state “bureaucrats” who did a weak, routine job and, instead of bringing in real results, merely spent money to “preserve the peace of the economic apparatus.” Such people shielded themselves from party control and placed their own group interests above those of the state. The solution was to bring in “new people, who believe in our cause and who can replace the bureaucrats successfully.” But, nominating their own “protégé-fools,” the well-entrenched bureaucrats prevented the promotion of fresh, healthy cadres.3 During the Great Terror, the themes of struggle against “familism” and “bureaucracy” merged. At the Central Committee plenum of February–March 1937, Stalin compared the communist party to a huge army, with a ranked staff of officers. But he was not content with the way this corps functioned. Fresh forces waited to be promoted. There were tens of thousands of talented people just for the picking. “You only have to know them and to promote them in time, so that they wouldn’t stay at the old place too long and begin to rot.” But many bureaucrats did not care for the ordinary party members; “they don’t know how [chem] they live and how they grow.” He attributed this lack of concern typically to the fact that local party leaders constructed “tails” of “‘their own’ people,” “personally dedicated” but incapable followers. One would then get a little family of close friends, an artel’, the members of which try to live in peace, not to insult each other, not to air their dirty laundry, to praise each other and from time to time to send empty and nauseating reports about their successes to the centre. Such leaders hoped to create “a situation of a certain independence in relation to the local people as well as in relation to the CC.” Stalin was determined to end this state of affairs.4 In the two years of the Great Terror, his hatred of “family traditions” became so extreme that he began to take it literally. In November 1937, he gave a speech to Politburo members and a few other people, including Comintern leader Dimitrov. The latter noted Stalin’s words in his diary. Among other things, the leader said that he would mercilessly destroy “any such enemy, even if he would be an Old Bolshevik, we’ll destroy his whole kin, his family.”5 Stalin’s organisational ideal was the fully integrated bureaucracy. Directives should be swiftly transmitted downwards and carried out without failure. Conversely, new cadres should be promoted and be able to rise quickly to the top. This should create an organisation with a maximally vital

The cult of personality


and empowered centre. It would find no obstacle in its way and could mould the flexible organisation at will, while the apparatus would be kept fresh by a steady influx of new blood. This ideal could only be achieved by destroying entrenched cliques, the autonomous “families” closing themselves off in both directions. To protect their own positions, they would not agree to promote capable people, and they would also try to defend themselves against the directives of the centre. “Familism” prevented the party from functioning as an unbroken whole. It blocked the vertical flow, up and downwards, of directives and cadres. Stalin’s organisation of cliques of his own suggests that his abhorrence of “familism” was less than sincere. Was he only against the other person’s family in the name of his own? However, that would be a rash conclusion. Stalin’s own cliques were no “families” in which one was protected whatever mistakes one made and where one was sure not to be replaced by a newcomer. His cliques were no circles of mutual protection. One’s position in them was conditional upon the fulfilment of the job; even one’s life was at stake. Moreover, to refresh his own cliques all the time with young people from below was one of Stalin’s lifelong preoccupations. Next to improving the functioning of the party and state bureaucracy, the purpose of Stalin’s campaign against autonomous circles was to make his own personal power total. Many years earlier, it had been predicted that bolshevism contained an inner logic leading to personal rule. In 1904, Trotskii had warned that, once the Leninist principle of dictatorship was accepted, the process of “substitutionism” might continue until the Central Committee handed over its power to one dictator.6 Once one takes the concentration of power as the most effective organisational model, there is no obvious reason to stop the process of concentration. Bolshevism suffered from a paradox. On the one hand, it propagated the concentration of power as a healthy principle – the stronger and more united the better. But on the other hand, there was the dogma that, for an unexplained reason, this concentration should stop just short of the leader. Not surprisingly, that did not happen. However, even after he had achieved complete centralisation of power in his hands, Stalin continued to speak up against personal rule in the party. This is more surprising than it might seem. Under Lenin, it had been accepted that the principle of kollegial’nost’, i.e. of leadership by elected boards, was often inapplicable in the state apparatus, in particular in economic enterprises. One-man management (edinonachalie) was defended as a more effective form of administration. On occasion, Lenin suggested that there was really no difference between a dictatorship of a class, of a party or even of single leaders.7 Such remarks and practices could well have been used in the Stalin era to create a theory of the leader. But the communist party never produced such a theory. According to its official tenets, not revoked by Stalin, power should be properly concentrated at the level of the Central Committee – not above it.


The cult of personality

To have a “party leader” in a formal sense would have meant to have the party congress elect him, and then to endow him with the same plenipotentiary powers of which the Central Committee made use. This would have introduced edinonachalie into the party. The establishment of the post of General Secretary in 1922 could have been a starting point for such a development. The General Secretary was elected by the Central Committee, not by the Secretariat. Therefore he was in fact of higher rank than his fellow secretaries. To have the General Secretary elected by the congress would have been the next step. But developments went in the opposite direction. At the first plenary session of the new Central Committee after the 1927 Party Congress Stalin proposed to abolish the institution of General Secretary. It was superfluous after the defeat of the Left Opposition, and he, Stalin, was anyway “equal” to the other four members of the Secretariat. He did not have “any special rights or special obligations. There has not been a case when the Gensek gave any order on his own [edinolichno] whatsoever, without the sanction of the Secretariat.” There was “only a collegium.” The proposal was not accepted, though.8 But in 1931 Stalin told Emil Ludwig that the “power of one person” would never be tolerated in the party: one cannot decide on one’s own [edinolichno]. Personal decisions are always or almost always one-sided decisions…. In our leading organ, in the Central Committee…in this araeopagus the wisdom of our party is concentrated. Everyone has the possibility to correct any personal opinion or proposal at all. Everyone has the possibility to contribute his own experience. If that weren’t the case, if the decisions were taken by individuals, we’d have very serious mistakes in our work.9 At the first CC plenum after the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934 Stalin was at last not reconfirmed as General Secretary. The post simply vanished.10 Subsequently, he was elected “first secretary” by the Secretariat.11 In other words, on paper “collegial” leadership in the Secretariat was restored. In terms of real power, the development went the other way. Increasingly, the leader came to be treated with special respect. At the January 1933 plenum, Ian Rudzutak praised Stalin for his ruthlessness. He never hesitated and was “capable of cutting away and destroying that which is really subject to annihilation, that which began to rot, that which hinders us from moving forward.” This trait made him the leader (vozhd’ i rukovoditel’) of the party, followed by all. He concluded that Stalin was “the strongest locus [mesto] of our party; he is that focus, where all our party thoughts are concentrated, he catches them and unites them and gives them a correct direction.”12 This constituted an argument for edinonachalie. Rudzutak transferred the familiar argument for dictatorial powers of the Central Committee to the higher level of that of a leader. The leader should be duly elected, but once elected he became an embodiment of the will of the members and should act as he saw fit. This opinion was widely shared in leading party circles,

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where it was believed that without Stalin’s titanic personality their collective rule was in danger. Nevertheless, although in practice “substitutionism” ran its full course, in theory it did not. Stalin did not formalise his position as a dictator. An attempt to have himself elected as General Secretary by a party congress, with a parallel transformation of the Politburo and other organs into consultative bodies, might have been successful after the Great Terror. An officially established personal dictatorship would not per se have violated the fundamentals of bolshevik doctrine. Stalin could have referred to extraordinary threats which demanded extraordinary unity of leadership. As long as the leader was elected by the congress, it would not have been contrary to “democratic centralism” to raise him and move up dictatorial power one level – from a board, the Central Committee, to a single leader. But the leader did not take this step. Even more surprising was the way Stalin handled the leading organs of the party. After the Great Terror, the Central Committee and the Politburo no longer met regularly. The latter organ was in practice replaced by ad hoc commissions, convened by Stalin at his will: “quartets,” “septets,’’ “nonets” and others. However, even then, at the height of his power, the leader took care to have the various commissions formally established by the Politburo and to have important decisions taken by the bureau through a system of opros, by a poll. Thus on paper the kollegial’nost’ of the leading party organs was preserved. To make his decisions legitimate, Stalin demanded formal confirmation by his colleagues. That he bothered to have decisions formalised, the existence of which nobody but these closest colleagues even knew about, suggests that he hoped to preserve a rudimentary aspect of “collective leadership.” The Great Terror gave Stalin the power of life and death over his colleagues. He became a personal dictator for all practical purposes. But he did not formalise his position and change the party rules accordingly. What is more, there is no indication that he ever contemplated taking such a step or regretted being unable to take it. The simplest explanation for Stalin’s holding back is that he was satisfied with his real power and that he believed the formal structure of the party should remain as it was. We have an indication that he did indeed believe that, as a formal principle, edinonachalie was unsuitable for the party. In a 1922 Lenin volume, he commented as follows on the passage holding that there was no fundamental difference between a party dictatorship and one of single leaders: “But from this it follows that one may not mix up one-man dictatorship in particular labour processes in the executive field with a dictatorship in politics.”13 What was all right for a factory or the army did not go for the party. Similar reservations show in Stalin’s remarks on the tsarist form of government. On one occasion, the leader noted that the ovations for him proved that “the people need a tsar, i.e. someone whom they can revere and in the name of whom they can live and work.” On another occasion, he said:

160 The cult of personality “Bear in mind that in Russia the people were under the tsar for centuries, the Russian people are tsarist, the Russian people are used to having one single individual over them.” But he added: “Of course, this man should carry out the will of the collective.” And there was a note of disdain for those who desired to have a single individual in charge. He called this desire the “fetishism of the popular psychology.”14 Altogether, it seems that Stalin definitely set out to establish his undivided personal power, but that he remained sufficiently trapped in the Leninist party ideology to decide that the party’s formal structure should remain untouched. This conclusion gains perspective if we broaden our horizon and compare Stalin with later communist rulers of equally unlimited powers. In his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong not only decimated the party leadership. He also took the step that Stalin refrained from, namely to destroy much of the underlying structure of the leading party organs. Moreover, it was not unusual for leaders like Mao to begin to set up something of a dynasty. He and Ceaușescu, for example, brought their wives into the Politburo, while Kim Il-Sung prepared his son as his successor. Stalin, again, did nothing of the sort. The hereditary principle epitomised an obscurantist form of administration, the “familism” that he battled against all his life. Stalin was not out to become an actual tsar, the father of a new dynasty. Tsarism appealed greatly to him, but only in one of its aspects, namely that it was a form of one-man rule. For the rest, he remained content to be dictator over an intact party. This matter has a further fundamental aspect to it. To return to Mao, the Chinese leader not only dismantled much of the internal party structure. He even partly dismantled party control over the state. This was something that Stalin was even less prepared to do. Kaganovich insisted that Stalin remained only a “dictator on behalf of the party [ot partii].”15 And he was right in this characterisation in the sense that, in contrast to Mao, Stalin did not use his dictatorial powers over the party to undermine party rule over the Soviet state and society but to stabilise it. The main mechanism of communist rule, the nomenklatura system, was preserved by him even when after the Second World War the relative weight of the state in comparison to the party grew. The question is not only whether or not Stalin wanted to curtail party power over society but also whether he could have done so had he wanted to. He probably could not have. Stalin’s dictatorial power over individual party comrades was almost absolute. He could assign any of them to the firing squad. But the point is that he never attempted to remove the party from its position of power over the state. Had he, for example, set out to dismantle the primary party organisations in state and economic institutions, to abolish the nomenklatura system and turn the Council of Ministers into a body of non-party officials, things would have looked different. Stalin’s legitimacy in the eyes of his fellow party leaders rested on what they saw as his role of guarantor of their collective power over the state. To move against the party would have instantly deprived him of that legitimacy. The

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chances are great that the Politburo would have collected its courage and unseated him. The paradox is that, whereas Stalin’s power over the party leaders and party organs was absolute, his power over the party as an institution was not only not absolute – it did not even exist. The USSR remained a party dictatorship. If we define autocracy as unlimited rule bound by no other institution, then Stalin was no autocrat.

The cult
If there was never a Stalinist “theory of the leader,” we are interested to discover Stalin’s ideas about the cult of his personality. The cult of socialist leaders was not Russian but a Western European invention. To idolise their leaders was common enough among European social democratic parties. Portraits of Marx and Lassalle adorned posters and banners. These men were revered as the prophets of a new age. From the perspective of the history of Marxism, the reverence for revolutionary leaders can be understood as an unexpected corollary of the doctrine of “scientific socialism.” For Marxists, the discovery that history answered to laws did not show the futility of individual heroism but, on the contrary, provided real scope for it for the first time. The fact that society could be mastered through a knowledge of its laws made the person armed with that knowledge capable of extraordinary feats. He or she could push history forward to its certain fulfilment. A cult of genius and heroism is precisely what one would expect in a movement combining violent struggle for socialism with scientific insight into the process leading to that goal. Among Russian Marxists, the most important man to spell out explicitly that the Marxist concept of history implied the acceptance of heroism was Georgii Plekhanov. In his days, Plekhanov had fiercely attacked the populist interpretation of the phenomenon – not to deny it but to put it on a firm foundation. The historical hero did exist, but he was no self-sufficient actor. A “great man” was he who understood the scientific laws of social life and acted in accordance with the direction these laws predicted society was taking. This is how he could exert enormous influence on the course of history.16 The main new thing about the cult of the bolshevik leaders after October was that, for the first time, such a cult was backed up by a state and could therefore be systematically organised and forced upon a whole citizenry. Furthermore, the cultic implications of Marxism were strengthened by Lenin’s concept of the revolutionary vanguard, which implied that there was a body of men and women who were divided from the ordinary population by unusual insight and bravery. They were therefore entitled to the greatest respect.17 After 1917, a monumental cult of revolutionary heroes was immediately started up. Even in his lifetime, Lenin’s own cult took extraordinary proportions. Although not yet dominating public life, many of the speeches, poems and other writings about him were as extravagant as those later produced in honour of his successor.18

162 The cult of personality This was the heritage that Stalin found. His own pronouncements on heroism are relatively scarce, but we do know that he based his belief in the hero-genius, the man or woman whose extraordinary freedom and power was based on an understanding of necessity, on Plekhanov’s Marxist argument. In 1931 he said, paraphrasing Plekhanov: Marxism does not at all deny the role of eminent personalities or the fact that history is made by people…. But, of course, people make history not in such a way as any kind of phantasy inspires them to…. Every new generation finds certain conditions…. And great people are worth anything only in so far as they are able to understand these conditions correctly, to understand how to change them…. Marxism has never denied the role of heroes. On the contrary, it recognises this role as considerable, but with those reservations about which I just spoke.19 According to Stalin, Marxism provided a theoretical justification of the cult of heroes, including of himself. The cult rested importantly on hagiographies, the first being the Pravda of 21 December 1929, which contained celebratory articles on the occasion of the leader’s alleged fiftieth birthday. The cult received a boost in 1934 when history education at Soviet schools began to be accused of suffering from abstractness and omitting the role of living “personalities.” This concerned mainly the tsarist past, but party history should also show the “titanic figure of Stalin.”20 The first result was Beriia’s 1935 book on the history of trans-Caucasian bolshevism.21 The 1938 Kratkii kurs also served as a major vehicle of the cult. But the main text was Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin (Kratkaia biografiia), appearing the next year. During the 1930s, various people were involved in other biographical attempts, but only one individual project among them, Emel’ian Iaroslavskii’s, was crowned with success.22 The Short Biography appeared on the occasion of the alleged sixtieth birthday of the leader. An updated second edition appeared in 1947 on the occasion of his seventieth, two years early.23 Stalin probably did not take a direct hand in the final editing of the 1939 edition.24 The second edition was closely commented on by him. In December 1946, he explained to two of the authors that his own and Lenin’s works were beyond the grasp of many toilers. Uneducated ordinary people should begin their studies of Marxism–Leninism with biographies. He proposed to produce a new Lenin biography and summarised the corrections he hoped to see in the second edition of his own, of which he had received the maket.25 All of these texts, from 1929 to 1947, told essentially the same story of the magnificent project of class struggle and the building of communism in Russia since the late nineteenth century. Until 1924, the great Lenin stood at the head of the movement, with Stalin at his side as his closest comrade. After the founder’s death the latter took over. Every successful mission of the Russian communist party had since then been guided by this extraordinarily talented leader.

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For all the evident humbug, Stalin was presented in a carefully thought out way. The qualities attributed to him were excessive, but because they were complementary among themselves an impression of balance was created. The first qualities of his leadership were his strength of character and his powerful intellect. Stalin was an irreconcilable man, hard as stone, with an iron hand and a steel will, and his words were cut from marble. He was fearless in battle, free of every kind of panic, ruthless towards the enemies of the people – a giant and a titan. Next to this, the leader was known for his wisdom, his huge theoretical powers, the crystal clarity of his mind and the crushing force of his logic. His thinking was scientific and creatively original. His writings were known for their clarity and extraordinary depth. The two aspects of Stalin’s leadership, his genius and his heroism, were reflected in the double title of “leader and teacher.” This characterisation was held in balance by the leader’s tremendous modesty. Stalin did not allow even a shadow of arrogance. He was only the most loyal continuer of Lenin’s cause. “I am only Lenin’s pupil.” And he was modest enough “not only to teach the workers and the peasants, but also to learn from them.” For all his greatness, Stalin remained the representative of the proletariat. It was the great party of the working class which “gave birth to me and educated me in its image and likeness.” The leader contributed his strength and ability to the cause of the proletariat. His greatest merit was his “selfless service to the Soviet Motherland.”26 The Stalin myth was at a close look paradoxical. Next to being a leader and a teacher, he was also a pupil and a servant – of Lenin, of the class and the party, and of the motherland. What is more, he was a great teacher because he was a loyal pupil; a great leader because a modest servant. The leader derived his legitimacy from his loyalty to his predecessor and from his services to those he led. Throughout his life, Stalin took extreme care to keep the balance in his cult intact. A classic occasion was his address to Tbilisi railway workers in 1926. In the old days, the workers of this city had been his “teachers.” Under their care he received his baptism as a revolutionary “pupil.” Subsequently, the oil workers of Baku educated him to become a “journeyman” of the revolution. And, finally, it was the St Petersburg workers and Lenin who turned him into a revolutionary “master.”27 Another occasion for Stalin to express his modesty was his November 1937 speech. The dictator explained that, compared with people like Trotskii and Bukharin, he had been an “unimpressive fellow.” But the oppositionists “didn’t reckon with the party, especially with its middle element.” He, Stalin, had placed himself at the head of a group of “unknown people” who were prepared “to learn to work from the masses, from the middle people.” Personality isn’t the crux. It’s very hard to say who educated me. You me or I you? You’ll say that I’m an outstanding man, it isn’t so. Holy fear of not justifying the trust that the masses and the people placed in you in the fight with those figures – that’s what proved decisive, fear of failure,


The cult of personality and we emerged as leaders. Comrades Molotov, Voroshilov, Kalinin, Kaganovich, Mikoyan, and others worked hard…. To the middle element, to the officer stratum in the economy, party, and military, to the masses of people who acquire experience and promote even unimpressive ones!28

Stalin never stopped calling himself a pupil of Lenin.29 In 1941, he spoke to a group of Tajik officials characteristically of the man “who educated us, taught us, sometimes scolded us, sometimes praised us, [the man] who made us into people.” He concluded that “we are his shadow, his young pupils [ptentsy i ucheniki]…. I say it in the Eastern way: we are his shadow on the earth and lighten up by reflecting his light.”30 As late as the October 1952 plenum of the Central Committee, Stalin interrupted someone who had said that he was a “dedicated pupil of comrade Stalin” with the words: “We are all pupils of Lenin.”31 This was a formula he never departed from. This is the perspective from which to make sense of Stalin’s occasional objections to the cult of his personality. In a 1930 letter to a comrade pledging his dedication to him, he rejected the “‘principle’ of dedication to individuals.” One should only serve the working class, the party and the state.32 We find similar remarks in private notes. In 1933, Stalin scrapped references from a play by A.N. Afinogenov to the “Leader” and replaced it by “the Central Committee.” In an accompanying note to the author, he wrote: “The point is not ‘the leader’ [vozhd’], but the collective leader [rukovoditel’], the CC of the party.”33 And in a 1935 History of the VKP(b), Stalin wrote in the margin next to a reference to himself as the wise leader of all toilers: “An apotheosis of individuals? What happened to Marxism?”34 On occasion he objected to public praise. In 1933, he refused permission to organise an exhibition of materials relating to him “because such enterprises lead to a strengthening of the ‘cult of personalities,’ which is harmful and not in accordance with the spirit of our party.”35 The clearest example is his 1938 objection to the publication of a book with stories on his youth. the little book has the tendency to introduce a cult of personalities, of leaders, of infallible heroes into the consciousness of Soviet children (and people in general). That’s dangerous, harmful. The theory of “heroes” and the “crowd” is not a bolshevik but an SR theory. Heroes create the people, transform it from a crowd into a people – say the SR’s. The people create heroes – the bolsheviks answer to the SR’s.36 Ironically, Stalin in fact confirmed that he was a hero. But even heroes should be presented in a correct light. A hero of Marxism was a person who knew how to act as a willing instrument of the laws of history. These laws were embodied in the working class and the communist party. Therefore Stalin demanded to be portrayed as a hero and genius with the strict provision that the toiling masses and the party were recognised as his sources of

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inspiration and legitimacy. As a child, he had not yet been a hero in that sense. Little Soso had no relation to the popular struggles. What would be the point, then, in portraying his youth? The boy meant nothing whatsoever. To praise him could only undermine the present Stalin’s authority because of the obvious lack of seriousness of such an undertaking from a correct political perspective. Stalin intervened on several occasions to keep his cult within its proper boundaries. In the final maket of the Short Course he removed the most excessive praise for him.37 Most importantly, in his December 1946 discussion with two authors of his biography he criticised the previous edition for its “incorrect, SR tone.” It was a book for “idol worshippers.” “One has to inculcate love for the party (which is immortal).” The leader noted that at least ten “teachings” had been attributed to him. But his originality had been exaggerated. “There is only one teaching of Marx–Lenin.” The new edition of the Short Biography should be corrected accordingly.38 The main thing that Stalin did in correcting his biography was to reduce his role as a “teacher.” He changed the formula of his own “having elaborated [razrabotav] Marxist–Leninist teaching” into his “having made more concrete the Marxist–Leninist theory.” The new edition still claimed that he created a complete teaching on the socialist state. “But what Lenin failed to accomplish in the questions of the theory of the state, Stalin did accomplish!” But the other “teachings” he had developed according to the 1939 text were now called “thesis,” “theory” or “conclusion” and presented as elaborating Lenin’s thought.39 Importantly, Stalin also objected to Kaganovich’s proposals to introduce the term “Stalinism.”40 That would have upset the balance in the myth of his leadership, according to which his legitimacy was derived from loyalty to Lenin and the party. For all his towering genius and heroism, Stalin was and remained at the same time a modest instrument of the laws of history, embodied in Leninism, the party and the working class. To suggest that his personality stood by itself meant to spoil the cult. If Stalin could become the heroic instrument of history, so could others. Other party leaders and revolutionary workers were entitled to cults of their own. The phenomenon reached down from the leader through his colleagues in the Politburo to “labour heroes” at the bottom of society.41 Stalin saw himself as the most outstanding example of a whole class of people in the service of Marxism and history. In his speech in memory of Lenin in January 1924, he said: “Comrades, we, communists, are people of a special kind. We are constructed from a special material.”42 The USSR was ruled by a complete elite of heroes. Heroes were everywhere. In November 1935, Stalin told shock workers and Stakhanovites that they were “new people” – well schooled and at the same time free from conservativism. They destroyed numerous “icons” and “fetishes” on their bold march forward and could only be compared to a Ptolemy or to the great biologists who destroyed the biblical legends of creation. Nevertheless, they remained “ordinary and


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modest people, without any pretences whatsoever.”43 These were basically the same merits that Stalin attributed to himself. At a reception in March 1938 to commemorate the recent rescue of participants of a polar expedition, Stalin gave an extraordinary account of the USSR as a society of heroes. In the West, where money was the only thing that counted, heroes were neither created nor appreciated. But in the USSR they were valued above anything. “A little known person, but a hero, who explodes the quiet atmosphere and turns over everything, nobody knows [how much he is worth].” Such heroes were priceless: “they’re worth billions.” This exposé turned into an almost surrealistic scene when Stalin added that the pilot Chkalov should not have said that he was prepared to die for him. The leader insisted that, on his own, he meant nothing: ...dying is something every fool can do…I drink to those who want to live…. Chkalov: Nobody present here wants to outlive Stalin…we won’t allow anybody to take Stalin away from us. We can say bravely: we must hand over our lungs, let’s hand over our lungs to Stalin, hand over our heart – let’s hand over our heart to Stalin, hand over our leg, let’s hand over our leg to Stalin…. Stalin: Dear comrades, …don’t set yourselves the task to die for somebody…. Don’t die, but live, live and strike down the enemies.44 Stalin: In Soviet mythology, Stalin compared with other party leaders, explorers and labour heroes like the sun compares with the stars. He outshone them all easily. Nevertheless, Stalin saw himself as only the most shining representative of the coming “new man.” Stalin’s cult elegantly reflected the fact that its object was no autocrat but a dictator using his powers to fortify party rule. For this was not the myth of a ruler in splendid isolation but of one who, for all his towering talents and power, considered himself merely a humble pupil and servant of his party. The cult differed greatly from that of the tsars, who had been presented as rulers deeply solicitous about the fate of the Russian people and protecting them against the forces of evil, but never as the representatives of that people. Nevertheless, the fact that Russia had known a cult of the tsars obviously contributed to the rise of the Stalinist phenomenon. Stalin’s remarks, quoted above, on the Russian tradition of veneration of the tsars prove that he was aware of the use of this tradition for his strategy of personal power. It must have convinced him that organising a cult of his own stood a fair chance of success. Then again, as we saw, he mainly understood his own cult as a legitimate tribute to a Marxist historical hero. According to Isaac Deutscher, Stalin turned Western European Marxism into an atheistic creed by absorbing elements of the Orthodox Christian tradition. The cult of personality, including phenomena like Lenin’s embalming, are eminent cases in point of the continuing influence of

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Orthodox Christianity on Stalinist Russia.45 Many scholars have repeated this analysis since Deutscher. This model of understanding the cult has the obvious drawback that Deutscher overstates the contrast between Western Europe and Russia. In their own ways, Western Marxist movements were also influenced by Christian traditions. To mention one typical example – the hall of the SPD Erfurt Congress of 1891 was draped with a majestic banner, reading “The workers are the rocks on which the church of the future will be built!” Kautsky, the pillar of Western European Marxism, wanted the proletariat to establish “the ‘kingdom of God’ on earth,” and he called socialism “a new gospel” and the workers’ movement an “ecclesia militans.”46 But the fact that Kautsky was willing to speak in such terms does not make it any less significant that Stalin was too. Stalin was particularly prone to pepper his discourse with religious phrases. “Here I stand,” he said in 1920, “paraphrasing the famous words of Luther.” Standing on the boundary line between the capitalist and socialist worlds, he hoped to unite the Western proletariat and the Eastern peasantry. “May the god of history help me.”47 His memorial speech to Lenin in January 1924 mentioned a “Kingdom of Labour” to be established on earth.48 He warned that the world revolution might come unexpectedly – in Jesus’s words: “‘we do not know that day or hour’ when ‘the bridegroom arrives.’ ”49 And for Stalin, the Communist Manifesto was the “Song of Songs of Marxism.”50 The Soviet dictator’s use of this language was more than a mere figure of speech, which he may have liked because it reminded him of his days as a seminarian, or because he could expect the Russian public to recognise it. Underlying it was his conviction that there existed a real historical parallel between early Christianity and the Marxism of his own days. In his prerevolutionary days he had often compared social democratic leaders and revolutionary workers to the old prophets and apostles of Christianity.51 The significance of this for Stalin came into the open in 1923, when he wrote that present-day socialism served as the banner of liberation of the toilers in the same way that Christianity had once been the lifebuoy of the slaves of the Roman Empire.52 For Stalin, Marxism repeated the old performance of Christianity, both of them being ideological systems inspiring the masses to work towards liberation from a decadent world.53 We may plausibly assume that Stalin’s belief that Marxism in some respects repeated the triumphant march of early Christianity helped him to conclude that it was justified for the Marxists to revere their leaders. The fact that the Christians had had their apostles and prophets must have strengthened his idea that the veneration of leaders was a common thing in revolutionary movements. Moreover, the fact that Russia knew a living tradition of worship of saints must have further strengthened his confidence that his own cult could work, just as he hoped that the veneration of the tsars made his own cult more acceptable to the population. Nevertheless, as far as one can ascertain on the basis of what Stalin said


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and wrote, the comparison with the prophets and saints remained no more than a sideline in his setting up of the cults of revolutionary leaders. The relative marginality of the “Orthodox” motive is confirmed by the actual form the Stalinist cult took. Taking a closer look, the similarities between the Orthodox and Stalinist cults were rather limited. Take the most “Orthodox” element of Stalinist ritual: Lenin’s embalming. In October 1923, Stalin proposed that the leader be buried rather than cremated, that being usual in Russia. Moreover, his body might be preserved long enough to get used to the idea of Lenin’s absence.54 After the leader’s death, decisions were taken to embalm the body until the funeral. In March, it was decided to preserve it indefinitely.55 According to Molotov, it was Stalin who insisted on this.56 But Lenin’s bodily remains were no relics with alleged miraculous powers. The body was a statue without intrinsic value. The enormous respect shown to it expressed only the respect for the deceased leader.57 The Orthodox believer addresses icons and relics in order to reach the respective saint through prayer. The ritual is a form of communication. This element was completely lacking in Stalinism, even in its most excessive forms. For the Stalinist, statues and posters served only to publicly underscore loyalty to those depicted. It would be meaningless for a Stalinist to perform a private ritual in relation to a statue, or even to Lenin’s body. In essence, the parallel between the two cults consisted in the fact that they were cults. In summing up, one way to look at the rise of the Stalin cult is to understand it against the background of tsarist and Orthodox traditions in the country. The cult was furthermore a conscious instrument of Stalin’s power strategies. But observed from the point of view of his own understanding of it, the Marxist component remained overriding. Stalin was convinced that he was a true historical hero. He not only hoped to be venerated to underscore his power. He also deserved to be venerated because he had an extraordinary understanding of the Marxist laws of history and the courage to act ruthlessly upon them. Nothing in what he said or wrote indicates that he had any doubts about the legitimacy of his cult. It would be contrary to his whole understanding of history to refuse the proletarian leaders the veneration they deserved.

13 Stalin on society, culture and science

In Marx and Engels’s communist society the capitalist divisions of labour were overcome. Mental and physical labour were fused and so were city and countryside. The family as a separate unit was replaced by a wider form of community. Communism promised to be an undifferentiated, homogeneous entity. During the so-called Cultural Revolution of the years 1928 to 1931, the Marxist ideal was translated into a struggle between “bourgeois and proletarian culture.” The goal was to abolish separate institutions like the school, written law, the big city and the family. These should be swallowed up by society. Stalin was never comfortable with this impractical ideal of total homogeneity. Having provided the radicals with some space for a few years, he gave short shrift to them in the early 1930s. The subsequent “Great Retreat” ushered in Stalinist society in the strict sense of the word.1 Stalin ridiculed the fusion of mental and physical labour and of city and countryside. At a plenum of the Central Committee in 1931, Kaganovich called abolishing big cities “nonsense.” Stalin confirmed the “leading role of the socialist city vis-à-vis the petit bourgeois village.”2 At a conference on the reconstruction of Moscow in July 1934, he noted his disagreement with the extreme urbanists, who wished to create a city “on the capitalist model, with its excessive density of population.” Nevertheless: History shows us that the city is the most efficient [ekonomnyi] type of settlement in industrial districts. It makes canalisations, waterworks, [electric] lighting, heating etc. possible in an efficient way. Therefore those are wrong, who propose to spread out the city over 70–100 kilometres, i.e. to transform it into a village and strip it of all advantages of communal services and the cultural life of the city.3 In that same month, the leader rejected out of hand the suggestion of establishing supporting industries at collective farms. “If you want to open factories, plants, then that’s crazy according to me…. For industry we have industrial centres, for agriculture we have kolkhozy.”4 The leader commented in the same spirit on the question of mental and physical labour. In November 1935, he noted at the first All-Union Conference of


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Stakhanovites that the movement represented the beginning of the overcoming of that division of labour. But he did not envision this as a fusion but as raising the standards of work and knowledge of the workers: Some think that the abolition of the contradiction between mental and physical labour can be brought about by some kind of cultural-technical levelling out of toilers of mental and physical labour…. As a matter of fact, the abolition of the contradiction between mental and physical labour can be brought about only on the basis of an upsurge of the cultural-technical level of the working class to the level of toilers performing technical-engineering labour.5 In 1952, Stalin spelled out in Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR that, although the “contradiction” between city and countryside had disappeared in socialist Russia, Engels’s hope of a “ruin of the big cities” was misinformed. The big cultural and industrial centres should flourish. Only the “essential difference” between city and countryside – differences in cultural level and between state and collective property – should disappear. The contradiction between mental and physical labour had already disappeared, because the manual workers were no longer discriminated against. The “essential difference” between the two kinds of toilers – again in the sense of a higher cultural and technical level of engineering and staff personnel – should disappear too. But differences would remain, for the “conditions of work of the leading staff of enterprises are not identical with the conditions of work of the workers.”6 Under complete communism, Soviet citizens would still live in cities and villages, and there would be workers and peasants, officials and intellectuals. That Stalin expected the divisions of labour to continue to exist even in the highest stage of communism also appears implicitly from his limited views concerning the conditions of transition to that stage. He mentioned only three: an “uninterrupted growth of the whole of social production”; the transition of the kolkhoz to a form of property of the whole people, with the related gradual replacement of “commodity circulation” by “product exchange”; and finally a degree of cultural progress and polytechnical education enabling Soviet citizens to switch professions in the course of their working lives if they so wished. The working day should be reduced to five hours and wages at least doubled. Only then would labour be a real joy instead of a burden.7 Nothing was said on the divisions of labour. The exposé on the merger of the kolkhoz and state sectors even contained the suggestion that the distinction between collective and nationalised property might be preserved under full communism. Stalin predicted the establishment of a “unified economic organ of the whole people” (with representation of industry and the kolkhozes) as a joint planning organ for the two sectors.8 The definition of the joint organ as one “of the whole people” might be interpreted as making nationalisation superfluous. Until now only

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state property had been defined as “of the whole people.” But if the collectives too might become part of a system “of the whole people” – without being nationalised – did not the theoretical need for their nationalisation thereby disappear? Full communism might avoid complete homogeneity of property. The reasons for Stalin to preserve the social divisions of labour are not hard to discover. They were exactly the same as those that persuaded him against abolishing money. To try to reform Soviet society into a huge homogeneous mass was utterly impracticable and could only lead to chaos. Formulated more positively, Stalin believed in the value of efficiency. The divisions of labour promoted the overall efficiency of the social organism. The Stalinist reformulation of the Marxist ideal had an ironic side to it. One might interpret the Soviet dictator’s reduction of its utopian element as signifying his lessening revolutionary fervour. But one could as well, and from a sociological point of view with more justification, make a case that he purged Marxism of an archaic ideal. By insisting that the social divisions of labour could not be undone, he adapted the ideal of the communist society to the modern world. Stalin’s cultural policies are notoriously hard to interpret. In important respects he restored the continuity with the tsarist past, while also preserving new communist elements. A good example is the policy towards women. As in the old days, motherhood was restored as woman’s honourable mission, culminating in a veritable cult with medals and other decorations. Freedom of abortion and easy divorce were among the casualties of the new policy. At the same time, there was no restoration of the man as the head of the family. The Stalinists rejected male leadership as an obscurantist principle. Nor was the woman pushed back out of the workplace into the house. In contrast to the old days, women were in the ideal case expected to be both productive workers and mothers.9 This is a typical example of a case where, as I discussed in the introduction to the present book, one can endlessly try to strike a balance between the elements of continuity and discontinuity without ever being able to provide a definitive answer. However, we can say something about the underlying motive of Stalinist family policies. The motive integrating them into one whole was to mobilise to a maximum all citizens for the state – in and outside the house. As women are naturally fit to be producers in two different ways – of material goods and progeny – they were naturally expected to perform both roles. They should be Stakhanovites as well as producing as many new citizens as possible. I should add that, likewise, the children’s primary responsibility was not to their parents but also to the state – as the glorification of Pavlik Morozov epitomised. Although in practice leading to a new continuity with the tsarist past in many respects, the motive of the Stalinist policies was not really traditionalist but a form of patriotic etatism. The same goes for the educational reforms. In the 1920s, Soviet schools experimented with the Dalton Plan and other forms of free education. The

172 Stalin on society, culture and science pupil’s autonomy was the central value. During the next decade libertarian experiments were stopped. Stalin restored the broken link with the past by returning to the authoritarian, classical model – except for corporal punishment, which was considered a mark of the old regime. But the motive was not to return to the good old days but the same patriotic etatism. Libertarianism was held to be incompatible with the education of citizens in a spirit of dedication to the state. After his death in 1939, A.S. Makarenko was officially proclaimed the “father of Soviet pedagogy.” He rejected “free education” as bourgeois individualism, bound to produce antisocial personalities. The school was a disciplined collective, teaching the pupil first of all his or her duties towards the state.10 The Stalinists were overridingly concerned with civic patriotism. Through the school, the young generation should be educated into a body of active citizens, motivated by a spirit of service to the state. Nineteenth-century anciens régimes like imperial Russia had not been immune from the new nationalism, including its self-imposed duty to educate the population. As the century proceeded, popular education had begun to spread. But the mobilisational motive made the Stalinist educational program more ambitious. As a matter of fact, it was not only more ambitious than the old tsarist system but also more ambitious than the earlier bolshevik one. Prior to the mid-1930s, Soviet education proceeded from the assumption that the school should take each child’s limitations in terms of heredity and environment into account. The child was the point of departure in terms not only of its autonomy but also of its limitations. In 1936, this was condemned as overly pessimistic. Children were infinitely malleable. All could in principle be completely re-educated, politically and professionally.11 Although tuition fees were reintroduced, the goal of the Stalinists remained to provide all children with higher education eventually. This was reflected in Stalin’s remarks that the workers should be raised to the cultural and technical level of engineers and staff personnel. Although in practice digging up many old policies and institutions, Stalin’s cultural policies as they took shape in the 1930s did not originate from a conservative backlash. The Soviet leader hoped to reorganise institutions such as the family and the school in such a way as to make the population contribute in the most all-round way to the efforts of the state. Re-education, organisation and mobilisation of the citizenry – patriotic etatism – was the overriding goal of the Great Retreat. All citizens should be made to, as it were, forget that they were separate individuals with private longings of their own. They had to be taught to, paraphrasing Stalin, “merge their wishes with the wishes of the state” – and to live by that principle. The practical policies were chosen in a pragmatic way. If it was held useful for patriotic purposes to restore a tsarist institution, that was done without any revolutionary pangs of conscience. The past was made use of shamelessly, but it had little if anything to do with conservative nostalgia.

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“Socialist realism”
Let us now turn to Stalin’s views on art. Lenin had been disgusted by artistic experimentation. Under his inspiration, the Central Committee condemned “decadents” for injecting “twisted tastes” into the working class.12 But during the 1920s, realism was not yet enforced. Initially, Stalin did not show much interest in art policies – not counting the question of culture in the national republics, to be discussed later. But from the start he was never sympathetic to the experimental avant-garde and supported the cause of proletarian realist art, although warning against sectarianism. In 1922, he proposed to the Politburo to establish a “society for the development of Russian culture.” The new “Soviet culture” should not be formed in the way “some ‘proletarian ideologues’ [Bogdanov and others]” envisaged it but through a struggle between all “Soviet-inclined” writers and counter-revolutionary tendencies.13 Stalin rejected a completely new, exclusively proletarian culture as too sectarian. Although the political partisanship of art should never be in doubt, artists should be collected on a wider “Soviet” platform. During the years of the Cultural Revolution, the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP) deployed a fierce campaign for “proletarian hegemony” in art. The campaign was supported by the Stalin leadership, but not unconditionally. In 1928, RAPP objected to a government decision to allow the staging of plays such as Bulgakov’s Flight. In the summer of the same year the famous Meierkhol’d left the country. The leader of the group Proletarian Theatre, Bill’-Belotserkovskii, publicly celebrated his departure as no loss for the proletarian cause. RAPP leader Averbakh thought that Bill’-Belotserkovskii went too far and called him a “class enemy.”14 This infighting between revolutionaries led to Stalin’s intervention. In February 1929, he wrote a letter to Bill’-Belotserkovskii, objecting to his use of the terms “left” and “right” in his discussion of literature. This was party terminology. In literature, other criteria were needed – concepts of a class nature, or even the “concepts ‘Soviet’, ‘anti-Soviet’, ‘revolutionary’, ‘anti-revolutionary’ etc.” Stalin objected to a witch hunt against Meierkhol’d and Bulgakov. It was easy to ban non-proletarian literature, but the main point was to produce interesting replacements. Only under the condition of competition was a “crystallisation of our proletarian artistic literature” feasible.15 In the same month, at a meeting with Ukrainian writers, Stalin turned against the demand that literary products be communist. It was enough for them to have a revolutionary or proletarian spirit.16 In a letter to RAPP he confirmed that, despite certain negative characteristics, Meierkhol’d remained linked to Soviet public life. But to condemn Bill’Belotserkovskii as a class enemy was unbalanced. Instead of creating “cacophony” on the literary front, one should seek a common language with all proletarian writers.17 Stalin supported the creation of a “proletarian art,” realistic in form and proletarian in content. But at the same time he felt that it might be too divisive


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to demand that art be strictly “proletarian,” whatever that meant. Could it not be more broadly defined as “Soviet,” a formula to prevent too many artists becoming estranged from the new society? In April 1932, the Central Committee decided to abolish the “special proletarian organisations” such as RAPP as too narrow. A broad Union of Soviet Writers (and corresponding organisations for the other arts) should be formed, uniting all supporters of the “platform of Soviet power.”18 In October 1932, a company of writers were summoned to Maksim Gor’kii’s town house, where they were joined by Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov and Kaganovich. Stalin’s speech counts as the founding statement of “socialist realism.” The General Secretary confirmed that RAPP followed a sectarian policy and proceeded to explain his own views on literature. Writings were as vital to society as artillery, automobiles and lorries. The writers were the ones to take care of the health of the producers’ minds. In a way, writers were the producers of the people’s minds: “You are engineers of human souls.” Art needed wide popular appeal and accessibility as well as an educative tone. Plays were the most suitable form of art. They were easy to understand. Workers were too busy to read long novels. It was no coincidence that the bourgeoisie, when it was “more popular in contrast to feudalism,” produced some of its greatest geniuses in drama, people like Shakespeare and Molière. And “we in our republic are now a more popular republic in contrast to the bourgeoisie.” The leader continued: the writer cannot sit still, he must get to know the life of the country…. Men are transforming life. …it is well and good if [a writer] will be a dialectical materialist. But…you mustn’t stuff an artist’s head with abstract theses. He must know the theories of Marx and Lenin…. And if he shows our life truthfully, on its way to socialism, that will be socialist art, that will be socialist realism.19 The formula that life should be portrayed “truthfully, on its way to socialism,” captures socialist realism well. It should be truthful, i.e. realistic in style, but with a definite message. Reality should be shown not simply as it is but in the light of the future goal. The history of the term “socialist realism” is interesting in itself. It was first used publicly in May 1932, in Literaturnaia gazeta, by Izvestiia editor Gronskii, who later claimed that he proposed the term “proletarian, socialist realism” to Stalin. The leader had approved of it, provided that the “proletarian” was omitted.20 The latter provision expressed his suspicions of exclusively “proletarian” art, but the “socialist” left no doubt about the need of political tendentiousness.21 For Stalin, art was socialist propaganda. In 1935, he noted typically that “having extraordinary possibilities of spiritually influencing the masses, the [Soviet] cinema helps the working class and its party to educate the toilers in the spirit of socialism.”22 Propagandistic art demanded a convincing style. It should be as lively and truthful as possible, provided the truth did not

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contradict the message. Stalin could be angry when heroes were portrayed in a negative light, or class enemies positively.23 But he might also object to schematic portraits. Primitive idealisation and demonisation carried the danger of a loss of conviction. One of his statements on the subject was made in September 1940, during a discussion of the film The Law of Life. The leader noted that writing did not work like a camera. Objectivity “should not be without passion, but living.” He demanded a “truthfulness and objectivity which serves some particular class.” Literature should love and hate. But this did not require “that the works show us the enemy only in his main, negative aspect.” That was how Gogol’ and Shakespeare did it, but Stalin wanted it otherwise: I’d prefer another way of writing – the way of Chekhov, with whom there are no outstanding heroes, but “grey” people, but who express a fundamental stream of life…. I’d prefer that our literature showed our enemies not as monsters, but as people hostile to our society, but not without some human traits…. Why shouldn’t we show that Bukharin, however horrible he was, had some human traits too? Trotskii was an enemy, but he was a capable man.24 In March 1950 Stalin noted, once again, that to have only ideal, positive heroes in Soviet literature was a “neo-RAPP” point of view. Great artists like Gogol’ and Tolstoi never used this schematic style.25 Whether one defines socialist realism as a “modern” art form depends on one’s definitions. If modernism is confined to twentieth-century experimentalism, Stalinist art was its nemesis. If definitions include the whole complex of post-medieval bourgeois realistic art, socialist realism remains part of modernism. What interests me is Stalin’s understanding of the matter. It has been argued that, in its inspiration, socialist realism was a perverted avantgarde phenomenon. The avant-garde demanded a fusion of art and society. So did socialist realism, with its insistence on political tendentiousness and its demand of accessibility for a wide public. Like the avant-garde, socialist realism demanded an “art for society’s sake.” Stalin concluded only that to seriously reject “art for art’s sake” implied rejecting experimentalism. If art really should serve society, then one should shed any elitist preferences and develop a popular art mobilising the toiling masses.26 In any case, the socialist content was the point of departure for Stalin’s thinking on art. His opting for realistic conservativism was pragmatically inspired, derived from the socialist goal of art. Socialism was a mass phenomenon – art should therefore aim for the masses. Stalin was careful to construct a progressive pedigree of socialist realism. For him, the most inspiring art of pre-revolutionary Russia was nineteenthcentury “critical realism.” In his discussion with Gronskii about the definition of the new style, he said that the term “socialist realism” referred to a historical continuity: “at the stage of the proletarian socialist move-


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ment, the literature of critical realism, which arose at the stage of the bourgeois-democratic social movement, turns into, grows over into the literature of socialist realism.”27 When the doctrine of socialist realism obtained its authoritative form in the years 1932–34, its ideological prehistory was officially determined. Next to Marx, Engels and Lenin, Russian radical democrats of the nineteenth century such as Belinskii and Chernyshevskii were officially recognised as precursors. Chernyshevskii pleaded for unity of art and life, for the identity of the beautiful and the politically correct.28 From its inception, socialist realist ideology contained a patriotic component. In painting, critical realism had been represented by the so-called peredvizhniki, of whom Il’ia Repin was the main exponent. They were known for portraying the horrors of contemporary society, but also for patriotic themes. Their ideologue Vladimir Stasov argued that art should be rooted in the life of the common people, giving it a realistic form as well as a national colour. He rejected “cosmopolitanism” as destructive of authenticity and true popularity. Similar views had been nurtured by the Westerniser Vissarion Belinskii, whose views on art now received public praise in Stalinist Russia.

Figure 9 N.G. Chernyshevskii: socially useful art

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Figure 10 V.G. Belinskii: healthy patriotism

Belinskii had been horrified by the old Russia, which in his view had been a country living as a mere narod. People had been part of a closely knit, more or less undifferentiated community, from which the rational citizen had not yet emerged. Only Peter the Great turned Russia from narod to a rational natsiia. Belinskii used the latter, originally French, word to show his affinity with the goals of the French Revolution. But Peter’s reform had been a partial one. Only the elite had been upgraded. The common people were still enserfed and continued to live as a mere narod. The resulting rift between these two sections of society should be closed by incorporating the peasantry into the rational nation, so that a modern community of equal citizens came about. Somewhat like Rousseau and the Jacobins, Belinskii further believed that nations might only be successfully formed if they allowed themselves to be marked off from each other in specific national colours: Nationalities are the individualities of mankind. Without nations mankind would be a lifeless abstraction, a word without content, a meaningless sound. In this respect I would rather join the Slavophiles than stay with the humanist cosmopolitans because even if the former make mistakes they err like living human beings, whereas the latter make even the truth sound like the embodiment of some abstract logic.


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Figure 11 Peter the Great: “good ideas, but there came in too many Germans”

The culture of a new Russia should rest on a universalist and rationalist basis, which it had in common with all modern nations. But it should also have a specific Russian colour of its own. And it was the common people – who were after all the real nation – who had, despite their backwardness and degradation, preserved national traditions against the Westernised elite. A progressive nationalist should recognise that if the common people were indeed constituted as the nation, they should also be allowed to put their cultural mark on the new nation. To be really democratic, culture should be marked by narodnost’, popularity.29 With Stasov and Belinskii, patriotism was injected into socialist realism. Belinskii and Chernyshevskii had also been greatly admired by Plekhanov and Lenin.30 In that light, Stalin’s adoption of them as Russian revolutionary heroes was not surprising. There is indirect evidence that the memory of the Chavchavadze movement contributed to Stalin’s appreciation of their particular mix of popularity and patriotism. On 12 September 1937, Pravda published an unsigned article on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Chavchavadze’s death. The piece was written by Stalin.31 The writer was described as a fighter against serfdom and autocracy and for the

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national liberation of Georgia. He dreamed of “national regeneration of his much suffering motherland.” During his stay at St Petersburg University, Chavchavadze came under the influence of “the leaders of the Russian revolutionary democratic movement – Belinskii, Dobroliubov, Chernyshevskii, Gertsen.” Through their ideas, “his hatred for the exploiting system became stronger, and his views of literature and art were formed.” Chavchavadze founded the realist school of Georgian literature. A burning love for his own people was always the source of Chavchavadze’s poetic inspirations. He strongly believed that the day would come when, having overthrown the oppressors, his motherland would deploy its powerful forces and would flourish with a tempestuous blossom. Stalin placed Chavchavadze and the nineteenth-century Russian revolutionary realists in one democratic camp, which he admired for its combined orientation towards the toiling masses against the ruling class, and patriotism. The anti-cosmopolitan principle of love for one’s own people synthesised these two concerns. Stalin recognised in Chavchavadze and Belinskii and company a healthy ideology of revolutionary patriotism, the idea of reinvigoration of the motherland through struggle against the old reactionary system, which holds it down. If we can attach significance to this Pravda article, we may surmise that during the 1930s Stalin began to remember his experiences as a youth in the Chavchavadze movement and that he found a new appreciation of it. Realising the similarities between this democratic Georgian patriotism and the ideas of men like Belinskii and Chernyshevskii helped him decide to adopt the latter. The adoption of Belinskii and Stasov in Stalinist Russia in the early 1930s marks an important moment. The original Marxism of Marx and Engels had known its patriotic element. In one of its aspects, the proletarian revolution was a force of patriotic regeneration. Lenin and Stalin inherited this concern as part of their socialist orientation. But now Stalin injected the patriotic theme into his Marxism in a more explicit way, as a separate concern. In the course of the 1930s and 1940s its implications became ever more significant. Patriotism found its way into the Stalinist vocabulary gradually, in stages. Early in 1936, Pravda published four articles attacking Soviet opera, ballet, architecture and painting.32 They rejected “formalism,” the formal experiments with their fake originality and “petit bourgeois ‘innovation.’ ” Pravda demanded “natural, human music” and “real art”: tuneful music, true-to-life costumes, proper usage of folklore and the classicist tradition. These articles did not expound a Russian patriotic theme but merely reiterated the principles of mass orientation and educational tone. Yet the class theme was treated here in a new and looser way. “Popular” art no longer expressed the ideals of the proletariat but embodied an unspecified popular community. Popular art


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expressed real humanity. In that sense, the class theme was receding in favour of a “patriotic” approach of the people as a unified community. Then again, the class theme did not disappear from Stalinist vocabulary. The hostility towards the tsarist ruling classes continued unabated. During the great Pushkin celebrations of 1937, the poet was praised as a genius of the Russian people and Russia’s national pride, together with other “talented sons of the people” like the scientists Lomonosov and Mendeleev. No attempt was made to provide his work with a specific class analysis. He simply represented the “best that was created by the people.” But Pushkin was not turned into a representative of a great tsarist past. On the contrary, it was emphasised that the tsarist autocracy and reactionary circles had hated his progressive, anti-aristocratic sentiments. The poet was as it were annexed, lifted out of an era that remained as gloomy as it had ever been in the eyes of the Stalinists.33 Pushkin represented an undifferentiated Russian people, without class attachment. But the tsarist ruling classes were excluded from that popular community; they did not belong to the people.34 After the Great Patriotic War, a new campaign of cultural orthodoxy shook artistic circles. Stalin initiated it at a session of the Orgbureau on 9 August 1946. The Soviet leader compared sloppy Soviet films negatively with Chaplin’s conscientious work (“and take Goethe, he worked for 30 years on Faust”). In the film A Great Life, there were plenty of gypsy and restaurant scenes, but the process of reconstruction of the Donbass was scarcely paid attention to. And why were our “golden people,” our “heroes,” shown living in primitive circumstances and working without modern machinery? He attacked the journal Zvezda for its acceptance of Zoshchensko’s The Adventures of a Monkey. The story mocked Soviet reality: “nonsense, neither good for the mind nor for the heart…. We didn’t construct the Soviet system to teach people on small stuff.” Next to this, Stalin elaborated on the patriotic theme in a sharper way than ever before: You walk on your toes for foreign writers. Is it not beneath a Soviet man to walk on his toes for the world abroad? Thereby you stimulate feelings of crawling, which is a big sin. [By printing many works in translation] you inject a taste of extraordinary respect for foreigners. You inject the feeling that we are people of the second rank, and over there you have people of the first rank…. You are pupils, they are the teachers. That is fundamentally wrong.35 The Soviet people were no longer allowed to be pupils to foreign teachers. This raised national self-reliance to a dogma and a value in itself. To demand that the socialist system serve to uplift the fatherland, as the leader had always demanded, is one thing. To demand that this will be done without, or without much, learning from other countries goes a step further. The practical consequences were profound. From now on, the Soviet state might cast out foreign art not because it was bourgeois but for the simple reason that it

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was foreign. Stalin’s idea did not imply that there was necessarily anything wrong with foreign art. It might well be admitted that a foreign work was progressive. In April 1948, Stalin told a Finnish state delegation: every nation – irrespective of whether it is big or small – has its own qualitative particularities, its own specific nature [spetsifika], which belongs to it alone and which is not found among the other nations. These particularities represent the contribution which each nation makes to the common treasure-house of world culture and supplements it, enriches it. In that sense…each nation is identical [ravnoznachna] to any other nation.36 For Stalin, national cultures remained instances of a universal world culture. He put himself in Belinskii’s tradition – not that of the pan-Slavic ideologist Nikolai Danilevskii. Like Stalin, Danilevskii had divided the world into separate national cultures with their own specific characters. But for him, each culture was unique. A universal human culture simply did not exist. But, then again, the fact that Stalin continued to recognise the basic universality of human culture was no longer the decisive point. As the Soviet people should develop their own art, they were expected not to borrow from others – whatever the qualities of their work. To adopt foreign ways, even healthy ones, was wrong because it prevented people from relying on themselves. The basis of Stalin’s argument was not that other cultures were detestable but that the Soviet Union should not copy their examples. But this opened the door to xenophobia just as surely. With this new doctrine of autarky and authenticity, which at last brought out the full consequences of the embracing of Belinskii and Stasov’s “anti-cosmopolitanism,” Stalin injected an element alien to Marxism into his thinking. Although not immediately, his ban on “crawling” came to dominate the Soviet artistic world. Shortly after Stalin’s speech at the Orgbureau, Zhdanov gave two speeches, which again showed that the new patriotism, although diverging ever further from original Marxism, did not imply any admiration for the tsarist past either. He accused the erring artists whom he attacked of being in love with the old world. The poet Akhmatova was dreaming of the old Russia of the nobility and the Middle Ages instead of nurturing the revolutionary democratic traditions of Belinskii and Plekhanov. The party secretary also criticised those who looked up to the bourgeois writers of the West. “Where does one find such a people and such a country as ours?” he asked. But his explanation for Russian superiority was characteristic: “We are no longer the same Russians we were before 1917, and our Russia is no longer the same, and our character is not the same. We changed.”37 Stalin received an abbreviated version of the two speeches compressed into one, which he enthusiastically endorsed for publication with only minor changes.38 The 1946 campaign did not yet put the patriotic theme in the centre but focused on the demand for socialist tendentiousness and the public


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commitment of art. Only the following year did Stalin make the theme of “crawling” the focus of cultural policy. In his conversation with film maker Eizenshtein and actor Cherkasov in February of that year he noted that Ivan the Terrible had been “a more national, more prudent tsar” than Peter the Great. The former’s wisdom consisted of his championing the “national point of view. He did not let foreigners in – he safeguarded the country against penetration by foreign influences.” Peter I was also a great sovereign, but he was too liberal in relation to foreigners, opened the gates too wide and let foreign influence into the country, having allowed Russia to become Germanized. Catherine allowed this to an even greater extent. Was Alexander I’s court a Russian court? Was Nicholas I’s court a Russian court? No. Those were German courts. Ivan the Terrible was the first to introduce a monopoly on foreign trade – an excellent move. Lenin was the second to introduce a monopoly.39 Ironically, at this time when Stalin was raising patriotism to unprecedented heights, it became all the more clear how little he identified with his tsarist predecessors. His criticisms of the old order became more stinging. His new patriotism did not grow from increased appreciation of the past but added reasons for hating it. Not only had the tsars kept the country backward and exploited the people, but they had also betrayed Russia, saddling it with a spirit of self-humiliation. In the second half of the 1930s, Stalin concluded that Peter had been relatively progressive because of his efforts at state construction. Now his appreciation of him weakened again. Only Ivan the Terrible remained as the lone exception among the tsars in promoting national development. In May of the same year, Stalin told the writers Simonov and Fadeev that the intelligentsia had been insufficiently educated as Soviet patriots. They have an unjustified adoration of foreign culture. They still feel themselves minors, not one hundred percent, they’ve got used to considering themselves in a situation of eternal pupils. This is a backward tradition, it goes back to Peter. Peter had good ideas, but soon there came in too many Germans…. Look, how difficult it was to breathe, how difficult it was to work for Lomonosov, for instance. First the Germans, then the French, there was an adoration of foreigners. Despite the new socialist system, Stalin complained, many people still thought as in the old days, when lack of self-confidence towards foreigners had been the rule. But “why are we worse?” This point would be rubbed in for years. Here we would have, for instance, a good man, “not the least man, …and he adores some foreign bastard, a scholar who is three heads shorter than he. He loses his dignity.” It was high time to start fighting the “spirit of self-belittlement” prevalent among intellectuals.40

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These words determined the new direction of Soviet cultural policies. In January 1948, Zhdanov addressed a conference of musicians. He widened the company of artists that were allowed to be annexed from the tsarist past to include all those working in the proper classical realistic style. The official academic tsarist painter Briullov was now also a popular artist, because his works were accessible to the masses. Conversely, phoney modernist art should be rejected, because it did not aspire to public service but danced to the tunes of the individualistic wishes of a “small group of selected aesthetes.” It served an “elite.” Zhdanov further quoted Stasov to the effect that European culture should be respected, but without any “crawling.” Russian and Soviet music grew “precisely because it succeeded to stand on its own feet.” He concluded that real internationalism could only flourish if one was true to one’s own national character. One could not respect other peoples “without respect and love for one’s own people.”41 When the doctrine of “socialist realism” was complete, it represented a full fusion of socialism and patriotism. The coherence of the idea was preserved because it was felt that the socialist as well as the patriotic motive demanded a realistic, “popular” style. This, again, implied that, for all the gradual widening of the scope of acceptable art from the tsarist era, socialist realism remained selective in its models from the past. The main focus of interest remained the nineteenth century, and the Russian traditional art par excellence, the iconic style, was not integrated on any significant scale. I should add that the fact that for Stalin national arts remained at bottom instances of a universal world culture was not without practical significance. Because of it, the demand for self-reliance was never made total. Foreign influences were not excluded completely. In a supreme irony, the classicist style, which so many Soviet architects, sculptors and painters applied as their model, was in fact foreign – delivered from Greece and Rome, through Renaissance Italy to eighteenth-century Russia.

“Practical” science
The last field to be discussed in the present chapter is that of the natural sciences. The Soviet dictator ridiculed the idea that these sciences had a class character. They formed a “fortress” to be captured – not something completely new and proletarian. Students should learn from everybody, “in particular from our enemies.” But the proletarian regime was more able to develop science than the old one had been. The Soviet state could unshackle science: with its revolutionary habits and traditions, with its struggle against rigidity and stagnation of thought, our country provides the most favourable condition for the flourishing of the sciences. …the petit bourgeois narrowness and routine, characteristic of the old professors of the capitalist school, are a dead weight on the feet of science.42


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Although the sciences had no class character, they should be revolutionised. Above all, science should be made more practical. This demand had profound consequences. First, Stalin insisted that, to be worthy of the name, theory must give “the praktiki the strength of an orientation, a clarity of perspective, assurance in work.”43 Formulated broadly, the demand for science to be practical is shared by all scientists. Scientific conclusions must stand empirical testing. However, the scientific criterion of practice should mean scientific practice, i.e. the controlled experiment and other forms of systematic observation. Stalin’s demand that theory give an orientation to practical workers cut off a large part of the body of science as irrelevant. Second, he followed Engels in claiming that practice as the criterion of truth referred to “the experiment” and “industry.”44 To mention industry as a separate criterion next to the experiment allowed accepting theories as true that seemed to work in production but were not subjected to systematic testing. Stalin did not draw a sharp line between scientists and practical innovators. He respected the latter’s contribution to science more than the scientists’ own. In 1935, he praised the brave Stakhanovites, who overthrew obsolete technical norms and were “free from the conservatism and stagnant mentality of some engineers, technical and economic specialists.” They were not prepared to “adore our backwardness and make an icon, a fetish, from it.” The Soviet leader called on the scientists to follow their example and be as brave as Ptolemy in his day. Science was only worthy of its name if it was “not afraid to raise its hand against the obsolete, the old, and sharply listens to the voice of experience, of practice.” He explained: People…say that the data of science, the data of the technical handbooks and instructions, contradict the demands of the Stakhanovites concerning new, higher technical norms. But…the data of science have always been tested in practice, by experience. A science which has lost the link with practice, with experience – what kind of science is that?45 Apparently, the results of scientific experiments, as laid down in handbooks, should be overturned not by new experiments and analysis but directly by the collected productive experience of the toilers, without separate scientific verification. In May 1938, Stalin explained that one should not respect the “traditions established in science” slavishly but break them up in the spirit of coryphei like Darwin, Galileo and Lenin. Scientific innovation came especially from ordinary toilers. New roads in science were often opened up by people “completely unknown in the scientific world, simple people, praktiki, innovators of the deed.” Aleksei Stakhanov and the Arctic traveller Papanin were such “innovators in science, people of our advanced science.” He raised a toast to that science which was prepared to “serve the people.”46 In Stalin’s view, the natural sciences were not the specific property of the proletariat but part of the general stock of knowledge of mankind. However, although at root no class issue, class did have a powerful influence

Stalin on society, culture and science


on science. The scholars of the obsolete bourgeoisie locked themselves up in their ivory towers and made science rigid and ossified, putting the brakes on its development. The practical Stalinist approach infused dynamism into science. Rather than forming a closed universe of its own – with its own kind of “practice” – science should, first, draw its conclusions from the work of ordinary people engaged in non-scientific practice and, second, accept only results that could immediately serve these people in their productive work. In order to make it flourish, science should become the concern of the toiling masses. In some sciences, the “practical” approach had disastrous results, as when the crackpots Ivan Michurin, Vasilii Vil’iams and Trofim Lysenko – plant breeders who hoped to create new species by homegrown methods – were honoured as founding fathers of a new biology. In the previous century, Charles Darwin had shown that life forms were subject to a process of gradual evolution. Individual plants and animals with stronger hereditary characteristics had the greater chance of survival. Consequently, these hereditary characteristics gradually became dominant, which resulted in a change of the species. Inherently competitive, nature functioned like a spontaneous breeding farm. What Darwin had not pretended to understand was how the differences in the hereditary material between individuals arose in the first place. Before him, Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck had provided one possible answer when he surmised that the changes that individual plants and animals underwent during their lives under the influence of the environment were somehow transmitted to their hereditary material. During the twentieth century, it was finally shown that acquired characteristics could not put a stamp on heredity. Changes were due to spontaneous “mutations.” But Stalinist biology stubbornly held on to Lamarckism. The adherents of this pseudo-science, typically called “agrobiology,” did not accept that the hereditary material of plants could change only by chance. It simply had to be that the hereditary material could be manipulated through manipulation of the environment. Stalin had been a Lamarckist from his youth.47 During the 1930s, he expressed support for the practical approach of the Lysenkoites on several occasions.48 In that decade, the “agrobiologists” did not yet reign supreme. They were still criticised by proper geneticists, but after the war Lysenko triumphed. In October 1947, a campaign was started “For Creative Darwinism, against Malthusianism.”49 On 31 October, Stalin sent Lysenko a letter to express his support. The Michurinite thesis was the only scientific one, and those “who deny the inheritance of acquired characteristics are not worth giving much attention to.”50 In a discussion with Iurii Zhdanov, head of the party secretariat’s Science Department, in the autumn of 1947 Stalin rejected the assumption of an “immutable substance of heredity, which is not subject to the influence of external nature.” He acknowledged that most of the new plant species allegedly developed by Lysenko perished, but “that’s what the books teach.”

186 Stalin on society, culture and science One had to focus on the surviving five percent. Men of science should proceed from practical life and not be afraid to break established norms. But instead of taking the bold course of “innovators,” most Soviet scientists were “conservative, bookish, routine people.” Copying foreign work, they produced no discoveries of their own.51 In April 1948, the young Zhdanov criticised some aspects of the Lysenko school.52 Stalin wrote angry comments on a copy of the speech.53 Attacking Iurii at a meeting of the Politburo in June, the leader divided biology into two schools, the one “based on mysticism – a mystery on a mystery. The other materialist.”54 The geneticists were finally crushed at a conference of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in August 1948. Lysenko sent his proposed report to Stalin in advance. In his marginal notes, the leader ridiculed the remark that every science had a class character: “Ha-ha-ha…And mathematics? And Darwinism?” He changed references to bourgeois, anti-Marxist science into “idealist,” “unscientific” or “reactionary.” Proletarian science became “progressive” or “scientific.”55 Obviously, Stalin had not accepted the division of the natural sciences into bourgeois and proletarian branches.56 Only the social sciences had a class character.57 But the effect of Stalin’s “practicism” on biology was serious enough. Other sciences were also harmed.58 Physiology was a case in point. In June–July 1950, a conference was organised to root out everything diverging from Ivan Pavlov’s teachings. In contrast to the Lysenkoites, Pavlov had been a genuine scholar, but his work was received in a Stalinist interpretation. The main address by Konstantin Bykov, published in Pravda on 29 and 30 June, was edited by Stalin in advance.59 It claimed that in the capitalist world physiologists operated with the concept of “the conservatism of the forces of nature, thereby putting the brakes on the development of the all penetrating force of the human mind.” Pavlov’s theory of conditioned reflexes, provoked by external conditions, explained all reactions of animals and man, from the most primitive to human language. It proved the falsity of the idea that living beings were “predetermined once and for all.” The external environment had a dominant influence on the inner world of animals. The inclusion of language in the range of the external stimuli determining behaviour was especially relevant. It expressed the hope of developing all-powerful methods of propaganda. In his own imagination, Pavlovian physiology provided Stalin with a scientific instrument of totalitarian control over human beings. Stalin’s Pavlov provided an instrument to transform the human world comparable to the one Lysenko provided to transform that of plants. For Stalin, the natural sciences could flourish only when two demands were met. First, they should have an anti-elitist, “mass” orientation. Stalin rejected the class approach, but not completely. Soviet science should be revolutionised by giving the ordinary, “toiling” people a role in its development and orienting it towards the demands of production. Second, in a loud

Stalin on society, culture and science


echo of Enlightenment beliefs, it should be recognised that objects developed mainly under the influence of education and the environment. This provided science with the power to control objects without recognising inherent limitations. Tucker aptly calls this approach “transformism.”60 The two aspects were interrelated. Practically oriented science was more dynamic. With his narrow theoretical method, the bourgeois scholar only skimmed the surface of reality, never getting a real grasp of it. In contrast, the style of direct intervention allowed the praktik to mould the object at his will. That, again, allowed the Soviet state to make maximum use of science – or so it was hoped. Like art, science was swamped by patriotism. During the 1930s, a kind of founding father had been “nominated” for the various sciences – most of them “bourgeois” scientists working from a healthy materialist perspective. They were mostly Russians – Mendeleev, Lobachevskii, Pavlov and others. The real breakthrough of xenophobic patriotism came after the Great Patriotic War, with the “case of Kliueva and Roskin,” two medical researchers who in 1946 provided American colleagues with information on a new cancer therapy. This was considered a treasonous act.61 A drive for the so-called “priority” of Soviet science was initiated – to make that science leading in the world. Soviet scientists were forbidden to share their results with foreign colleagues. If they did, they were accused of betraying their motherland and turning into spies. Conversely, to make Soviet science dependent on foreign borrowings was considered an insult to national dignity. Belief in the country’s own potential was the key.62 Scientific exchange was limited to marginal levels. In February 1947, Zhdanov and Stalin received the two unfortunate scientists. According to the former’s notes, they told them that the exaggerated prestige of America and England should be destroyed, and that the Russian peasant had a greater sense of his own dignity than they had.63 In July, the Central Committee wrote in a secret letter to the party that, by giving away their discovery, Kliueva and Roskin deprived Soviet science of its “priority.” Their anti-patriotism was a rudiment of the “accursed past of tsarist Russia.” The revolution had made Russia an independent state for the first time. But the sense of inferiority towards the West, inculcated by the former ruling classes, persisted within the “powerful Soviet organism.” From the eighteenth century onwards, the Russian nobility had lost its “national mentality and traditions.” Forgetting the Russian language, they began to speak French. Cut off from the Russian people, they no longer believed in its creative powers and did not allow for the possibility of Russia arising from backwardness by its own forces. They neglected the national scientific effort. People like Lomonosov and Popov had been ignored, their discoveries being attributed to foreigners like Lavoisier and Marconi.64 Stalinist patriotism had a somewhat paradoxical quality. The rift between the Westernised elite and the Russian masses had been part of the life of the country since Peter the Great. It had been deplored by Slavophiles and


Stalin on society, culture and science

Westernisers alike – but appreciated differently. The Slavophiles rejected Westernisation as a matter of principle. The elite should return to the Russian fold. For a man like Belinskii, however, the process had been twodirectional. The elite should allow its culture to be Russified, but the country should be reorganised politically, technologically, scientifically and economically on Western lines. That was the position that Zhdanov and Stalin took: Russian culture should be expressed in the Russian language and painted in Russian colours. But in a paradox, they believed that the servile attitude towards the West adopted by the Russian elite had mainly hindered the country’s technological and scientific development, i.e. its Westernisation. In 1948, the drive for priority of Soviet science turned into an aggressive campaign against “cosmopolitanism,” defined as a nihilistic attitude towards the phenomenon of the nation. It was insisted in Soviet publications that, like culture as a whole, science did not develop in the form of “faceless [bezlikie], ‘universally human’ ideas and concepts without nationality, but in a specific national form.” Nevertheless, patriotism was not developed into total national exclusivity, denying every international common ground. As in the case of art, it was grudgingly acknowledged that, in its content, science remained international and often even based on class principles. Accordingly, some exchange of scientific achievements could be wholesome, provided that the USSR did everything to become self-reliant and the dominant scientific power in the world.65 As in the Belinskii original, Stalinist anti-cosmopolitanism combined a dominant notion that art and the sciences assumed national forms with a recognition that these endeavours still rested on a universal basis. The two aspects expressed a policy of self-reliance mitigated by limited international exchange. I should add that art and the sciences were treated somewhat differently. The Stalinists could afford to put foreign works of art in the basements of their museums. Western sociology and psychology could be banned. But for industrial and military reasons they could not afford to ignore the Western natural sciences. The Soviet dictator put much effort into stealing information on the atomic bomb from the Americans. Stalin did not allow his anti-cosmopolitanism to prevent him laying his hands on any useful Western knowledge he could get. Nevertheless, the basic approach was the same as in the case of art. Even though foreign natural sciences were secretly welcomed with open arms, every effort was made to ensure that Soviet science developed so powerfully that it became self-reliant. Scientific autarky was the goal. Stalin had come a long way. The young Marxist Koba Dzhugashvili had taken the standpoint he now decried as “national nihilism” and “cosmopolitanism”: the nation was an irrelevant and harmful phenomenon; only the culture of international modernity mattered. In 1913, he had included cultural identity in his definition of nations. This made it easier for him to recognise the desirability of cultural autonomy for the non-Russian republics when he became Commissar of Nationalities. After the Great

Stalin on society, culture and science


Patriotic War he turned full circle as he set himself the task of protecting Russian culture and science against dilution by the world abroad. Afraid that Russian public opinion might open up to influences from the West, and under the influence of the Cold War, he launched an attack on “cosmopolites” in the name of patriotic self-reliance. The Russian people were inculcated with blind belief in their own capabilities. However, although he drove out much of foreign culture, and sometimes even foreign science, Stalin never denied that, in the final instance, Russian culture remained part of a global whole. Correspondingly, international exchange was never completely cut off. The axis of the older Stalin’s thinking became the notion of the popular community. It was this community, organised into a state, to which all individuals, all art and all science should dedicate themselves. It was this community that was expected to operate as a self-reliant, more or less closed unit in the world at large. As a concept, the popular community can be used to distinguish Stalin’s political analysis from Marxism and conservatism. The community of the “toilers” was no longer pure Marxism. The centrality of the proletariat was lost. Stalin accepted that communism would never turn into a proletarianised society but would always know various strata, separated from each other by the great divisions of labour. In most respects, positive discrimination in favour of the proletariat was abolished. Furthermore, Stalin rejected ideas of pure proletarian arts and sciences. But Marxism remained a powerful component in Stalin’s thought. Capitalist property was not restored. The capitalist classes remained excluded from the popular community. Correspondingly, Stalin’s patriotism was not informed by conservative nostalgia. The tsarist past was decried in shrill tones as an era when the great Russian popular community was covered in shame.

14 Socialist in content, national in form

At the time when he was People’s Commissar of Nationalities under Lenin, Stalin treated the Great Russians as the most modern, leading nation of the empire. As a historic nation, they overcame “feudal fragmentation” most successfully. The Russians had first drawn their territories together and formed a centralised state.1 Economic unification further provided Russia proper with a relatively advanced industrialisation and urbanisation. And, last but not least, in Russia the “medieval” fragmentation of people into separate cultural-linguistic communities was overcome more fully than elsewhere. It was nationally the most homogeneous territory. However, the commissar understood that one could not force non-Russian nations to subject themselves to assimilation into Russian modernity. They should be allowed a degree of cultural and administrative autonomy. Two stages can be distinguished in Stalin’s nationality policies. Until the mid-1930s, the autonomy of the non-Russian nations was respected to a significant degree. The policy was called “nationalisation” or “indigenisation” (korenizatsiia). Local cadres were expected to dominate the local government and party apparatus, and the press and schools should operate mainly in local languages. Subsequently, the Russian stamp on the republics became heavier, although Stalin never turned to complete Russification. From a Marxist perspective, the first stage was dominated by the insight, derived from the Austro-Marxists, of the tenacity of national cultural identities. During the second, the old approach, originally connected with Engels, of leaning on the leading historic nation reasserted itself, although Russian culture was now treated not only in terms of abstract modernity but as specifically Russian culture with an identity of its own. Lenin had not left behind a simple formula to capture nationality policy. In May 1925, the new leader provided it in a speech to students of the Communist University of Toilers of the East about the policy of cultural autonomy for the non-Russian republics: But what is national culture? How can we combine it with proletarian culture? Didn’t Lenin say…that the slogan of national culture is a reactionary slogan of the bourgeoisie…? …proletarian culture, socialist by

Socialist in content, national in form 191 its content, assumes different forms and ways of expression among different peoples…, dependent on the difference of language, way of life etc. Proletarian in content, national in form – such is the universal [obshchechelovecheskaia] culture to which socialism strives. Proletarian culture does not abolish national culture, but provides it with its content. Stalin added that he hardly believed in Kautsky’s “theory of a unified allencompassing language.” The Soviet state hoped to awaken the many “forgotten peoples and nationalities” to a new life. Some might disappear through assimilation, but most would strengthen their independent existence under socialism.2 In 1927, Stalin acknowledged that the fusion of nations remained the ultimate goal of Soviet policy. But this could only be accomplished after the victory of socialism in all countries. Prior to that, the national differences between the peoples of the USSR would stay.3 In February 1929, Stalin confirmed to a group of Ukrainian writers that he favoured a “protective” policy of “maximum development” of national cultures. This was comparable to the notion of preparing the abolition of the state through an “unprecedented expansion of the functions of this state.”4 The following month, Stalin reaffirmed that nations were formations typical of modernity. “Elements of the nation – language, territory, cultural community etc.” did develop in the pre-capitalist era, but only in a rudimentary, potential way. Modern nations were created when the bourgeoisie, destroying feudal fragmentation, “collected the nation into one and cemented it.” Stalin acknowledged that with the fall of capitalism “bourgeois nations” were doomed, but “new, Soviet nations,” “socialist nations,” survived the demise of capitalism. Being free of irreconcilable class contradictions, they were even “much more welded and viable than any bourgeois nation.” The Soviet leader accused Kautsky, who supported German assimilation of the Czechs, of not appreciating the “colossal strength of the stability of nations.” Assimilation was “unconditionally excluded from the arsenal of Marxism–Leninism, as an anti-popular, counter-revolutionary policy.” The assimilatory policy of the Turks, the Russian tsars and the Germans showed its ineffectiveness well enough. Only after the establishment of world socialism would there arise, first, “zonal economic centres” with corresponding zonal languages. Finally, the whole world would fuse into one “unified system of global socialist economy” with a corresponding world language.5 At the Sixteenth Party Congress in 1930, the leader laid it down authoritatively that the period of construction of socialism in the USSR was a period of “flourishing of national cultures, socialist in content and national in form.”6 The thesis of flourishing nations under socialism probably came straight from Otto Bauer’s work, with which Stalin was well acquainted. However, this policy was not without ambivalence. The idea was to centralise political and economic power in Moscow, leaving the republics culturally autonomous. But that autonomy was never understood as separate


Socialist in content, national in form

Figure 12 Otto Bauer: flourishing nations under socialism

from Russian culture, which was after all the most advanced one. Even in the years of korenizatsiia, conflicts in the republics occurred. For example, in Ukraine the urban working class was mainly Russian, whereas Ukrainian was the peasant tongue and might therefore be considered as reflecting a lower culture. In April 1926, Stalin notified the Ukrainian Politburo that Russian workers should not be forced to abandon the Russian language and culture. Ukrainisation of the republican proletariat could only come about by a gradual influx of peasants into the factories. Furthermore, it should be taken into account that there were not enough Ukrainian Marxist cadres around. Therefore, the tempo of Ukrainisation should not be forced. Finally, he warned that there should be no struggle “against Russian culture and its highest achievement – Leninism.”7 By identifying Russian culture with Leninism, Stalin fixed Russian cultural leadership.

During the late 1930s, Russian leadership was intensified over a wide front. Until 1936, the right to secession still stood for all nationalities, theoretically.8 However, in his speech on the new constitution Stalin noted that, whereas union republics had a right to secession, autonomous

Socialist in content, national in form 193 republics did not. For secession to be an option, three conditions had to be met. The respective territory should be bordering a foreign state; the namegiving nationality should form a compact majority in the territory; and its population should be large enough to be able to form a viable independent state.9 The paper right to secession was at one stroke withdrawn from the great majority of Soviet nationalities. Privately, Stalin confirmed that the right to secession of union republics, included in the new constitution, remained suspended. In his November 1937 speech at Voroshilov’s he noted that the Soviet state was “colossal” and more “closely integrated” than the tsarist state had ever been. He threatened anyone striving for “separation of a separate part and nationality” from the Soviet state with destruction. The Russian tsars did many bad things. They plundered and subjected the people. They waged wars and conquered territories in the interests of the landlords. But they did one good thing – they collected a huge state – up to Kamchatka. We received this state as a heritage. And for the first time we, bolsheviks, collected and strengthened this state, as a unified, indivisible state, not in the interests of the landlords and capitalists but for the benefit of the toilers, of all great peoples making up this state.10 This makes it clear enough that Stalin did in retrospect welcome the indivisible character of the tsarist state. He was aware that, in denying the non-Russian peoples the possibility of secession, he was restoring continuity with the pre-revolutionary era. On the other hand, it is also clear from the dictator’s remarks, made to a small circle of comrades, that he thought he was building a different kind of state from the one his imperial predecessors had built. His unitarism benefited other classes than theirs had. Stalin did not support unitarism out of admiration for the work of the tsars but, conversely, admired that work because he nurtured the unitarist ideal. I should add that, in terms of its effect, Stalin’s adoption of the “one and indivisible” amounted to restoring a formula that had, prior to Lenin’s theoretical adoption of the right to separation, been part of the Marxist state ideal, inherited from the French Revolution. With the new constitution, the powers of the centre, numerically dominated by the RSFSR, increased further. The number of independent commissariats under republican authority was reduced from six to four.11 Thereby Soviet federalism was further undermined, to the point of turning the USSR into an almost unitary state. Unitarism remained Stalin’s real ideal. In January 1941, he told Malyshev that, from an economic point of view, the Soviet state was still “no unified whole, but consists of separate chunks.” He hoped that the railroads might serve to unify Soviet Russia, in the same way as the fleet had served the “world empires” of Britain and France.12 Russification was introduced in cadre policies as well as in the cultural sphere. In the last twenty years of Stalin’s rule, the Russians strengthened


Socialist in content, national in form

their over-representation among the personnel of the political, technicaleconomic and military ruling stratum of Soviet society.13 In 1938, Russian was introduced as an obligatory subject in all Soviet schools. It was argued that a multinational state needed a common means of communication. Furthermore, a knowledge of Russian was needed to enable national cadres to study science and technology. Finally, without a knowledge of Russian one could not serve in the Red Army.14 In the same year, Russian became the only language used in the armed forces. Furthermore, in most republics, Russian became the language of education in institutions of higher (although not of primary and secondary) learning.15 Thus Russian was established as the language of communication between the bureaucracies of the republics, in the army as well as in the world of science and technology. There was no turn to complete Russification, though. No attempt was made at wholesale replacement of local cadres and specialists by Russians; nor was it Stalin’s intention to root out non-Russian cultures or languages.16 The new line is best treated as a synthesis of Russification and nationalisation, the former element becoming increasingly dominant. We are interested to find out in what terms Stalin understood this turn. The term “Soviet patriotism” referred to the strong coherence of the Soviet nations in one state. It appeared in the media in 1934.17 Ironically, from the moment partial Russification became state policy a few years later, Stalin became less rather than more inclined to mention the need for Russian leadership. During the war he praised the Russians more profusely than other nations, but generally he did not mention their leading role. He omitted it from his classical definition of November 1944, holding that Soviet patriotism did not have “racial or nationalist prejudices for its basis, but the profound dedication and loyalty of the people to their Soviet Motherland.” In Soviet patriotism we have a harmonious combination of the national traditions of the peoples with the common, essential interests of all toilers of the Soviet Union. Soviet patriotism does not divide up, but on the contrary welds together all nations and nationalities of our country into a unified, brotherly family.18 In the Soviet press, the leading role of the Russians was routinely mentioned, before and after the war. Stalin undoubtedly continued to see the Russians as the leading nation. His famous May 1945 toast, mentioning them as the “most eminent” among Soviet nations and as the “leading force” of the country, says enough.19 But it was never claimed that Russian leadership integrated the population of the USSR to the point of turning it into a new “Soviet nation.” The old formula of flourishing national cultures was not abandoned. Bol’shevik noted in 1947 that the Soviet Union was no “conglomerate of tribes or of assimilating national minorities” like Austria–Hungary or the United States.

Socialist in content, national in form 195 The multinational Soviet Union represents a union of compact nations, each of which has its own culture and national traditions, its own language, its own Soviet statehood…. The Soviet peoples live in friendship, welded together into a brotherly family around the Russian people, which has earned general recognition as the leading force among all peoples of our country.20 Stalin did use the new term of the “Soviet people” (narod),21 but it was never clearly defined.22 The leader denied to the end of his days that the Soviet nations were assimilating. His intervention in the debate on linguistics in 1950 is typical. The object of the dictator’s wrath was the deceased linguist Nikolai Marr, who believed that languages were closely determined by the economic and class structure of society. New languages came about through “crossing,” i.e. through the mixing of two existing languages, each contributing substantially to the resulting new one. In the end, one single world language would be the result.23 In early 1950, the Georgian linguist Arnol’d Chikobava complained to Stalin about Marr’s misconceptions. The leader agreed and asked him to write an article about the matter, which Stalin corrected before it appeared in Pravda on 9 May.24 Among other points, Chikobava took issue with a remark by Marr that the state should take artificial measures to speed up the process of formation of one world language. He quoted Stalin on assimilation as a reactionary policy and on the flourishing of nations under socialism. In the summer of 1950, Pravda published no less than five contributions to the debate written by Stalin.25 Alleging that languages survived the revolution basically intact, he insisted that only the content of the new socialist culture was transformed. But it remained “national in form, i.e. in language.” Languages like Ukrainian and White Russian were not expected to disappear in the foreseeable future. History proved the “great stability and colossal capacity of language to resist violent assimilation.” The Soviet people continued to consist of separate “Soviet nations,” and only a “mutual enrichment” of the Soviet languages was now feasible.26 This latter formula of “mutual enrichment” was the only new element, showing that, compared with the 1920s, Stalin’s thinking about the nationality question had shifted. The formula allowed for an influencing of the non-Russian languages by Russian. And this is how the matter was treated in the Soviet press. In 1951, Bol’shevik wrote that the identity of the Soviet languages should not be touched, but “the leading role of the great Russian nation” contributed to the “rapprochement [sblizhenie] of the national cultures and the mutual enrichment of the languages of the peoples of the USSR.”27 In 1952, Stalin’s secretary Poskrebyshev wrote that the “great Russian people, the first among equal Soviet peoples,” was the “cementing force, strengthening the friendship of the peoples.” The Russian language served “most efficiently” as the “means of inter-national communication.”


Socialist in content, national in form

What is more, the Russian language “enriches the national culture of the peoples and their national languages.”28 Such articles suggested a partial transformation of the non-Russian languages and cultures by the Russian. In Marxism and Questions of Linguistics, Stalin referred the stage of sblizhenie of nations to the future of global socialist victory.29 But we have an intriguing indication that he did consider sblizhenie part of the formula of Soviet socialism. In a 1940 edition of his early “How does social democracy understand the national question?” he read back his own words “How to destroy the national barriers erected between the nations…in order to bring about a rapprochement of [sblizit’ drug s drugom] the proletarians of the Russian empire.” He underlined the conclusion immediately following upon this: “Such is the content of the ‘national question’ in social democracy.”30 The elder Stalin did not return to the assimilatory ideals of his youth. The fusion of the Soviet nations, their sliianie, was not on the agenda. Nevertheless, his earlier concern for bringing the non-Russian peoples closer to Russian culture re-emerged. Although assimilation remained too ambitious, the leading Russian nation should try to enforce a more limited process of sblizhenie – to bring the other nations nearer to its own language and culture. The question is what were Stalin’s motives for his new policy of partial Russification. It is highly doubtful whether the tsarist state model can have provided much inspiration. Although the Russian leading role was strengthened, the Stalinist state remained a typically multinational one, its units being separately organised nations. Pre-revolutionary Russia was organised as a supranational rather than a multinational state. Theoretically, imperial Russia did not define itself as the representative body of either the Russian nation or the united nations making up the empire, but as an extension of the tsar. Correspondingly, it was a purely unitary state, its provincial borders being drawn without attention to the national composition of the population. No attempt was made to organise the peoples of the empire, Russians as well as non-Russians, into separate, modern nations. As to tsarist attempts at cultural assimilation, Alexander III’s late nineteenth-century policy of Russification remained condemned as strongly as ever in late Stalinist publications. Tsarist Russia continued to be presented as a “prison of peoples.”31 The main reason for Stalin’s change of policy was probably pragmatism. In the course of time, it became harder to reconcile the culturally multinational character of the Soviet state with its aspiration to function as a single, integrated whole in the military, political and economic spheres. It is difficult for a strongly integrated state to function without a common state language at many levels of its structure. A choice had to be made between giving up something of the unitary ideal or sacrificing something of the linguistic multinationalism. In the course of the 1930s, Stalin made up his mind that the centralised integration of the state was more important than the cultural sensitivities of the non-Russian nations, but in doing so, he did not revert to

Socialist in content, national in form 197 the tsarist supranational model or embrace complete Russification. The groundwork of the multinational state remained intact. Stalin’s decision to give up korenizatsiia and rely more on Russian cadres was obviously rooted in his appreciation of the Russian nation of state builders. He admired the Russian character. It is unlikely that the dictator saw national character as an inherited characteristic. In 1933, he repeated that nations could not be considered “from a racial point of view.” This was “not a biological question, not a question of heredity, but a question of time.”32 In time, racialist notions did enter his thinking. For example, in 1944 he told a Polish delegation that the Slavic peoples were close to each other in “kin, blood, language, character, deep humanity and an understanding of the idea of progress.”33 This suggested some racial basis of national character. But Stalin never elaborated on this. There was no corresponding redefinition of the nation.34 His campaigns for Lysenkoism and “Pavlovism” show that, if he saw national character as hereditary at all, he must have been convinced that it could nevertheless be changed by re-education.35 Although no racist, Stalin’s appreciation of the Russian character was real enough. His classical statement on it was made in the 1924 On the Foundations of Leninism, where he mentioned the “Russian revolutionary sweep” as the counterpoint to “American efficiency.” It was an “antidote against rigidity, routine, conservatism, stagnation of thought, against a slavish attitude towards the traditions of our grandfathers.” The Russian revolutionary sweep aroused the mind, “drives forward, crushes the past, gives perspective.”36 This returns us once again to one of the main theses of the present book, namely that Stalin was a patriot but no conservative. He found the most admirable trait of the Russians their hatred of traditions and the past. When Dem’ian Bednyi accused the Russian people of laziness, the leader retorted that the Russian working class, the vanguard of the Soviet workers, occupied the centre of the world revolution. Revolutionaries were well aware that “next to reactionary Russia, there existed also a revolutionary Russia – the Russia of the Radishchevs and Chernyshevskiis, of the Zheliabovs and Ul’ianovs.” This filled the heart of the Russian workers with a “feeling of revolutionary national pride, which is capable of moving mountains, capable of accomplishing miracles.”37 In the early years, Stalin’s positive comments on the Russian character referred more or less exclusively to its revolutionary and anti-conservative ethos.38 After the second half of the 1930s, Stalin reconsidered the matter. His attention shifted to the Russian sense of active dedication to the state. In his toast of May 1945, the triumphant leader famously praised the Russians for their “clear mind, firm character and patience.” He referred to the Russian loyalty to the state. In the days of terrible Red Army setbacks, the people could have abandoned the government and guaranteed “tranquillity” through a peace with Germany. But the Russian people made all the necessary sacrifices to guarantee the victory of the Soviet state.39 Turning to Russian history, Stalin, correspondingly, judged tsarist officials on whether


Socialist in content, national in form

they had allowed people to be mobilised for the state. His treatment of Suvorov is a good example. In June 1940, he commented on a scenario about the generalissimus that it was silly to show him all the time saying “Russian, Russian.” His merit was tactical insight, maintaining strict discipline and the capacity to “bravely promote to important positions those who had distinguished themselves, contrary to the demands of ‘rules of rank,’ taking little account of official seniority and descent.”40 In September 1940, Stalin commented as follows on Suvorov: He was a monarchist, a feudalist, a nobleman, a count, but practice suggested to him the need to demolish some principles, and he promoted people who had distinguished themselves in battles. …he violated the traditions of narrow professionalism…. Suvorov promoted little known people…. They didn’t like him for that, but he created a group of capable people, good generals, around him.41 The feudalist was praised for his lack of respect for the feudal tradition. Suvorov had been prepared to ignore aristocratic niceties and promote people from the popular classes to contribute to the cause of the state.42 In Stalin’s later years, the theme of the revolutionary nature of the Russian character receded, the accent shifting to its patriotism. But the change was not total, for Stalin saw popular patriotism as a revolutionary trait. The feudal principle of hereditary rank, which kept people from dedicating their lives to the state, was rejected. From the late 1930s onwards, the Soviet press attributed two prominent traits to the Russian national character: patriotism and popularity. They were formed because from late medieval times until the nineteenth century the Russians had had to consolidate their existence as a nation and a people in two endless fights: against foreign usurpers – beginning with Aleksandr Nevskii’s thirteenth-century war against the Teutonic Knights – and against their own exploiting classes.43 When after the Great Patriotic War Stalinist patriotism grew to a climax, the Russian national character was glorified in ever starker terms. The Russian genius was held responsible for the fact that the country had in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries produced much of the world’s most outstanding art and science. Again, this was not attributed to the merits of the tsarist system but, indirectly, to its obsolescence. In more developed Western Europe, capitalist individualism had spoiled the national character. The bourgeoisie dominated philosophy, science and art. In reactionary Russia, however, the toiling peasantry and other oppressed strata had remained unpolluted, preserving their “popular” character. As a result, revolutionary democratic movements against monarchy and serfdom were unusually strong, and it was that which inspired scientists and artists to their great achievements.44 In summary, Stalin’s decision in the 1930s to rely more on Russian cadres was motivated by his appreciation of the Russians as the most patriotic

Socialist in content, national in form 199 nation and the most reliable pillar of the Soviet state. In taking this decision, though, he did not believe he was returning to tsarist policies. On the contrary, under the tsars the patriotism of the ordinary Russian people had always been blocked. The feudal principles of dynasticism, hereditary rank and serfdom, which Stalin rejected, had provided serious obstacles for ordinary people of merit to participate in the state. Only farsighted men like Suvorov had had the courage to remove those obstacles. Stalin continued to see his own patriotic etatism as a revolutionary policy, breaking with obsolete traditions. Meanwhile, the fact that the Russian character was now defined in terms of patriotism and popularity was new and significant. Although Stalin had always recognised the historic merit of the Russian nation as state builders, he had earlier described their character and cultural identity in the general terms of being revolutionary and modern. The formula that culture should be “socialist in content and national in form” was developed in the 1920s to protect the cultural autonomy of the non-Russian republics. It had not referred to a cultural identity of Russia proper. Within the USSR, Russia embodied the cosmopolitan element. In the 1920s, Stalin found Russia suitable for a leading role because of its abstract modernity, its relative lack of a separate cultural identity in the strict sense of the word. However, by the 1940s, the Russian nation had, like the non-Russian nations, been endowed with a well-defined cultural identity of its own. “Socialist in content, national in form” came to apply to the Russians as much, or more, as to the other nations of the USSR.

“Bourgeois nationalism” and “cosmopolitanism” condemned
The counterpart to partial Russification was the partial degradation of the cultures of the other Soviet nations. An important element in this process was a re-appreciation of tsarist colonialism. In March 1934, Stalin told the Politburo that textbooks should present the history of the country as a united whole. “The Russian people in the past gathered other peoples together and have begun that sort of gathering again now.”45 In their comment on the draft of a new “History of the USSR” of August of that year, Stalin, Kirov and Zhdanov complained that it only treated Rus’. The history of other peoples such as the Ukrainians, Finns and Tatars was forgotten. This made tsarist colonialism look too positive: “No stress is laid in the draft on the annexationist-colonial role of Russian tsarism…(‘tsarism was a prison of peoples’).” The draft also failed to discuss the “national liberation struggle of the peoples of Russia subjugated by tsarism.”46 Stalin saw tsarist colonialism in an ambivalent way – as the construction of an extended, centralised state, and as a project of oppression and exploitation. During the Second World War, his treatment of tsarist nationality policy remained ambivalent. In his speeches in July and November 1941, Stalin praised the “great Russian nation,” providing a list of heroic


Socialist in content, national in form

revolutionaries – Belinskii, Chernyshevskii, Plekhanov and Lenin – and great artists and military leaders such as Pushkin and Tolstoi, Glinka and Chaikovskii, Chekhov and Repin, Aleksandr Nevskii and Dmitrii Donskoi, Suvorov and Kutuzov. Significantly, he did not honour the other Soviet nations with heroes of their own. But he did accuse Hitler of wanting to destroy the “national culture and national statehood” of all other Soviet nations too. Moreover, he called Hitlerism a “copy of that reactionary regime which existed in Russia under tsarism.” The Hitlerites trampled down the rights of the peoples just like the tsar had, organising medieval pogroms against the Jews.47 To call tsarist national policy Hitlerite was the worst possible condemnation in the circumstances of the day. The ambivalence did not disappear. In 1937, it had been laid down authoritatively that the establishment of a Moscow protectorate over Ukraine in the seventeenth century had been the “lesser evil” for the Ukrainian people. The only alternative had been Polish Catholic or Turkish rule. The Russian annexation of Georgia had also been the best thing under the circumstances.48 During the war, the non-Russian nations were allowed to write their own histories more freely. A new 1943 history of Kazakhstan roundly condemned the tsarist conquest of that land as colonialist, treating national rebellions against Russian rule as progressive. Soon, however, the “lesser evil” was restored. In 1944, a conference of historians was called by the Central Committee. The immediate cause was a letter by one editor of the Kazakhstan history, Anna Pankratova, accusing a group of historians headed by Evgenii Tarle of ignoring the “class approach to questions of history.”49 The Central Committee apparatus formulated its position in a note. The eighteenth-century Kazakhs had been threatened by “barbarian” Chinese conquerors. Moreover, the feudal Kazakhs had been unable to create a stable political community and launch modern capitalist development. Engels was quoted in support of Russia’s civilising role in Central Asia. The union of Kazakhstan with Russia, “a country incomparably more civilized than the Asian states and with a developed, strong, centralised state,” represented the “lesser evil” for the Kazakh people. But it was also acknowledged that the union occurred in the form of a subjugation to the Russian ruling class. This naturally provoked resistance. National liberation movements had been progressive as far as they “fused with the struggle of the toiling masses of the Russian people against the system of autocracy and serfdom.” Non-separatist Kazakh resistance movements against tsarist rule should be treated favourably. Tarle failed to understand this, defending as he did the reactionary policy of the tsars and slandering the revolutionary struggle of the peoples of Russia.50 During the conference, the party leaders remained silent. No conclusions were drawn.51 But the Central Committee of the Kazakh party soon adopted a decision in the spirit of the above note.52 Stalin did not rehabilitate tsarist colonialism as such. The ambivalent way he, and those who represented his views, treated it shows that he continued

Socialist in content, national in form 201 to think about this matter in the terms that Marx and Engels had defined. Colonialism was condemned as brutal and exploitative but was nevertheless supported for its progressive role. It represented a deplorable way to civilise the barbarian parts of the globe. Stalin’s ambivalent attitude towards tsarist colonialism was most reminiscent of the position the Luxemburgists had taken in their days. The tsarist rulers had been condemned by them as brutal expansionists and exploiters. But they should be overthrown by the combined revolutionary efforts of the oppressed peoples. Separatism and the right to separation from Russia, of Poland for instance, was rejected as a petit bourgeois nationalist deviation that could only sow division among the oppressed nations. In 1946, the VKP(b) Central Committee began a campaign against “bourgeois nationalism” in the republics. It was spearheaded against works of literature, art and history glorifying local feudal rulers who had fought Russian domination. Considering the relatively advanced nature of the Russian state, the struggles of these rulers had been reactionary. Only struggles of the local popular masses for liberation together with the Russian masses had been legitimate.53 One of the “bourgeois nationalisms” under attack in 1946 was the Jewish. Stalin was opposed to anti-Semitism in its racist variety. He did not see the Jews as a community of genetically bad stock. In January 1931, he wrote that anti-Semitism was particularly dangerous because it turned the toilers against each other instead of against the exploiters. “Anti-Semitism, as an extreme form of racial chauvinism, is the most dangerous rudiment of cannibalism.”54 Nevertheless, before the revolution Stalin had treated the Jews as a backward group rooted in an obscurantist religion. Moreover, as industrialists, traders and intellectuals – instead of workers and toiling peasants – they had a petit bourgeois and capitalist mark upon them. Finally, they had failed to integrate themselves into a real, modern nation with a common language, territory and economy of their own. Stalin was never reconciled to the idea that religion could be the focus of nationality.55 After 1917, he also continued to believe that the Jews were “natural traders” and “middlemen, profiteers and parasites.” They liked only the city, loathed agricultural work and were too cowardly to be good soldiers.56 Kaganovich confirmed that his boss, although “no anti-Semite,” was afraid that there were “many petit bourgeois elements among the Jews.”57 Molotov too acknowledged that Stalin was “on his guard in relation to the Jews,” although he added that the leader recognised “many qualities in the Jewish people: diligence, mutual harmony [spaiannost’], political activeness.”58 The latter fact sounds plausible enough. Stalin engaged many Jews in important positions in the party and state hierarchy. Before the Great Patriotic War, the Jews were not treated worse than other national minorities. Although not recognised as a nation, they were not forced to assimilate. There was no “Jewish operation” during the Great Terror. This is not difficult to explain. These operations were generally


Socialist in content, national in form

directed against nationals suspected of treasonous communications with “their” bourgeois states abroad – Poles with Poland, Greeks with Greece, Germans with Germany, and so on. The Jews had no such state. Their loyalty could not be under suspicion from this angle. Compared to their share in the population, Jews were still considerably over-represented in the higher party and state echelons in the late 1930s.59 There was a certain irony to this. One of the reasons for Stalin’s mistrust of the Jews was that they had never transformed themselves into a modern nation-state. But those nations that had done so and had a state of their own outside the Soviet sphere were considered even more dangerous. The very characteristic that made the Jews an oddity for Stalin saved them from the Great Terror.60 During the Great Patriotic War, hostility towards the Jews grew in the Soviet apparatus. A 1942 report by G.F. Aleksandrov, responsible for the Agitation and Propaganda Department of the party secretariat, found the “Jewish dominance” in many cultural institutions unacceptable. Many of them had “non-Russians (mainly Jews)” for their chiefs, who were “not seldom foreign to Russian art.” After this report, Jews began to be faced with quota and other restrictive measures in cultural, educational, economic and foreign policy institutions. Their situation gradually deteriorated.61 The problems experienced by the so-called Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were symptomatic. Its official purpose was to organise Jewish support for the war effort. Soon it took up more general representative functions for the Soviet Jews to defend Jewish interests against encroachments by the state and the public. The Soviet authorities retorted that the committee was not created as a “kind of sovereign state” or a “Commissariat for Jewish affairs.” The JAC was also accused of showing life in the USSR “through a prism of Jewish life” and of glorifying military exploits by Jews in the Red Army, while neglecting Russian, Ukrainian and other heroism.62 During the war, the Soviet authorities began to object to political representation of Jewish interests. This was remarkable, because no similar objections were made against, for instance, Ukrainian or Armenian efforts. These nations had their own republics, which to a certain extent were allowed to operate in their name. Significantly, the 1946 campaign against “bourgeois nationalism” struck the Jews harder than the other nations. The basic model was the same as that applied to the Kazakhs. Jewish writers were attacked for their own variety of nationalism. It was pointed out that they idealised their own reactionary national past. Biblical motives were condemned as reactionary archaisms. The Star of David was declared anathema. There were accusations of neglecting the leading role of the great Russian people. But there was a difference with the treatment of other nations. The Jewish culture of the past was condemned more or less in toto. It was no longer clear that any kind of Jewish tradition could be legitimately taken pride in. This fact can be partly understood in the context of the Stalinist doctrine of nationalities. Territorially integrated peoples like the Ukrainians and

Socialist in content, national in form 203 Uzbeks were recognised as nations. But the Jews, with their tradition of diaspora, were not a nation at all. Therefore, in contrast to the former the latter simply did not have any cultural tradition worthy of being nurtured. There was no “national form” to be preserved. Therefore any expression of Jewish cultural identity would automatically be bourgeois nationalism. Whereas the other non-Russians were expected to express their identity in a “correct” way, the Jews were expected not to express it at all. As Stalin had written in 1913, assimilation was the only acceptable option for them. Nevertheless, before the war assimilation was not demanded by the Soviet authorities. Therefore the question remains what triggered the urge to take the Jews’ collective identity away from them during the war. One of the accusations against the JAC was that it insulted the other Soviet nations by paying too much attention to the Holocaust. The same Aleksandrov wrote to Zhdanov in February 1947 that it was wrong to focus on Jewish suffering during the war – as if the Nazis had had an “order of priorities.” In fact, Hitler’s slaughters were carried out equally against Russians, Jews and the other peoples of the Soviet Union.63 This suggests a perverse motive for the new Russian anti-Semitism. By targeting their main destructive hatred on the Jews instead of on the Russians, the Nazis had, as it were, perversely honoured the former. They found them most worthy of annihilation. In a cruel way, the war gave the Jews a central role; and from a Russian nationalist perspective this was a wrong to be righted. The Russians were the leading nation in the Soviet Union, and the war should be presented in such a way as to show that the Germans had acknowledged that fact. The matter was soon mixed up with another theme of more directly political relevance. In a number of reports circulating among the Soviet political elite during the years 1946 to 1948 (written by Mikhail Suslov, Aleksandrov and Minister of State Security Abakumov), Zionism was attacked for upholding the “reactionary idea of a single Jewish nation.” In fact, a common culture or territory of the Jews did not exist; nor did there exist any problems common to world Jewry as a whole, regardless of class and “actual nationality.” The authors found this a matter of particular relevance because of the efforts to reunite the Jews of the world in an “independent bourgeois Jewish state” in Palestine.64 Even more than the Holocaust, the establishment of the state of Israel, creating a possible focus of loyalty for Soviet Jews, brought the old doctrine of assimilation back to life.65 The situation was now turned around compared with that before the war. At the time, the Jews were among the few small nations of the USSR without a “bourgeois” state of their own. But after Eastern Europe fell into the Soviet sphere and Israel was established, the Jews became one of the few Soviet nations to have one. It was time for the “Jewish operation” forgotten in 1937–38. For diplomatic reasons, the USSR supported the establishment of Israel, but it was denied that this state represented world Jewry. It was a safe haven only for one group of Jews, the survivors of the war drifting through


Socialist in content, national in form

Western Europe. The Jews in general did not exist as a community and had nothing to do with this state. As Il’ia Erenburg wrote in September 1948, “the Jewish toilers, like all others, are strongly linked to the land on which they were born and grew up.” This was especially the case for the Soviet Jews, for whom the USSR was the true “socialist motherland.”66 Stalin’s suspicions concerning the loyalty of Soviet Jews were further aroused by the proposal made in 1944 by the JAC to establish a Jewish Union Republic on the Crimea. According to Khrushchev, he saw behind it the “hand of the American Zionists,” who hoped to wrest the peninsula from the Soviet Union and to “establish an outpost of American imperialism on our shores.”67 In 1948, an anti-Jewish campaign began, providing the campaign against “cosmopolitanism” with a new focus. In January 1949, Pravda published an article against an “anti-patriotic group of theatre critics,” written by Georgii Malenkov and Petr Pospelov and edited by Stalin. Explicitly referring to Belinskii, the article reiterated the familiar theme that good art should be patriotic as well as popular and close to the people. Unfortunately, though, a group of bourgeois critics, filled with “cold estheticism and formalism” and a lack of “national Soviet pride,” had discredited the healthy, new Soviet art. They represented “homeless cosmopolitanism,” a tendency “harmful like those parasites in the plant world, which eat into the shoots of the useful vegetation.”68 The biological metaphor captured the essence of the “cosmopolitan” theme. Ordinary plants have roots in the earth. They have their own territory, where they are at home. Parasites, though, are creatures without roots, living spread out across the body of other organisms, on which they prey. They have no territory of their own but invade that of others. Stalinist nations were like ordinary plants. They had a consolidated existence on a fixed territory. But there were those who did not belong to any consolidated nation of their own, wandering nationless across the world, settling among others and profiting from them. Who were these people without home and roots? Generally speaking, all those lacking in patriotic identification with the Soviet state. But most of those mentioned in the article were Jews.69 Cosmopolitanism was not synonymous with Jewishness, but Stalin apparently considered the Jews most susceptible to the cosmopolitan complex. As an “uprooted” people of the diaspora, the Jews were the ideal-typical parasites. Because of their “cosmopolitan” tradition, which prevented them nurturing true feelings of state loyalty, Stalin did not trust the Jewish commitment as Soviet citizens. The 1949 campaign had no exclusively anti-Semitic direction. Discussing the “street vendors of homeless cosmopolitanism,” Bol’shevik identified two historical sources. The first were the ruling classes of tsarist Russia, who had lacked patriotism and crawled before the West. The second was capitalism. The bourgeoisie followed “the principle that money does not have a motherland, and there where you can ‘make money,’ there where you can ‘make a

Socialist in content, national in form 205 profitable business,’ there is also your fatherland.” Blinded by profit, the “homeless bourgeois businessman, the petty dealer and travelling salesman” did not understand anything of the concept of duty towards people and fatherland.70 We may assume that the authors of these words partly referred to the Jews. Fundamentally, though, this “anti-cosmopolitanism” rested on patriotic etatism and anti-capitalism. The focus of the campaign was antiSemitic, but it was the focus of a larger ideological whole. Stalin must have been influenced by the traditional Russian anti-Semitism. But the fact that the campaign attacked the Russian tsarist tradition as one of the main sources of cosmopolitanism makes it, again, unlikely that this was his main source of inspiration. Stalin’s anti-Semitism always contained a note of hesitation. In 1947, he told Romanian party leader Gheorghiu-Dej that it was unacceptable to remove his colleague Pauker from high positions in the party merely because she was Jewish: In Russia there was also a strong anti-Semitic movement…. But the bolsheviks did not give up their positions on the national question. Zinov’ev, Kamenev and Trotskii were not removed because they were of Jewish descent…. The bolsheviks removed Russians also: Bukharin, Rykov and others…. If a person is all right, you must give him opportunities…the Romanian communists…must remember that, if their party will be class based, social, then it will grow, if it will be racial, then it will perish, for racism leads to fascism.71 When the anti-Semitic campaign of 1949 came on stream, Stalin brought in a note of caution. It became common in derogatory articles to mention Jewish surnames in brackets, after the Russian pseudonyms used by the people under attack. According to the writer Fadeev, after a few months the leader noted that the divulging of literary pseudonyms smelled of antiSemitism.72 His colleague Simonov overheard Stalin saying: Why Mal’tsev, and then Rovinskii between brackets? What’s the matter here? How long will this continue…? If a man chose a literary pseudonym for himself, it’s his right…. But apparently someone is glad to emphasise that this person has a double surname, to emphasise that he is a Jew…. Why create anti-Semitism?73 Thereafter, the practice of revealing Jewish names stopped.74 Stalin also rejected Suslov’s proposal according to which “nationality” might be used as the official reason for dismissal from one’s work place.75 Although he despised the Jewish tradition and suspected the Jews collectively of disloyalty, Stalin did not accept that being Jewish would make a person by definition unreliable. He demanded Jewish assimilation, but he found it foolish to reject an assimilated Jew simply for his background.


Socialist in content, national in form

In 1950, the focus of the campaign turned from “cosmopolitanism” to Zionism. Molotov later confirmed that Stalin saw the elder members of the Politburo as part of a Zionist conspiracy, suspecting them of colluding with British and American imperialism.76 According to the account of Boris Ponomarev, at the first session of the Central Committee after the Nineteenth Party Congress Stalin said that Molotov informed his Jewish wife of what happened in the Politburo and that she transmitted it to the Israeli ambassador, Golda Meir. “We tell him that he should not act in this way. But he does not believe us. He believes her.”77 Stalin even suspected members of his own family of being involved in the “Zionist plot.” He told his daughter that “the Zionists have also set you up with your first husband…the whole older generation is infected with Zionism.”78 The Zionist conspiracy included a number of physicians. On 13 January 1953, Pravda reported the arrest of a “group of doctors–saboteurs,” who were after the life of Soviet leaders and were linked with an “international Jewish bourgeois-nationalist organisation.” The case was again not exclusively directed against Jews, but they were the main focus.79 In the paraphrase of Viacheslav Malyshev, Stalin formulated his thoughts on the matter as follows at a meeting of the party Presidium in December 1952: The more successes we have, the more the enemies will attempt to sabotage our work. Our people have forgotten about that under the influence of our great successes; there appeared carelessness, muffishness, arrogance…. All Jews are nationalists, agents of the American intelligence service. The Jewish nationalists believe that the USA saved their nation (there you can become rich, bourgeois etc.). They consider themselves in the debt of the Americans. There are many Jewish nationalists among the doctors.80 Aleksandra Kollontai reported the following remarks by Stalin about the extraordinary dangers of Zionism: Zionism, which craves for world domination, will take cruel revenge on us for our successes and achievements. It still looks at Russia as a barbarian country, as a source of raw materials…. World Zionism will strive with all its forces to destroy our Union, so that Russia could never rise again. The strength of the USSR lies in the friendship of the peoples. The spearpoint of the struggle will be aimed above all at uprooting this friendship, at severing the borderlands from Russia.81 It seems that in the last period of his life, Stalin’s anti-Semitism spiralled ever further out of control. He began to observe a conflict between Soviet patriotism and Jewish patriotism, i.e. Zionism, supported by American imperialism, as the axis of world politics. Common sense tells us that the Soviet dictator must have been influenced by traditional Russian anti-

Socialist in content, national in form 207 Semitism. But the evidence shown here suggests that his anti-Semitism was mainly rooted in another ideological complex, an odd mixture of anti-capitalism and patriotic etatism, with the latter element ever more dominant. Stalin took the anti-capitalism from Marx and Lenin, and the patriotism came from Belinskii, as he interpreted him. This revolutionary patriotism was directed not only against the Jews but also against the tsarist tradition, which he interpreted as national betrayal. Tragically, revolutionary patriotism fed Stalin’s anti-Semitism in two ways: it made him suspicious of the Jews as “traders” and as people lacking in patriotic commitment.

15 Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”

The first important event in Soviet foreign policy was the war with Germany, in which the new state was engaged when it was established. Lenin did not believe that Russia could survive the war. He desperately wanted peace. In contrast to the leftists, he believed that, provided peace was achieved, Soviet Russia could survive for some time in the absence of a world revolution. He concluded that, after the creation of the Russian Soviet Republic, “for us as well as from the international socialist point of view the preservation of this republic is the most important thing [vyshe vsego].”1 These momentous words served as a foundation for Soviet foreign policy. The main world revolutionary task was to guarantee the survival of Soviet Russia. Further revolutionary expansion was desirable – in the long run even crucial – but the existing revolutionary bulwark should not be gambled away. Despite the resistance of the Left Opposition, the Peace of Brest-Litovsk was signed in March 1918. In the heated debates preceding the peace agreement, Stalin supported Lenin. He agreed that the Russian soldiers could not survive the German assault. Likening Trotskii’s stand to one taken “in literature,” he noted that one should not put the existence of Soviet Russia at stake in the name of a revolutionary movement in the West that did not yet exist. Furthermore, the preservation of a state carrying out socialist reforms could be expected to inspire the Western workers. He only hesitated when the Germans demanded the abandoning of Ukraine. But he let himself be convinced by Lenin that the loss should be accepted.2 The loss of Ukraine remained a problem for Stalin. When the Germans overthrew the Ukrainian government, he hesitatingly supported Central Committee member Sokol’nikov, who, against Lenin, proposed to resume preparations for war against Germany.3 By early 1920, the Civil War seemed to have been won by the Red side. But in the spring the Polish army attacked Russia. This was the occasion for plans of offensive revolutionary war to be revived. Lenin believed the time ripe for a war against imperialism to spread the Soviet system.4 Not all communist leaders were so confident. From May to July Stalin argued that the feeling of national unity in the Polish army was too strong. It would be difficult to fight it on Polish soil. Mocking

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


comrades who were only content with a “red Soviet Warsaw,” he insisted that before marching to Warsaw the White danger to Ukraine should first be liquidated.5 In the end, Stalin supported Lenin in the decision to cross the “ethnic border” of Poland.6 Nevertheless, we observe an interesting pattern in the former’s positions. Stalin seems to have been more concerned than Lenin to preserve Ukraine, which had always been closely integrated with Russia; but less inclined to make offensive attempts into Poland, where he believed the Red Army would face strong national resistance. We recognise the same line of thinking in Stalin’s general views on the international state community. Like all bolsheviks, he believed that new proletarian states should join Soviet Russia, which might gradually expand into a world soviet republic.7 But he and Lenin did not see completely eye to eye on the matter. In 1920, the latter wrote that new Soviet states, like Hungary, should enter into federal relations with Soviet Russia.8 In a comment, Stalin found this acceptable for nations that had once been part of old Russia, but We cannot say the same of those nationalities which were no part of old Russia, which existed as independent formations…. For instance the future Soviet Germany, Poland, Hungary, Finland. These peoples, who have their own statehood, their own army, their finances, will, after having become Soviet, hardly agree to enter immediately into a federative link with Soviet Russia…for these nationalities the most acceptable form of approach would be a confederation (a union of independent states).9 Stalin believed in the national principle as the basis of state formation. It could not be avoided that, for the time being, nations with a strong tradition of independence preserved a separate state existence. One could only diverge from this model in cases where nations had lived together long and closely in one integrated state, such as the Russians and Ukrainians. In that case every effort should be made to preserve the multinational structure. Stalin’s belief in the strength of the existing international state system did not make him forget about world revolution. Soviet Russia formed a “bridge between the socialist West and the enslaved East.” The country was ideally located between the Western centres of proletarian revolution and the Asian countries of national liberation struggle. It was the “standard bearer of the world revolution.” The October Revolution had “disturbed the eternal winter sleep of the toiling masses of the oppressed peoples of the East” and inspired the workers and peasants of Persia, China and India to form soviets of their own. For the workers and soldiers in the West, the Russian revolution served as a “living, saving example,” as was shown by the uprisings in Austro-Hungary and Germany. The world was divided into two camps – imperialism and socialism – and Russia, the “citadel of the revolution, which by its very existence revolutionises the working class and the colonies,” headed the second camp.10


Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”

Stalin observed a historical shifting of the centre of the world revolution from France through Germany to Russia. “Formerly,” he wrote in 1927, “people danced to the tune of the French revolution of the XVIIIth century, using its traditions and spreading its system. Now people dance to the tune of the October Revolution.” The bolsheviks were the successors to the Jacobins in spreading world revolution. Just as once “the word ‘Jacobin’ aroused terror and disgust among the aristocrats of all countries,” likewise now “the word ‘bolshevik’ arouses terror and disgust among the bourgeoisie of all countries.” As Paris was once a place of refuge and a school of bourgeois revolutionaries, present-day Moscow served the same function for the global proletariat.11 The question arises of what remained the significance of world revolution for Stalin. What was the relation between his state nationalism and his drive for the socialist transformation of the world? This is the question I will address in the present chapter.

Stalin’s foreign policy doctrine
Trotskii argued that the logic of “socialism in one country” forced Stalin into betraying the world revolution. If socialism could only be threatened by intervention, then Soviet foreign policy could limit itself to preventing intervention, a goal best achieved by co-operating with the bourgeois world.12 However, Robert Tucker argued that, as long as the “capitalist encirclement” existed, the danger of intervention remained. Therefore, to recognise the possibility of an isolated socialism did not make world revolution superfluous. According to Tucker, Stalin followed a line of “To revolution through war.” World revolution meant sending the Red Army into the countries surrounding the USSR in order to establish a protective glacis against intervention. To create the best conditions for Soviet intervention, Stalin hoped to facilitate the outbreak of war between the capitalist powers.13 However, Tucker’s model suffers from the same flaw as Trotskii’s. The Red Army might well occupy a protective ring around Russia, but Stalin could never expect his troops to conquer the whole world and thereby finally liquidate the danger of intervention by world capitalism. The “real” world revolution could not be avoided. Stalin never explicitly spelled out how far the world revolutionary process would have to progress in order to make the victory of socialism in Soviet Russia “final.” But he did give some indications. In 1924, he wrote that he expected the establishment of various “epicentres [ochagi] of socialism in separate Soviet countries and a system of these epicentres in the whole world.”14 This suggested the rise of new socialist centres, comparable in power and significance to Soviet Russia. In any case, world revolution demanded victory in the “fundamental” countries of capitalism.15 In 1926, Stalin said that the victory of socialism in Russia was no “goal in itself,” because it could only be finally victorious if the present capitalist encirclement was replaced by a “socialist encirclement.”16 He did not elaborate

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


on what this should amount to, but in 1930 he explained that the capitalist encirclement did not signify a simple geographical concept but the fact that the USSR was surrounded by hostile states that could blockade it economically and organise military intervention.17 This would imply, as in a mirror, that the socialist world would have to become strong enough to be able to crush the capitalist world by financial and military means. Stalin probably believed that, to make the USSR finally secure, the main capitalist bulwarks should be taken out. The socialist camp should become economically and militarily stronger than the capitalist. After the Second World War, when a protective glacis was created, Stalin was at first optimistic. In 1946, he noted that Great Britain and the United States could no longer create a capitalist encirclement of the Soviet Union.18 But the next year he warned that a “capitalist encirclement and the danger of an attack on the USSR” still existed. He envied the extremely secure situation of the United States, defended by two oceans and bordering on weak Canada and Mexico.19 In 1950, he insisted that world revolution demanded victory in the “majority of the countries.”20 Stalin did not believe that the protective glacis created by the Red Army had secured Soviet Russia. The world revolutionary process was not yet completed. As he was realistic enough to understand that he could not send in the Soviet army to conquer the United States and other centres of capitalism, he had to accept revolutionary attempts by other communist parties worldwide. “Socialism in one country” made world revolution less urgent but not superfluous. Stalin’s foreign policy had three directions. Its first and overriding goal was to preserve the Soviet state and prevent the imperialists joining up against it. This goal of peaceful co-existence with the capitalist powers was complemented by a second one – to set the imperialists against each other and engage them in a fraternal war. This created opportunities for Soviet military intervention to establish or expand a protective glacis around Russia. Soviet military expansion should never be attempted when the imperialists were at peace among themselves, for that would create a united front against Russia, which it was Stalin’s first goal to prevent. The third goal was to assist the communist parties of other nations to make their revolutions. This was, again, only considered a valid goal provided that it did not provoke the imperialists against the Soviet Union or prevent Soviet hegemony in the countries adjacent to it. Patriotism, in the sense of the preservation of the Soviet state, was Stalin’s main foreign policy goal. But it remained part of a world revolutionary process, without which the preservation of this state lost its significance. This is what Stalin said in his classical formulation of August 1927: He is a revolutionary who is prepared to defend, to protect the USSR without reservations, unconditionally…, for the USSR is the first proletarian revolutionary state in the world, building socialism. He is an internationalist who is prepared to defend the USSR unreservedly,


Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?” without hesitations, without conditions, because the USSR is the basis of the world revolutionary movement, and defending, moving forward this revolutionary movement is impossible without defending the USSR.21

At the party congresses in 1925 and 1927, Stalin noted that safeguarding normal relations with the capitalist countries and the idea of peace formed the “foundation” of Soviet foreign policy. Russia’s relations with the capitalist world were based on “co-existence of the two opposing systems,” on “peaceful co-existence.” But his desire for peace was conditional. He hoped to postpone the inevitable war between the capitalist world and Soviet Russia “either until the time when the proletarian revolution will ripen in Europe, or until the time when the colonial revolutions will fully ripen, or, finally, until the time when the capitalists will clash among themselves because of the division of their colonies.”22 In other words, there would be a good time for a war between Soviet Russia and imperialism after all. In Stalin’s view, imperialist war was the crowbar of the revolution. In On the Foundations of Leninism, he discussed three major contradictions of imperialism: between labour and capital; between various capitalist groups and powers; and between the handful of ruling “‘civilised’ nations” and the colonial peoples of the world. The first contradiction brought about revolution in Europe, the third the national liberation struggle in Asia. The second was strategically the most interesting one, decisively sharpening the other two. The struggle between the imperialists among themselves produced “wars as an inevitable element” of the modern world. These led to the mutual weakening of the imperialists, bringing revolutions nearer. The conflicts and wars among the capitalist states had sometimes a “primary significance for the course of the revolution.” Had not the first imperialist war been of “colossal” significance for the Russian revolution? A new imperialist war would have even greater revolutionary potential.23 In December 1924, Stalin explained that the world war had been the main agent to provoke the October Revolution. It had made the Russian people anxious for a change; subsequently, the continuing war had prevented successful intervention against bolshevik power by the imperialists; and, finally, the war had also given rise to a solidarity movement of the European proletariat for Soviet Russia.24 Imperialist war had kicked open the door for the Russian proletariat and had kept it open. This idea of war as the revolutionary crowbar never left Stalin. The struggle between the imperialist enemies was his “greatest ally.”25 At the XVIIth and XVIIIth party congresses, he assured his audience that a new imperialist war would inevitably give rise to successful proletarian revolutions in a number of countries.26 Imperialist war would also create the best opportunities for offensive military actions by the Red Army. An attack on a neighbouring state under the condition of world peace would be suicidal, because the capitalist world would probably come to the aid of the victim of proletarian aggression. But

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


when the imperialists were at each other’s throats, conditions would be more favourable. In 1925, the Soviet leader explained to the Central Committee that a new imperialist war would provide the Red Army with extraordinary opportunities: As of old, our banner remains the banner of peace. But if war begins, then we must not sit with folded arms – we must act, but act as last. And we will act in order to throw the decisive weight on the scales, a weight that might be dominant. Hence my conclusion: to be ready for everything, to prepare our army.27 Stalin wanted peace with as many capitalist states as possible, but at the same time he wanted war between them. That would create opportunities for himself to eventually break the peace and enter the conflict to expand Soviet power. But Stalin did not see the actions of the Red Army as the only instrument for expanding the socialist system. Provided that it did not harm the interests of the USSR, other communist parties should make their own revolutions. Violence was the main revolutionary instrument. In 1924, Stalin wrote that the fundamental questions of the workers’ movement were “decided by force, by the direct struggle of the proletarian masses, by their joint strike, by their uprising.”28 Only revolution could bring socialism. “Parliament, the constitution, the king and the other attributes of bourgeois power are nothing but a shield of the class of the capitalists, directed against the proletariat.”29 In private, Stalin was no less insistent on the need for revolution than in public. The following comment on the Labour government, made in a personal letter to Molotov in 1929, is typical: our position…unleashes the revol[utionary] criticism of the ‘work[ers’] gov[ernme]nt’ from the side of the prol[etaria]t, it makes the cause of the proletarian education of the workers of all countries (and especially of Britain) more easy, it helps the communists of all countries to educate the workers in the spirit of anti-reformism.30 Capitalism could not be reformed. The social democratic idea of a “peaceful transition to socialism” through “bourgeois parliamentarianism” was a lie.31 We have personal notes of the leader from the early 1930s to confirm his convictions on this point.32 In 1934, Stalin explained to writer H.G. Wells that politicians like Roosevelt might achieve “some bridling of the most unbridled representatives of capitalist profit, some strengthening of the regulating principle in the economy.” But once they touched the “foundations of capitalism,” the owners of the banks and industries would defeat them – they could do this because they controlled the state. Revolutionary violence remained necessary.33 During his January 1941 discussion of the draft of the textbook of political economy, Stalin returned to the same issue, this time applying the argument to the fascists:

214 Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?” We have to criticise the fascist philosophy. The Italians have begun to say: “Our proletarian revolution.” Hitler appears to be a “proletarian” too. We have to criticise this, to link it to the question of attempts at planning, unification of the economy…. The utopians attempt to destroy the classes only with words, the fascists with the help of terror. And he then reminded his audience that, when Wells visited him, the writer said that he wanted a government not of workers or capitalists but of engineers. Roosevelt might defend the interests of the workers. He, Stalin, did not believe it.34 For revolution in any country to become a serious option, imperialist war was a condition. Stalin did not believe in revolutions in countries at peace. Only war created the necessary upheaval and insecurity among the ruling classes. During the mid-1920s, he claimed that capitalism had entered a period of relative stabilisation. The “revolutionary upsurge” was over, the proletariat was in a period of “accumulation of forces.”35 Stalin felt strongly about this. In a letter of June 1926 to Molotov, he defended the “work of the communists in the reactionary trade unions with the purpose of their internal transformation and their capture by them.” This was the best tactic in this slack period in the class struggle, with an eye to new offensives in the future: we do not have a new period of tumultuous pressure of the revolution, but a continuing stabilisation…. Our task consists in actually continuing the policy of collecting forces and of united front, and preparing the working class for defence against new attacks of capital and for the transformation of the defence into a broad, revolutionary attack of the proletariat on capital, for the transition to the struggle for power.36 But with the end of capitalist stabilisation in the latter years of the decade, Stalin still wanted the European proletarians merely to prepare themselves for the real “class battles” to come.37 After Hitler’s accession to power, the Soviet dictator saw the ruling classes of the capitalist world destroying “the last rudiments of parliamentarianism and bourgeois democracy.” Fascism became the “most fashionable commodity among militant bourgeois politicians.” Hitler’s triumph was a sign of weakness of a bourgeoisie no longer able to uphold its rule by respectable methods. However, again, the time was not ripe for revolution. Stalin noted only that “the revolutionary crisis is ripening and fascism is not at all long-living.”38 For successful revolutionary attempts, it was essential to bring the imperialist powers to a state of war among themselves. In the absence of that, revolutionary attempts should be prevented as dangerous adventures.

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


Democracy and revolution
Stalin did not believe in peaceful, parliamentary transition to socialism. But the revolution in the European countries of democracy created a problem for him. Marx’s idea of revolutionary violence was aimed at breaking either an oligarchic or an absolutist state in order to establish a democracy; or at defending proletarian democracy against bourgeois and aristocratic rebels. He never envisioned a revolution to overthrow democracy. By the time the bolsheviks had established the Communist International in 1919, many Western European states had become parliamentary democracies. In their own country, the bolsheviks dissolved the Constituent Assembly, making the incompatibility of democratic republicanism with proletarian dictatorship part of their dogma. But could one organise a revolution against a parliament in states where democracy had begun to strike roots? In 1920, Lenin concluded that it was acceptable for communists to give tactical support to social democratic governments under certain conditions.39 At the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922, the communists were allowed to join with the social democrats in a so-called “workers’ government” or “worker–peasant government,” resting on a parliamentary majority. This should be a radical government, though, arming the workers and disarming “bourgeois counter-revolutionary organisations,” introducing control over production, and heavily taxing the rich. The result would be civil war and armed resistance by the bourgeoisie, which would have to be crushed. In that way, this government would serve as the stepping stone to the revolution and proletarian dictatorship.40 Although unacknowledged, direct revolution against parliamentary governments was abandoned. Stalin publicly supported the idea of united front governments of workers’ parties.41 He had a remarkably high opinion of the strength of democratic states. Recognition of the ability of democracies to win the loyalty of the working class runs like a red thread through his tactical thinking from the early 1920s until his death. A frontal assault on a democratic state was a futile exercise. When in the summer of 1923 the Communist Party of Germany concluded that the time was ripening for a revolution, Stalin characteristically hesitated. He argued in a letter to Zinov’ev and Bukharin that the German communists did not have the same support of the workers and peasants as the Russian party had had in 1917, which he attributed to international peace and to the fact that the peasants did not lack land. He further argued: Of course, the fascists are not sleeping, but it’s more favourable for us that the fascists attack first – that’ll bring the whole working class together…. Moreover, according to all information, the fascists are weak in Germany…. I think we should hold the Germans back and not stimulate them.42

216 Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?” He soon became more optimistic, but the problem remained that a revolution in Germany would provoke French and Polish intervention. Russia would then be obliged to come to the assistance of the German comrades. Stalin concluded that “if we really want to assist the Germans – and we want that and must assist them – then we must prepare for war.”43 At a conference of the Executive Committee of the Comintern (ECCI) in September 1923, it was proposed that the KPD attempt to take power on its own, openly, in a direct assault. Stalin disagreed. The communists should first form a coalition government with the leftist social democrats.44 The attempt at revolution ended in miserable failure, but Stalin’s remarks contained important clues to his views on revolution. To begin with, there was the point that revolution in times of peace had little chance of success. The imperialists would combine their forces to crush it. That would again force the Soviet Union to intervene. Revolution in times of peace was therefore only acceptable in the event that Moscow was ready to come to its assistance. Furthermore, there was the power of democracy over the minds of the proletariat. The workers could not be expected to enter into a revolutionary confrontation with a parliamentary regime. Proletarian discontent could only be mobilised under the banner of defence of democracy. That could be done either by lining up in a democratic government with social democrats or by provoking the fascists to attack democracy. In a 1923 copy of a book by G. Safarov on bolshevik tactics, the Soviet leader commented in the margin that, in his day, Marx had been justified in speaking of a revolutionary bourgeois democracy, but now there was an “exhaustion of bourg. democracy.” A “peaceful revolution” was only possible in exceptionally favourable international circumstances, if a country was “encircled by several soc. countries.” Stalin also realised that it was easy for the enemy to gain the workers’ loyalty towards democracy. The proletarian revolution had broken out in Russia and not in Western Europe because “in the West reformism supported the parliament, the republic, …which did not exist in Russia.”45 The proletariat could only come to power through revolutionary violence, but it should present its violence as a measure to defend democracy against the bourgeoisie and the fascists. These tactical considerations did not make Stalin more appreciative of democratic politicians. After the defeat of the German revolution, the communists accused social democracy of treason. In January 1924, Zinov’ev called social democracy a wing of fascism. Stalin too abandoned the idea of coalition with the moderate socialists. He agreed with Zinov’ev that one could observe a “shift of the petit bourgeois social democratic forces…into the camp of fascism.”46 Social democracy was the main force reconciling the workers with imperialism. The communists should direct their “main blow” against them.47 In September 1924, he wrote: Fascism is the fighting organisation of the bourgeoisie, leaning on the active support of social democracy. Social democracy is objectively the

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


moderate wing of fascism…. These organisations do not negate but complement each other. They are no antipodes but twins. Fascism is an informal political bloc of these two basic organisations, which arose in the situation of the post-war crisis of imperialism and is intended for the struggle against the proletarian revolution.48 With an interlude in the years 1925–28, Stalin adhered to this position until the mid-1930s. In 1929, the characterisation of social democracy as “social fascism” was officially adopted by the ECCI.49 This effectively prevented the German communists from co-operating with the social democrats against the Nazi menace. But there is no reason to assume that Stalin supported this excessive characterisation because it prevented communist/social democratic co-operation, in order to assist Hitler’s rise to power. The problem was that no German government, including a Nazi one, was acceptable for him. A social democratic Germany was aligned closely with the great imperialist powers of Britain and France. A Nazi government was expected to bring Germany into conflict with the other capitalist powers – which is what Stalin desired – but it might just as well conclude an agreement with those powers and focus its aggression on Soviet Russia.50 Finally, a communist government would provoke British and French intervention, forcing the USSR to intervene on the side of its comrades. All the main options carried the threat of drawing the USSR prematurely into a military conflict with the imperialist world. The Soviet dilemma was well expressed at an ECCI session in 1931 by Russian Comintern representative Manuil’skii. He attacked excessive “revolutionary impatience” with a familiar argument: Could we consider the perspective of the popular revolution in Germany outside the complicated international complex and especially outside the question of the USSR, or couldn’t we? Can we imagine even for a moment that any big revolutionary movement in Central Europe would not produce consequences in the form of a big international struggle? A German revolution would provoke British and French intervention, forcing Russia to send the Red Army to prevent the communists being slaughtered. It was not the time for this. But Manuil’skii also rejected the idea that fascism was “in its own way an objective ‘ally’ of the communists, exploding the stability of the capitalist system.” A fascist government might provoke a successful proletarian revolution, but it might just as well lead to proletarian defeat. It was by no means certain that fascism could be easily overthrown once established. Its establishment should therefore be avoided. “When the old Guesde said, when he was still a Marxist, that war is the mother of the revolution, we must say nevertheless, that fascism is not the father of the revolution.”51


Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”

Stalin insisted that social democracy was a fascist force long after Hitler came to power. In April 1933, he ordered the Comintern “to emphasise the transition of the German social democracy into the camp of fascism.”52 That same month, he made some interesting editorial changes in an article by F. Heckert on the situation in Germany. When the latter wrote that it should be explained why social democracy had gone over to fascism, Stalin added: “and why the communists call the social democrats social fascists.” It should be explained how the proletariat should fight “against the bourgeoisie and its chain dogs.” Stalin was only more pessimistic than Heckert. He did not believe that only some of the workers were deceived by the social democrats. Its “greatest part” was duped.53 The shocking developments in Germany proved the foolishness of Stalin’s obsessive fighting against social democracy. In February 1934, social democratic and communist workers in France and Austria jointly engaged in major struggles against the right-wing threat. Bulgarian Comintern leader Dimitrov thereupon tried but failed to convince Stalin of the need for a new course.54 The dictator was less enthusiastic about the armed rebellion of workers in Vienna and Linz against the Dolfuss government than Dimitrov. He did not believe that it had been a full-blown uprising. As always, Stalin would not believe something like that possible under ordinary, peaceful international circumstances. He told his comrade: You see the struggle in Austria as an uprising. We, bolsheviks, have always understood an uprising as an armed struggle for power. The goal in Austria was not to take power, therefore we can refer to that as armed resistance or armed struggle, but not as an uprising.55 Dimitrov’s diaries confirm that Stalin remained committed to the proletarian revolution, but that he believed it would be hardly possible to launch one against a democracy. In April 1934, the leader told him that the communists should explain to the European worker “why parliamentary democracy can no longer have value for the working class.” Formerly, when it was fighting feudalism, the bourgeoisie could “draw along the working masses through democracy.” Now parliamentarianism no longer sufficed; the bourgeoisie opted for fascism. However, Comintern officials were foolish to transfer Russian experiences directly to Europe. “They don’t understand that we had in fact no parliamentarianism.” The Duma was nothing. Things were different in Europe. “If our bourgeoisie had remained in power for another 30 years, it could have linked itself with the masses through parliamentarianism, and then it would have been much more difficult for us to overthrow it.” One should not simply “abuse parliamentary democracy” but explain its worthlessness. According to Dimitrov, the reason why the workers followed the social democrats instead of the communists was the latter’s bad propaganda work. Stalin disagreed:

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


The main reason lies in the historical development – the historical links of the European masses with bourgeois democracy. And then also in the specific situation of Europe – the European countries…count on their colonies. Without colonies they cannot exist. The workers know this and fear the loss of the colonies. In that respect too they tend to join up with their own bourgeoisie…. We cannot immediately and very easily draw the millions of workers in Europe to our side. One of the reasons for the unfortunate attachment of the workers to their social democratic leaders was their slavish psychology. “The people,” Stalin concluded regretfully in an unusual outburst of neo-conservative sentiment, “do not make a Marxist analysis.” The broad masses had a “herd psychology.” They “act only through their elect, through their leaders.” Masses were naturally afraid to lose their leaders. Without them, “they feel themselves powerless and lost.” That was the reason why the social democratic workers followed their leaders “against their own dissatisfaction with them.” Manuil’skii did not understand this: “Every year he predicts the proletarian revolution, but it doesn’t come.”56 In May 1934, Stalin finally allowed the French communists to propose an anti-fascist united front with the social democratic party.57 When asked in July by Dimitrov, he reconfirmed that the leadership of social democracy was social fascist; that in the main capitalist countries social democracy was the “fundamental social mainstay of the bourgeoisie”; and that, objectively, the left wing of social democracy remained the “main danger under all circumstances.” Yet he gave his permission for a change of tactic. From now on, it was allowed to carry out a united front policy not “exclusively as a manoeuvre to unmask social democracy” but in order to create a “real unity of the workers” in the struggle against fascism.58 Around this time, Stalin reconfirmed his commitment to a revolutionary road to socialism in his discussion with H.G. Wells. But his formulation suggests that he was not thinking of a direct assault on the parliamentary state but of a government defending itself against bourgeois rebels: No, revolution, a replacement of one social system by another, has always been a struggle, a life and death struggle. And each time when people of the new world came to power, they had to defend themselves from attempts of the old world to bring the old order back by force; the people of the new world always had to be on their guard, to be ready to beat off the onslaughts of the old world on the new order.59 Later that year, the French communist leader Thorez proposed to extend the united front to a “popular front,” including “petit bourgeois” parties. According to his memoirs, Stalin supported his initiative as bold and Leninist: “You have found a new key to open the windows of the future.”60

220 Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?” The new policy was laid down at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935. The decisions of the congress, which were supported by Stalin,61 were not so spectacular. The anti-fascist popular front should embrace all sections of the toilers threatened by monopoly capital. Agreement on the need to overthrow capitalism was no condition for co-operation, but “class collaboration with the bourgeoisie” should be avoided. The communists were only permitted to join with parties prepared to wage an irreconcilable struggle against the whole reactionary offensive of the capitalist class. What is more, a government of the popular front could only be established when the capitalist ruling classes could no longer cope with the mass movement and the state apparatus was paralysed. The popular government, in which the communists might take a part, should carry out decisive measures such as control of production and abolishing the police. It should arm the workers and turn itself into a form of transition to the proletarian revolution.62 The main new point consisted of allowing co-operation with the social democratic parties. From now on, fascism was considered the main enemy. The anti-fascist popular front remained firmly embedded in the tactics of revolutionary struggle. However, communist parties participating in popular fronts followed more moderate policies than had been laid down at the congress. The Communist Party of Spain entered the Popular Front government besieged by the Franco rebels.63 Contrary to the decisions of the congress, it did not take anti-capitalist measures. From a Marxist class analysis, the government represented a coalition with bourgeois parties. The Communist Party of France did not enter the new Popular Front government but did support it, although it was not arming the workers or preparing proletarian revolution. The Comintern began defending ordinary “democratic republics” even when they were not directly threatened by fascism. In the Popular Front period, communist parties switched from “proletarian” to “popular” rhetoric, reflecting the fact that they now co-operated with “bourgeois” anti-fascist parties in somewhat undetermined coalitions. Anti-capitalism was, as an immediate aim, replaced by defence of democracy. His hatred of social democracy being as deep as it was, Stalin had long hesitated to abandon the sectarianism of 1929. What helped him make the turn was that the Popular Front was in tune with his conviction that, in its march to socialism, the proletariat could not bypass democracy. It should, as it were, march through it – strengthening its positions in the bourgeois state, so as to have the best position in the coming armed confrontation with the bourgeoisie. Next to the question of European democracy, national independence in Asia was of strategic importance for Stalin.64 Lenin had concluded that the first goal in Asia was to establish independent democratic republics. All national revolutionary forces should be mobilised against imperialist rule. Most likely, bourgeois nationalist parties would put their mark on the new republics, although under favourable conditions they might take the form of

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


peasant soviet republics. The role of the proletariat and the communists would be modest.65 This strategy was analogous to the bolshevik approach before the February Revolution, although not identical to it. Lenin had hoped for a provisional government of socialist parties, a “dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” That government, which he concluded in 1906 might be based on soviets, should organise elections for a constituent assembly that would usher in a democratic republic.66 Only after the political takeover by the “bourgeoisie” in March 1917 did he set course for socialism. The common underlying thought of the bolshevik strategy prior to March 1917 and the bolshevik strategy in Asia was that, where there was no independent democratic republic, the first communist goal should always be to establish it. Everything else came later – after the “democratic revolution.” In 1920, Stalin wrote characteristically in a telegram to the Central Committee that in Persia there existed only “the possibility of a bourgeois revolution, leaning on the middle classes.” The slogan should be: “driving out the British from Persia, formation of a unified republican Persian state.” A constituent assembly should be convoked, and Persia’s present fragmentation into separate khanates with numerous customs boundaries should be overcome.67 The telegram referred to another important aspect of the democratic republic, namely that its authority should be confirmed uniformly over the whole territory of the state. That the Asian communists should postpone the struggle for socialism was not a question of socio-economic backwardness. Had not the bolsheviks established their proletarian dictatorship in a predominantly peasant country? In On the Foundations of Leninism, Stalin confirmed that a minority proletariat might make revolution if it was able to unite the peasant masses due to favourable circumstances like “war, an agrarian crisis etc.” There was no Chinese wall, no “more or less prolonged interval, during which the bourgeoisie which has come to power develops capitalism,” separating the democratic revolution from the proletarian. The “dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” might provide a quick stepping stone to full proletarian rule.68 The grounds for Stalin to insist on initial democratic self-limitation were political rather than economic. The proletariat of dependent countries should first unite all anti-imperialist forces for “the formation of an independent national state.” Even enemies of democracy like the emir of Afghanistan should be supported, provided they were sincere anti-colonialists.69 The first stage of Stalin’s Asian revolution was to establish an independent democratic republic – not to bring about prolonged capitalist development to make the proletariat the numerically dominant class. In 1926, Stalin urged an Indonesian communist delegation to form a bloc with all national revolutionary elements for a “revolutionary-democratic national” struggle to achieve a national parliament, freedom and social improvements for the peasants and workers. “That’s how it was also in the


Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”

Russian revolutions of 1905 and February 1917.” The reason why the communists should not yet speak about “the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. about the capture of power by the comparty” and about the confiscation of the factories was not that Indonesia was economically unripe for socialism. The point was, first, that the peasant masses did not yet understand the concept of socialism, and, second, the danger of imperialist intervention. Socialist slogans would make the imperialists join up behind the Dutch government: in order to avoid unification of the imperialists…, you should for the time being, in the present international situation, not put forward the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the confiscation of the capitalists…. In October 1917 the international conditions were extraordinarily favourable for the Russian revolution…. Such conditions do not exist now, there is no imperialist war, there is no split between the imperialists…therefore you must begin with revolutionary-democratic demands.70 By far the most important revolutionary struggle in Asia during the 1920s was the Chinese. At the time, China was divided into the nationalist republic of the Guomindang, concentrated in an area around Guangzhou, and the rest of the country controlled by various warlords, who were seen as agents of imperialism by the Soviet government. The Communist Party of China (CPC) was urged by Moscow to enter into a united front arrangement as a constituent party of the Guomindang. In March 1925, Stalin sent a telegram to the Guomindang on the occasion of the death of its leader, Sun Yatsen. He praised Sun’s work for “the freedom and independence of the Chinese people, for the unity and independence of the Chinese state.”71 When Guomindang general Chiang Kai-shek began his so-called Northern Expedition in July 1926, a crusade against the warlords to reunify China, Stalin explained that, whereas the northern governments represented the imperialists, Guangzhou fought for the liberation of the country. Given “hegemony of the proletariat” in the revolution, the Guomindang republic might in due course develop into something “reminiscent in its character of the kind of power about which was spoken in our country in 1905, i.e. something like the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” The Guomindang might even turn out to be a “transitional power to…a socialist development of China.”72 The Guomindang leadership represented the nationalist, anti-imperialist bourgeoisie. Through a proper coalition policy, the communist party might gradually come to occupy ever stronger positions of power in the southern government. After its military victory, it could hopefully outflank the Guomindang leadership and put China on the road to socialism. However, in April 1927 Chiang’s army entered Shanghai and massacred thousands of communists. Stalin interpreted this as a betrayal of the

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


national revolution by the Chinese bourgeoisie. Initially, his policies did not change much. He set his hopes on the left wing of the Guomindang, which had established a rival government in Wuhan, and of which the CPC was again a part. For Stalin, the leaders of Wuhan represented the petit bourgeoisie, or in his own words the “revolutionary narodniki of China.” Their government should overthrow the pro-imperialist government of Chiang Kai-shek and expropriate the landlords. Capitalist and foreign property should be left untouched so as not to provoke imperialist intervention. If the communists managed to manoeuvre themselves into strategic positions, the Wuhan government might develop into a “revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” But Stalin insisted that, for the present, no soviets should be formed. To create them would amount to insurrection, which was inadmissible as long as the united front held.73 Stalin admitted that the moment would come when the Wuhan leadership would turn their backs on the revolution. That should be the moment to organise soviets, which he identified as a “new proletarian type of state organisation.” Their organisation announced the “preparation to the transition from the bourgeois-democratic revolution to the proletarian revolution, to the socialist revolution.”74 But first Chiang’s regime in Nanchang should be defeated to unite China in one republic. Stalin was aware that it was problematic to identify soviets exclusively with a proletarian socialist state. In May 1927, he noted that soviets had been formed in 1905: “didn’t we then live in the period of bourgeois-democratic revolution?” But these soviets had not been viable precisely because there were no “favourable conditions for the direct transition from the bourgeois-democratic to the proletarian revolution.”75 Stalin was reformulating the bolshevik doctrine of the democratic revolution. Whereas Lenin had recognised the role of soviets in democratic revolutions, his successor eliminated them from the ideal of the democratic republic. Soviets were an exclusive characteristic of the proletarian socialist state.76 The bloc of communists and left-wing Guomindang did not last either. Almost immediately, the Wuhan government acted against its communist partners. Stalin commented angrily: “If the Kuomintangists do not learn to be revolutionary Jacobins they will be lost both to the people and to the revolution.” By August 1927, the second united front was a thing of the past.77 Stalin wrote to Molotov and Bukharin that, to lose Wuhan meant to lose the possibility of open organisation of the proletariat and the revolution. He hoped the Chinese communist party survived the arrests and shootings, but, in an analogy with the Russian interval between 1905 and February 1917, he was afraid that the Chinese comrades would have a long wait before the next round of bourgeois revolution.78 A strategic change became unavoidable. The goals of the Chinese revolution remained the same – independence, unification and agrarian revolution. But Stalin now agreed that there was no reason any longer to resist the establishment of soviets.79 The organisation of soviets was after all warranted in the period of national democratic revolution. Stalin’s policy


Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”

towards the Asian communists now entered a leftist phase.80 For the time being, the bourgeoisie was lost for the national revolution.81 Only at the 1935 Comintern congress were the national bourgeoisie of the colonial countries again accepted as potential partners in the anti-imperialist revolution. The slogan of soviets was again abandoned – except in China, where an autonomous Red–soviet territory was in existence.82 But the Comintern did expect the Chinese communists to engage in a new united front with the Guomindang for a government of national defence against the Japanese. It did not take long for the ECCI to call on the CPC to abandon its soviets in favour of a unified “democratic republic.”83 The strategy of the mid-1920s was restored.

Revolutionary war
As the 1930s drew to a close, Stalin’s communist policy, in Europe as well as in Asia, was “democratic revolution.” The communists should support, or even take part in, anti-fascist governments organised on a platform of democracy and independence. Proletarian revolution was postponed. Meanwhile, Stalin dreamt of a great Red Army crusade to unleash that revolution. In his speech on the Kratkii kurs to a group of party propagandists in October 1938, he quoted Lenin to the effect that the victorious proletariat, having taken power in one country and organised socialist production, would be forced “to undertake a crusade against the other backward, reactionary capitalist countries in order to assist the proletariat of these countries to liberate themselves from the bourgeoisie.” The bolsheviks were no mere pacifists, who long for peace and only take to arms in case they are being attacked…. There are circumstances when the bolsheviks will themselves attack, when the war is just, when the situation is fitting, when conditions are favourable, they’ll begin the attack themselves…. Our present shouts about defence are a veil, a veil. All states put up a mask.84 In September 1939, his dream came true. The imperialist world was at war. We would now expect the Soviet dictator to order the Comintern to make preparations for the proletarian revolution in Europe and to prepare the Red Army for revolutionary war. In August, the USSR and Germany had signed a pact of non-aggression. It embodied Stalin’s dual policy of keeping the USSR out of war and at the same time of provoking it between others. After Chamberlain’s guarantees to Poland in March 1939, the chance that Hitler would, after Poland, immediately move on to Russia had anyway become small. But the pact certainly helped to provoke war between Germany and Great Britain, for it enabled Hitler to attack Poland without fear of Russian involvement.

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


We have strong indications that it was Stalin’s intention with the pact to unleash war. To begin with, there are Andrei Zhdanov’s cryptic notes, probably written in 1939, before the concluding of the pact. He noted that the British political leaders hoped to save their skin and turn Hitler against the USSR. However, a Soviet understanding with Germany was possible. The notes read: “The tigres and their masters. The masters hook the tigres onto the East. Syphilitic Europe. To turn the cage around to the side of the English…. To turn the tigres around against England.”85 We must assume that the tigres were the Nazis and their masters the British. Zhdanov hoped that the Germans could be turned against Britain. In 1994, the text of a speech allegedly made by Stalin at a meeting of the Politburo on 19 August 1939 was published. The leader explained that he wanted the pact to make sure that Hitler attacked Poland and thereby made world war inevitable. The Soviet government should do everything in its power to make the war last long enough to let both parties exhaust themselves, so that it could intervene in the war at a favourable moment. Experience had shown that proletarian revolution in Europe was only possible during a great war. Whoever won – Germany or France – revolution would break out in the defeated country in any case. Moscow should only make sure that the war lasted long enough for even the winning side to be too exhausted to crush the revolution. The best tactic was to remain neutral for the time being but to provide sufficient assistance to Hitler to enable him to carry on the war as long as possible.86 Unfortunately, the authenticity of the text is highly doubtful.87 Nevertheless, what it said is strikingly confirmed by other sources. On 24 August, Russian Comintern leader Manuil’skii, who must have been among the best informed, told a Spanish communist: “When the capitalists want to cut each other down, they’re welcome to do so. At a definite moment, when they show the first signs of exhaustion, we’ll be certainly approached by both sides. Our decision will then depend on what’s best for us.”88 On 7 September, Stalin explained the pact to Dimitrov as follows, as the latter recorded in his diary: This war is going on between two groups of capitalist countries…for world domination! We have no problem with it when they fight each other well and weaken each other. It is not bad if the position of the wealthiest capitalist countries (especially England) will be undermined by Germany. Though he doesn’t understand it himself and doesn’t want it, Hitler is throwing the capitalist system into chaos, undermining it…. We can manoeuvre, incite one side against the other, so that they would fight better. The pact of non-aggression helps Germany to a certain extent. The next moment we will incite the other side. The division of capitalist states into fascist and democratic ones had lost its meaning. The time of united struggle against the fascist camp was over. The


Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”

communists should come out “against the war and those responsible for it.” Even Poland should no longer be defended. This had once been a “national state,” supported by all revolutionaries. Now this “fascist state” oppressed the Ukrainians and White Russians. “The destruction of this state would under the present circumstances mean one bourgeois fascist state less! …as a result of the crushing of Poland, we’ll spread the socialist system to new territories and populations.” The Comintern tactic should be radicalised, bringing the idea of socialist revolution back into focus: Yesterday’s popular united front served to alleviate the situation of the slaves under the capitalist regime. Under the conditions of imperialist war there arises the question of the destruction of slavery! To stand today on yesterday’s position (the popular united front, the unity of nations) means to assume positions of the bourgeoisie.89 Stalin’s strategy of war was part of a perspective of destabilising and overthrowing the capitalist system. But capitalism would only be ripe for revolution after the war had exhausted both sides. Therefore the German side should be supported long enough in order to extend the war and make that exhaustion come about. Although there was war at last, revolution should be postponed once again. Stalin did not want the German communists to undermine Hitler’s war effort. On 25 October, he had a discussion with Dimitrov on the draft of “War and the working class,” the latter’s programmatic article on the new international situation. Stalin urged him to “soften” (priglushit’) the class struggle. The political line should not be too radical. “To put the question of peace now on the basis of the destruction of capital means to help Chamberlain, the warmongers, means to isolate yourself from the masses!” Instead of immediate revolution, the motto should be: “Down with the imperialist war!” Stalin added that during the First World War the bolsheviks had been “precipitate, we made mistakes.” The two warring sides should not be put on a par. In the present stage, “we will not come out against governments which are for peace.” He proposed the slogan: “oust the governments which are for war!”90 Whom Stalin referred to was anybody’s guess. On 30 November, he wrote in Pravda that France and England had attacked Germany, not the other way around. The former two powers did not accept the German peace proposals, which the USSR “openly supported.”91 Dimitrov corrected the article, and in that form Stalin allowed its publication.92 In the territories newly acquired by the Soviet Union as a consequence of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet socialist system was quickly introduced. Stalin saw expansion not merely as an extension of the Russian borders but as part of the development of the world socialist system. In a January 1940 comment on the Finnish campaign, the dictator told Dimitrov: “World revolution in one act is nonsense. It proceeds in different

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


countries at different times. The actions of the Red Army are also a matter of the world revolution.”93 In September 1940, at a conference of the Central Committee, he said: We are widening the front of socialist construction, that’s favourable for mankind. Don’t the Lithuanians, Western White Russians, Moldavians, whom we liberated from the yoke of the landlords, capitalists and police and other scoundrels consider themselves happy? That’s from the point of view of the peoples. And from the point of view of the struggle of forces on a world scale, between socialism and capitalism, this is a big plus, because we are widening the front of socialism and narrowing the front of capitalism.94 The question arises of whether Stalin seriously intended to “widen the front of socialism” still further by entering the war at a proper moment.95 That Soviet leaders dreamed of a Red Army offensive is a fact. In May 1940, Lev Mekhlis, chief of the Main Political Directorate of the Red Army, told a conference in the Commissariat of Defence that his army might “come out as the initiator of the just war” against the capitalist world.96 In July of that year, Molotov told the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs that Lenin correctly predicted that “a second world war will allow us to take power in the whole of Europe.” The Kremlin supported Germany “just enough so as to prevent it from accepting peace proposals until the time when the hungering masses of the warring nations lose their illusions and rise up against their leaders.” Revolution in Germany would lead to reconciliation between the German and the French and British bourgeoisie, but “at that moment we’ll come to its aid, we’ll arrive with fresh forces, well prepared, and on the territory of Western Europe, I think somewhere near the Rhine, there will take place the decisive battle between the proletariat and the rotting bourgeoisie.”97 In February 1941, Walter Ulbricht was told at the highest level in Moscow that the German communists should aim for “int[ernational] fraternisation – revolution with the assistance of the SU.” Final victory by either side, or an armistice, might prevent such a favourable outcome but was not thought probable.98 In April of that year, the writer V. Vishnevskii wrote in his diary that, according to Voroshilov, the pact with Germany had been signed to set the imperialist powers against each other, adding: “we will cleverly incite them…and under the right conditions we will go over to the attack ourselves according to the Leninist formula.” Vishnevskii concluded that the time “of the ‘holy’ battles (according to an expression of Molotov in a recent talk) comes ever closer!”99 All this could not have been more clear. On 5 May 1941, Stalin gave a speech to a group of officers graduating from the Academy of the Red Amy. The leader assured them that the Wehrmacht was not invincible. The French army had only been beaten because it had not observed a proper regime within its own ranks. It was too


Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”

elitist. “Our great generals were always closely connected with the soldiers. We must act in the Suvorov way.” France had forgotten to care for its army. The people looked down on commanders “as on lame ducks, losers, who were obliged to go into the army because they had no factories, plants, banks, shops.” But the German perspectives now turned bleak. Germany began the war under the sympathetic slogan of “liberation from the yoke of the Versailles peace.” Now the German army…changed its slogans from liberation from Versailles to those of conquest…. As long as he carried on the war under the slogan of liberation from serfdom, Napoleon I received support, he had sympathy, he had allies, he had success. When Napoleon I turned to wars of conquest, he got many enemies and he suffered defeat. After the official part of the occasion, a major-general of the tank forces proposed a toast to the “peaceful Stalinist foreign policy.” The leader interrupted him: Allow me to make a correction. The peaceful policy guaranteed peace for our country…. As long as it lasted, we carried out a line of defence – until the moment when we had re-armed our army, supplied our army with modern weaponry. And now, …when we have become strong, now we must make the transition from defence to attack. In defending our country, we are obliged to act in an offensive way. [We must] make the transition from defence to a military policy of offensive operations.100 Stalin did not say that the Red Army might take the initiative to attack. But the only other interpretation of his toast would be that it referred to the military doctrine to answer a hostile attack not with defensive operations but with a counterattack. But in that case, the plea for a transition from one type of strategy to another would have made no sense, for the doctrine of counterattack had been in place for years. It is one thing to draw a general perspective, and quite another to decide. Later that month, the Soviet military leadership presented an operational plan to Stalin for a pre-emptive strike against the Wehrmacht in response to the deployment of German troops along the Soviet border. Molotov later told Feliks Chuev that Stalin wanted no first strike. He feared that a Soviet attack might seduce the United States, England and France into linking up with Germany against Russia.101 To another writer, I. Stadniuk, Molotov said that the possibility of a pre-emptive strike was discussed in May 1941, but it had been decided “to postpone [povremenit’] the strike.” Stalin feared that a Soviet attack would provoke London to make peace with Berlin.102 This sounds plausible enough. The Soviet dictator always focused on the degree of conflict and unity between the imperialist states. Now that war

Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”


had broken out between the imperialists, the Red Army should prepare to launch a surprise attack. But it should be undertaken only when European capitalism was cracking up. To attack prematurely would be as foolish as to attempt revolution prematurely. In May and June 1941, other high-ranking Soviet officials repeated that the Red Army was preparing for a “holy war.” It might “take the initiative on itself of offensive military operations against the capitalist encirclement with the aim of widening the front of socialism.” This was even possible “in a situation when there is not yet a revolutionary crisis in the capitalist countries,” when the security of the USSR was under immediate threat. Often, the comparison was made with the Soviet–Finnish war, which had also been initiated by the Soviet side.103 There is no reason to assume that this expressed immediate preparations. But it seems clear enough that the longterm prospect of a Soviet attack was accepted. Moreover, it is also clear that Stalin saw the expansion of Soviet territory as part of a larger revolutionary process of destruction of capitalism and triumph of the socialist system in Europe. To sum up, Stalin found proletarian revolutions possible and desirable only under strict conditions. Peaceful Soviet relations with the capitalist world should not be endangered. Allowing the USSR to be drawn prematurely into armed conflict was to be avoided. Moreover, successful proletarian revolution depended on war in the imperialist camp. Only that might weaken the capitalist elite sufficiently and prevent the imperialists joining up. Finally, proletarian revolution was not envisaged by Stalin as a direct assault on the state. He deeply hated the social democrats and the “national bourgeoisie” in the colonial world but demanded of the European and Asian communist parties that they focus on creating or preserving independent democratic republics and gaining influence in them. All this being said, though, Stalin did not lose sight of the ultimate prospect of communist takeover. Ironically, during the years of friendship with Hitler the hope of a collapse of European capitalism became real for the first time since the early 1920s.

16 Revolutionary patriotism

When the Wehrmacht attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Stalin’s optimistic expectations were shattered. One of the purposes of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact had been to fortify the security of the Soviet state. National security was one of the foundation stones of Stalin’s foreign policy. A secret protocol to the pact delimited a boundary between German and Soviet “spheres of interest” running right through Poland, with Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Bessarabia in the Soviet zone.1 When the Red Army crossed the Polish border, Stalin was elated by the return of the ethnically Ukrainian and White Russian territories, but he was glad to lose the land inhabited mainly by ethnic Poles. In September 1939, he told von Ribbentrop that dividing up the area with a purely Polish population was no wise thing to do. “History had proved that the Polish population strove always for reunification.”2 Stalin traded his share of ethnic Poland for Lithuania. In October 1939, Stalin told Dimitrov that he wanted pacts of mutual assistance with the Baltic and other states to bring them into the Soviet “orbit of influence.” For now, sovietisation should not be attempted. “The time will come when they will do that themselves!”3 Stalin was especially interested in “naval bases which don’t freeze over,” as Molotov bluntly told a Lithuanian government delegation in Stalin’s presence earlier that month. “Peter the Great was already concerned about an exit to the sea. …we can’t allow small states to be used against the USSR. Neutral Baltic states are not sufficiently reliable,” he added. The next summer, Moscow accused the governments of the three Baltic states of a “disloyal” attitude towards the USSR and demanded the establishment of “pro-Soviet” governments.4 Soon they were annexed. One territory was taken that had never been part of the Russian empire, namely Bukovina. Molotov told von Ribbentrop that it was “the last missing part of a unified Ukraine.”5 Problems were only experienced in the case of Finland. Stalin was determined to obtain a strip of land that was needed for the security of Leningrad. When the Finns did not comply, he ordered the Red Army to attack. In January 1940, he told Dimitrov that he did not want to conquer Finland – it should be only a “friendly” state.6 In April, the Soviet dictator

Revolutionary patriotism


summed up the results of the costly war at a meeting of military cadres. Security had been the real issue. To allow an enemy ever to break through to Leningrad to establish a “bourgeois, White Guard government” would have been unacceptable. He had not attempted to capture the whole of Finland, though, because war in that country was too difficult. “We knew that Peter I fought for 21 years, to cut off the whole of Finland from Sweden.” Subsequent emperors had been equally occupied for years with the Finns.7 The Finnish sense of independence was too strong. Stalin hoped to turn Soviet Russia into the dominant power of Eastern Europe. In July 1940, he admitted to the British ambassador that he wanted joint control of all Black Sea powers over the Bosporus and Dardanelles. He hoped to change the “old balance of forces [ravnovesie] in Europe,” which was to the detriment of the USSR.8 The Soviet dictator set his hopes mainly on his new friends. In November 1940, Molotov visited Berlin. According to Stalin’s directives,9 the purpose of the trip was “to prepare a first design of the sphere of interests of the USSR in Europe, as well as in the Near and Middle East.” Stalin was prepared for a joint statement with Germany, Italy and Japan concerning a peace arrangement with Great Britain, according to which the British Empire remained intact but kept out of the affairs of the European continent.10 In a telegram to Berlin, he gave his commissar final directives concerning the Black Sea: All events from the Crimean war of the previous century until the landing of foreign troops on the Crimea and Odessa in 1918 and 1919 show that the security of the Black Sea areas of the USSR cannot be considered guaranteed without a settlement of the question of the Straits [Bosporus/Dardanelles].11 After Molotov’s return to Moscow, the Soviet government reported to its German counterpart that it was prepared to participate in a new “pact of four powers.” Among the conditions was a pact of mutual assistance between the USSR and Bulgaria. Russia would also have the right to establish military and naval bases in the area of the Bosporus and Dardanelles. Furthermore, the “area to the south of Batum and Baku in the general direction of the Persian Gulf ” would have to be recognised as “the centre of gravity of the aspirations of the USSR.”12 The war seemed finally to give Stalin his long-desired chance to expand the Soviet sphere. With the German invasion, these beautiful dreams came crashing down. But Stalin did not forget them. In a discussion with Anthony Eden in December 1941, he suggested that, after the war, the British might organise a system of military alliances and bases in Western Europe. Russia should obtain favourable conditions of passage through the Baltic Sea and the right to establish military bases in Rumania and Finland. Its June 1941 borders should be restored.13 At the Tehran conference in 1943, Stalin not only demanded those borders but also the “ice-free harbours Königsberg and


Revolutionary patriotism

Memel and a corresponding part of East Prussia.”14 In 1944, the division of Europe came a small step closer to reality when Churchill proposed to divide the Balkans between Western and Soviet spheres of influence. The Russian side accepted the division with minor changes.15 Stalin succeeded in dividing Europe at the bayonets of the Red Army. How he visualised the new Soviet position appears indirectly but strikingly from a dispatch he sent to Molotov at a conference of foreign ministers in London in the autumn of 1945. The leader was angered by the fact that the Americans wanted the Soviet side to agree “that the USA play the same role in the affairs of Europe as the USSR, in order to subsequently take the fate of Europe in their hands in a bloc with Britain.”16 Stalin was satisfied with the results of the war. Molotov recounts how the leader commented that in the north, where the borders had been moved up from Leningrad, everything was in order. The Baltic countries, which were “Russian lands” of old, were retrieved. All White Russians, Ukrainians and Moldavians now “live together with us.” In the east, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin were Russian. Soviet positions in China had been strengthened. Only the borders in the area south of the Caucasus were not to Stalin’s liking.17 Taking all this into consideration, the question arises again of whether Stalin took his clues from tsarist policies. Was he looking back to discover which course to take? According to Stalin, proper state borders roughly coincided with national lines. As his actions to complete Ukraine and White Russia show, irredentism was an important urge in his foreign policy. After the war, the trans-Carpathian part of Ukraine was taken from Czechoslovakia. In May 1949, Malyshev visited Stalin at his dacha. The leader told him: In their times, in the thirteenth century, the Russians lost the transCarpathian Ukraine and from that time they always dreamt of recovering it. Thanks to our correct policy, we succeeded in recovering all Slavic – Ukrainian and White Russian – lands and to realise the ageold dreams of the Russian, Ukrainian and White Russian peoples.18 According to Molotov, the goal of the Soviet activities in northern Iran in 1945–46 was to annex the Iranian part of Azerbaijan to Soviet Azerbaijan.19 In November 1941, Stalin had indirectly admitted to his support for the irredentist principle when he remarked that, as long as the Nazis had occupied themselves with “collecting German lands,” one could “with some justification consider them nationalists.” But since they began to occupy other peoples’ land they were “no nationalists, but imperialists.”20 For reasons of state security, Soviet borders were occasionally drawn overstepping national lines, as the Finnish operation showed. But even in such cases the national principle was not forgotten. If the border could not conform to the nation, the opposite should if possible be made the case. The Germans were driven from Königsberg. The expulsion of Germans from

Revolutionary patriotism


Czechoslovakia and Poland were other cases in point. Stalin accepted population movements to further national homogeneity as good policy. In April 1946, a Hungarian delegation complained about the treatment of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet leader agreed that it was an injustice not to provide them with rights and schools of their own. To prevent the Hungarians being “denationalised,” he proposed an “exchange of populations,” analogous to the one carried out between Poland and Lithuania.21 In determining the borders of Soviet Russia, Stalin took the national principle as his guideline, amended by considerations of state security. His goal was not to restore the borders of the Russian empire but to annex all nations that had formerly been fully integrated into that empire – which is not the same thing. In choosing this goal, Stalin restored an important element of continuity with tsarist policies. And he particularly admired what Ivan and Peter had done for Russia’s expansion and security. Nevertheless, his national principle led to different results. On the one hand, he went further than the tsars, annexing segments of nations like the Ukrainians that had never been under tsarist rule.22 On the other hand, deeply convinced of nationalism’s strength, Stalin refused to annex nations, such as the Finns and Poles, which had been part of the Russian empire but had preserved a measure of autonomy and national spirit. They should be allowed an independent state existence.23 Although Stalin often repeated tsarist annexations, that was not his guideline. He only followed the tsars’ example when his national principle overlapped with their exploits. Meanwhile, neighbouring states that were allowed to preserve their independence should recognise Soviet hegemony and be content to fall into the Soviet sphere of influence. In the 1920s, the Soviet leader had denied that he aimed for a delimitation of spheres of influence with the imperialist powers.24 But this was exactly what he wanted, although it would not hinder him from furthering revolution in the other spheres under favourable conditions. Next to the creation of secure and nationally satisfactory Soviet borders, the establishment of a Soviet sphere of influence was the second goal of Stalin’s state policy. He encircled the USSR with a protective glacis of devoted satellite states, which he hoped provided Russia with added security.25 On occasion, Stalin attempted to widen the Soviet sphere. His attempt to drive his former allies out of West Berlin is a case in point. The North Korean attack in June 1950 is another. But Stalin’s fear of provoking war with the imperialist camp did not leave him. In 1949, he refused to give Kim Il-Sung permission for an invasion. He was afraid the Americans might intervene.26 When Kim tried again in January 1950, Stalin informed him that, because of the great risks involved, the matter should be well prepared.27 During Kim’s visit to Moscow in March–April, he gave his permission. The American announcement placing South Korea outside the American defence perimeter may have allayed the leader’s fears. He was not concerned about whether the South Korean population might accept


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northern victory. People were like sheep: “they would follow the leading ram wherever he might go.” But if the Americans intervened after all, the Soviet army would not come to Kim’s aid: “If you should get kicked in the teeth, I shall not lift a finger.”28 The North Korean attack was carried out with Stalin’s permission, but not at his initiative.29 There is one indication that Stalin considered invading Western Europe. At a January 1951 conference attended by the communist party First Secretaries and Ministers of Defence of the European socialist camp, Soviet general Shtemenko proposed to expand the armies of the camp. He expected the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to be prepared for war by late 1953. It was necessary to “create a balance.”30 According to an account of the former Czechoslovak Minister of Defence, Stalin said on this occasion that only for the next three or four years would the balance of forces be favourable for the socialist side. He expected his partners to prepare for an invasion of Western Europe before the situation reversed itself.31 Even if this account can be confirmed, we need more evidence to conclude that Stalin was considering a first strike. It would have gone against his cherished tactical dogma never to attack a unified imperialist camp not exhausted by mutual warfare. The victory in the Great Patriotic War had not made Stalin more prone to military recklessness. Perhaps even the contrary. On 23 February 1942, the Soviet leader wrote in one of his orders in his capacity as Commissar of Defence: Today the outcome of a war will not be decided by such a non-essential [privkhodiashchii] factor as the factor of surprise, but by the permanently operating factors: the stability of the rear, the morale of the army, the quantity and quality of the divisions, the armament of the army, the organisational capacities of the commanding personnel of the army.32 Plainly put, Russia had a greater war potential than Germany. It was enough, however damaged, to survive the first shock of the Blitzkrieg, for the underlying Russian superiority to make itself felt. These few words about the balance of forces in wars written in 1942 remained the basis for Soviet military assessments until Stalin’s death. After the war, they were celebrated as the leader’s “thesis about the significance of the permanently operating factors in a war as the decisive factors” and as a “creative development of the Marxist–Leninist science.”33 Stalin was at least as impressed by Germany’s defeat as by his own victory. The course of the war warned him against recklessness. It convinced him of the enormous risk of a surprise attack on other powerful states. If the initial momentum was somehow lost, everything was lost.34 Taking into account the basic relation of forces between the Soviet and Western camps, Stalin can hardly have been convinced that a Soviet surprise attack would pay off.

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Nuclear weapons did not change this assessment. Publicly, Stalin took a low view of the atomic bomb. In September 1946, he told Sunday Times correspondent Alexander Werth that atomic bombs were not such a “serious force” as some people thought. They were meant to scare people with weak nerves, “but they cannot decide the outcome of a war.” The American monopoly formed a threat, but the monopoly would not exist long. Moreover, use of the bomb would be forbidden.35 Stalin’s public indifference towards the American monopoly of the bomb was faked. He tried his best not to show his nervousness. In 1951, when the USSR was in the possession of a bomb itself, Stalin said that the Americans had hoped to use their monopoly for blackmail purposes. Only now that their monopoly was broken, might a ban on the bomb have a chance.36 The dictator was not such a fool as to believe that the atomic bomb did not represent a serious force. Early in 1943, he ordered the development of a Soviet bomb.37 After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the atomic project became a priority task.38 Stalin commented: “Hiroshima has shaken the whole world. The balance has been destroyed.”39 In January 1946, Stalin promised the responsible physicist Kurchatov the most extensive state assistance and ordered him to carry out the project “broadly, with Russian scope.”40 Although he was uninterested in the technical details, Stalin kept himself informed of the progress of the project.41 In January 1948, he told Milovan Djilas about the bomb: “That is a powerful thing, pow-er-ful!”42 When a struggle against ideologically harmful tendencies in physics, comparable to the Lysenkoite movement, threatened to harm the atomic project, Stalin did not hesitate to stop the struggle.43 Yet the Soviet leader’s remark that atomic bombs could not decide the outcome of wars was not window dressing. In July 1952, he told Italian socialist Petro Nenni that the United States was strong on technology, aeroplanes and atomic bombs but lacking in manpower. “It is not enough for America to destroy Moscow, just as it is not enough for us to destroy New York. We want armies to occupy Moscow and to occupy New York.”44 David Holloway concludes that the atomic bomb did not make Stalin change his mind on the “permanently operating factors.” The bomb was immensely important but not decisive. Before Stalin’s death, Soviet military strategists did not expect the atomic weapon to be used on the battlefield. It was a weapon to destroy cities. Its effect was comparable to that of the great air strikes inflicted on Germany during the war. They had done tremendous damage but not inflicted defeat. Because the atomic bomb could not be used on the battlefield, where wars are decided, it could not decide wars.45 In the light of this, a surprise nuclear attack on enemy cities was a useless undertaking. After the first blow had been inflicted, other factors would assert themselves and decide the outcome of the war. This told Stalin not only that he would be a fool to prepare a Soviet nuclear strike but also that the chances of the Americans preparing one were small. Therefore, again, a

236 Revolutionary patriotism preventive Soviet nuclear strike to forestall an American one was also superfluous and could only do harm. From Stalin’s perspective, it would have been good policy to attack the West to forestall an expected imperialist attack. But he seems not to have believed that the Western camp was seriously preparing for war. Until the end of his life, Stalin publicly insisted that the threat of war would only materialise after a considerable period of “peaceful co-existence.”46 He consistently claimed that the chances of war between the USSR and world imperialism remained small. In November 1945, he told his Polish comrade Gomulka that there would be no war. The American and British armies were “disarmed by agitation for peace.” Perhaps in thirty years America would start a war, which would bring it great profit. Situated beyond the oceans, it couldn’t care less about the effects of war.47 When the Cold War was in full swing, Stalin became more apprehensive. Publicly, he said on occasion that the West hoped to unleash a new war.48 But among comrades he spoke differently. He believed that the imperialists could be held in check. At a meeting of military leaders and rocket scientists in April 1947, he said: Do you realise the tremendous strategic importance of machines of this sort? They could be an effective straitjacket for that noisy shopkeeper Harry Truman. We must go ahead with it, comrades. The problem of the creation of transatlantic rockets is of extreme importance to us.49 Stalin had confidence in the deterrent force of the Soviet army. In June 1949, he told Malyshev: “We have tanks, we are not planning to go to war, we have time, let the industrialists work and give us a flawless tank.”50 In 1949, he told Liu Shaoqi and Mao Zedong on two occasions that a third world war was improbable. America was “afraid of war more than anything.” Ultimately, war with the United States was inevitable, but it should take the imperialists at least twenty years to prepare for it. Only if “madmen appeared on the scene” might the situation unexpectedly change.51 After the Korean War began, Stalin telegraphed Mao in October 1950 that Chinese intervention was unlikely to provoke the Americans into starting a big war. If it did after all, it was better to have it now rather than a few years later.52 When the Chinese intervention did not trigger a major war, the Soviet dictator became convinced that the Korean War was conducive to world peace. It tied down the enemy.53 When Zhou Enlai told Stalin in August 1952 that continuation of the war was advantageous, as American forces remained bogged down and Washington was prevented from preparing a new world war, Stalin agreed. “This war is getting on America’s nerves.” The Americans were not “capable of waging a large-scale war.” Their strength lay in air power and the atomic bomb, but to win a war “one needs infantry, and they don’t have much infantry.” The American people did not have a warlike spirit:

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Americans are merchants. Every American soldier is a speculator, occupied with buying and selling. Germans conquered France in 20 days. It’s been already two years, and USA has still not subdued little Korea. What kind of strength is that? America’s primary weapons…are stockings, cigarettes, and other merchandise. They want to subjugate the world, yet they cannot subdue little Korea…. They are fighting with little Korea, and already people are weeping in the USA. What will happen if they start a large-scale war? Then, perhaps, everyone will weep.54 To the end of his days, Stalin remained convinced that some time in the future a military conflict between imperialism and socialism was bound to occur. But he did not believe that the enemy was actually preparing for an attack on the USSR. This makes it highly improbable that he nurtured a serious plan to invade Western Europe. Caution was wise from another point of view. Stalin was convinced that imperialism would in time again produce internecine war. The dictator insisted that “theoretically” the contradictions between the socialist and capitalist camps were stronger than those between the capitalist countries. America had put Western Europe and Japan “on rations.” But these countries would certainly “attempt to tear loose from American slavery and enter the road of independent development.” That would end in a new armed conflict within the capitalist camp. A new imperialist world war could be postponed, but “to remove the inevitability of wars, one has to destroy imperialism.” Stalin also observed a “deepening of the general crisis of the world capitalist system in connection with the disintegration of the world market.” The loss of Russia, China and other socialist countries was hard on capitalism. Lenin’s thesis that, despite its crisis, capitalism could still undergo sustained economic growth was now obsolete.55 Better wait for imperialist war and crisis than act rashly.

Stalin and tsarist foreign policy
More needs to be said about Stalin’s views on pre-revolutionary Russian foreign policy principles and ideologies. From the last years of the war until his break with Tito in 1948, Stalin followed a policy of “Slav solidarity.”56 In 1944, he discussed Slav co-operation with Polish representatives on various occasions. The dictator observed centuries of German expansion to the detriment of the Slavs. He wanted a new “union of Slav states, oriented against Germany.” He referred to the 1410 Battle of Grunwald, “in which there took place a unification of the Slav peoples against the German Swordbearers.” But his union of Slav peoples differed fundamentally from the “pan-Slavism of tsarist Russia.” He, Stalin, would respect the equality between these peoples. The “foolish policy of struggle and mistrust,” which Russians and Poles had carried on for centuries, had only benefited “the age-old enemy of


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the Slavs – the Germans.”57 Stalin was even more forthcoming when he met another Polish delegation in August 1946: Mistrust of Poles to Russians and the other way around is still there…. The ruling circles of tsarist Russia are, of course, more guilty than the Polish ruling circles. They did not only participate in the divisions of Poland, but were sometimes even the initiators of these divisions. But you must take into account that the advanced democratic, revolutionary circles of Russia, beginning with Chernyshevskii, …and then Plekhanov and Lenin, considered the independence of Poland an inalienable right of the Poles.58 Stalin’s commitment to the cause of Slav unity was real enough. When the Yugoslav communist Djilas mentioned the tsars’ lack of interest in the liberation of the south Slavs, Stalin answered: “Yes, the Russian tsars lacked horizons.”59 He also insisted that the Slavs should not feel culturally inferior. The Bulgarians were no less developed than the Germans: “when the ancestors of the Germans still lived in the woods, the Bulgarians had already a high culture.”60 It angered the Soviet leader that the Eastern European nations, including those not in the Slav group, were looked down upon. In October 1945, he told a Finnish delegation that the Belgians saw the Finns as a “semi-peasant people without culture.” But the Belgians, considering themselves “one of the most cultured peoples of Europe,” capitulated shamefully during the war. The Finns would never have done that.61 But, whatever his sympathies with Slav unity, Stalin always emphasised that his ideal differed from that of the old pan-Slavists. Most interesting in this respect was a speech that the dictator made in March 1945, which was written down by People’s Commissar V.A. Malyshev. The leader noted that many people compared his policies with those of “the old Slavophiles, for instance Aksakov and others,” who had demanded “unification of all Slavs under the Russian tsar.” But this had been “a harmful and unrealisable idea.” The various Slav peoples had “different social ways of life and ethnographic structures. The geographical situation of the Slav peoples also hinders unification.” We, the new Leninist Slavophiles, bolshevik Slavophiles, communists, do not favour unification but a union of Slav peoples. We are of the opinion that, despite the difference in political and social situation, despite the differences in way of life and ethnographically, all Slavs must live jointly in a union against our common enemy – the Germans. The Slavs had suffered much more during the war than the Western European nations. “I hate the Germans,” Stalin admitted, “but hatred should not prevent us from objectively appreciating the Germans. The Germans are a great people.” Precisely for that reason, one should recognise

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the danger that they would one day become a threat to the Slavs again. Then again, a Slav union served only to provide mutual economic and military assistance, not to force the Soviet order onto the other nations. A Soviet order could only be established if the respective people wished it, not on orders from Moscow.62 Mentioning Slavophilism was a little odd. Stalin really referred to panSlavism. Nevertheless, the drift of his words is clear enough. That he wanted equality between Soviet Russia and Poland was a lie. The USSR would be the hegemonic power. But he was serious in emphasising that the Slavs were not a compact entity but consisted of different nations. Those with a strong tradition of state independence could not be deprived of that. To do so, as the pan-Slavists had demanded and the tsars had in the Polish case realised, was counterproductive. It alienated the Slav peoples from Russia. Stalin did not annex the other Slav states after the war. What we have here is a fine example of the dictator’s indebtedness and lack of indebtedness to the Russian tradition. That he found much to be appreciated in pan-Slavism is obvious enough. His interest in it was provoked when most Slav nations (Bulgaria excepted) were on the Russian side in the war, whereas Germany headed a coalition of non-Slav nations, including Rumania, Hungary and Finland.63 But although Stalin came to appreciate pan-Slavism, he stuck to his own interpretation of the national principle and took a critical view of pan-Slavism from that perspective. Stalin judged not only pan-Slavism but tsarist foreign policy in general from the perspective of this national principle, as he interpreted it. In his view, the Russian state had in its early modern history been justified in absorbing nations such as the Ukrainians, the White Russians and the Baltic peoples. This had been unavoidable to make Russia powerful and strong. Moreover, these peoples had been prepared for a close union with Russia. But Russia should neither make the mistake of overextending itself, attempting to annex more freedom-loving nations, nor the opposite one of forgetting its own state interests. From early on, the Soviet leader emphasised the weakness of the Russian state in its last period. In 1921, he wrote that the 1905 revolution had weakened Russian imperialism to such a degree that it could no longer play the role of gendarme of Europe. The “centre of gravity of the European counter-revolution” had shifted to Britain and France.64 In July 1934, he famously commented on an article by Engels about the foreign policy of Russian tsarism. Contrary to what Engels seemed to think, aggression was not a Russian monopoly but characteristic of all European great powers. Moreover, after the Crimean War, the independent role of tsarism in European foreign policy began to decrease significantly. By the time of the First World War, Russia had turned into a “reserve of the main powers of Europe.” Engels had further been mistaken when he explained the policy of conquest of Russian tsarism as the product of a bunch of foreign adventurers at the Russian court. In reality, it was


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produced by a “‘need’ of the military–feudal–trading elite of Russia for exits to the seas” and by their wish “to expand foreign trade and occupy strategic points.”65 Two points can be distinguished in this note. First, although the tsars served the interests of the feudalists and capitalists, the reference to the need for exits to the sea and other interests suggests that these goals were in themselves justified. Second, after the Crimean War, Russia was too weakened to remain an important threat to the European revolution.66 In August 1934, Stalin, Zhdanov and Kirov criticised the draft of a new textbook of the history of the USSR for not paying sufficient attention to the “counter-revolutionary role of Russian tsarism in foreign policy from the time of Ekaterina II until the 50s of the XIXth century and onwards,” i.e. to the concept of “tsarism as an international gendarme.” The draft also failed to note the role of tsarism in the First World War “as a reserve for the Western European imperialist powers” and the dependence of Russian capitalism on Western European capital. The significance of the October Revolution as the “liberator of Russia from a semi-colonial status” remained unmentioned.67 Stalin seems to have distinguished three stages in Russian foreign policy. The first – until the time of Peter – was a relatively progressive one. During the second half of the 1930s it was acknowledged that the early tsars served the emerging Russian nation and its fortification within secure borders. Ivan’s policy of Baltic conquest had been necessary from a strategic and economic point of view. Minin and Pozharskii, seventeenth-century defenders of Russia against the Poles, and Peter the Great were praised for their patriotic efforts.68 In his February 1947 discussion with Eizenshtein, Stalin confirmed this. When the director told him that his film would show Ivan IV standing by the shore saying “We stand on the seas, and stand we shall,” Stalin commented: “That’s how it happened. And even a little more.” He added: When we moved the Monument to Minin and Pozharsky closer to St. Basil’s Cathedral, Demyan Bedny protested and wrote me…that monuments should be thrown out and we must forget all about Minin and Pozharsky. In reply to this letter, I called him “Ivan who doesn’t remember his kith and kin.” We cannot throw out history.69 During the second stage – from Catherine the Great until the Crimean War – Russia was Europe’s reactionary policeman. It was engaged in exaggerated expansionism, unnecessarily hurting the dignity of the Poles and other peoples. Only colonial ventures into Muslim areas were relatively progressive for their civilising role. During the war, this assessment did not change. The note of the party apparatus for the 1944 historical conference glorified the “eminent representatives [deiateli] of the Russian people” like Dmitrii Donskii, Aleksandr Nevskii, Ivan IV, Minin and Pozharskii – and also

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Suvorov and Kutuzov, defenders of Russia against France. But the thesis of tsarist Russia as the gendarme of Europe was confirmed. Alexander I and Nicholas I were reactionary monarchs. The suppression of the Poles in 1830–31 was unjustified.70 Stalin never withdrew his negative appreciation of tsarist expansionism into Europe. In 1948, he told a Hungarian delegation: “The Russia of the tsars was guilty. In 1848 the Russian tsar assisted the Habsburg monarchy to suppress the Hungarian revolution. We remember that.”71 In 1951, he inserted a passage against the “national enslavement imposed by the Prussian, Austrian and Russian conquerors and colonisers” in the draft of the new Polish constitution.72 Finally, during its third stage after the 1850s, Russian foreign policy remained counter-revolutionary, but in another way. The tsars forgot about their own country and turned it into an assistant of Western European imperialism. Instead of arrogance, they showed timidity and a shameful lack of pride. The October Revolution saved Russia from this humiliating weakness. This is the background for Stalin’s famous statement in September 1945 about the treacherous Japanese attack on the Russian fleet in 1904. Using “the weakness of the tsarist government,” Japan defeated Russia and succeeded in locking up all Russian exits to the ocean. Soviet Russia set the record straight. “We, people of the old generation, waited for this day for forty years.”73 Stalin did not model his foreign policy on that of the tsars. It was the other way around; he measured tsarist foreign policy in its various stages against the standard of his own goal of a strong multinational Soviet Union, unifying a number of nations under Russian leadership, but with a limit set on further expansion of Soviet borders arising from the same national principle.

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All this leaves us with the unanswered question of whether the protection and expansion of the Soviet state and its sphere of influence remained for Stalin after 1941 part of a larger plan of revolutionary transformation of the world. Did he continue to believe in world revolution and the global triumph of communism? The best starting point for this part of my discussion is the dissolution of the Comintern, seemingly the ultimate in the abandonment of world revolution. In March 1936, Stalin told Roy Howard that the bolsheviks never intended to carry out a world revolution. Revolutions would occur in the other countries too, but only when the local revolutionaries found this necessary. “Export of revolution is nonsense.”74 Stalin was lying in so far as he hoped to export revolution in the backyard of the USSR. A few years later, he did export the socialist system to the Baltic and other states. But, in general, he certainly believed that national revolutions could not be ordered from abroad. To believe otherwise would militate against his instincts about the strength of national sentiment.75 Revolutions were mainly products of


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the national soil. Stalin concluded that the Comintern was useless. In April 1941, he told Dimitrov that “national communist parties” should be independent. They should make a Marxist analysis, but they should independently solve the concrete tasks in the given country that stand before them, without looking to Moscow. And the situation and tasks in the various countries are very different. In England they are such, in Germany they are so, etc. When the comparties have got stronger in this way, then we’ll resurrect the international organisation. The International was created under Marx in expectation of a quick international revolution. The Comintern was created under Lenin in such a period as well. Now for each country the national tasks obtain primary significance.76 In May 1941, Stalin ordered Zhdanov to tell Dimitrov that the Comintern should be disbanded. He explained: It is necessary to develop the idea of the combination of a healthy, correctly understood nationalism with proletarian internationalism…. Rootless cosmopolitanism, which denies national feelings, the idea of the fatherland, has nothing in common with proletarian internationalism. This cosmopolitanism prepares the soil for the recruitment of spies, of enemy agents.77 The outbreak of the war intervened, but on 11 May 1943 Stalin returned to the matter. He told Dimitrov and Manuil’skii that one could not have an “international leading centre for all countries. This became clear under Marx, under Lenin and now.”78 Four days later, the ECCI proposed to dissolve the Comintern. On 21 May, Stalin explained to a company of party leaders: “We overestimated our own forces when we created the CI and thought that we could lead the movement in all countries. That was our mistake.” Dissolving the Comintern would also set an end to accusations that the communist parties served Moscow. The dissolution might actually strengthen “the internationalism of the popular masses, the base of which is the Soviet Union.”79 The point in dissolving the Comintern was not to give up the world revolution but to give it up as a co-ordinated process. On paper, the revolution in a given country became the exclusive responsibility of the respective party. Communist parties should focus on their own revolutions without bothering too much about what happened abroad. In practice, the situation changed less drastically. The communist parties did become more exclusively oriented towards their specific national tasks, but that was not the case for the Soviet party. The Comintern apparatus was not dissolved but transferred under a different name to the All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks), which took over the co-ordinating role of the Comintern. But the Soviet communists

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could now limit their interference in the life of other parties to those occasions when they found such interference desirable. The new international centre was no longer engaged in the details of the work of the communist parties as in Comintern days. In that sense, the national disentanglement was real. Stalin’s prescriptions of international communist strategy during the Great Patriotic War turned on anti-fascist co-operation. On the first day of the German invasion, he told Dimitrov: “Don’t put the question of the socialist revolution.”80 Once again, proletarian revolution was deferred. The communist parties should aim for the overthrow of fascist domination and co-operate closely with all states, classes and parties prepared to make a contribution. Stalin was proud of the coalition he achieved. In January 1945, he told his Yugoslavian comrade Hebrang that “Lenin did not dream of the kind of relation of forces which we achieved in this war.” Lenin “didn’t think that one could keep up a union with one wing of the bourgeoisie and fight the other. We managed this.”81 Nevertheless, Stalin saw the war in class terms. In January 1944, he accused a film director of not understanding that “the present patriotic war is also a class war, for the most predatory and exploitative imperialists attacked our socialist country.”82 Stalin did not link his fate to the bourgeoisie for ever. In January 1945, he told Dimitrov: The crisis of capitalism revealed itself in the division of capitalists into two factions – one fascist, the other democratic. A union was formed between us and the democratic faction of the capitalists, because the latter was interested in preventing Hitler’s rule, because this brutal rule would carry the working class to extremes and to the overthrow of capitalism. Now we side with one faction against the other, and in the future [we will also turn] against this faction of capitalists.83 Stalin’s commitment to the socialist system showed most clearly in occupied Eastern Europe. Publicly, he insisted that he would not impose it. Governments in the region should only be “friendly” towards the USSR and have a “loyal attitude.”84 But the dictator did not believe that a bourgeois government could be truly loyal and friendly to a socialist great power. In 1945, he told Tito that this war was not as in the past: “whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army has the power to do so.”85 The intention of a socialist transformation of occupied Eastern Europe was there from the beginning. Stalin only developed new perspectives on how it could be achieved. In a discussion with the Polish communist Bierut in May 1946, he said that on both occasions when a dictatorship of the proletariat had come about – in France in 1871 and in Russia in 1917 – it had been under conditions of war. Moreover, the Russian tsar, landlords and capitalists were so


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strong that to overcome them demanded “a power resting on violence, i.e. a dictatorship.” The situation in Poland was different. The big capitalists and landlords had shown so little patriotism during the war that they had been easily overthrown. Their property had been nationalised. The Red Army “assisted” in the process. As a result, the present Polish system represented a “new type of democracy,” without a class of big capitalists. A relatively lenient style of government sufficed. “You will approach socialism without a bloody struggle.” This concerned not only Poland: The democracy that has been established with you in Poland, in Yugoslavia and for a part in Czechoslovakia is a democracy which brings you close to socialism without the need of the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviet system. Lenin did not at all say that there are no other roads for the construction of socialism except the dictatorship of the proletariat; on the contrary, he allowed for the possibility of arriving at socialism by using institutions of the bourgeois democratic system like the parliament.86 The Soviet dictator told Dimitrov in August and September 1946 that he did not want the Bulgarian comrades to imitate the Soviet system. He wanted Bulgaria to be a “popular republican state with a parliamentary regime.” The communists should reorganise themselves into a broad “Labour” or “popular” party. You should unite the working class with the other layers of the toilers on the basis of a minimum program. The time of the maximum program will come later…. In essence it will be a communist party, but it will receive a broader basis and a fitting mask for the present period. Thus you will contribute to the transition to socialism along a way of your own – without the dictatorship of the proletariat.87 Many years earlier, Stalin had acknowledged the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism when a country was encircled by socialist states. That situation had now arrived, in the sense that the Soviet army was an overwhelming presence in Eastern Europe. The bourgeois class was powerless to resist socialist reforms. As violent resistance was hopeless, proletarian mass terror was unnecessary. There was more to it. In Leninist jargon, “proletarian dictatorship” did signify a state with non-universal and unequal suffrage and a unitary organisational model with a form of representation of the soviet rather than of the parliamentary type. In claiming that socialism could be reached without proletarian dictatorship, Stalin suggested that the state could preserve universal and equal suffrage as well as its ordinary parliamentary form. He had apparently concluded that, backed by the Soviet army, the local communist parties could force their

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hegemony onto an ordinary parliamentary state no less than onto one of the Soviet type. After the communist coup d’état in Prague in February 1948, Stalin reformulated the question of proletarian dictatorship once again. In December of that year, he told a Bulgarian party delegation that it was an “axiom” that socialism could only be achieved through proletarian dictatorship. Until the “antagonistic classes” were abolished, as was the case in the USSR, one could not do without it. It was only that Marxism recognised “two forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” One form is the democratic republic, which Marx and Engels recognised in the Paris Commune, …not a democratic republic such as in America or Switzerland, but a republic in which the working class has predominant influence [bol’shoi ves]. Subsequently Lenin discovered the Soviet form of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the most fitting and appropriate under our conditions. In Bulgaria, the first form sufficed because “the assumption of power by the working class was realised not through an internal uprising, but through assistance from outside, by the Soviet troops, i.e. easily, without special effort.” Under such conditions, the old state need not be destroyed as thoroughly as it had been in the bloody Russian revolution. In Bulgaria, the destruction of the classes and the establishment of socialism could as well be realised under a “popular democratic parliamentary” state. It was unnecessary to abolish universal suffrage, because the capitalists and landlords had capitulated and fled.88 In a discussion with Chinese leader Liu Shaoqi the next year, Stalin said that the Eastern European states were “not proletarian dictatorships but people’s democracies – parliaments and people’s fronts are the organs running them.” Then he corrected himself: in Eastern Europe the proletarian dictatorship “manifests itself in the form of people’s democracy.”89 Historically speaking, Stalin was mixing things up. For Marx and Engels the Paris Commune was indeed the ideal democratic republic, but precisely because it was in their interpretation not a “parliamentary” regime but a unitary state based on direct democracy. Stalin’s final interpretation of people’s democracy as a form of proletarian dictatorship meant that he envisaged a state in which universal suffrage and other elements of the parliamentary structure were preserved, but in which the communist party was nevertheless the dictator. Throughout these various reformulations, the one constant factor remained Stalin’s determination to liquidate capitalist property and establish the socialist economic system in Eastern Europe. Stalin’s strategy for the communists in Western Europe was to shore up the democratic capitalist states, gradually strengthening their position in


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them, in preparation for a later showdown. In March 1944, he advised Togliatti to let the Italian communists enter the Badoglio government and not to demand the immediate abdication of the king. Italy should have a strong army. The main thing was “the unity of the Italian people in the struggle against the Germans for an independent, strong Italy.” Disunity between Badoglio and the king and the anti-fascist parties was only favourable to the British, who wanted a weak Italy in the Mediterranean.90 Similarly, Stalin told French communist leader Thorez in November 1944 that the British and Americans wanted a “reactionary government” in France, with the help of de Gaulle. The PCF should create a “left bloc,” including the socialists, who were the “left wing of the bourgeoisie.” They should organise a movement for the “reconstruction of a strong France and the strengthening of democracy.” The movement, in which the French bourgeoisie should participate, included the aim of restoring the war industry. This platform must include the reconstruction of industry, providing the unemployed with work, the defence of democracy, punishment of those who strangled democracy…. Formerly the point was to liberate the country, and now you face its reconstruction. According to Thorez, the workers wanted to contribute to industrial recovery, but the central authorities hindered them. His interlocutor called this “sabotage.” “The British and Americans want that only they would have an industry, and that the whole world would buy their commodities.” France should get back on its feet and create a “big army.” The communists should “have their own people in the army.” They should not preserve parallel armed forces next to French government troops. Stalin advised Thorez “to transform the armed detachments into another organisation, into a political organisation, but you must hide the weapons.” The communist party “must accumulate forces and look for allies.” It should become so strong that “in case of an attack by the reaction, the communists will have a reliable defence and can say that the reaction attacks not the communists but the people.” If the situation were to change for the better, the forces united around the party could be used for “the attack.”91 Germany was a special case. Stalin saw this country as a potential threat to the USSR. He did not hope that it would obtain a strong army, but he did aim for reunification and reconstruction of his defeated enemy to avoid revanchism. In April 1945, he told Dimitrov that “at the present time, the road for introducing the Soviet system into Germany is wrong, it is necessary to establish an anti-fascist, democratic, parliamentary regime.”92 During 1945 and 1946, he repeatedly told German communists that socialism was not on the agenda. The democratic revolution should first be completed – in order to abolish the rudiments of feudalism and reunify the German state. British and American influence in the Western zones should

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be undermined with a view to creating a unified Germany, “friendly” towards the Soviet Union.93 In January 1947, Stalin complained to German comrades that Great Britain and the USA sabotaged German reunification and favoured “federalism and separatism” because they were afraid that Germany might develop into a powerful economic competitor. Stalin favoured “democratisation” of a unified Germany, including co-operation with “patriotic elements, who had been among the Nazis.” Moreover, federalism was a “method with the help of which the reactionary classes strive to…save themselves from socialism.” Throughout Germany, a “liquidation of the concerns, the large banks and fascist companies, as well as a confiscation of the lands of the big landlords” should be carried out. A unified socialist party in the whole of Germany should make it “more easy for many elements among the toilers to come nearer to socialism.”94 Just as in the case of France and Italy, Stalin hoped for a strong, unified, democratic capitalist Germany, allied to Russia and a counterweight to the Anglo-Americans. This prepared the conditions for a later breakthrough to socialism.95 In a country like Iran, similar policies were proposed. In late 1945, the Red Army allowed the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) to begin a process of reform in the northern part of Iran. When the Soviet army withdrew, the embryonic revolutionary state collapsed. In a letter of May 1946 to a leader of the Democratic Party, Stalin explained that he had no choice. Otherwise, the British and Americans could argue that they had a right to be in Egypt, Indonesia, Greece and China. For the Red Army to stay on in Iran would harm the “liberation movement in the colonies.” The DPA should cooperate with the Iranian government for “democratic reforms” and against the “Anglophile circles.” There was no revolutionary situation in Iran. Lenin had advanced immediate revolutionary demands only under the condition of a “strong revolutionary crisis within the country, deepened by an unsuccessful war with a foreign enemy.” But “Iran does not now carry out a war with a foreign enemy that might weaken the reactionary circles…. Thus there is no situation in Iran that might allow the tactic of Lenin of 1905 and 1917 to be carried out.”96 In the second half of the 1930s, it became Comintern policy to support democratic governments on a platform of anti-fascism and social improvement. But, although not excluded, communist government participation, the high point of “class collaboration,” remained problematic. In the 1940s, any hesitation about entering “bourgeois” governments was abandoned. The communists were expected to participate in such governments under ordinary circumstances, when there was no chance of a revolutionary breakthrough. The French and Italian parties entered the government on non-revolutionary programs. Stalin demanded a strategy of long-term, gradual building up of power in the “bourgeois” states. The communist parties should turn into constructive national parties, taking responsibility for the capitalist economy and army. The workers should contribute to the


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reconstruction of “strong and independent” states in an alliance with the Soviet Union and resisting Anglo-American domination. These were striking turns compared with the days of the Popular Front. Stalin’s conviction that the working class was attracted to democracy determined tactics more than ever. Yet the national democratic coalition remained a stepping stone, a period of “accumulating forces.” Stalin still saw the bourgeoisie as a reactionary class, hostile to the interests of the “people.” At some point, the communists would have to shed their caution, make their grab for complete power and proceed to liquidate the capitalist classes. Socialism was not forgotten. It should only be reached after a stage of national reformism. The expected violent conflict with the bourgeoisie would break out on the occasion of a provocation by the “reactionary forces.” The communists could then present their anti-capitalist offensive as a measure to defend a threatened democracy. There are indications that Stalin believed that even in Western Europe, where there was no Soviet army to remove the capitalists, socialism could be achieved without violent class confrontation. In April 1945, he told Tito that socialism was now possible even under the English monarchy. Revolution was no longer necessary everywhere.97 Early the next year, he told Walter Ulbricht that the parliamentary traditions of the West allowed a “democrat. road to workers’ power/no dictatorship.”98 In a discussion with Polish representatives in August 1946, Stalin noted that “the face of the communist parties changed, their programs changed. The sharp boundary formerly existing between the communists and socialists is gradually fading away.” He mentioned the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat did not figure in the program of the united socialist party of Germany.99 But, although he may have hoped that socialism could be reached peacefully, Stalin never indicated that, if this proved impossible, the communists should set aside their goal rather than resort to violence. To be on the safe side, they should hide their weapons. It did not take long for Stalin to harden his thinking again.100 During 1947, he concluded that the United States was out to establish a global Pax Americana. The expulsion of the PCF and PCI from the French and Italian governments, respectively, was unnerving.101 In September 1947, the so-called Information Bureau of Communist Parties, the Cominform, was founded at a conference in Polish Szklarska Poremba. This organisation of European communist parties (from Western Europe only the French and Italians participated) had no power of binding decisions over its members. In 1946, Stalin had warned Hungarian, Yugoslav and Bulgarian communist leaders against a restoration of the Comintern. That organisation had been created “with the example provided by Marx, who expected that revolution would take place concurrently in all countries. However, this does not correspond to our current ideology.” Central directives tied the hands of the parties unduly. The Soviet dictator did suggest

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establishing a new international communist organisation to exchange information and experiences.102 The main speech at the founding conference, with the well-known thesis of the “two camps,” was made by Andrei Zhdanov. It expressed Stalin’s thinking.103 Despite his fierce rhetoric, Zhdanov did not return to a division of the world into capitalist and socialist camps, as had been normal prior to 1935, but spoke of more vaguely defined democratic and reactionary forces. The “imperialist and anti-democratic camp” had the United States as its leading force. The “anti-imperialist and democratic camp” had the USSR and the countries of “new democracy” as its mainstay. Although not on the road to socialism, countries like Finland, Indonesia and India were close to this camp. The main criterion of whether a state, class or politician belonged to either camp was whether they co-operated with the American oppressors or patriotically resisted the enslavement of their country. The communists should “head the resistance to the American plan for the enslavement of Europe,” courageously exposing all accomplices of American imperialism. the Communists must support all truly patriotic elements who do not want their country dishonoured, and who want to fight against the enslavement of their motherland by foreign capital…. They must take up the banner of defence of the national independence and sovereignty of their countries…[and] stand on guard for a lasting peace and for people’s democracy.104 The defence of national honour became the main task of the communist parties of the world.105 Zhdanov treated the defence of democracy as a patriotic duty. In his speech he never attacked the bourgeoisie wholesale, as a class, but only “imperialist circles” or “ruling circles” among them. That section of the bourgeoisie willing to support national independence and democracy, on terms as Stalin understood them, remained a welcome partner for the communists. Characteristically, the party secretary analysed the ousting of the PCF from the government as an onslaught on French sovereignty. The Americans had demanded it. He reproached the French comrades that by complying they, the “only patriotic force in France,” had harmed not only the “forces of democracy” but also the “fundamental national rights and interests of their countries”: How did the French CP react to this shameful act of France’s ruling circles in selling off the country’s national sovereignty? Instead of holding up to shame, as a betrayal of the defence of the motherland’s honour and independence, the conduct of the other parties, including the Socialists, the Communist Party of France reduced the matter to complaints about a violation of democratic practice.106


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Zhdanov did not reproach the French and Italians for having participated in a coalition government with bourgeois parties but, on the contrary, for having been so foolish as to let themselves be kicked out. When Luigi Longo defended himself, an angry Zhdanov shouted from the hall that the Italian communists retreated in the face of reaction instead of going over to the offensive. “They threw you out of the government. You offered no resistance.” The PCF and the PCI should do their best to return to the government. “Is it not clear,” Zhdanov asked, “that France can become an independent, strong and sovereign power only under the leadership of the working class and its vanguard, the communist party?”107 The Cominform conference did not demand a return to pre-war Leninist tactics. Almost the opposite was the case. The conference did not criticise the French and Italian comrades for having engaged in class co-operation but for letting themselves be removed from the bourgeois government. This is confirmed by the discussions that Stalin had with French and Italian party leaders at the end of the year. In November 1947, he told Thorez that if the PCF had attempted an uprising at the end of the war, the “AngloAmerican troops” would have crushed them. Stalin predicted further polarisation between the forces of “peace and war” – the communists and de Gaulle. The social democratic leaders “sell their motherland.” But he agreed with Thorez on the need for co-operation with French entrepreneurs in the automobile and aviation industries. An effort should be made “to unite all elements who will struggle for the independence of the national industry.” Thorez’ proposal to defend the French film industry against American cultural encroachments was also correct. The French bourgeoisie should not be frightened unduly by strikes. France needed a war industry and army to protect its independence. Stalin was aware that this was a far cry from Comintern days: it is interesting to see how things turned around. Two decades ago the communists were called enemies of the fatherland, but now only the communists defend the fatherland. The slogan of an independent country lies in the hands of the communists, and only in theirs…. The communists can declare that only they defend the honour of the nation and the power of the nation. …there rolls a great patriotic wave through France. The ruling circles of France killed the state, left it without an army, a fleet and a war industry. Stalin’s “French patriotism” was no fake. Of course, he hoped to seduce France into allying itself with Russia and opposing America. But to demand that the French communists support their army, industry and films meant to fill the patriotic slogans with real content. Then again, despite all this, the Soviet leader insisted that the French communists should prepare for the final class battles in the long run: “you must have arms and organisation, so as not to be left disarmed in the face of the enemy. They can attack the

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communists, and then it will be necessary to beat them back.” He offered Soviet weapons to Thorez.108 Similarly, he told PCI Deputy General Secretary Pietro Secchia in December 1947: We are of the opinion that you should not set course on an uprising right now, but you have to be prepared for it, if the opponent attacks. It would be good to strengthen the organisation of the Italian partisans, to store more arms…. You have to bring some of your own people into the staffs and leading organs of the opponent. …you have to have your own guard, a small guard of experienced people…. If necessary you can later turn the guard into an army. Moreover, you must have your own people among the government troops and police.109 After the establishment of the Cominform, strategy remained basically the same. The main change was that the patriotic theme became more dominant. Speaking with foreign comrades, Stalin began to refer more often to the “nation” and the “fatherland” than to the “people.” He also remained convinced that the time of the great confrontation between bourgeoisie and proletariat in Western Europe was far away.110 But he did not doubt that, in the end, confrontation with the bourgeoisie was unavoidable. Stalin’s careful tactics were partly motivated by his fear of imperialist intervention against revolutions. For example, he doubted whether the imperialists would allow a victorious Greek revolution. In February 1948, the Soviet dictator told Yugoslav and Bulgarian party leaders that “one should assist Greece if there are hopes of winning, and if not, then we should rethink and terminate the guerrilla movement.” The Anglo-Americans would spare no effort to keep Greece in their sphere. They were simply too interested in the Mediterranean. This discussion gives a fine insight into Stalin’s reasoning: You are under the impression of a “moral obligation.” If you cannot lift the weight which you have hoisted upon yourselves, you must admit it. You must not be afraid of some kind of a “categorical imperative” of moral obligation. We do not have such categorical imperatives. The entire question rests in the balance of forces. We go into battle not when the enemy wants us to, but when it’s in our interests.111 It did not take long for Stalin to reach the conclusion that the partisan movement stood no chance. Nevertheless, his words leave no doubt that he would have favoured a Greek communist victory. He abandoned the Greek revolution because he no longer believed in it, not because the final socialist perspective was lost on him. Stalin’s commitment to the Chinese revolution was even more clear. According to Mao, the Soviet dictator insisted on peace with Chiang Kaishek in 1947.112 But in early 1948 he acknowledged his mistake. He told


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Yugoslavian and Bulgarian comrades that after the war he had invited the Chinese comrades to reach a modus vivendi with Chiang. But they “mustered their forces and struck. It has been shown that they were right, and we were not.”113 In June 1948, Stalin told a Soviet adviser to Mao that Russia would spare no effort to assist the Chinese communists. “If socialism is victorious in China and other countries follow the same road, we can consider the victory of socialism throughout the world to be guaranteed.”114 In April 1949, Stalin warned Mao that the “Anglo-Franco-Americans” might resort to military intervention to prevent communist victory. He recommended serious preparation for the offensive in the south.115 In the summer of 1949, he urged the visiting Liu Shaoqi to hurry with establishing a new government. In the absence of it, the imperialists had better opportunities for intervention. He further noted that “because of the arrogance of the leaders of the European revolutionary movements after the death of Marx and Engels, the social democratic movement in Europe began to lag behind.” The centre of revolution shifted to the East, “and now it has shifted to China and East Asia.” Stalin did advise Liu, though, not to liquidate the national bourgeoisie immediately upon the victory of the revolution. The Eastern European bourgeoisie had been unpatriotic, but the Chinese had not surrendered to the Japanese or the Americans. So the communists had “no grounds” to act against it. For the time being, they should stick to the “united national front.”116 Patriotic co-operation with part of the bourgeoisie was good policy not only before the revolution but even for some time after it. However, one day the bells would toll for the bourgeoisie. In March 1949, Stalin told Albanian leader Enver Hoxha that it was a mistake to have completely expropriated the Albanian bourgeoisie. “They could help you, as long as the state is not strong enough. And in particular if among them there are people who value the independence and freedom of their country.” People should be permitted to open shops and small enterprises. The Russian bolsheviks could not carry out such a policy because the national bourgeoisie was irreconcilable. They even turned for help to the French. But he concluded: “You should use them in the interests of the development of the country. When you are stronger, then you can put the question of the bourgeoisie once again.”117 Combining co-operation with “patriotic” bourgeois forces with a longterm revolutionary perspective remained characteristic of Stalin’s communist foreign policy until the end. In October 1948, he formulated the goal of a peace movement unifying all “social forces standing for peace.”118 The movement followed the dual aim of keeping the imperialists from attacking the USSR and setting them against each other. The key to both goals was to call on other countries to resist American domination and to form an alternative alliance with Soviet Russia. But, again, despite its wide “patriotic” scope, the peace movement would hopefully in the long run also contribute to destabilising capitalism. Stalin wrote in his 1952 Economic

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Problems of Socialism in the USSR that the present peace movement did not aim for the overthrow of capitalism. It “distinguishes itself from the movement in the period of the First World War for the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war.” But it was possible that, under favourable circumstances, “somewhere the struggle for peace will develop into a struggle for socialism.”119 Stalin did not lose sight of the socialist perspective. It was only that his tactical views gradually changed. In the mid-1930s, he accepted communist co-operation with bourgeois parties in the Popular Front. His experience with the Allied coalition during the war made him more sensitive to the use of the patriotic factor. After 1946, he embraced a very broad policy of a patriotic united front that allowed even for temporary co-operation with parts of the bourgeoisie. But all this was in preparation for the final showdown with that hostile class. Patriotic class co-operation remained a mere tactic serving the goal of communist world revolution. We could also turn this logic around and surmise that over the years Stalin became a patriot in a more fundamental sense. He came to realise the overriding significance of the concept of a fatherland. In his post-war diatribes against the despicable forces of aggression, it was “the nations” that he routinely held up as the forces of hope.120 In his speech at the Nineteenth Party Congress in October 1952, he concluded that the bourgeoisie, which he characteristically called “the main enemy of the liberation movement,” had changed fundamentally. It had become “more reactionary, it has lost its links with the people and therewith weakened itself.” Formerly, the bourgeoisie had been a force of liberalism, but now the “principle of equal rights for [individual] people and nations” had been completely discarded in favour of the “exploiting minority”: The banner of bourgeois-democratic freedoms has been cast overboard. I think you, representatives of the communist and democratic parties, must raise this banner and carry it forward, if you want to collect the majority of the people around you. There’s no one else to raise it…. The banner of national independence and national sovereignty has been cast overboard. There is no doubt that you…must raise this banner and carry it forward, if you want to be patriots of your country, if you want to become the leading force of the nation.121 If this should be considered a classical formulation of Stalin’s revolutionary patriotism, then the national principle had replaced class as the leader’s main focus. The “principle of equal rights for individuals and nations” was shorthand for a world of nations with formal state independence and regimes upholding formal equality before the law. The people or the nation, i.e. the popular or national community, had, then, become Stalin’s very unMarxist point of departure. But he grafted a Marxist class theme onto this by insisting that the bourgeoisie with its capitalist system betrayed the patri-


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otic ideal, whereas the communist working class upheld it. If this became Stalin’s logic, then he was fundamentally converted to patriotism. Nevertheless, from that perspective too, Marxism remained a firm part of his outlook. For even if true communists should start out as patriots, there was no escape from ending up with world revolution. Socialism remained the only authentically patriotic system, guaranteeing, in Stalin’s opinion, the power and strength of the fatherlands.

17 The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism

The question of the intellectual sources of Stalin’s political thought is not easily answered. From early on, he covered up his tracks. However, we have in the course of this study met a number of Marxists whose work was reflected in Stalin’s, including the Georgian Marxists Zhordaniia, Makharadze and Shaumian; the Austro-Marxists Bauer and Renner; the “collectivist” Aleksandr Bogdanov; the “father of Russian Marxism” Plekhanov; and Stalin’s despised opponents Bukharin, Preobrazhenskii and Trotskii. But Stalin never admitted to having had any “teachers” other than Marx, Engels and Lenin. Furthermore, we saw that he did on occasion mention the Georgian nationalist Chavchavadze and the Russian “revolutionary democrats” Belinskii and Chernyshevskii as representatives of healthy popularity and patriotism. Then again, although he was flattering, such references remained sporadic. Stalin did not admit to having learned or borrowed anything from them. He did not acknowledge personal debts. Stalin’s own analysis of the development of “Marxism–Leninism,” which is what he called his system, is remarkable for its closedness. That he did not consider Lenin’s doctrine to be Marxism pure and simple was symbolised by the fact of the sanctification of the term “Leninism” after the leader’s death.1 But in On the Foundations of Leninism, he emphasised that Lenin was a pupil of Marx and Engels who, in the struggle against the obsolete theories of the Second International, resurrected the revolutionary content of Marxism. Marxism remained the foundation of Lenin’s views. He only added a new element to it. The result was Leninism – the “Marxism of the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution.”2 At this time, Stalin did not explicitly clarify what distinguished the new Leninist Marxism from the old Marxist Marxism. In 1927, he mentioned the new elements to a delegation of American workers. Lenin did not add any new principles to Marxism or abolish any of the old, but he did make some original points: the analysis of monopolistic, imperialist capitalism; the idea of soviets and the proletarian alliance with the peasantry; socialism in one country through peasant co-operation; proletarian hegemony in the democratic revolution

256 The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism

Figure 13 G.V. Plekhanov: influenced Stalin’s understanding of history

through a peasant alliance; the national–colonial question; and, finally, the centrality of the communist party.3 In time, Stalin began to prefer the term “Marxism–Leninism” to the single “Leninism.”4 The combined term appeared in Comintern documents in the summer of 1924. Soviet leaders Zinov’ev and Bukharin objected to it, for the suggestion it carried that Leninism was itself not Marxist.5 The first occasion I found when Stalin used the term “Marxists–Leninists” was in a speech to the Central Committee in November 1928.6 The timing suggests that he adopted the term on the occasion of his parting with Bukharin, i.e. at the time when he was definitely going his own way. In any case, it came into regular use in party publications in this period. Only in the 1938 Kratkii kurs was the bolshevik doctrine unequivocally baptised Marxism–Leninism.7 The decision to make the prefix “Marxism” obligatory had to do with Stalin’s dissatisfaction with the low theoretical level of the party. The Marxist theoretical background of Leninism had been neglected. In his speech of 1 October 1938, Stalin said that with the Kratkii kurs he intended “to liquidate the rift between Marxism and Leninism created during the past years.” It had been almost forgotten that Lenin stood “on the shoulders of Marx and Engels.” Communists should have a good understanding of materialism and political economy. They should study not only the Communist Manifesto, the “Song of Songs of

The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism


Marxism,” but also Das Kapital. “Therefore,” Stalin concluded, “it will be better and scientifically sounder to speak of Marxism–Leninism, so that there would not open up a rift between the old, representing the foundations of Leninism, and the new, representing the continuation of these foundations.”8 The term “Marxism–Leninism” was intended to emphasise Lenin’s Marxist orthodoxy. In the same speech, Stalin also explained the great advantage that Russian Marxists had over the German archfathers. “After all, how did theory develop? On the basis of a generalisation of experience. How does experience originate? Either in practice in a laboratory or in practice under the masses. People are also a laboratory.” Compare Marx and Engels, who had only two months of experience with the proletarian dictatorship (the Paris Commune), with the Russian Marxists, who had twenty years!9 This comparison allowed Stalin to underscore not only Lenin’s originality but also his own. He took the occasion to expound the theory of the persistence of the state under socialism under the condition of capitalist encirclement. As we have seen, he claimed that this was his contribution to Marxist–Leninism.10 Then again, this was the only original contribution he claimed. The impression of closedness of the Marxist universe was further strengthened by the curious fact that in most cases when Stalin changed existing doctrine he pointed only to Engels as the source of obsolete doctrine to be removed. He was, as it were, only setting the Marxist–Leninist

Figure 14 Friedrich Engels: “only idiots can doubt that Engels remains our teacher”


The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism

record straight by purging it of Engels’s transgressions. In the course of this book, we have come across many instances when Engels was singled out. Stalin attributed the concept of simultaneous world revolution mainly to him. At the time of collectivisation, he mentioned Engels as having presented the goal of peasant collectivisation in an exaggeratedly cautious way. He accused him of having been soft on the rich peasants.11 Only Engels was criticised for too one-sidedly attacking tsarist imperialism.12 It was again Engels, not Marx, who thought too lightly of the withering away of the state. Engels was reproached for the muddled idea of equal pay for qualified and unqualified labour. He was also the father of the mistaken idea that communism should abolish the big cities. Stalin again criticised Engels when he explained that the full demise of commodity production was as yet impossible in the USSR. He even slighted his version of historical materialism as less orthodox than Marx’s.13 The Soviet dictator was careful not to go too far. In an August 1934 letter to the Politburo, he wrote: “Only idiots can doubt that Engels was and remains our teacher. But it does not follow from this at all, that we must cover up Engels’s shortcomings.”14 The pattern of Stalin’s specific distaste for him is unmistakable. It was also reflected in the leader’s notes in his books, which become the more striking if we compare them with his private treatment of Marx and Lenin. I did not find a single critical comment in any of Marx’s works.15 In Engels’s works we do find them.16 He was the only one of the three “classics” whom Stalin felt free to slight.17 One does find occasional critical remarks in Lenin’s writings, but they are few, and most turn on one question, namely that of the state. Stalin’s general treatment of Lenin is revealing for its reverential quality. Often his notes took the form of outlining short passages with brackets, while marking such texts with a diagonal line through them. He marked the respective passage with a word such as “party,” “dictatorship,” “peasantry,” etc.18 He was seeking out the precious Leninist formulas, carefully isolating them from the rest of the text. The impression one gets from the notes in the books in Stalin’s library is that he genuinely admired Marx and Lenin, considering himself their “pupil.” Where he diverged from the orthodox doctrine, he was only protecting the heritage of these two greatest teachers – purging Marxism–Leninism of the misunderstandings introduced into it by Engels. To conclude, not only do we have an absence of references in Stalin’s speeches and writings admitting a debt to others than Marx, Engels and Lenin, but his analysis of the development of Marxism–Leninism did not admit to any influence on this system by anyone except these three and, very modestly, himself.

Stalin, the Marxist and the non-Marxist tradition
We do not know much of Stalin’s reading as a young man at the Tbilisi seminary. Soviet publications from the 1930s claim that, as a member of a

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socialist student circle, he read translations of, among other authors, Spinoza, Feuerbach, Adam Smith, Charles Letourneau and Darwin.19 Some of these he must have read. The school authorities caught him with illegal literature, books by Victor Hugo and a title of Letourneau’s.20 But the list as a whole does not sound credible. It does not show in his later writings that the Soviet dictator was acquainted with the work of these authors in any serious way. We can only say that these were the kind of works read by radical Georgian students of the day. At the time, socialist students were interested in the pantheist Spinoza, a forerunner of materialism. As political economists of the new capitalist era and forerunners of Marx’s economic theories, Ricardo and Smith were worth reading. Marx and Engels themselves were on any socialist list, which also contained authors like Letourneau, Buckle, Lippert, Flammarion and Lyell, popularisers of the new scientific view of the world. The list would also have “revolutionary democrats” and Westernisers like Belinskii, Chernyshevskii and Pisarev, and the Marxist Plekhanov. In 1893, the Georgian socialist Ninoshvili described what his generation found worth reading in an article for Kvali. He mentioned the “materialist thought” of Büchner, Moleschott and Vogt, the “positive philosophy” of Auguste Comte, Darwin’s path-breaking work and Marx’s political economy.21 This mixture of radical and scientific thinking from the West and Westernising thinking from Russia provided the intellectual environment in which Stalin received his Marxist education. When Noi Zhordaniia met him in 1898, he had the impression that his knowledge of socialism rested on articles from Kvali and Kautsky’s Erfurter Programm.22 Koba’s “Anarchism or socialism?” (written in 1906–07) shows his reading of some Marx and Engels. He mainly quoted from the latter’s Anti-Dühring and Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der klassischen deutschen Philosophie, characteristically Engels’s two most influential philosophical works and forming, more than Marx’s writings, the standard of orthodox Marxism among Russian social democrats. He also quoted from some of Marx’s works, like the preface to Zur Kritik der politischen Oekonomie. All of these were in Russian translations.23 Stalin also read other European Marxists. In 1907, he wrote a preface to the Georgian edition of Kautsky’s The Motive Forces and Perspectives of the Russian Revolution.24 He read the Austro-Marxists in translation for his 1913 article on the national question. Stalin’s library provides information about which political writers interested him later in life.25 The random collecting of books began after 1917. According to Leonid Spirin’s estimate, the library contained around 19,500 titles at the dictator’s death, 14,000 of which were later handed over to various libraries: a huge collection of Russian and world literature, books on art and science, and pamphlets, albums and atlases. The cards for the remaining 5,500 titles are at present in the former library of the Institute of Marxism–Leninism. As mainly literary works and books of reference were taken out, what remains gives an impression of what Stalin was


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interested in reading in the field of “non-fiction.” Most interesting are the 390 titles with his handwritten notes. These books have been preserved in the former Institute of Marxism–Leninism. From the thematic point of view, roughly three-quarters of them concern communist ideology and tactics. The majority of the remaining titles concern history, economics and war. In 1925, Stalin composed a systematic classification for his library. He wanted twelve authors to be listed separately.26 They were Marx and Engels, three other foreign Marxists (Kautsky, Lafargue and Luxemburg) and Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotskii, Radek, Zinov’ev, Kamenev and Bukharin. The choice expressed an exclusive focus on Marxism. This is confirmed by the composition of the 390 titles referred to above. There are sixty-nine works by Lenin and twelve by Marx. Other important Marxists are represented as follows: Trotskii (8), Kautsky (7), Bogdanov (5), Bukharin and Engels (4), and one each by Kamenev, Luxemburg, Plekhanov, Radek and Zinov’ev.27 Among works of political or philosophical thinkers of some status, we find only two titles about non-Marxists: Kamenev’s Chernyshevskii and Aleksandrov’s Filosofskie predshestvenniki marksizma. And not one by such a person.28 The group of 5,500 books without notes mitigates the impression of Marxist one-sidedness only marginally. The library of the leader contained one or two books about the following Russian non-Marxists: Nechaev, Gertsen, Chernyshevskii, Belinskii, Lavrov and Kliuchevskii. I found one or two titles about the following non-Russians: Democritus, Spinoza, Hobbes, d’Holbach, de la Mettrie, Ricardo, Marat, Hegel, Darwin, Lassalle and Spengler. This is a more or less complete list, not counting works on literary figures. The library further contained some of the writings of the following non-Marxist Russian political thinkers: Bakunin, Belinskii, Gertsen and Kropotkin. Foreigners were represented by a few translations from the Webbs, Hegel, Feuerbach, de la Mettrie, Lassalle, Weber, Sombart and Spengler. This is a very meagre harvest in a library of so many titles. And it is doubtful whether Stalin read any of these works, because he had the habit of making notes. Most of these thinkers can be put into the broad category of materialists, socialists and “forerunners of Marxism.” Strikingly, the collection of books contained nothing written by Slavophiles, pan-Slavists or other Russian conservatives (other than literary figures and historians). For all his admiration of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, Stalin seems to have been uninterested in the systems of thought that old Russia produced. The library betrays no serious interest in French revolutionary thought either. The only non-Marxist political thinkers more or less visible in the library as a kind of group were Russian “revolutionary democrats” such as Belinskii, Gertsen, Chernyshevskii and Bakunin. But even their presence was negligible compared with that of the Marxists. The library reflects a serious lack of interest in traditions other than Marxism.

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Within the Marxist tradition, Stalin’s interest was focused on the fathers of “Marxism–Leninism.” Lenin and Marx were the two best-represented authors in the library. Stalin’s notes in the works of other Marxists – as, for instance, Trotskii, Bogdanov, Plekhanov, Bukharin, Luxemburg and Kautsky – are relatively uninteresting. In any case, they do not allow us to conclude that he felt inspired by them. The pattern is clear enough. In the course of the present book, we found several examples of Stalin being influenced by Marxists other than Marx and Lenin. His formulation of the national question owed much to Georgian and Austrian Marxists. One recognises the Bogdanovite ideal of total absorption of the “I” in the party organism. Plekhanov’s influence is reflected in Stalin’s views of the inevitable despair of the class enemy in the face of defeat and of the role of historical heroes. His economic views were importantly influenced by Trotskii and Bukharin. His treatment of Russian colonialism was somewhat reminiscent of Luxemburg. But the influence of such authors on Stalin was mainly a matter of him picking up some of their generally known ideas. His interest in their works was not strong enough to make him study them persistently. I might add that, although Stalin’s treatment of the leading Russian nation was reminiscent of Engels’s historic nations, this does not show in marginal notes in his works either. In several important instances, Stalin seemed to continue on suggestions present in Kautsky’s works. The main ones were the concept of socialism in one country, pioneered by Vollmar, and the continued existence of bureaucratic apparatuses, commodity and money relations, and wide wage differentials under socialism. We may assume that his reading of the Erfurter Programm and others of Kautsky’s works was of some influence here. But most likely Stalin absorbed mainstream Second International thinking indirectly. It was Lenin who preserved or reintegrated Kautskyan elements. Stalin needed only to take his lead and follow up on it boldly. In the course of the 1930s and 1940s, Stalin gradually removed himself from pure Marxism, but this process was never completed. Marxism in the sense of anti-capitalism remained a foundation stone of Stalin’s thinking. His faith in a closed Marxist system remained strong – perhaps even against his own better judgement. This stubborn faith showed, for example, in a typical comment on an article in the April 1946 issue of Voennaia mysl’, where it was suggested that will-power was decisive in war: “Not true. The main thing is a knowledge of Marxism.”29 Nevertheless, we have seen that the concepts of “popularity” and “patriotism” acquired contents no longer fully understandable in a Marxist context. But what goes for the influence on Stalin of Marxists other than Marx and Lenin goes even more for that of non-Marxists. Looking for the ideological background of the changes in the later Stalin’s thinking, one observes a striking similarity in his communist patriotism with the ideas of the early Hamburg communists, the “national bolsheviks” of the early 1920s. Partly continuing the work of Lassalle, Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim

262 The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism developed a brand of communism that attributed a central role to military patriotism, recognised the non-class functions of the state and proceeded from an organic national popular community from which the bourgeoisie was excluded.30 However, I found no evidence that Stalin was influenced by these heretical communists – or by Lassalle’s concept of the state for that matter. While indifferent to Laufenberg and Wolffheim, whose ideas he must have known about, Stalin did obviously attach great importance to Chernyshevskii and Belinskii. They were Russian revolutionaries. Chernyshevskii formulated the principle of popularity of art in terms highly attractive to Stalin. Belinskii defended notions of patriotism and anticosmopolitanism that Stalin felt at home with. The prominence given to the memory of these two men marks the development of Stalin’s revolutionary patriotism. But I found no evidence of him seriously studying their works. It was again a case of him picking up their generally known ideas. Using the fact that Lenin too had commented favourably on them, Stalin gave them a place in the gallery of revolutionary predecessors. The increasing weight of the patriotic component in Stalin’s thinking cannot be attributed to increasing influence of conservative Russian thought on the leader. Positive appreciation of the Russian philosophical tradition remained highly selective. In 1942, there appeared a textbook on the history of Russian materialism. Characterising the views of Belinskii, Gertsen, Chernyshevskii, Ogarev and Dobroliubov as “the philosophy of revolutionary democratism,” it claimed that the native Russian materialism, which was “indissolubly linked with the ideas of socialism and people’s revolution,” represented the “highest form of pre-Marxist philosophical materialism.”31 Prior to Marx and Engels, Western European philosophy had been inferior to Russian. But only the radical, Westernising tendency in nineteenth-century Russian thought was praised. In 1945–46, there appeared Aleksandrov’s History of Western European Philosophy, treating the period before the rise of mature Marxism in 1848. Stalin agreed to award the author a Stalin Prize, but he soon subjected the book to a discussion for serious mistakes.32 Reportedly, the leader laid out the basis for the discussion in a telephone conversation with the chief editor of Pravda, Pospelov. He was dissatisfied with the apolitical tone of the book. It was lacking in Leninist “militant party spirit.” Bourgeois philosophy was treated too leniently, especially Hegel. His philosophy had not only been “conservative,” as Aleksandrov had it, but “reactionary, called forth by fear of the French Revolution and directed against the French materialists.” Marxism should have been shown as a true “revolution in philosophy.”33 In June 1947, Zhdanov made a speech against Aleksandrov’s book. Stalin read and corrected it in advance.34 Zhdanov was again unhappy with the book’s lack of “tendentiousness.” The author lauded bourgeois philosophers to the skies and presented Marxism as a “simple successor to the develop-

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ment of the preceding progressive teachings.” But Marxism differed fundamentally from those preceding systems. The old philosophy was “the property of a few elect – of an aristocracy of the spirit,” whereas Marxism was “a scientific instrument in the hands of the proletarian masses, struggling for their liberation from capitalism.” The issue of an alleged lack of respect for Russian philosophy in the book was briefly touched upon when Zhdanov criticised it for exclusively treating Western European philosophy. To exclude Russian philosophy meant to belittle its role. This perpetuated “the bourgeois division into a ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ culture, looks at Marxism as a regional, ‘western’ tendency.”35 Subsequently, patriotism became the main theme on the “philosophical front.” In September 1947, Zhdanov told Shepilov that the millions of soldiers who had seen life abroad were positively impressed by it. Stalin had insisted that apolitical moods were a danger to the country. The “gentlemen who long for the ‘Western way of life’ ’’ represented a “humiliation of our national dignity.” Furthermore, Stalin was angry with “all these Aleksandrovs” failing to support healthy ideology. They were “neither revolutionaries nor Marxists. They are the petit bourgeoisie. In reality, they are very far from the people and most of all concerned with arranging their own private affairs.”36 Here we see the theme of “national dignity” emerging, the emphasis switching from a defence of Marxism to the question of Russian “priority.” But even in the darkest days of late Stalinism, when Russian superiority became the overriding theme of public life, the Soviet press did not carry eulogies of “reactionary” philosophers such as Vladimir Solov’ev and Nikolai Danilevskii.37 Shepilov recalls a meeting with Zhdanov a few years after the war. The latter informed him that, according to Stalin, Dostoevskii’s views were treated incorrectly in Soviet publications. According to Stalin, his writings served to blacken the revolution, “to portray the people of the revolution in an angry and dirty way as criminals, tyrants, murderers”: According to Dostoevskii, there is a “demon” in every person, the principle of “Sodom.” And if a person is a materialist, if he doesn’t believe in God, if he is (terrible!) a socialist, then the demonic principle in him becomes dominant, and he turns into a criminal. What a horrible and mean philosophy!38 “Ideologists of the exploiting classes” like Solov’ev and the Slavophiles were not, like the “revolutionary democrats,” rehabilitated as “national thinkers” and “patriots.”39 The Slavophile doctrine of the originality of Russian historical development, embodied in pre-Petrine, patriarchal Russia, remained a reactionary fantasy. There was no such thing as a “mystical ‘spirit of the people.’” Russia’s hope lay in the Western principles of “industrialism” and “rationalism” rejected by the Slavophiles. Nineteenth-century Westernisers had only been mistaken if they chose a wrong weapon from


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the Western arsenal, namely capitalism.40 The Soviet dictator insisted that the “revolutionary democrats” should continue to be presented as revolutionaries. For example, Stalinist studies of the leader’s final years claimed, rightly or wrongly, that Belinskii had been an admirer of the Jacobins. He learned from them that the road to socialism did not lie in the peaceful reform of the Gironde but in revolutionary “Robespierrism.”41 At first sight, Stalinist thought resembled the Slavophile idea of a special Russian road. But Stalin did not believe in that. He was no principled opponent of Westernism, even in his views of early history. Characteristically, in measuring the work of tsars and emperors against the standard of the “national” principle in his February 1947 discussion with Eizenshtein, the dictator called the christening of Russia a progressive event. It “marked Russia’s shift toward the West, instead of toward the East.”42 The Stalinists believed that, because of its strong revolutionary democratic tradition and subsequent socialist revolution, Russian culture had been and was more advanced than the Western with its capitalist bias. Furthermore, every great nation and state should reach socialist modernity by relying mainly on its own forces, and in that sense follow its own road. Nevertheless, Russia’s salvation lay in the Western principles of rationalism, industrialism and socialism. Fundamentally, Stalinism remained part of the “Westernising” camp.

Stalinist “historical materialism”
For all his insistence on Marxist orthodoxy, and although in his library we find only few indications of interest in historical materialism,43 Stalin did develop a philosophy of society of his own. The role of individuals and the concept of “society” as such were prominent in it. Stalin’s historical materialism represented a reaction to the so-called “Pokrovskii school.” This historian was accused of simplifying economic materialism and of nullifying the role of individual actors in favour of anonymous forces of history. In May 1934, the Council of People’s Commissars and the party Central Committee adopted a resolution to condemn the teaching of history based on abstract socio-economic definitions and sociological schemes. Courses should present chronologically ordered facts and take the role of historical personalities into account.44 The resolution was part of a campaign to reestablish history as a separate specialism. Under Pokrovskii’s influence, it had tended to dissolve into sociology and economics.45 In December 1931, Stalin had indicated to Emil Ludwig that only “vulgarisers of Marxism” could deny the role of “eminent personalities” in history.46 Not surprisingly, then, he was the guiding spirit behind the 1934 decree. In March of that year, the leader complained at a meeting at the Communist Academy, in A.I. Stetskii’s paraphrase, that “sociology is substituted for history.”

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What generally results is some kind of odd scenario for Marxists – a sort of bashful relationship [in which] they attempt not to mention tsars and attempt not to mention prominent representatives of the bourgeoisie…. We cannot write history in this way! Peter was Peter, Catherine was Catherine. They relied on specific classes and represented their mood and interests, but all the same they took action – these were historical individuals – they were not ours, but we must give an impression of this epoch.47 In the same month, the Politburo took up the issue and Stalin spoke again. According to the diary of one historian present, he said: What the heck is “the feudal epoch,” “the epoch of industrial capitalism,” “the epoch of formations” – it’s all epochs and no facts, no events, no people, no concrete information, not a name, not a title, and not even any content itself. It isn’t good for anything…. History must be history.48 In 1936, the campaign against the Pokrovskii school was continued at a higher pitch. Next to the question of the role of individuals, another moot point was the latter’s interpretation of the principle of partiinost’. According to Stalin, to view history from the standpoint of the proletariat did not require a priori denial of the progressive role of other ideologies and classes in the past. What was reactionary now might once have been progressive. In October 1938, he said that history must be truthful: “you must write it as it is, without adding anything to it.” With us it has come to it now, that the world of 500 years back is being criticised from the point of view of the present. Is that the way to judge the past? Religion had a positive significance in the times of Vladimir the Saint. Then you had paganism, and Christianity was a step forward. Now our wise men say from the point of view of the new situation, in the twentieth century, that Vladimir was a crook and the pagans were crooks, and religion was a matter of crooks, i.e. they don’t want to evaluate events dialectically. Everything has its time and its place.49 In summary, Stalin criticised the Pokrovskii school as “vulgar” from two angles. First, it overlooked the role of individual personalities in history in the name of a primitive economic materialism. Second, historical epochs should not be evaluated only from the point of view of the present. These two issues were closely related: history should not be discussed exclusively in terms of class. The work of historical personalities had a significance of its own, and on occasion representatives of the exploiting classes played a

266 The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism historically progressive role. This created a context in which the relative merits of Russian emperors and other representatives of the pre-revolutionary era could be discussed. In the late 1930s, Stalin developed an interpretation of historical materialism to accommodate the prominent role of individuals in history. To understand it, we should first return to the young Iosif Dzhugashvili of “Anarchism or socialism?” The part of this text treating the theory of history was constructed around two abstract arguments. It was, first, spearheaded against “idealism.” Social consciousness is the product of economic relations, which are again the product of the technologies that people develop in their struggle with nature. The economic side of society makes up its content, whereas the juridical, political and other such phenomena constitute only its form. “Material” changes always precede “ideal” ones. There is no such thing as “parallelism” between the two. Consciousness lags behind. Consequently, the “superstructure” never fully conforms to the “material basis” of society: “a new content is ‘forced’ to dress itself up in an old form.” But “in the final instance,” i.e. eventually, it will always come to correspond to the new economic relations. The second object of Koba’s wrath was “dualism.” Dualists were the sort of heretics who did not understand that consciousness and being are only “two different forms of one and the same phenomenon.” There is only one “unified and indivisible social life, expressing itself in two different forms – a material and an ideal one.” monism proceeds from one principle – nature or being, having material and ideal forms; whereas dualism proceeds from two principles – material and ideal, which according to dualism deny each other.50 Koba’s monist materialism was incoherent. On the one hand, the economy makes up society’s content and the political superstructure its form. But on the other, society is, as it were, its own content, whereas the economic basis and the superstructure are its two forms. This being said, Koba’s system had some interesting consequences for understanding the role and origin of the superstructure. To begin with, he insisted that the superstructure could never “deny” the economic system. Consciousness may “lag behind” the economic basis, but it never fails to reflect it. At first sight, this suggests that Dzhugashvili could not seriously take the political initiative of individual historical actors into account. But in a letter in 1904 he defended Lenin’s extreme interpretation of the vanguard concept against a critique by Plekhanov, who had accused Lenin of violating Marx’s materialism. According to Stalin, Lenin understood as well as anybody that Marx’s socialism would not be possible in the age of serfdom, but only after the rise of capitalism. He did stick to Marx’s “thesis concerning the origin of consciousness.”51 This intriguing remark suggests that once economic developments had given rise to new ideologies,

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and put their mark on them, these ideologies might subsequently play an important role. Ironically, it was Plekhanov’s own works of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that provide the framework for understanding why this might be the case. Dzhugashvili’s concepts were obviously modelled on these works, which were widely read by the Russian Marxists. Plekhanov acknowledged that political factors play a “significant role” in the development of society, but that they “must be created by the economic development before they can act on them.” One should carefully distinguish between “the origin and the influence” of the non-economic factor.52 Thus political action could be influential after all. One should only remember that, with its roots, it was invariably buried in economic ground. In his debate with the populists, Plekhanov acknowledged that historical heroes did exist – only not as self-sufficient actors. The “great man” was a historical reality. It was only that his greatness consisted in understanding the fixed scientific laws of societal life, which paradoxically allowed him to accelerate inevitable processes.53 The idea of the superstructure “lagging behind” the economic basis came from Plekhanov. It was his thesis that the fact that consciousness always followed “real relations” implied that it reflected them as well as that it “usually more or less lags behind” them.54 And it was, again, paradoxically this notion of lagging behind that provided the explanation of why politics might sometimes appear in advance of economics, as an accelerating factor. The main example that Plekhanov gave was the relative slowness of proletarian consciousness. Precisely because the working class adapted so slowly to the revolutionary tasks arising from its state of economic exploitedness, there was a need for “the superstructure – the social democratic intelligentsia” to “speed up” the process of formation of proletarian self-consciousness.55 From a theoretical point of view, this argument had a certain logic to it. If the superstructure lags behind the economic basis, there should be some kind of accelerating factor within the superstructure to ensure that the gap is closed at some point.56 A second point of interest in Dzhugashvili’s work concerned the origin of the superstructure. Although unacknowledged, his “monism” was also inspired by Plekhanov, on whose most influential philosophical work, On the Question of the Development of the Monist View of History (1895), in Lenin’s words, a whole generation of Russian Marxists was educated.57 One just has to read it to see that this is where Koba drew his monism from. Plekhanov adhered to the camp of the materialists, but he also opposed “dualist systems.” Instead, he supported “monism, …the explanation of the phenomena with the help of some single fundamental principle.” Mind and matter were of one, common substance. Applied to society, Plekhanov maintained that man was what “society” made him. Society was the unifying principle, of which the economic basis and the psychological superstructure were expressions:

268 The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism According to [Marx], the economy of a society and its psychology form the two sides of one and the same phenomenon, “the production of life” of the people, their struggle for existence, in which they organise themselves in a certain way, thanks to the given state of the productive forces. The struggle for existence creates their economy; and on the basis of that also grows its psychology. The economy itself is something secondary, like the psychology.58 Plekhanov’s scheme, obviously adopted by Dzhugashvili, has an unexpected corollary. According to Marx, the forces of production determine the nature of the relations of production (the economic system), and the latter again the superstructure. However, in the monist scheme, not only does the economic system determine the superstructure of society; it is also the case that technology determines both this economic system and the superstructure. In other words, in Plekhanov’s model the “superstructure” is only partly determined by the economic system. It is in part directly determined by the technological demands of society, without the intervening factor of the economic system. Consequently, it is possible for some of the superstructural phenomena in a class society to have no class nature.59 Stalin’s pre-revolutionary brand of historical materialism, most probably derived from Plekhanov, contained two interesting notions, albeit in rudimentary form. First, although marked by technology and class, the superstructure could on occasion play an accelerating role in the development of society. Second, it allowed for the superstructure to have elements without class marks and which arise directly from the need for technological progress of society as a whole. Years later, both elements returned in Stalin’s theoretical work. In “On dialectical and historical materialism” of 1938 he explained that the mode of production of material goods determined “in the last resort” the physionomy of society. Production technology changed first, to be followed by the production system, to be followed by ideas. But Stalin also insisted on the “enormous role of new social ideas, new political institutions, a new political power, which are called to abolish by force the old productive relations.” Such ideas and institutions had a “very great organising, mobilising and transforming significance.” He elaborated: It does not follow from Marx’s words that social ideas…do not produce a reverse influence on social being…. We have been speaking so far about the source of social ideas…, about their origin, about the fact that the spiritual life of society constitutes a reflection of the conditions of its material life. As regards the significance of social ideas…, as regards their role in history, historical materialism not only does not deny but, on the contrary, emphasises their serious role.

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Whereas old ideas “slow down” the development of society, new ideas “facilitate” it. They are instrumental in the breakthrough to a new order.60 In his October 1938 speech, the dictator complained that the role of theory had been put under a cloud, and “by simplifying this matter, people slipped into a line of economic materialism or vulgar materialism.” Lenin had been the first Marxist to “work out the question of the role of the advanced idea.” A new idea arises only “on the basis of an economic tendency [napravlenie]” but is nevertheless of crucial significance. It “organises people, mobilises them and leads to the transformation of an old society into a new one.”61 According to Gustav Wetter and Anton Donoso, Stalin made an original contribution to historical materialism with the above thesis.62 But as our discussion suggests, Plekhanov’s work foreshadows Stalin’s thesis completely. Moreover, in his day Lenin had also insisted that “politics is the concentrated expression of economics…. Politics must have the primacy over economics.”63 This referred to the economic liberation of the working class being critically dependent on the establishment and preservation of the proletarian dictatorship. What was relatively new, though, was that Stalin raised the thought of the occasional primacy of politics to a general characteristic of socialist society. In 1927, he had argued that, under the condition of working-class power, “consciousness is a huge driving force in the cause of developing and perfecting our industry.”64 In his speech to the Eighteenth Party Congress in 1939, the dictator explained that, because of the establishment of a harmonious socialist system, a favourable situation had arisen for the deployment of the force of ideas. On the basis of the “community” of socialist society, there were deployed “such driving forces as the moral–political unity of Soviet society, the friendship of the peoples of the USSR, Soviet patriotism.”65 For Stalin, socialist society was driven by the force of organised ideology. This thesis obviously reflected the reality of communist minority dictatorship. In 1950, Stalin basically completed his formula of historical materialism. In his collection of articles on language he criticised Nikolai Marr, who held that languages change fundamentally under the influence of revolutions in the socio-economic system. Stalin easily proved that this was not necessarily the case. The Russian language had not changed much since 1917. This is hardly spectacular, but some theoretical observations deserve attention. The point of departure of Stalin’s analysis was the concept of “society,” otherwise called “the people.” Society was a productive organism, and its disintegration should be avoided at all costs – even if this involved sacrificing some of the workers’ direct interests in the interest of their country. To terminate all economic relations of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie meant to terminate all production. This leads to the ruin of society and of


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the classes themselves. Understandably, no class wants to subject itself to destruction. Therefore, however fierce the class struggle might become, it must never be allowed to lead to the disintegration of society. Language should be seen in this context. Society needs it as a stable instrument of communication to regulate production. It cannot after a revolution be changed at will without endangering the survival of society. And as language is not fundamentally influenced by changes in the socio-economic system, it is no part of the superstructure. Language, the “form of national culture,” shows a “kind of indifference to classes.” Language, though differing fundamentally from the superstructure, does not however differ from the instruments of production, let’s say machines, which can also serve the capitalist and socialist systems equally…. Language is one of a number of social phenomena that are active during the whole period of existence of a society. It is born and develops with the birth and development of society. It dies together with the death of society. Language, like production technology, is no product of class or of a particular economic system but of society as a whole. Stalin did repeat that society’s economic system serves as the basis upon which rests the superstructure. He also repeated his old thesis of the active role of the superstructure. A basis “lives and acts” and a superstructure, reflecting that basis, does not have an “indifferent attitude towards the fate of its basis.” On the contrary, once it comes into being, it “contributes actively to the formation and strengthening of its basis, takes all measures in order to help the new system ruin and liquidate the old basis and the old classes.” Stalin synthesised the two parts of his model (language as a product of society as a whole; and the superstructure as a product of the economic basis) into one formula: The superstructure is not linked directly with production…. It is linked with production only indirectly, through the economy, through the basis. Therefore the superstructure reflects the changes in the level of development of the productive forces not immediately and directly, but after changes in the basis…. But, in contrast, language is directly linked with the productive activity of man.66 For Stalin, “society” as a whole became the primary category. He visualised it as an organism engaged in a productive struggle for survival. Society develops various instruments – such as production technology, a class system of property, and language – attuned to the need of increasing its own viability. Although not denied, class was reduced from the primary category to an element derived from the social whole. In the classical terms of historical materialism, this gives us a model in which forces of production are still

The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism


the primary factor, creating a corresponding economic system (the basis, the relations of production) which is in general of a class nature. This system again produces a corresponding ideological and political superstructure. But there is also a group of phenomena, like language, which are direct creations of the productive forces and not of the productive relations, and which therefore do not bear the stamp of class.67 We see here the resurfacing of the old Plekhanovist monism. It is only that those parts of the superstructure directly determined by the productive forces were now redefined into a separate category outside the superstructure.68 In 1952, Stalin took a further theoretical step when in effect he removed part of the relations of production from the class sphere too. It was a law of the development of socialism that “the old” was “not simply completely abolished, but changes its nature as applied to the new, preserving only its form.” That is how matters stand not only with commodities, but also with money…, as well as with banks…from the old categories of capitalism we preserved mainly the form, the external outlook. But in essence we changed them fundamentally as applied to the needs of the development of the socialist economy.69 Whereas in 1950 language – the “form of culture” – was removed from the sphere determined by the economic system, two years later the “form” of the relations of production – commodity and money relations – was also made independent of the system of property. All such “forms” were directly determined by the forces of production, which meant in practice that they were preserved for efficiency’s sake. Stalin was in the process of formulating a model in which the “form” of cultural, political and economic life was removed in toto from the class sphere and absorbed by “society,” which was, again, another word for the national popular community. That this reformulation closely expressed the shift in Stalin’s policies from “proletarian” to “popular” and “patriotic” is clear enough. Finally, the matter returns us to the question of whether Stalin’s thought rested on traditionalist nostalgia. The dictator noted that the Russian language was essentially unchanged since Pushkin’s day. Languages were produced by “the whole course of the history of a society.” It took centuries and millennia for them to develop.70 Did the Soviet dictator, then, finally develop a romantic attachment to the Russian language in its primordial, medieval forms? That was not the case. Languages developed from tribal beginnings, through a stage of “nationalities,” to the decisive moment when, “with the liquidation of feudal fragmentation and the formation of a national market,” unified national languages arise.71 Although the process of formation of languages goes back deep in time, the early languages had been unsuitable as instruments of communication for “society as a whole.” Only modern languages, crystallised in the early capitalist era, served that


The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism

common purpose. The point was that only in the capitalist era did real societies arise: territorially, economically, culturally and linguistically unified communities. When Stalin spoke of “society,” he referred to modern integrated nations and states.


In his study of Marxism, Leszek Kolakowski asserts that Stalinism contained scarcely anything new to distinguish it from Leninism. The exceptions were the thesis of socialism in one country; the notion of increasing fierceness of class struggle as socialism was approached; and the idea that, before withering away, the state developed to its maximum strength.1 For students of Stalinism, the question of the continuity with Leninism is unavoidable. Until the mid-1930s, Stalin remained the great “codifier” of Leninism. He was mainly concerned with moulding his predecessor’s ideas into fixed formulas. The case for his lack of originality can be stated even more sharply than Kolakowski does. The three points mentioned by him were not completely new departures but rather restatements of Lenin’s thought. Nevertheless, codification inevitably entails change. Even early Stalinism can be distinguished from Leninism. It was, as it were, a pumped-up variety of it. Perhaps this is what Kolakowski refers to when he calls it a bald, primitive version of Leninism. What Stalin essentially did was to drive Leninism to its radical conclusions. “Socialism in one country” is a good example. It was implicit in Lenin’s writings, but, together with Bukharin, Stalin turned it into a principle. In doing so, he continued a tradition established by the German social democrats Vollmar and, a little less explicitly, Kautsky. Likewise, the policy of allowing the non-Russian peoples to preserve their own cultures – “socialist in content, national in form” – was not a new departure compared with Lenin’s policy of cultural autonomy. But Stalin hardened it by capturing it in a solemn formula. He was helped on his way in this by his acquaintance with the works of Georgian and Austrian Marxists, for whom cultural identity was part of the definition of nations. Something like this was the case with the notion of the “sharpening of the class struggle.” As we saw, the idea of the class struggle becoming ever fiercer because of the desperation of the defeated ruling classes came from Plekhanov. Lenin too saw the events of the Civil War in this light. But Stalin made it, again, a central focus of his policies. He applied it even inside the communist party. Lenin accused the socialist revolutionaries of having been in league with the imperialist counter-revolution and put them on trial; but

274 Conclusion he would probably not have had Zinov’ev and Bukharin shot as traitors. Although Lenin interpreted the Kronstadt rising as a White Guardist operation planned in Paris and London, he would probably not have accused Trotskii of planning imperialist intervention. It is doubtful whether Lenin would have been prepared to deliberately let millions of peasants starve or have almost a million people executed in less than two years. Stalin applied Lenin’s schemes, but in a bold, excessive way. One additional factor driving him to his extremes was his adoption of Bogdanov’s totalitarian ideal of the absorption of the “I” into the collective. This provided him with a formula of total intolerance to all divergence. Again, we saw that it was Lenin who pioneered the notion of preserving the state under socialism, but it was Stalin who insisted that the socialist state should get ever stronger. The cult of personality had this kind of ideological pedigree too. It was Plekhanov who gave a Marxist formulation of the role of the “great man” heroically accelerating history. Lenin also believed in the phenomenon of the historical hero. His whole idea of a vanguard party embodied it. But Stalin drove the cult of the personality of the historical hero to heights that Lenin would probably not have found acceptable. Finally, coming to Stalin’s economic model, collectivisation was also implicit in Lenin’s writings. Only co-operatives operating with means of production owned by the state deserved the name “completely socialist.” One way or another, collectivisation of production had to take place, otherwise there would never be a socialist Russia. Nevertheless, Stalin not Lenin realised the plan, ruthlessly forcing the peasantry to go along. Lenin had been no less hostile towards the kulaks than his successor, considering them spiders and vampires. But it was Stalin who “liquidated them as a class.” Whereas Lenin too favoured priority development of the production of capital goods, Stalin formulated the primacy of heavy industry as a principle. As we saw, Stalin synthesised components of Trotskii’s and Bukharin’s economic models. But his particular mix combined elements that, according to them, could not be combined. Stalin wanted industrial autarky and collectivisation combined with high-speed development. The result was a disastrous campaign ending in blood and hunger on an unprecedented scale. Stalin enhanced not only the violent components of Leninism but also its neo-Kautskyan elements. Lenin accepted the state bureaucracy and wide income diversification, as well as a new economic policy with money and market elements. Stalin agreed. His contribution was to formulate it so that such elements were to be preserved not only in the stage of transition to socialism, but even under socialism. The socialist state bureaucracy was by nature colossal. Under socialism, the toilers received according to the “quantity and quality” of their work. The “law of value” was not completely overcome under socialism. Furthermore, Stalin concluded that the great social divisions of labour would be preserved. As a result, the Marxist Utopia was stripped to its skeleton of planned, nationalised production.

Conclusion 275 Early Stalinism developed Leninism in a paradoxical way. Its radical as well as its moderate elements were accentuated. Stalin turned up the “class struggle” to climactic heights. Millions were starved or shot. But he also made fun of those radicals who hoped to abolish the state or money under socialism. There is no evidence to support the idea that treating Leninism in this paradoxical way involved a conscious plan on Stalin’s part. Rather, it expressed his political instinct. By accentuating Leninism in both directions, he made the Soviet system more viable in the long run. By abandoning utopian elements from original Marxism, he created a socio-economic system unburdened by costly experiments that would severely harm its efficiency. By turning up the terror, state power was increased dramatically. The population was impressed by the hopelessness of resistance against the new order. During the 1930s, Stalin’s doctrine gradually began to diverge from classical Leninism, although Marxist anti-capitalism always remained one of its foundation stones. He introduced a notion of “popularity” to characterise the USSR as an anti-capitalist but no longer specifically proletarian society. Socialism was redefined as a “truly popular system, which grew up from within the people.”2 The characterisation of the Soviet system as “popular” rather than “proletarian” reflected the abolition of unequal suffrage and positive discrimination of workers, as well as the abandonment of the goal of fusing intellectuals and peasants with the proletariat. Three conditions contributed to the turn to “popularity.” First, the policy of anti-fascist unity from 1935 onwards made it propagandistically desirable to establish the principle of equality in the Soviet constitution. Second, when the elite had been sufficiently purged from remnants of the tsarist past and replenished with new people from among the proletariat, it was no longer relevant for Stalin to continue to give workers preferential educational treatment. Third, the “remnants of the old classes” were destroyed. The party dictatorship was strong enough to do without laws formally discriminating against specific strata of the population. There was a parallel shift to “popularity” in the Comintern, signifying the acceptance of communist co-operation with bourgeois parties. Subsequently, the policy of cultural autonomy for the non-Russian nations was undermined by a new line of partial Russification, although Stalin never aimed for total assimilation. Called forth by the practical need to have a single state language in the multinational USSR, partial Russification represented a downgrading of the Austro-Marxist component of Stalinism. Stalin rediscovered the notion of the leading state nation, a notion that in the history of Marxist thought had been mainly worked out by Friedrich Engels. In the 1940s, the dictator became obsessed with the preservation of “national dignity.” In the era of “anti-cosmopolitanism,” internationalism was reduced to no more than a footnote to “patriotism.” National and state self-reliance became foundation stones of cultural and scientific policy. This xenophobic turn was stimulated by the patriotic



upsurge during the Second World War and by the outbreak of the Cold War. The counterpart to all this in the international communist movement was the patriotic united front, which included all segments of the bourgeoisie prepared to co-operate with the communists for national independence – on the terms as Stalin understood that. “Popularity” and “patriotism” provided Stalinism with a nationalist component not present in that pronounced form in Leninism. The antiSemitic direction given to “anti-cosmopolitanism” was not present in Lenin’s days either, although Kautsky and Lenin’s claim that the Jews formed no nation was part of the theoretical heritage that Stalin used. The Soviet dictator believed that his “popularity” and “patriotism” were close in spirit to the work of the Georgian nationalist Chavchavadze and the much admired nineteenth-century Russian “revolutionary democrats” Chernyshevskii and Belinskii. The thesis that, prior to Marx and Engels, Russian “revolutionary democratic” philosophy was superior to Western European formalised the status of the Westernising radicals as legitimate sources of inspiration in Stalin’s Russia. I have argued throughout the present book that, in the development of Stalin’s political thought, conservative nostalgia for tsarist Russia played a relatively minor role. Although in contrast to Marx he appreciated bureaucracy as a progressive model of organisation and was prepared to acknowledge a certain continuity between tsarist Russia and his own as hierarchical states of officials, Stalin evaluated Ivan and Peter in terms of a Marxist scheme of historical progress. His appreciation of Peter decreased after the 1930s. Stalin was aware that, in defending the Soviet state’s indivisible integrity, he continued the work of the emperors. But he believed that, in doing so, he was defending a new kind of socialist state. He made the national principle into a foundation stone of his internal and foreign policies in ways totally different from the tsarist tradition. Stalin further continued to see the Soviet state as a bulwark of the world revolution. “Reactionary” Russian thinkers never gained his respect. His sympathy for the Orthodox tradition was mainly confined to his realisation that Christianity had once been a revolutionary movement comparable to present-day Marxism.

Power, efficiency and ideology
Reduced to its bare essentials, the intellectual history of Stalinism is not a very deep one. It remained a relatively simple construct, mainly a synthesis of Lenin with a patriotism in the style of Belinskii – as Stalin interpreted him. The question then arises of the significance of Stalinist doctrine on Soviet Russia’s development. In the course of the present book, we have met two motives in Stalin’s thinking – efficiency and power. The dictator was concerned with state power and the efficient functioning of the Soviet state and economy. That is not to say that his policies always contributed to these goals, only that he

Conclusion 277 expected they would. The murder of Tukhachevskii and his colleagues contributed importantly to the initial setbacks of the Red Army in 1941, but in 1937 Stalin believed he was destroying traitors to the state. Nationalised and planned industry often functioned dismally, but the dictator believed that these were juvenile diseases, or the work of saboteurs, and that, potentially, no other economic system could serve state power as well as this one. Stalin often chose a policy harmful in terms of efficiency and power, but he never willingly offered up his power or the state interest to his doctrines. These two motives – power and efficiency, not power alone – were uppermost in Stalin’s mind. In most areas, one can recognise them as two poles around which policy was constructed. The clearest case is the economic model, combining state planning with limited elements of markets and money. The efficiency motive was also visible in Stalin’s abandonment of the Marxist Utopia of the completely homogeneous society. In the party and the state the same combination was again visible – totalitarian control and enforced unanimity on the one hand and extended bureaucratic division of labour and specialisation of tasks on the other. Stalin’s Marxism was moulded in such a way as to serve, in his mind, these twin purposes of power and efficiency. Yet the leader’s Marxism was not a logical outcome of these pragmatic motives. The dictator could, for example, have postponed collectivisation to a faraway future. He could have believed, like Trotskii, that the country was not ripe for it and that premature collectivisation would therefore only make agriculture, and thereby the security of the USSR, suffer. He could have believed, again like Trotskii, that precisely the survival of the USSR made it vital to increase the profitability of its industry and to focus on light industry. He could have believed that, for state power to remain secure, the state bureaucracy should be curbed, as Lenin wanted in 1922, and the network of Soviets should be strengthened instead of weakened, as actually happened in the course of the decades. He could have believed that, for the efficient functioning of the Soviet state, a policy of consistent Russification was unavoidable; that the expected resistance of the national republics should be met, like the resistance of the peasants against collectivisation was met. As a believer in the Marxist scheme of history, Stalin understood that only communism had the future. The communist system was bound to spread across the globe. To stick with the world revolution was, then, the only safe policy. To abandon it meant to allow capitalism to strengthen its position and in the long run to become a deadly threat to the USSR. Stalin’s Marxist beliefs forced him not to break with the world revolution, precisely because of the overriding importance he gave to state power. But had he no longer believed in Marxism, he would have readily given up on world communism in the name of the same state power. Stalin could have made just about all important policy decisions in quite a different way, and yet from the same perspective of power politics. The

278 Conclusion denial of the significance of doctrine by reference to the power motive is, to put it disrespectfully, unthinking nonsense. It proceeds from the untenable assumption that, to increase power, dictators have only limited options available, whereas in fact they have a great number to choose from. The dictators make their choices from their understanding of the situation, coloured by their doctrine. Despite the fact that in all of Stalin’s decisions – collectivisation and industrialisation; the cultural Great Retreat; the strengthening of the class struggle; the turn to patriotism and anti-cosmopolitanism; and so on – the power motive is discernible, these decisions can in no way be reduced to that motive. Stalin’s political thought, shared as it was by most other members of the Soviet elite, was an important factor in shaping the course of development of the Soviet state.

Stalinism as Marxist Jacobinism
In the introduction to the present book, I noted that the question of continuity and discontinuity between tsarism and Stalinism is hard to resolve in any definitive way as long as one restricts oneself to a comparison between the two systems. The similarities and differences are both significant. There is no objective way to decide which aspect is of greater weight. I have attempted to circumvent this problem by focusing on Stalin’s own motives and sources of inspiration. My conclusion has been that the Soviet leader was much more, and more directly, inspired by the revolutionary tradition than by the Russian tradition in the strict sense. Most of his ideas came from the world of Marxism, some from Westernising Russian “revolutionary democrats.” Having discussed the sources of Stalin’s thinking, the question remains of how one must characterise the result. What was Stalinism? By far the most important Marxist influence on Stalin was Lenin. With its concept of a vanguard dictatorship, Leninism was powerfully influenced by the revolutionary elitism of the Jacobins and Blanquists. The other point of reference of late Stalinism, nineteenth-century Russian revolutionary democracy, was also close to the “patriotism” and “anti-cosmopolitanism” of Rousseau and the Jacobins. Indirectly, through Lenin and revolutionary democratism, Stalinism absorbed two important Jacobin notions, namely that of revolutionary minority dictatorship and that of revolutionary patriotism, the idea that the fatherland is only really served by revolutionary change. This is not to say that Stalin borrowed anything directly from the French Jacobins, or even that he was particularly interested in them. He did share Lenin’s appreciation of them. He felt comfortable with the latter’s definition of the revolutionary social democrat as a proletarian Jacobin. He understood that Lenin’s appreciation of Jacobinism had to do with the idea of the organisation of revolutionaries.3 We came across a number of favourable references to these French revolutionaries by Stalin. But they were all made

Conclusion 279 prior to 1928.4 From that year onwards, such references disappear from the Sochineniia. I found no new ones in recently published or archival documents. Stalin’s library does not betray serious interest in Jacobin political doctrine either. Stalin treated the Jacobins sympathetically, but apparently the Marxists had nothing to learn from them. The Jacobins had been the French revolutionary democrats, the most irreconcilable force among the revolutionary petit bourgeoisie. That was all there was to it. Nevertheless, as a synthesis of Leninism and a perverted Russian revolutionary democratism, Stalinism assumed the contours of a synthesis of Marxism and Jacobinism. For its Marxist component, it had the economic system with planned state property instead of private ownership of the means of production. For its Jacobin component, it had the party dictatorship and the centrality of the fatherland. Many of the secondary features of Stalinism had a Jacobin flavour as well: government by revolutionary terror, a centralised state, organised citizen participation and the fact that the state formed a community of citizens with formal equality before the law. As we saw, these features also fitted into the original Marxist tradition. They were part of the complex Western revolutionary tradition, comprising Jacobinism as well as Marxism. The political ethos governing revolutionary France and Stalinist Russia was strikingly similar. The term “unity of will” was already in use by Robespierre. Babeuf and Buonarotti carried it into early communism. In their interpretation, it referred to the close unity of purpose of the popular community. Citizens were committed to total, self-denying dedication to the public cause.5 Stalin’s totalitarian interpretation of the united popular will signifying complete self-abnegation was practically indistinguishable from the Jacobin ethic of virtue. The fundamental difference between Stalinism and Jacobinism was the Marxist economy. Whereas the Jacobins declared only priests and aristocrats to be outside the pale, Stalin added the bourgeoisie to the excluded category. Yet their approach was, again, strikingly similar. Let us remember Sieyès’ answer to the question: “What is the third estate?” He answered that the third estate – the bourgeoisie, the citizenry – was the nation. The French revolutionary nation was composed of the population of France minus the priests and aristocrats, who were considered inherently alien to the principle of civic equality, the defining characteristic of the nation. Likewise, Stalin defined the bourgeoisie as the enemy of the nation, the class preventing the nation or popular community from coming into its own. Jacobins and Stalinists associated in strikingly similar ways the class elite with rootless cosmopolitans, and the common people with the true national heritage. In its foreign policy, the Soviet state strove for borders coinciding with the boundaries of national communities inhabiting that state. Nationally homogeneous states – or federations of such units – were considered the natural form for states to take. Stalin hoped to enhance the Soviet state interest through secure natural borders and by bringing neighbouring states



into a hegemonic Soviet sphere of influence. Finally, he promoted revolutionary replication of his own system of state ownership throughout the globe to achieve the final goal of eradication of capitalism. All of these features had again been typical of French–Jacobin foreign policy, although the exported revolutionary system was in their case not Marxist state ownership. But if we are drawing historical parallels, did Stalinism not represent a twentieth-century “Thermidor” or a “Bonapartist” aberration rather than a Jacobin repeat performance? With his terrorist campaigns, Stalin followed in Robespierre’s footsteps. He consolidated the revolutionary dictatorship instead of undermining it. Ironically, especially the campaign of terror in the party’s ranks brought the Soviet system nearer to the Robespierre original than it had been under Lenin, when the revolution had not yet devoured its children. Stalin’s motives for the terror were also remarkably similar to Robespierre’s, namely to establish total, unconditional unity of the state and root out all alleged traitors to the nation. Contrary to what Trotskii believed, precisely the Stalinist terror proves that there was no “Thermidor” in the USSR. Although there were important parallels, Stalin was no Russian Bonaparte either. In fundamental respects, Napoleon did not restore the ancien régime. He did not reintroduce feudal privileges but confirmed equality of rights as the basis of the French political system. Likewise, Stalin held fast to the new system of nationalised, planned production. Also, under both regimes the position of the new revolutionary elite was strengthened and stabilised. The bureaucrats profited under Stalin, to the detriment of ordinary workers and peasants, just like the capitalist nouveaux riches were the ones to profit most from the rule of Napoleon. But there was a significant difference between the two rulers. Napoleon came to Paris as the leader of a family clan. And, although originally a Jacobin, he was always primarily a soldier and an adventurer. Finally, he turned himself into emperor. Although not restoring the ancien régime as such, this did amount to the restoration of an important element of it. Together with the Church and feudal privilege, the monarchy was the cardinal evil for the revolutionary patriots. Stalin never took this step. He came from a society in some respects comparable to the one that Napoleon was born into. Corsica and Georgia were marginal to the larger states of France and Russia and still knew the system of the family clan. But the two men reacted in opposite ways to their background. Both became nationalists, but whereas Napoleon remained faithful to the Corsican “familism” and restored the hereditary principle of rule, Stalin drew the conclusions of the purer, radical nationalist, deciding as he did to root out “familism” wherever he observed it, almost in the spirit of the modern African nationalist leader doing his best to root out tribalism. Correspondingly, he did not turn himself into a new autocrat but remained faithful to the bolshevik party, which he was content

Conclusion 281 to rule as its dictator. While Napoleon to a significant extent “betrayed” Jacobinism, Stalin did not. To define Stalinism as a system of Marxist Jacobinism returns us to the question of continuity with imperial Russia. The main characteristics of Europe’s old regimes were their Christian ideology, dynastic political systems and “feudal” systems of legal inequality, serfdom being the most extreme case. Stalinism left all this behind. With its secular ideology, its government by political party and formal equality of rights it was a part, albeit totalitarian, of modernity. From the point of view of the national principle, Stalinism was a typical phenomenon of the modern world too. Instead of being supranational like its imperial predecessor, the Soviet state was a multinational one, consisting as it did of separate, consolidated nations within their own borders and with their own languages and cultures. Stalin’s modernising spirit expressed itself most obviously in his ambitious industrialisation and urbanisation projects. My point is not to deny the element of continuity between the Stalinist system and the Russian tradition, but only to note that, however strong this element may have been, that system remained part of modernity. For example, the extended Stalinist state bureaucracy represented a significant element of continuity with the imperial past. But as all elements of hereditary position were removed from the Stalinist bureaucracy, it was a purely modern system. For another example, below the formal equality of Stalinist Russia there existed a graded system of privilege and discrimination, in which party leaders and officials, intellectuals, workers, kolkhozniks, prisoners and the deported saw their freedom of movement and access to consumption goods and services sharply differentiated. In practice, the tradition of estates powerfully reaffirmed itself. Nevertheless, these were not estates categorising a person whatever his present position. The fact that Stalinism more or less upheld formal legal equality marked it further as a modern system. Stalin absorbed institutions and practices from the imperial past, but only such as fitted into his own modern political system, the outlines of which were defined by Marxism and Jacobinism. If the Soviet system under Stalin did assume the form of Marxist Jacobinism, this leaves us, finally, with the question of its predominant aspect. If Stalin’s revolutionary patriotism combined Marxist and patriotic themes, how were these at root joined? Was the older Stalin a patriot who considered communism the best way to strengthen the fatherland? Or was he a Marxist who recognised patriotism as the best instrument of popular mobilisation? If we should assume that Stalin was fundamentally a patriot, then why did he preserve the class perspective at all? Why liquidate the capitalist classes? In May 1946, the dictator noted that the “popular masses” of the world could not “entrust the fate of states to reactionary governments pursuing narrow caste-like and greedy anti-popular goals.”6 The later Stalin did not accuse the old classes of simply being exploiters in the Marxist



sense, but in morally loaded terms. They formed an extravagant, immoral “plutocracy” of “billionaires and millionaires.”7 In contrast, the proletariat was a broad-minded class, not “limited by the boundaries of their narrow class interests.” The workers had the good sense to subject their interests to the interests of the majority of society.8 Stalin found the capitalists an “antipopular” class, who refused to put themselves at the service of the community but let their greed get the upper hand. Stalin’s goal of overcoming feudal fragmentation and creating a strong, unified fatherland provided a standard to evaluate historical forces. The feudal classes represented the ultimate in fragmentation. Under feudalism, even the political and legal spheres were fragmented. Only autocratic rulers like Ivan and Peter deserved credit for courageously attempting to create an integrated state. The bourgeois classes were more acceptable. They founded centralised states based on legal unification and with a high degree of cultural homogeneity. Stalin was impressed by leaders of capitalist states showing a strong hand. Anastas Mikoian recalls, for example, his admiration for Hitler’s courage in acting against Röhm.9 But the capitalist system of private property remained a fragmented one. Only socialist planned ownership completely overcame fragmentation. Only socialism produced a truly unified community. From Stalin’s patriotic perspective, capitalism weakened the fatherland morally as well as organisationally. Communism was imperative because of the immoral egoism of the capitalist classes and the fragmented nature of the capitalist system. This would explain why the patriot Joseph Stalin clung to Marxism. But there is another side to this, preventing us from rashly concluding that patriotism was his most fundamental concern. As a Marxist, Stalin believed in the internationalisation of the forces of production. In the long run, national states were bound to merge into a global whole – a world community based on a unified economy. From this deeper perspective, patriotism can never have been the foundation stone of Stalin’s ideology. He realised all too well that the nation was a historically fleeting phenomenon. The development of the forces of production would in the end make it obsolete. The national state itself would in time turn into an element of fragmentation. Stalin’s patriotism remained embedded in a Marxist perspective of an ultimately cosmopolitan world.10 We might perhaps conclude that in the older Stalin’s thinking communism and patriotism were complementary elements of more or less equal significance. They could both be understood from a high goal of unification and overcoming of fragmentation of the human community. Then again, although this logic is implicit in Stalin’s political thought, he did not explicitly work this out. A more sober answer to our question of whether the old Stalin was mainly a patriot or mainly a communist is that he did not know the answer to this question any more than we do. In the last years of his life, Stalin’s thinking was shifting rapidly. The patriotic component steadily increased its relative weight in comparison with the Marxist. At the time of

Conclusion 283 his death in March 1953, Stalin’s thinking was still in motion. Had the dictator lived for another decade, it is impossible to say where the synthesis might have come to rest.

Stalin and the Enlightenment
By defining Stalinism as Marxist Jacobinism, it is defined as a system in the tradition of the Western European Enlightenment. Marxism and Jacobinism were, after all, important branches of that tradition. At first sight, this sounds wrong on a very basic level. Most of us (including the present author) consider the Enlightenment to have been a generally wholesome project. We cannot very well imagine how something as gruesome as Stalinism might have been an outgrowth of it. Perhaps it found its ultimate origins in enlightened thought. But that Stalinism remained a legitimate branch of it as it grew and was overlaid with a practice of chauvinism, bureaucracy and terror would be stretching the point too far. Our mind almost instinctively recoils from the association of a system hostile to individual freedom on every level with the Western tradition. However, an identification of the concepts of “Europe,” “the West” and “the Enlightenment” on the one hand with that of individual freedom on the other is involved here. In other words, there is a silent reduction of the Western tradition to one of its branches – liberalism. The unfortunate result is that we tend to associate the opposite of freedom loosely with a concept of the “East” or with “Asia.” A quick glance at the history of the twentieth century suggests that there is something deeply wrong about this way of looking at the modern world. Three of the main representatives of modern totalitarianism – its Italian, German and Russian branches – originated in Europe, two of them in the western part of the continent. This fact alone suggests that there is something inherently repressive in the European tradition, as fundamental to it as its liberalism. The Enlightenment ideals can be interpreted in such a way as to turn them into a moloch consuming individual freedom. To demand the transformation of the world according to the lines of reason may result in a relentless drive for order, against all elements of individuality, which are associated with irrationality and chaos. There is nothing new about this. I mentioned the work of Talmon. And a wide range of scholars – psychologists, philosophers and sociologists – who explain the process of growth of Western civilisation not primarily in terms of growing freedom but of a gradual increase in control over the individual. I need only mention names like Freud, Elias, Foucault, Bauman and Bataille to make this point. Max Weber’s analysis of modernity in terms of rational order and bureaucracy seems particularly to the point in creating an ideal-typical model of the essential logic of Stalinism. Stalinism represented the ideal of total rationality, of rational order gone wild. What Stalin basically had in mind was to transform society into a closely integrated, efficient productive



organism. The basis of this structure was the Marxist concept of expropriation of capital and the subsequent welding together of the whole economy into one scientifically managed, planned whole. In this new regulated order, the chaos of the capitalist market was overcome and total predictability achieved. In contrast to Marx, Stalin understood that the organisational model best adapted to rational order was the professional bureaucracy, which became the basic model of Soviet society. The desire to reconstruct society on the basis of a scientific plan carried the implication of replacing democracy by minority dictatorship. To declare socialism a science means that the way society should be structured is no longer a matter of personal choice but fixed. It cannot be chosen but must be found. To subject society to allegedly scientific standards makes democratic decision making a harmful luxury. The point is that, although science can only flourish under the circumstance of free debate, one does not take a vote on which hypothesis represents the truth. It is as odd to let the public decide the political course of the country as it would be to let it decide on an issue in quantum mechanics. One must leave it to the experts to decide. Rule by a party of political experts is the only reasonable option. What is more, to remake society into a totally planned organism requires its members to be committed to an extraordinary degree. For this is no longer a society of trial and error but one operating like a clock. A most meticulous performance of duty, without which the planned whole degenerates into the old chaos, is demanded of everyone. Ideally, everyone should perform consciously and willingly, because that is the only way human beings perform really well. Consequently, the system demands the establishment of a major propaganda effort, intruding into the personal lives of individual citizens – to convince them of the need to carry out state decisions unreservedly. Despite its ambitiousness, totalitarianism becomes, as it were, the most practical option. Furthermore, a society of total bureaucracy is known for an interesting paradox. On the one hand, it is based on subordination, but on the other hand it also knows equality of opportunity. In a rational order, efficiency demands that everyone performing well can rise to the very top. Formal inequality of rights is condemned, because it condemns society to stagnation. It lets creative forces wither away without realising their potential. The popularity in Stalinist society of the uniform as a form of dress epitomises this. A uniform expresses hierarchy and equality at the same time. Furthermore, bureaucratic order demands the active participation of all down to the lowest end of the social pyramid. In an organism aimed at increasing its own productive performance all should be mobilised for the common effort. A state based on this principle will know a high degree of civic participation. Stalin created a society loaded with violence and terror. But this did not represent an alien element in the rational order. The class enemies were the feudalists and capitalists, those historically representing chaos and fragmen-

Conclusion 285 tation. They were liquidated in the name of the rational, planned order. And for all the magnitude of the terror he poured out over Soviet society, Stalin was no lover of violence like Hitler. For him, it was only a necessary means, an instrument to achieve his goal. For Stalin, the fascist cult of violence as character building was childish nonsense, typical of the petit bourgeoisie. In the cult of his own personality – which turned around ruthless courage and genius – we see, despite its flamboyance, the values of rational order returning. Stalin was the captain of class struggle and the first expert in the party of scientific socialism. Bureaucratic order is also a splendid model for understanding the ambivalent way in which Stalin treated the problem of homogeneity. On the one hand, he stood a firm distance from Marx’s romantic ideal of full homogenisation of society, rejecting as he did wild notions of merging mental and physical labour and city and countryside, and of abolishing separate institutions such as the family and the school. He also preserved elements of money and market. This can be understood as part of the drive for efficiency of the social organism. The principle of division of labour is fundamental to any bureaucracy. But on the other hand, for a bureaucratic organisation to function perfectly, its members should be part of an unbroken linguistic and cultural universe, without which communication is impaired. This accounts for Stalin’s embracing of national homogeneity as an ideal. His appreciation of Russia’s national past was not inspired by romantic nostalgia. He admired only those elements of that past that pointed forward to his own present: bureaucratic centralism, mass participation and national homogeneity. Finally, Stalin’s patriotism too was not informed by nostalgia but was part of his general interpretation of society as an efficient productive organism. The point is that, in his opinion, under the present level of development of the productive forces an integrated world economy was impossible to realise. To attempt it nevertheless could only result in chaos and stagnation. Under the existing technological conditions, the national state and the multinational federation remained the only frameworks in which production could be organised in a viable way. The final integration of humankind into one immense productive organism was a matter of the faraway future. In the present world economy, patriotism was the only realistic option. This model of Stalinism as the ultimate attempt to create a rational order has some obvious problematic sides. The Stalinist system did often not function “rationally” at all but very inefficiently and in chaos. But this was precisely a corollary of the naive belief in rational planning and the power of bureaucratic order. Driven to extremes, such projects become extremely counterproductive. Stalinism contained, furthermore, an important romantic element. It celebrated the order that it hoped to create. Soviet society and its elements – the leader, the party, the state, the people – were glorified in everyday life and in organised mass ceremonies. Its enemies – the



hostile classes and states – were demonised. It was a society filled with highpitched emotions of pride and hatred. Then again, however twisted they were and however apparently irrational the forms they took, these emotions still served the essentially rationalist project. To make sense of Stalinist doctrine is not only a complex intellectual exercise but it also provides us with a psychological problem of identity. Stalinism is about our own origins. And that goes not only for those who have a sympathy for revolutionary Marxism. Those in that latter category have a particularly hard time coming to terms with what Stalin did. They are only too happy to follow Trotskii’s assumption that Stalin “betrayed” the revolution. Believers in Marx’s good intentions find it hard to acknowledge that this man’s hatred of capitalist exploitation was so intense that he called for dictatorship and terror to root it out. His teachings are reinterpreted again and again to take the aggressive sting out of them, so that the link between Marxist doctrine and Stalinist practice is cut as far as possible. But there is no way to avoid the conclusion that Stalin carried out Marx’s dictum to “expropriate the expropriators.” The uncomfortable fact remains that the reason why Stalin waded knee deep through rivers of blood was that he intended to abolish capitalist property and keep the world safe from it for ever. Those accusing the Soviet dictator of having “betrayed” the world revolution are simply wrong. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a wonderful story, testifying to a deep insight into the nature of Stalinism. His “Some are more equal than others” is unsurpassable. But the real Stalin was not like the pig Napoleon, who turned into a friend of the farmers. This pig never befriended the farmers. Until his death, Stalin hated the capitalists and their order. As he sat at one table drinking with them, he was only preparing to sink a knife into their backs at a more suitable moment. Stalinism is not only a problem for the friend of Karl Marx. For the enlightened citizens of Western society in general, Stalinism represents an uncomfortable reality. It confronts us with our own roots in a way we would like to avoid. Whose demon was Stalin? We wonder. After the final disclosure of the magnitude of Stalinist crimes, Nazism still remains psychologically more detestable to most citizens in Western society than Stalinism. We know that the ideal of equality may lead to it, that the higher than average are decapitated and the small put on the rack. Nevertheless, we do recognise that ideal as our own. In inequality as an ideal we recognise only an ominous void. Many will deny that they make this difference, but there are few people around who find it equally problematic to be personal friends with someone who was ever a communist as with someone who was once a Nazi. The bottom line is that, while Hitler is the gangster next door, Stalin is our own flesh and blood, our own son turned serial killer. We know full well that he is no better than the killer next door, but can we ever completely disavow him? There is a solution – to prove that this serial killer is in fact not our son. He was a traitor to our cause. We hope that it will one day be proved

Conclusion 287 that he had nothing to do with the Western tradition, and that his corpse can be safely placed in a Russian or Asian cupboard to rot. Unfortunately, this is impossible to prove. Stalinism was not the end of the Enlightenment Utopia of Reason but its fulfilment. The Soviet dictator did mankind one great service. By his practical example he showed us that rationalism, for all its immense value, may never be set in isolation from other enlightened values that the Western tradition has also produced. If it is, in particular, not balanced by individual liberty, then this liberating doctrine turns into madness.


1 2 3 4 5 Chuev, 1992: 101. Pipes, 1990. Tucker, 1990. Malia, 1994; Kotkin, 1995. Talmon, 1986.

1 Jacobinism
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Rousseau, 1982: 60–1, 66–9, 72, 101. See Sabine and Thorson, 1981: 535, 538; Smith, 1991: 75. See Leerssen, 1999: 54f. Talmon, 1986: 114–16; Sabine and Thorson, 1981: 543. Hobsbawm, 1995: 87. Nimni, 1991: 19–20. Leerssen, 1999: 50. See Talmon, 1986: 215, 241; Lovell, 1984: 66. Spitzer, 1957: 13, 25, 117–21; see also Bernstein, 1971: 284.

2 Marxism, Leninism and the state
1 MEW, vol. 4: 473, 475, 481–2; see also vol. 4: 372. 2 For texts supporting this summary, see MEW, vol. 3: 33; vol. 4: 370, 478–9, 481; vol. 18: 243, 280; vol. 19: 18–22; vol. 20: 182–7, 278f. 3 MEW, vol. 19: 28. 4 MEW, vol. 20: 262. 5 Kautsky, 1919: 25. 6 Draper, 1986; Hunt, 1974: 284–336; see also Ehrenberg, 1992. 7 MEW, vol. 7: 33, 89. 8 See Draper, 1986: 385–6. 9 MEW, vol. 5: 14, 41, 195, 402. 10 MEW, vol. 8: 196–7. 11 MEW, vol. 17: 336, 339–42, 625. 12 Lovell, 1984. 13 MEW, vol. 2: 128–30; vol. 33: 53. 14 MEW, vol. 6: 107; vol. 4: 339. 15 MEW, vol. 5: 457; vol. 7: 249. 16 See, for example, MEW, vol. 18: 308, 630; Draper, 1986: 112, 369.

Notes 289
17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 MEW, vol. 17: 546; Gilbert, 1981: 238. Kautsky, 1974: 124–5, 151–5, 212, 216–17; Kautsky, 1902: 17. Kautsky, 1902: 16; Kautsky, 1912: 725, 727, 732. Cited in Gilbert, 1981: 273. MEW, vol. 7: 252. MEW, vol. 17: 339–41; see also vol. 7: 252–3n. MEW, vol. 22: 235–6. PSS, vol. 33: 72–3. PSS, vol. 33: 50, 97. PSS, vol. 34: 306–7. PSS, vol. 33: 70–1, 89. PSS., pp. 147, 154–5. Bucharin and Preobraschensky, 1921: 160. PSS, vol. 12: 321. PSS, vol. 33: 26. See PSS, vol. 39: 134; vol. 41: 24, 30–1, 236f. According to Draper (1987: especially pp. 64f), it was not Lenin who first reinterpreted Marxism in a Blanquist way but Plekhanov. Lenin only followed his example. This analysis has been rejected by Robert Mayer (1993). See Hardy, 1970: 718; Theen, 1972: 387–8; Lovell, 1984: 128–9. See Mayer, 1999. Cited in Spitzer, 1957: 17. PSS, vol. 8: 370. In identifying himself with the Jacobins, and his menshevik adversaries with the Girondins, Lenin followed the example of Georgii Plekhanov, who noted in 1901 that the division in the international social democrats between moderate and radical wings paralleled that between the Jacobins and Girondins. See Mayer, 1999.

33 34 35 36

3 Proletarian revolution in a backward country
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Gilbert, 1981: 219; see also Hunt, 1974: chapters 5–7. MEW, vol. 4: 493. MEW, vol. 7: 248, 250, 253; see also vol. 4: 379–80. Cited in: Draper, 1978: 78; see also 605. For similar remarks by Engels in 1850, see MEW, vol. 7: 400–1. MEW, vol. 29: 47. See Draper, 1978: 391; Gilbert, 1981: 227. MEW, vol. 17: 329, 341–2, 551, 625. Cited in Hunt, 1974: 322. MEW, vol. 4: 372–4. MEW, vol. 4: 481. Draper, 1978: 187, 193. MEW, vol. 18: 630–1; see also vol. 17: 551–2. MEW, vol. 22: 499; see also vol. 16: 399–400. MEW, vol. 22: 512–17; quotation: 515. See, for instance, Marx in 1859 (MEW, vol. 12: 682) and Engels in 1875 (ibid., vol. 18: 566–7). See MEW, vol. 18: 565; vol. 19: 107f, 296; vol. 22: 428–9, 435; Shanin, 1983: 99f; for a discussion about Marx and the Russian commune, see Shanin (1983) and Naarden (1992: 56f). PSS, vol. 10: 26, 28; vol. 11: 34–6, 40, 44, 74. PSS, vol. 11: 222. PSS, vol. 13: 17.

20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34


35 36 37 38 39

40 41

42 43 44 45 46 47

Trotsky, 1978: 80, 104–5, 115. MEW, vol. 3: 35; vol. 4: 374–5. See MEW, vol. 1: 391; vol. 6: 149–50; vol. 7: 19, 79; Agursky, 1987: 19, 63. Vollmar, 1878: 4. See also Agursky, 1987: 138; Goodman, 1960: 4–5. Kautsky, 1974: 115–16, 118n. This was written in an unpublished article in August 1916. Cited in Pospelov et al., 1966: 530. PSS, vol. 26: 353–5. I did not have the original article available. These quotations are from Trotskii, 1993: 116; Sochineniia, vol. 6: 373–4. PSS, vol. 30: 133. See XV konferentsiia vsesoiuznoi…, 1927: 474f; Sochineniia, vol. 8: 316f. PSS, vol. 31: 91–3; see also vol. 27: 80–1. PSS, vol. 31: 114–16. See also PSS, vol. 31: 133–8, 303. Sed’maia (aprel’skaia) vserossiiskaia…, 1958: 76, 79, 107, 112, 235–6. Some time later, Lenin explained that the Jacobins could not gain “complete victory” because they were surrounded by too backward countries and because in France the “material conditions for socialism” were absent. There were no banks, syndicates, industry or railways. But the new “Jacobinism” of Russia could use the “availability of the material foundations for the movement towards socialism” and could thus lead to a durable, global victory of the working class. See PSS, vol. 32: 374. It is interesting to compare this with a similar comparison that Lenin made in 1906, which sounded almost identical, except that the remarks concerning the “material” conditions for socialism in France and Russia were lacking (vol. 13: 17–18). Sed’moi ekstrennyi s”ezd…, 1962: 11–13, 16, 22, 24, 105, 113–14; see also PSS, vol. 36: 291. See, for example, PSS, vol. 38: 139; vol. 41: 356; vol. 42: 22, 43–4. PSS, vol. 44: 35–6. PSS, vol. 44: 293. The last occasion I found that could be interpreted as predicting complete collapse of socialism from internal weakness was when Lenin said in March 1918 that the banner of socialism was in “weak hands” and that “the workers of the most backward country will not hold it, if the workers of all advanced countries don’t come to their aid.” See PSS, vol. 36: 109. For a list of such quotes running from January 1918 to February 1922, see PSS, vol. 35: 245, 277; vol. 36: 234, 529; vol. 37: 153; vol. 38: 42; vol. 40: 169; vol. 42: 311; vol. 43: 58; vol. 44: 417–8. PSS, vol. 37: 153. As a matter of fact, advanced countries also needed the cooperation of others to complete their socialist revolution. In May 1918, Lenin had noted that even if a country was “much less backward than Russia,” “one cannot fully complete the socialist revolution in one country with one’s own forces.” See PSS, vol. 36: 382. Bucharin and Preobraschensky, 1921: 153–4. Trotsky, 1923: 4; see also Sochineniia, vol. 6: 366–7. Cited in Sochineniia, vol. 6: 376. See Vos’moi s”ezd RKP(b)…, 1959: 354; Desiatyi s”ezd RKP(b)…, 1963: 35; PSS, vol. 37: 356; vol. 39: 372–3. PSS, vol. 43: 130, 225. PSS, vol. 45: 309. Already in April 1921 he had written that a “direct transition from this condition which is dominant in Russia to socialism” was conceivable through the electrification of the country, but without the proletarian revolution

Notes 291
in the developed countries only its initial stage would already take at least ten years. See PSS, vol. 43: 228–9. See also ibid., vol. 42: 159. In March 1922, he said that the economic strength in the hands of the proletarian state was “completely sufficient to guarantee the transition to communism.” See Odinnadtsatyi s”ezd RKP(b)…, 1961: 29. 48 PSS, vol. 45: 370, 375–6.

4 Marxist nationalism
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 MEW, vol. 4: 479. MEW, vol. 4: 518. MEW, vol. 17: 330, 341. Szporluk, 1988. See Szporluk, 1988: 68. Szporluk, 1988: 171f. Rosdolsky, 1986. Cited in Rosdolsky, 1986: 86. Cited in Rosdolsky, 1986: 125, 127. Cited in Rosdolsky, 1986: 127. MEW, vol. 5: 202, 395. Cited in Davis, 1967: 61. MEW, vol. 22: 252–4; see also Agursky, 1987: 66. MEW, vol. 33: 5. MEW, vol. 19: 4, 24, 544; vol. 22: 255; vol. 36: 231. MEW, vol. 19: 296; see also vol. 18: 567. Cited in Agursky, 1987: 71; see also Donald, 1993: 70f. PSS, vol. 6: 28. Rosdolsky, 1986: especially chapter 8. Davis, 1967: 74–5, 79–82. Nimni, 1991: 17–43. For Luxemburg’s position on the national question, see Nimni, 1991: 50–7; Smith, 1999: 12–14. Kautsky, 1887: 398, 402, 404, 448; Kautsky 1908: 8–9, 12–13, 16; see also his contribution to Medem and Kautskii, 1906. Springer, 1909: 24, 37, 43, 67. The work was originally published under the pseudonym Rudolf Springer. I have used the Russian translation. Bauer, 1907: see pp. 2–135 (in particular 105–8) and 367–74. PSS, vol. 6: 25. PSS, vol. 24: 120–1, 123–4, 129. PSS, vol. 41: 77. PSS, vol. 34: 195, 198. PSS, vol. 36: 78–80. PSS, vol. 36: 301.

5 Stalin: the years before October
1 Sed’moi ekstrennyi s”ezd…, 1962: 163. In 1923, Stalin was still generally perceived in the party as an organiser rather than as a theoretician. See Mikoian, 1999: 370. 2 Gaprindashvili, 1977: 135; Parsons, 1987: 248, 268–9, chapter 4 (in particular, pp. 271f); Lang, 1962: 109; Suny, 1989: 133. 3 “Neopublikovannye materialy iz…,” 1939: 20; Zhukov, 1939: 144; Kaminskii and Vereshchagin, 1939: 36, 39–40, 51–3, 55–6.



4 For the translations, see Rayfield, 1984. 5 See Suny, 1989: 159; Gugushvili, 1963: 219–23; Beriia, 1948: 13, 15–16; Parsons, 1987: 319–20. 6 See Makharadze, 1960: 36. 7 Shaumian, 1957: in particular, 135–9. 8 Sochineniia, vol. 1: 37, 40, 42, 49, 52–3; as to the original version: fond 558, opis' 1, delo 7. 9 Fond 71, op.10, d.169, listy 220–2. 10 F.71, op.10, d.169, l.325. 11 F.71, op.10, d.183, ll.106–8. For Stalin’s probable authorship, see ll.109–14. 12 Sochineniia, vol. 2: 49–51. 13 One of them, “On the road to nationalism,” was published in Sochineniia (vol. 2: 285f). The other two, “Nationalist Decay” and “The Question of ‘Cultural–National Autonomy’ in Our Programme (Some Necessary Information),” were not included in Sochineniia. On Stalin’s probable authorship, see f.71, op.10, d.20, ll.313–16, 324–6. 14 F.71, op.10, d.20, ll.295–6, 318; Sochineniia, vol. 2: 286. 15 For the complex history of the writing of this article, see van Ree, “Stalin and the…,” 1994. 16 Sochineniia, vol. 2: 292, 310–12, 327–31, 348–51, 362–4. 17 Sochineniia, vol. 2: 299–300, 302, 333–4. 18 Sochineniia, vol. 2: 304. 19 Stalin, 1913, no. 3: 54. 20 See also Pipes, 1964: 39–40; Tucker, 1974: 153f. Parts of the first chapter of Stalin’s article seem to be a paraphrase of a Russian-language article by Kautsky from 1906. See Medem (1906) and Kautskii, 1906: in particular 58–60. Stalin probably obtained the idea of providing a formal definition of nations consisting of a list of “characteristics” from a passage in Bauer’s book (1907: 130), where the author pointed out earlier efforts of that kind by Italian sociologists. Haupt, Löwy and Weill (1974: 60n, 307, 386) suggested that, apart from the obvious Kautsky and Bauer–Renner, Vladimir Medem and Josef Strasser may have influenced Stalin. This is doubtful. I do not recognise Medem’s concept of the nation as “colour” in Stalin’s 1913 article (see Medem and Kautskii, 1906: 3–57, in particular 15). The radical Austrian social democrat Strasser’s (1912: 15, 20, 23, 32f) book is noteworthy for its insistent denial of any community of interest between the working class and the bourgeoisie, even when it comes to protecting one’s culture, language or territory. There was no such thing as a national character in any relevant sense. In this, Strasser went further than Stalin in 1913. 21 Sochineniia, vol. 2: 294, 296, 301, 323. 22 Pannekoek (1912). For Lenin’s comments, see Adoratskii et al., 1937: 27n; PSS, vol. 48: 162. 23 Sochineniia, vol. 2: 293, 296, 300. 24 Sochineniia, vol. 2: 295–7, 303. 25 F.71, op.10, d.183, l.111; see also d.180, ll.141–8. 26 See Sochineniia, vol. 1: 248–9; f. 71, op.10, d.181, ll.492–3. 27 F.71, op.10, d.183, ll.105–06. For a discussion of Stalin’s authorship of the relevant article in Akhali tskhovreba, see ll.109–14. 28 Sochineniia, vol. 3: 178. 29 Sochineniia, vol. 3: 4–5; see also vol. 1: 247–9; vol. 9: 324–5. 30 Sochineniia, vol. 1: 139–40, 150–1, 154, 255, 257; vol. 2: 10f; see also 60f. For similar arguments, see “The liberal bourgeoisie in the Russian revolution” in Chveni tskhovreba, February and March 1907 (f.71, op.10, d.184, ll.232–45). 31 See also Shestoi s”ezd RSDRP (bol’shevikov)…, 1958: 128, 134–5.

Notes 293
32 Shestoi s”ezd RSDRP(bol’shevikov)…, 1958: 14, 111–12, 114. 33 Shestoi s”ezd RSDRP(bol’shevikov)…, 1958: 138, 142–3. 34 Shestoi s”ezd RSDRP(bol’shevikov),…, 1958: 250, 257, 283, 285.

6 The years under Lenin
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 Sochineniia, vol. 1: 296, 367, 371. Sochineniia, vol. 4: 365–7. Sochineniia, vol. 5: 207–10. F.558, op.1, d.56. Sed’maia (aprel’skaia) vserossiiskaia…, 1958: 211. Sochineniia, vol. 3: 206, 208. Sochineniia, vol. 4: 7–8. Sochineniia, vol. 4: 30–2. Vos’moi s”ezd RKP(b)…, 1959: 47, 79–81. PSS, vol. 38: 160–2. See PSS, vol. 40: 99–100; see also vol. 41: 164. Sochineniia, vol. 4: 351–4; see also 396, 402. Sochineniia, vol. 4: 75–6. Sochineniia, vol. 4: 89, 91. Sochineniia, vol. 4: 285–7. Sochineniia, vol. 4: 395. Sochineniia, vol. 5: 34, 46. Sochineniia, vol. 5: 139, 141–2. “Iz istorii obrazovaniia…,” 1989: 198–200. “Iz istorii obrazovaniia…,” 1989: 206–7. “Iz istorii obrazovaniia…,” 1989: 214–16. Lenin, 1950: 335. See also Smith, 1997: 81. See PSS, vol. 45: 356–61. Iakubovskaia, 1959: 197–8; “Iz istorii obrazovaniia…,” 1991, no. 4: 170. Iakubovskaia, 1959: 198–9; Akhmedov, 1962: 33; “Iz istorii obrazovaniia…,” 1991, no. 5: 164–5. 27 Sochineniia, vol. 5: 240–1, 245–6, 248, 257–8, 265, 277. 28 Tucker, 1974: 245–8.

7 Socialism in one country
1 Sochineniia, vol. 4: 374–6, 378, 380. In a 1920 copy of Zinov’ev’s War and the Crisis of Socialism in Stalin’s library we find four question marks next to a quoted passage by Engels to the effect that the revolution could only come in all civilised countries simultaneously. Stalin also underlined Engels’s words that the revolution would come more easily in developed Britain than in the less developed Germany. And he wrote next to it: “in backward Russia (coming [nastupivshie] earlier than something like that in Britain, France etc.).” See f.558, op.3, d.68, p.104. 2 Sochineniia, vol. 5: 117–18. 3 Sochineniia, vol. 5: 83, 90. 4 “‘Naznachit’ revoliutsiiu v…,” 1995: 124. But, then again, in a 1924 copy of the stenographic report of the Thirteenth Party Congress of that year, Stalin added an irritated “Who we?” next to a remark by Zinov’ev that “we” had once believed that the Russian revolution would collapse without parallel revolutions in the West. See f.558, op.3, d.355, p.42.

5 6 7 8 9


10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33

Koen, 1988: 181–2. Smirnov et al., 1988: 78–9, 82–3. Sochineniia, vol. 5: 322. Sochineniia, vol. 5: 344, 346. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 132, 135–6, 138. In a book by G. Safarov against “Trotskyism” (published in 1924) in Stalin’s library he scribbled that the author was “completely right” when he noted that through the co-operative the peasant economy would experience a “growing over…into socialism.” See f.558, op.3, d.310, p.10. In a 1919 copy of Kautsky’s Terrorism and Communism, Stalin commented on Kautsky’s statement that the small artisans had been no real friends of the Paris Commune, and that small proprietors were no better friends of socialism than the capitalists. This was Stalin’s comment in the margins: “With Kautsky statics overwhelm dynamics. He does not understand that under the rule of the pr-t things must be different.” See ibid., d.91, pp.27, 70. See Sochineniia, vol. 8: 61. Koritskii, 1990: 61, 65–6, 78, 88–90, 104, 108, 112–13; Preobrazhensky, 1965: 220–3, 234–7; see also Gusev, 1996: 88. See, for instance, Trotskii, 1990: 196–7; Wolter, 1976, vol. 3: 93–9, 118–19; Fel’shtinskii, 1990, vol. 1: 155–6, 160, 162, 164–5, 207–8, 212–14, 215f; vol. 2: 58, 72–3, 84–5. See Trotskii, 1991: 232; Smirnov et al., 1988: 88. Later an extended version received the new name “The October revolution and the tactic of the Russian communists.” See Carr, 1959: 40; Sochineniia, vol. 6: 401, 416. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 366–74, 376. XIV s”ezd vsesoiuznoi…, 1926: 136. KPSS, vol. 2: 49. Sochineniia, vol. 7: 110–12, 118, 121, 125. Sochineniia, vol. 7: 232. Sochineniia, vol. 8: 60–75. For another extensive account of Stalin’s position, including his public treatment of the “Engels problem,” see ibid.: 245f; vol. 9: 100f. See also vol. 9: 21–3. Bukharin, 1925: 9–11; Smirnov et al., 1988: 227–30. I found one fascinating testimony to Stalin’s cheating in his library. In a 1921 copy of a volume of Lenin writings he read the leader’s speech at the Fourth Party Congress of 1906. He carefully enclosed in brackets the parts where the speaker acknowledged that, in the absence of a socialist revolution in Western Europe, a capitalist restoration in a revolutionary Russia was inevitable. See f.558, op.3, d.116, p.156. So he did remember that this had been Lenin’s opinion at the time. See Zinoviev, 1926: 248, 271–3, 275–7, 283; see also 286–7. XIV s”ezd vsesoiuznoi…, 1926: 98, 429–30. Fel’shtinskii, 1990, vol. 2: 142, 202–3; Wolter, 1976, vol. 1: 219, 226–7; vol. 3: 107–8, 126, 145, 164–5; see also Trotskii, 1990: 197. See Day, 1973: 105f, 136f, 147. See also Gorinov and Tsakunov, 1992: 86; Erlich, 1960: 46; Koritskii, 1990: 29. XV konferentsiia vsesoiuznoi…, 1927: 469–72; for Zinov’ev’s remarks on the subject, see 570–1, 576. See Wolter, 1976, vol. 3: 93, 97, 99. XV konferentsiia vsesoiuznoi…, 1927: 512–13, 515. Sochineniia, vol. 8: 275; see also ibid.: 206–8. Wolter, 1976, vol. 3: 169. See, for example, Fel’shtinskii, 1990, vol. 2: 142. Day, 1973: 136; see also 4, 124.

Notes 295
34 XV konferentsiia vsesoiuznoi…, 1927: 531–3. See also Fel’shtinskii, 1990, vol. 2: 142–4. 35 For a similar critique of Day’s thesis, see Knei-Paz, 1979: 333n. 36 Trotsky, 1978: 133; see also 129 146. See also Trotskii, 1993: 104–8, 113. 37 Stalin, 1994: 13. 38 See Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 163–4. 39 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 395. 40 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 56. Until he reached old age, Stalin did not lose interest in the theory, which filled him with pride. He continued to go over the relevant quotations. In a 1949 copy of one of Lenin’s volumes, the remark of his teacher to the effect that socialism could not be victorious in all countries simultaneously was carefully underlined with a green pencil. See f.558, op.3, d.154, p.67. In another Lenin volume of 1950, which contained a 1921 speech, he underlined those sentences where the author claimed that it would be impossible for the proletariat to remain in power without allowing the capitalists economic concessions. Stalin put quotations marks next to this uncomfortable passage. See ibid., d.155, p.201. 41 See Maksimenkov, 1993: 35. 42 Sochineniia, vol. 10: 95–6. 43 Fel’shtinskii, 1990, vol. 3: 101. 44 See Evzerov, 1995: 61. 45 There is an annotated 1904 copy of the book in Stalin’s library; see f.558, op.3, d.92. The passages on economic autarky have not been marked, though. In 1936, Noi Zhordaniia noted that when he met Koba in 1898 he had gained the impression that his idea of socialism rested only on articles from Kvali and Kautsky’s Erfurt Programm. See Vakar, 1936. 46 See Adibekov et al., 1998: 425, 428–9, 438. 47 Sochineniia, vol. 7: 299.

8 Stalin’s economic thought
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Drabkin et al., 1998: 664–5. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 240–5. Sochineniia, vol. 7: 130, 195f, 198, 298, 301, 315. Sochineniia, vol. 8: 287–8. Sochineniia, vol. 8: 117, 122; vol. 9: 137. Sochineniia, vol. 10: 228–9; 309–12. Sochineniia, vol. 11: 161. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 159–60. Stalin also noted that, in the absence of private ownership of land, Soviet farms need not pay an “absolute ground rent.” This lowered costs and created favourable conditions for collectivised agricultural units; Sochineniia, vol. 11: 192–3. The fact that the Soviet peasant did not need to pay absolute ground rent was a matter Stalin apparently deemed of great significance. In his library, there is a 1923 copy of Kautsky’s The Agrarian Question with a foreword by P. Stuchka. The latter quoted Marx to the effect that under the condition of nationalisation of the land absolute ground rent could be abolished, which allowed for a reduction in the price of agricultural products. Perhaps this gave Stalin the idea to use this as an argument in defence of his policy on agricultural prices and future collectivisation. Next to this passage he wrote the following critique of, probably, Bukharin: “Precisely so! And now they want to bring the grain prices to pre-war levels when private property was not abolished!” See f.558, op.3, d.86, p.viii. The library also contained two (1924 and 1928) copies of the third volume



10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44

45 46 47 48 49

of Das Kapital and another 1927 book on rent, in which passages on the effect of nationalisation of the land on ground rent were underlined or marked. See ibid., d.194, pp.336f; d.205, pp.232f; d.204, pp.283f. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 121, 123, 171, 269, 274, 331, 347. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 80. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 184–6; see also ibid., vol. 1[XIV]: 352–3. Kvashonkin et al, 1999: 294. Sochineniia, vol. 11: 170–1. PSS, vol. 45: 371–2, 376. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 161–3, 166, 169. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 143–5. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 147–9. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 149, 151–3. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 192, 194. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 203–5, 222–3. In a letter to Molotov in October 1930, Stalin happily noted a new “growing upsurge in the kolkhoz movement.” He warned against any slackening of attention on the collective farms. See Kosheleva et al., 1995: 212. Zelenin, 1993: 40–1. See Sochineniia, vol. 12: 196. Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 54. Istoriia Vsesoiuznoi kommunisticheskoi…, 1938: 291–2. See, for example, Daniels, 1991: 40. See Cohen, 1985: 60–1; Nove, 1993: 20–1, 27. Tucker, 1990: 9, 39f. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 39. PSS, vol. 36: 78. See also Sochineniia, vol. 11: 250. Sochineniia, vol. 8: 120. Sochineniia, vol. 11: 248–9. He also refused to see any analogy between himself and peasant rebels Razin and Pugachev, whose uprisings had failed because a modern working class was still lacking. With their hopes for a “good tsar” they remained trapped in the system against which they rebelled. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 104–5, 112–13. Dubinskaia-Dzhalilova and Chernev, 1997: 183. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 38–40. Sochineniia, vol. 11: 58. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 37, 41. Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 61–4; see also 49. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 161–3. XIV s”ezd Vsesoiuznoi…, 1926: 259, 102, 106. Sochineniia, vol. 7: 304f, 369–70. See also Sochineniia, vol. 10: 228. Cited in Davies, 1989: 167. In the relevant volume of Sochineniia, published in 1949, Stalin changed this to the effect that NEP would be abolished when the possibility existed of arranging the links between town and countryside “through our trading organisations” instead of through “private trade.” See Sochineniia, vol. 12: 187. XVI s”ezd Vsesoiuznoi…, 1930: 37. In Sochineniia (vol. 12: 307), this was again “improved.” Davies, 1989: 171. XVII s”ezd Vsesoiuznoi…, 1975: 26. F.558, op.1, d.5324, pp.48–9; see also Khlevniuk, 1996: 126–7. Chuev, 1991: 288.

Notes 297
50 For earlier signs of this, see Sochineniia, vol. 13: 118–19. In Stalin’s library there is a 1931 collection of articles on Leninism, which includes one on “petit bourgeois levelling.” Stalin commented in his own hand: “i.e. not equality of (economic) classes, that’s absurd, but destruction of classes. But this is not the destruct. of personal inequality,” and: “i.e. the destr. of class inequality is not the destruct. of person. inequ. in the sense of acquiring products for personal consumption.” See f.558, op.3, d.182, p.44. 51 Sochineniia, vol. 13: 343, 351, 354–5, 357, 359–60. See also 245f; vol. 1[XIV]: 57, 61, 127; and Stalin’s November 1934 speech about the interests of the “consumer”: f.558, op.1, d.5324, p.48. In a typical letter to Molotov of July 1935, Stalin wrote that “we must strengthen from year to year everything which increases the production of products of mass consumption. At the time we do not have the possibility to advance without this.” See Kosheleva et al., 1995: 251. See also Khlevniuk, 1996: 155–6. 52 In July 1934, Stalin remarked bluntly that the kolkhozniki should not be provided with a “completely sufficient standard of living,” because in that case they would refuse ever to go to the factories. Cited in Rogovin, 1992: 25. 53 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 81, 89; see also 53–4. 54 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 17. 55 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 89. 56 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 127. Emphasis added. 57 F.558, op.1, d.5380, l.7. 58 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 140, 149. 59 See f.558, op.3, dd.257–63. These are manuscripts of 1938, 1939, April, October and December 1940 and March (?) 1941. Dela 262 and 263 are copies of the same manuscript of December 1940. See also Openkin, 1991: 115–16; Solov’ev, 1996: 9; Dzokaeva, 1988. In Stalin’s library there are also no less than five copies of Bogdanov’s old handbook of political economy (ranging from 1879 to 1923) with his notes: ibid., dd.13–17. 60 F.558, op.3, d.263, pp.357–8, 396, 417, 424, 439. 61 F.558, op.1, d.5380, pp.2, 6, 8; see also p.3. See also Openkin, 1991: 115. 62 F.558, op.1, d.5380, pp.5–6. 63 In 1943, an authoritative article in Pod znamenem marksizma repeated Stalin’s 1941 thesis that under socialism the law of value remained active. The money form was needed to remunerate the different kinds of labour, and the different kinds of toilers in nationalised and collectivised enterprises; and also to stimulate good work by individuals and enterprises. See Harrison, 1985: 226. 64 Openkin, 1991: 116. 65 XXII s”ezd Kommunisticheskoi…, 1962, vol. 2: 184; Harrison, 1985: 230. 66 See Shepilov, 1998, no. 3: 6, 18–20; no. 7: 6. 67 Openkin, 1991: 116–17; Shepilov, 1998, no.7: 3–4, 6–10, 13. 68 It was expected at first that Stalin would speak at the conference, but, although he received abstracts of the debates, he did not show up. See Openkin, 1991: 116; Bolotin, 1987. He wrote a reaction to the debate, which he first made available to a few Politburo members at his dacha. See Chuev, 1991: 289, 491. In February 1952, the leader presented an extensive analysis of the debates to the Central Committee and the participants in the discussion. At a small meeting two weeks later Stalin refused to have it published because the whole conference had been a closed affair. In the next months he added three more articles to it, reacting to the views of some individual participants in the discussion. See Openkin, 1991: 122–3; Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 188–9n. According to Molotov, Stalin was working on a further part, which never appeared. See Chuev, 1991: 328, 491. 69 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 205, 209–10, 214, 252.



70 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 199, 202–3, 205–7, 238, 295f. However, according to Mikoian (1999: 569), Stalin did state in 1952 that it was now time to begin the transition to direct product exchange. 71 See also Harrison, 1985: 232–3. Possibly a rereading of Marx made Stalin more aware of the unorthodoxy of his former views on the matter. In a 1951 copy of the former’s critique of the Gotha program in the leader’s personal library we find passages underlined which hold that the communist system is not based on exchange value but on a directly social form of labour. On the relevant page Stalin wrote “For the third chapter.” That chapter of Economic Problems… concerned the law of value. See f.558, op.3, d.207, p.13. In a 1935 copy of the same work, we also find passages underlined concerning the communist principles of distribution, and the division of labour and individual psychology under communism. See f.558, op.3, d.201, pp.273–5. Molotov suggested that Stalin changed his mind on the matter after discussions with him (Chuev, 1991: 491–2). 72 Sochineniia, vol. 13: 192–3. Stalin confirmed to Mikoian (1999: 520) that, despite their temporary lack of profits, the sovkhozes should be supported by the state, because as a “new social formation” it was inevitable that they were still weak. 73 F.558, op.1, d.5380, ll.2–5. 74 Cited in Harrison, 1985: 227; see also 228. 75 See Koritskii, 1990: 224–6, 229, 233; Smirnov et al., 1988: 405–6. 76 See Voznesenskii, 1948: 28, 45, 47, 54, 64, 75–6, 141, 144, 147–8, 151, 175, 178, 180–1. 77 Voznesenskii, 1948: 145–8. 78 Interestingly, Stalin may have been temporarily won over to this point of view. According to Mikoian (1999: 521–2), he proposed in 1948 that the sovkhozes should be liquidated, as they were still unprofitable. Moreover, kolkhozes were “more socialist.” The leader received no support from his fellow Politburo members however. 79 Voznesenskii, 1948: 121–3. 80 Openkin, 1991: 117–21, 126; see also Solov’ev, 1996: 9. For Voznesenskii’s “voluntaristic” thesis and some related matters, see Voznesenskii, 1979: 118–19, 161, 229–34, 237, 241, 254. 81 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 190–3, 196. 82 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 236–7. 83 Perhaps even more ironically, his law was a paraphrase of the main principle of socialism formulated in a 1928 Bukharinist handbook: Lapidus and Ostrovityanov, 1929: 478. In March 1952, L.D. Iaroshenko wrote a letter to the Politburo in which he criticised, among other points, Stalin’s definition of the main law as consumption instead of production oriented (see Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 280). This is probably a mistake, because “the needs of society” do not necessarily refer to consumption goods, and Stalin certainly had not intended the concept to be used in that way. 84 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 204, 207–8, 210, 214, 251, 286–7. Mark Harrison (1985: 233) interprets Stalin’s thesis of the inability of the socialist state to change economic laws as a dissociation from the old voluntaristic ideology of early Stalinism. In my opinion, this is only partly true. 85 Cited in Harrison, 1985: 233; see also Hahn, 1982: 152f. 86 See also Davies in Nove, 1993: 56–7, 62; Timasheff, 1946: 133f, 146, 148.

9 The sharpening of the class struggle
1 Sochineniia, vol. 11: 171–2. 2 Sochineniia, vol. 12: 34, 38.

Notes 299
3 See, for instance, PSS, vol. 36: 382; vol. 38: 386–7; vol. 39: 13, 280; vol. 40: 302; vol. 41: 6, 54–5. 4 In Concerning the Role of the Individual in History, Plekhanov explained that the realisation that one’s cause was historically doomed might not weaken the “energy of resistance” in everybody; “in some the understanding of its inevitability will only make it grow and turn it into an energy of despair” (Plechanow, 1946: 21). The notion that the more successful the party the more its opponents will be forced into illegal action can probably be traced back even further to Kautsky, as can so many other allegedly original ideas of the bolsheviks. See Steenson, 1978: 118–19. 5 PSS, vol. 44: 10, 42. 6 Sochineniia, vol. 11: 6–7, 226–8. This had always been a matter of grave concern for him. In a 1920 copy of Trotskii’s Terrorism and Communism, he wrote in the margin that an unlimited dictatorship was necessary in Soviet Russia because “attempts at restoration are inevitable.” This was the case for two reasons: “the bourgeoisie of all remaining countries” nurtured hopes of intervention, and the Russian petit bourgeoisie gave birth to new capitalists. See f.558, op.3, d.364, l.28. 7 Sochineniia, vol. 12: 37, 170, 183, 310; vol. 13: 111. 8 Sochineniia, vol. 13: 204, 207–12. In March 1935, he repeated that new “capitalist elements” could originate from the “artisan industry” and the “so-called individual peasant economy.” See f.71, op.10, d.130, l.20. 9 Sochineniia, vol. 13: 349. 10 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 142, 147. 11 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 190–1, 197, 197–9, 201–2, 210, 213–15. 12 See Getty, Rittersporn and Zemskov, 1993: 1023; Wheatcroft, 1996: 1336. 13 Volkogonov, 1989, vol. I.2: 241–2; Tucker, 1990: 444. See also “‘Massovye repressii opravdany…,” 1995: 124; Chuev, 1991: 439–40, 463. 14 “Rasstrel po raznariadke…,” 1992. See also Shearer, 1998; Hagenloh in Fitzpatrick, 2000: 286–308. 15 Vyltsan, 1997. 16 Gevorkian, 1992: 19; Geworkjan, 1992: 227; Khlevniuk, 1996: 190–1. 17 Daniel’ et al., 1997: 33. 18 Kostyrchenko and Khazanov, 1992: 125–6. 19 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 271, 346, 366–7, 394; Istoriia Vsesoiuznoi kommunisticheskoi…, 1938: 292, 327–8. 20 F.558, op.1, d.5380, l.4. 21 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 204, 301. 22 Already in 1927 Stalin had told the French writer Henri Barbusse that internally the Soviet regime was stable enough. It only needed capital punishment for terrorists sent by the capitalist powers abroad. See: “‘U nas malo…,” 1999: 103. 23 Kosheleva et al., 1995: 187–8; see also 192–3, 198. 24 Kosheleva et al.., 1995: 216–17. In another letter of January 1930, Stalin asked Ukrainian party leaders Kosior and Chubar’ when some “counter-revolutionary bastards” would be tried. The “sins of our enemies” should not be hidden from the workers. The people should be shown the “cases of the accused, concerning rebellion and terrorism” and also the “medical tricks, which have for its purpose the murder of responsible officials.” Repression against people “who attempt to poison and stab communist patients” was fully justified. See “Iosif Stalin: ‘vinovnykh…,’ ” 1992. 25 Khlevniuk, 1996: 193–4, 198, 211, 215, 220. 26 Kosheleva et al., 1995: 231–2; Khlevniuk, 1996: 36–7, 39. 27 Kosheleva et al., 1995: 231. 28 Kvashonkin et al., 1999: 196.



29 See Cohen, 1997: 318–19, 327, 336–7; see also 329; Khlevniuk, 1996: 96. For letter to Kaganovich of 11 August 1932, see also “Iz neizdannoi perepiski…,” 2000. 30 “‘Tysiachi liudei vidiat…,” 1996: 147. 31 F.71, op.10, d.130, ll.29–30. 32 F.71, op.10, d.130, ll.20, 24–5. See also ll.43–4. In an undated letter of 1934–35 to Kaganovich, Stalin wrote characteristically about the questioning of a particular prisoner: “He must be grabbed by the throat, made to talk, made to tell the whole truth, and then he must be condemned with all severity. He is undoubtedly a Polish–German (or Japanese) agent.” See Cohen, 1997: 339. 33 In the Vyshinskii papers, there are notes of what Stalin told him in a private conservation in January 1937: Piatakov and his comrades were a gang of criminals who had fought against Lenin all their lives (“O tak nazyvaemom…,” 1989: 39, 42). Volkogonov (1995, vol. 1: 263) looked through Stalin’s “blocnotes,” notes he made of Politburo meetings in the 1930s and which are at present in the presidential archive. Even in such purely personal notes, the dictator wrote about “agents of Pilsudski” and “sabotage.” 34 “Fragmenty stenogrammy dekabr’skogo…,” 1995: 6, 8–9, 18; and f.17, op.2, d.575, ll.50–1, 57–8, 72, 80–1, 100, 112–13, 159, 161, 170. For parts of the same speech, see Getty and Naumov, 1999: 321–2. 35 Murin, “‘Nevol’niki v rukakh…,” 1994: 73–8. 36 Typically, on a letter from prison by Commander Iakir, Stalin wrote “Scoundrel and prostitute,” which suggests genuine rage (“Delo o tak…,” 1989: 56). Stalin was even suspicious of his close comrade Kaganovich’s friendly relations with Iakir. See Chuev, 1992: 45–6, 80. 37 Piatnitskii, 1998: 132–3. See also Stalin’s remark to Dimitrov in February 1937: “all of you in the Comintern are serving the enemy” (Dallin and Firsov, 2000: 32). See also Ushakov and Stukalov, 2000: 71. 38 “Bol’shoi iubilei terrora,” 1997. 39 Kurilov and Mikhailov, 1990. 40 Khlevniuk, 1996: 240. 41 Chuev, 1992: 77; see also 79. Mikoian (1999: 319, 321, 323–4, 553) quotes Stalin in a similar way on a number of occasions. 42 Cited in Radzinsky, 1996: 422–3. See also Mikoian (1999: 358–9) for Stalin’s comments on Aleksandr Svanidze as a spy, recruited by the Germans during the First World War. 43 Poliakova and Khorunzhii, 1988; Golovkov, 1988: 27; Grekhov, 1990: 136–9. 44 Grekhov, 1990: 142–3; see also Ovchinnikova and Strokanov, 1989; Poliakova and Khorunzhii, 1988; Golovkov, 1988: 27–8. 45 For another example, in 1937 Stalin told Dimitrov privately that Comintern leaders Knorin, Rakovskii, Kun and Piatnitskii were Polish, German and British spies as well as Trotskyites. See Mar’ina, 2000: 35–6. In the leader’s library too we find indications that he believed the enemy was plotting against him. This appears, for instance, from his notes in a 1948 Russian publication of an American defector, called The Truth about American Diplomats. The book names a large number of American “spies” among diplomats, journalists and scientists. Stalin underlined their names, including people like George Kennan and Charles Bowlen, and he gave them numbers. He also underlined sentences like “The American diplomatic service is in its totality an intelligence organisation.” See f.558, op.3, d.32, ll.14–15, 17–18, 20–1, 27, 31, 39, 49–57, 120, 135. Stalin’s fear of treason and his belief in the need for rulers to strike against possible conspirators also betray themselves in his notes in historical writings. In a 1941 novel on Pugachev, he put marks next to a quotation by a Russian prince who explained Russian defeats in war by espionage and treason; see ibid., d.388, l.42. In a 1908 book on Roman history, he put a vnimanie mark next to a passage describing

Notes 301
how successful opposition to Roman rule originated from the co-operation of internal and external enemies of the state. He also heavily underlined a part on the “famous organiser of ‘conspiracies’ Catilina”; see ibid., d.38, ll.29, 189. In a 1916 book on Russian history, he underlined an alleged quotation by Genghis Khan: “The death of the defeated is necessary for the peace of mind of the victors”; see ibid., d.11, ll.15, 33. For a final example: in a 1923 history of Greece and Rome, Stalin underlined a passage which held that under Sulla’s dictatorship there were published lists of people condemned to death without trial; ibid., d.188, l.130. 46 This was written on a 1931 letter from Trotskii. See Volkogonov, 1996: 439. 47 There exists a characteristic note from Stalin to Beriia, quoted by Volkogonov (1995, vol. 1: 310), concerning some people who had complained of being unjustly condemned: “Take a look at this. If they write the truth – set them free.” 48 Perhaps Tucker (1990: 474f) was the first to argue that Stalin believed his own charges. See also Thurston, 1996: 84f; G.T. Rittersporn in Getty and Manning, 1993: 99–115.

10 Total unity
1 Sochineniia, vol. 1: 59–61. 2 Sochineniia, vol. 1: 64–7, 70–1. At every place where the original version of the article had “centralistic” Stalin later put “centralised” before the piece was published in his Sochineniia; see f.558, op.1, d.8. 3 See Walicki, 1975: 257. 4 See Walicki, 1977: 9. 5 See Ware, 1983: 243f, 245, 252, 319. 6 Williams, 1986: 4. 7 Bogdanov, Iz psikhologii obshchestva, 1904: 6, 98–9; “Sobiranie cheloveka,” 1904: 162, 168. 8 See van Ree, “Stalin’s bolshevism:…,” 1994. 9 Sochineniia, vol. 1: 120, 123–5, 129. 10 F.71, op.10, d.169, l.274. 11 See van Ree, “Stalin’s bolshevism:…,” 1994. 12 See Desiatyi s”ezd RKP(b)…, 1963: 2–3, 35, 113, 118, 123, 521, 523, 571, 573, 576. 13 Sochineniia, vol. 5: 71–2; see also vol. 4: 309–10. 14 PSS, vol. 45: 344–6, 387–8. 15 Sochineniia, vol. 5: 224–6. 16 See Sochineniia, vol. 5: 197–8, 214, 224–5, 357–64, 368–79, 370, 382; vol. 6: 1–2, 7, 9–11, 15, 23, 39–40, 181–5, 226. 17 See, for example, Sochineniia, vol. 2: 147, 149, 248. 18 Sochineniia, vol. 8: 210, 212, 224–5, 231, 233. 19 Sochineniia, vol. 10: 327, 351, 358–60. In 1936, Stalin gave a classical formulation of this active, totalitarian concept of unity: “You might say that silence is no criticism. But this is not true. As a special way of ignoring, the method of silence is also a form of criticism, albeit a stupid and laughable one, but nevertheless a form of criticism”; see vol. 1[XIV]: 156. 20 F.558, op.1, d.2889, ll.40, 42, 145–6. 21 Cited in Wolter, 1977: 591, 593. To treat societies like huge “living organisms” was not uncommon among socialists. In several books and articles, Kautsky (1883; 1884; 1887: 399, 402, 443; 1902; 1980: 45, 60–1) pointed out that human society was an organism in its highest form. The purposefulness of the social organism would be strengthened when specially appointed functionaries “subject the social forces to a united will [ein einheitlicher Wille].” The more united the will, the more effectively society competed against nature in the struggle for exis-



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28 29 30

31 32 33 34

tence. All these writings of the late years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth were translated into Russian and circulated widely among Russian Marxists. See Blumenberg, 1960: 32, 34, 40, 64, 75. Cited in Schapiro, 1971: 384–5. See also Walicki, 1995: 460–1. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 8, 11–12, 15–16. F.17, op.2, d.514, ll.50, 58–60. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 381. “O dele tak…,” 1989: 70, 75–6, 80. Latyshev, 1992. Volkogonov (1989, vol. I.2: 202) reported the following statement attributed to Stalin by Beriia: “An enemy of the people is not only he who commits sabotage, but also he who doubts the correctness of the party line.” In the context of a discussion on Lysenkoism in 1948, Stalin said: “in our party we have no personal opinions nor personal points of view; there are only the views of the party” (Malyshev, 1997: 135). Sochineniia, vol. 13: 128. See Beriia, 1948. For the background and production of the book, see Sukharev, 1990; Popov and Oppokov, 1989; Knight, 1991. Istoriia Vsesoiuznoi kommunisticheskoi…, 1938. For the prehistory and history of the book, see Illeritskaia, 1987; Maslov, 1988; Man’kovskaia and Sharapov, 1988; Sukharev, 1991. In a letter from early in 1937, Stalin provided the authors Knorin, Iaroslavskii and Pospelov with detailed instructions. See f.558, op.1, d.3212, l.18. Stalin checked the final maket closely and made extensive changes and insertions on some points. The last maket with Stalin’s remarks can be found in f.558, op.1, d.5300. For a summary of Stalin’s interventions in the text, see Maslov, 1988: 56–61. Stalin also wrote further comments in a 1938 version of the book; see f.558, op.3, d.77. It contains remarks such as “Right and left in the final instance = one essence” (p.249; see also p.251). For other examples, he wrote the word “spy” next to Dan’s name (p.310), and next to the report of the 1938 trial he put “A part of them were former tsarist okhranniki” (p.312). See Maslov, 1994: 7–8, 14, 26–7. Istoriia Vsesoiuznoi kommunisticheskoi…, 1938: 329; see also Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 344, 346, 367; KPSS, vol. 2: 910. See a speech of 4 May 1935: f.71, op.10, d.218, l.18. See also Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 65–6. See also Stalin in March 1938: “‘P’iu za tekh…,” 1998: 86. Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 21.

11 Stalin and the state
1 Already, in a 1919 copy of State and Revolution he had noted next to a reference to Marx’s concept of the Commune without a standing army and officialdom: “But for the time being we can’t destroy either the one or the other” (f.558, op.3, d.156, p.41). 2 Sochineniia, vol. 13: 211. See also 350. 3 F.558, op.3, d.143, pp.384, 386. 4 PSS, vol. 33: 94–5, 97, 99. 5 F.558, op.3, d.270, p.21. In a 1923 copy of The State and the Revolution, Stalin marked a passage where Lenin quoted Engels to the effect that every state was an instrument of class oppression and therefore unfree and unpopular. He underlined “every,” put quotation marks in the margin and added: “and the dict-ship of the pr-iat?” See ibid., d.157, p.23. 6 F.558, op.3, d.202, p.21. 7 He also rejected Engels’s idea that the state was at best a “necessary evil” (f.558, op.3, d.143, pp.372, 382, 424, 438).

Notes 303
8 Maslov, 1994: 18, 20–2; f.17, op.120, d.313, l.12. See also Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 165. 9 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 394. 10 In a discussion with Mongolian leaders in November 1934, the Soviet leader said “An army is, firstly, an instrument of defence, secondly, a nursery garden of culture, thirdly an epicentre of the spread of the idea of statehood [gosudarstvennost’]; the army educates cadres.” See f.89, op.63, d.14, l.6. In another discussion with Mongolian leaders in the 1930s, Stalin again showed that his appreciation of state centralisation was a general one and that it also applied to the work done by autocrats in the past. He commented on the autonomous status of the Buddhist monks, the lamas: “This is a state in the state. Genghis Khan wouldn’t have allowed it. He might have slit their throats, all of them. You have to bring about a split among the lamas.” And then he explained that this is what the bolsheviks did with the orthodox priests. See ibid., d.10, l.2. 11 F.71, op.10, d.130, ll.122–5. A few days later, in his next speech on the Short Course, Stalin called the intelligentsia the “salt of the earth.” See Maslov, 1994: 28; see also f.17, op.120, d.313, l.14. And in his 1952 Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, he again spoke in one breath of “people of mental labour” and of the “leading personnel.” See Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 219. 12 Malyshev, 1997: 111. 13 Cited in Walicki, 1995: 144. 14 Sochineniia, vol. 8: 26; vol. 9: 82; see also vol. 9: 153. In a 1920 copy of Trotskii’s Terrorism and Communism, Stalin wrote in the margin: “B [vnimanie-attention]. The dict-ship of the pr-at is the political monocracy [edinovlastie] of the proletariat”; see f.558, op.3, d.364, l.20. In a 1922 copy of writings by Lenin, Stalin again wrote “The power of one class” next to a passage on the proletarian dictatorship and the peasantry; see ibid., d.129, p.227. Characteristically, he wrote in a 1919 copy of Lenin’s State and Revolution that the “organisation of force” was the “foundation” of the second aspect of the proletarian dictatorship, the leadership of the toilers in the construction of socialism (f.558, op.3, d.156, p.25). 15 Studenikina, 1957: 729. 16 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 142–4, 146, 152–3, 163–5, 181. For the article in the constitution, see Studenikina, 1957: 744. 17 Studenikina, 1957: 744. 18 See Chuev, 1991: 289. 19 Maslov, 1994: 18, 20–1. 20 KPSS, vol. 2: 923–4. In September 1940, he characterised the Soviet state as a “dictatorship of the working class” to Malyshev (1997: 113). 21 Murashko et al., 1997: 457–9. In 1947, he wrote that in the USSR capitalist rule had been replaced by the “rule of labour [trud],” a general term referring to all toilers; Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 94. 22 KPSS, vol. 2: 1121–2. 23 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 395. In a summary of his speech of 1 October 1938, we find the following passage: “As long as the capitalist encirclement exists. The state under communism”; see f.17, op.120, d.313, p.12. 24 According to Nikolai Simonov (1990: 72), Stalin wrote on the front flap of a 1923 issue of State and Revolution: “The theory of the overcoming [izzhivanie] is a dangerous [giblaia] theory.” Simonov thought that Stalin was referring to the abolition of the state. However, this is undoubtedly a misrepresentation. First, the word giblaia is in fact practically illegible. It could also read gnilaia. The sentence quoted is the first in an argument demonstrating why it is good that the bolsheviks expelled the mensheviks from the party. The sentence had nothing to do with the state. Stalin was saying here that the theory of overcoming contradictions within the party should be rejected. In “On the foundations of Leninism”



25 26 27

28 29 30 31 32 33 34


36 37 38 39 40 41

(Sochineniia, vol. 6: 184), we find practically the same sentence in that context: “the theory of ‘overcoming [izzhivanie]’ these [opportunist] elements in the cadre of one party is a rotten [gnilaia] and dangerous theory.” Stalin marked passages in the book itself where Lenin had said that under communism the state withers away, with pencil lines and a # sign, but without critical implications, as far as one can now ascertain. See f.558, op.3, d.157, p.87. Sochineniia, vol. 1: 335–6. Sochineniia, vol. 5: 360; vol. 7: 159–60; vol. 10: 134. F.558, op.3, d.143, pp.427, 440. In a 1935 copy of Marx’s critique of the Gotha program, Stalin underlined the passage, which he apparently found intriguing, about the “future statehood of communist society”; see ibid., d.201, p.283. Until the end of his life, Stalin did not lose interest in these questions. In a 1951 copy of Marx’s comments on the Gotha program we find his markings and underlinings of the passage describing the proletarian dictatorship as a period of transition from capitalism to communism; see f.558, op.3, d.207, p.25. Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 295. Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 37–8. See Perrie, 1992: 82; Artizov, “V ugodu vzgliadam…,” 1991: 129. See Artizov, “V ugodu vzgliadam…,” 1991: 125, 129–31; Brandenberger and Dubrovsky, 1998: 878–9. Cited in Tucker, 1990: 282. See Perrie, 1992: 85–6. Grekov et al., 1939: 55, 155. According to Maureen Perrie (1992: 85), there is no real evidence that in the mid-1930s Stalin was already a great admirer of Ivan and Peter. However, some of his notes are noteworthy. In a 1937 Russian history textbook he proposed to replace the story of peasant uprisings “against Moscow” with “against the boyars.” He criticised a passage where the streltsy seemed to be supported in their conflict with Peter the Great. He also deleted passages to the effect that Razin and Pugachev were positively remembered by the people; see f.558, op.3, d.63, pp.88, 107, 116, 138–9. In another elementary course on Russian history from 1937, he deleted a painting of Ivan IV killing his son; see ibid., d.374, p.198. Kozlov, 1992. In his library, there is a 1944 copy of Aleksei Tolstoi’s Ivan Groznyi, in which Stalin underlined many passages, for instance one in which Ivan himself speaks and complains about those who “want to live in the old way – each one sitting on his own patrimony, with his own army, as under the Tatar yoke.” Such “princes and boyars” were “enemies of the state,” for if one continued to live in the old way Russia would soon be trampled by the foreign powers surrounding it. See f.558, op.3, d.351, p.57. In October 1940, Stalin commented on the seventeenth-century Georgian military chief Georgii Saakadze, who had attempted to unite his country under a centralised royal power. His hopes for Georgia’s “unification into one state through the establishment of [Georgian, E.v.R.] tsarist absolutism and of the liquidation of the power of the princes” had been “progressive.” See ibid., op.1, d.5324, p.399. “O kinofil’me ‘Bol’shaia’…,” 1946: 52. F.558, op.1, d.5325, l.60. See also Kozlov, 1992. “Formidable shadows of…,” 1988: 8. See also Mikoian (1999: 534), quoting Stalin on Ivan as working towards a “really unified strong Russian state” against the unruly boyars. Malyshev, 1997: 136. Taking Paris as an example, Stalin hoped that he could turn Moscow into the “capital of all capitals.” “A capital strengthens a state.” See also Taranova, 2001: 111. Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 93–4. See, for instance, MEW, vol. 21: 400–1; see also vol. 16: 160.

Notes 305
42 43 44 45 46 47 48 See MEW, vol. 12: 682; vol. 16: 31, 203; vol. 18: 524, 563, vol. 22: 19. Korzhikhina and Figatner, 1993: 30. Leushin, 1996. Gromyko, 1988: 207. See PSS, vol. 42: 138–9, 203–5, 206, 222–3, 226, 247, 249, 270. F.71, op.10, d.193, l.76; see also Beriia, 1948: 79–80. In a 1919 copy of State and Revolution, Stalin wrote in the margin that the Paris Commune was an “imperfect dictatorship” because it was led by several parties. “Dictatorship in a perfect form means the power of the proletariat led by one party” (f.558, op.3, d.156, p.18). See also similar comments in a 1919 copy of Kautsky’s Terrorism and Communism: ibid., d.91, pp.63, 70. This was written in a 1922 copy of Lenin’s works (f.558, op.3, d.129, p.44). For yet another example of the organic metaphor, see Stalin’s October 1918 characterisation of the Red Army as a “unified disciplined organism” (Sochineniia, vol. 4: 150). In a 1918 collection of Lenin articles, he commented as follows on a passage describing the soviets as a higher and more democratic form of state: “Precisely: a new type of state apparatus”; see f.558, op.3, d.176, p.20. In a 1922 copy of Kautsky’s The Proletarian Revolution and its Program, he commented: “Fool, under the bourg. rev. the matter remained limited to putting the final touches on the already existing form of st-te, under the prolet…polit. rev. one must create a basically new type of state”; see ibid., d.88, p.224. On the front flap of the book, Stalin wrote that “the soviets as a form of administration are crucial” and that under this system the legislative and executive powers were one. According to Stalin, village soviets not only involve the peasants in the governing of the country but also served as a “barometer” of the mood of the peasants. See Sochineniia, vol. 6: 304, 306, 318–9; see also vol. 7: 77f. Sochineniia, vol. 5: 4–10. In a speech on 17 or 18 January, he repeated: “The method of compulsion stays, it must play a supportive role”; see f.558, op.1, d.2038, l.68. In July 1921, Stalin was working on a pamphlet, which he did not publish in this form. It contained the intriguing note: “The com[munist] party as a sort of Order of Swordbearers within the Soviet state, directing the latter’s organs and inspiring its activity”; see Sochineniia, vol. 5: 71. Robert Tucker (1990: 7) commented on this mentioning of an ancient order of warrior monks: “Who but Stalin among the Bolsheviks would have thought of using such a metaphor for the Communist Party?” In my opinion, the metaphor is not so extraordinary. It referred to the typical combination of military and dictatorial power which was based on a faith that could inspire people to follow. It was a romantic but rather apt translation of the new dual policy of “compulsion and persuasion.” Sochineniia, vol. 5: 197–8, 205–6; vol. 6: 112, 119–20, 172, 179. In a 1919 copy of The State and the Revolution, Stalin wrote in the margin: “The pr-t cannot establish its dictatorship without a vanguard, without a party, as the single leading force. Therefore the party realises the dict. of the pr-t, but…it can realise it only through the state organisations of the prol-t, in the given case through the Soviet apparatus…. Why? Because the party can neither replace the state apparatus, nor the army, nor the trade unions…. He who identifies the party with these organs does not see the complexity of the system of dict-ship.” See f.558, op.3, d.156, p.28. Sochineniia, vol. 7: 162–3, 186–7; vol. 10: 320. In the 1920s, Stalin still held that the state would wither away with the arrival of the first, socialist, stage of communism. See also vol. 6: 108–9, 111–12, 181, 249; vol. 7: 159; vol. 9: 183; vol. 10: 134. A wise party should even “not only teach the masses, but also learn from them” (Sochineniia, vol. 8: 32, 37, 40–44; see also vol. 6: 258).









55 Sochineniia, vol. 8: 49–52. See also ibid.: 55; vol. 9: 79–80; vol. 10: 100–03. On the title page of a 1919 copy of The State and the Revolution, Stalin wrote: The party as a leader. That does not mean that it is only a teacher, no. It means that it is next to that a power, but not a self-sufficient power…, a power through the will of the pr-at. Can the party take power against the will of the proletariat? No, it cannot and must not. …Can the party be victorious, consolidate its victory without the support of the pr-at? No. …The party should not transform itself into a military detachment. See f.558, op.3, d.156. 56 F.558, op.3, d.156. In a 1920 volume of Comintern decisions, Stalin wrote next to a passage which held that the party was an instrument of the proletariat that, if there was a dictatorship of the party, “then the party wouldn’t be an instrument, but the work. class would be an instrument of the party” (ibid., d.306, p.52). In a 1920 copy of Trotskii’s Terrorism and Communism, Stalin commented: “A ‘dictatorship of the party’ – not exact” (ibid., d.364, p.103). 57 F.558, op.3, d.126, pp.218, 224. In a 1922 copy of Kautsky’s The Proletarian Revolution and its Program, Stalin wrote in the margin: “Only he can mix up the dictatorship of the pr-at with a dic-ip of a ‘clique,’ who mixes up the form of the state with the form of the government or of administration” (ibid., d.88, p.169). 58 In the same text, Stalin scribbled: “Under the dictatorship of the party we understand its leadership” (f.558, op.3, d.131, pp.233, 270–1). In a 1924 collection of Lenin quotations, Stalin read a passage concerning the proletarian dictatorship as a class union with the peasantry. He wrote in the margin: “That’s one more reason why the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a dictatorship of the party, which is a workers’ party and does not embody a union of the proletariat and the pea-try, but the primacy of the pr-at”; see f.558, op.3, d.295, p.153. On page 160 of the same book, he wrote: “Dictatorship and leadership are not one and the same thing.” In a 1924 copy of a book by Vladimir Sorin, Stalin wrote that the party gained the “trust of the proletariat…by the correctness of its positions and not by ‘dictatorship’ ”; and he commented on the thesis of the author that the proletarian dictatorship was a party dictatorship: “Not exact,” “Weak”; see ibid., d.322, p.95. See also Sochineniia, vol. 8: 38. 59 In his 1934 discussion with Wells, Stalin repeated once more that even the most determined “leading revolutionary minority” would be helpless without “at least the passive support of millions of people”; see Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 25. 60 See also Walicki, 1995: 442. 61 Already in 1926 Stalin had pleaded for a revival of the production conferences and for making them discuss not only minor points but also the “fundamental questions of the construction of industry.” It was “necessary that every worker…helps the party and the government to realise the regime of efficiency.” The conferences might serve that purpose well. See Sochineniia, vol. 8: 140–1. 62 Sochineniia, vol. 11: 29–34, 37. 63 Sochineniia, vol. 11: 72–4. 64 Sochineniia, vol. 11: 128, 132–3; see also 99; vol. 12: 109–10; 312–14, 327. 65 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 254. 66 See Sochineniia, vol. 6: 178. 67 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 207, 232–3, 238–42. 68 F.558, op.3, d.143, pp.399, 404, 437, 440. 69 Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 206. 70 Sochineniia, vol. 11: 37, 59; 13: 66–67. See also vol. 11: 215; vol. 12: 11, 229, 313. 71 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 145, 169. From a theoretical point of view, the thesis of the intelligentsia being no class was somewhat odd. If recruitment from other

Notes 307
groups of the population was the criterion, the workers, largely recruited from the peasantry, would not constitute a class either. In a discussion with the English writer H.G Wells in 1934, Stalin explained in another way why the technical intelligentsia could not play an “independent historical role.” Only the working class could play such a role, the reason being that “to transform the world is a big, complex and painful process. For that big cause we need a big class”; see ibid.: 23. F.71, op.10, d.130, ll.121, 143–4. Maslov, 1994: 28; f.17, op.120, d.313, l.15. Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 396, 398–9. KPSS, vol. 2: 910. In September 1940, Stalin once again lashed out against people of working-class descent who believed they were better than others simply because of that descent. See Gromov, 1998: 257. Sochineniia, vol. 10: 371; see also vol. 7: 43. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 114. Stalin expected added dynamism from the youth. In a letter to Maksim Gor’kii of January 1930, Stalin wrote that not all young people were politically healthy, but there were many who identified with the “grandiose breaking of the old and the feverish building of the new.” One should rely on them. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 174. Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 49–50; see also 62–3, 377–9. F.558, op.1, d.5324, p.394; see also Senokosov, 1989: 502; Malyshev, 1997: 132; Romanovskii, 2000: 68. In February 1941, Stalin told Dimitrov that in France and England young people are kept in a back seat for twenty to twenty-five years, but in Soviet Russia young cadres are vigorously promoted: “We like to give them a position, we even do it joyfully. The old stick to what is old. The young march forward.” To fail to promote young people meant to doom the country (Bayerlein, 2000: 341).

72 73 74 75 76 77 78

79 80

12 The cult of personality
1 Sochineniia, vol. 10: 329–33. 2 Sochineniia, vol. 12: 1–2. 3 Khlevniuk, 1996: 93, 96; Cohen, 1997: 329–30, 335–6; Kosheleva et al., 1995: 164, 222–3. 4 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 220–1, 230–1, 240, 242–3. 5 Latyshev, 1992. Robert Tucker (1990: 482–5) was provided with a full report of the speech, written by general R.P. Khmelnitskii. 6 Trotskii, 1904: 54. 7 PSS, vol. 41: 24; see also 30. 8 Cherniavskii, 1994: 68–9; Murin and Legostaev, 1992. 9 Sochineniia, vol. 13: 107, 111. 10 See Murin, “Eshche raz ob…,” 1994: 73; Murin and Legostaev, 1992. 11 See Khlevniuk et al., 1995: 34. 12 F.17, op.2, d.514, ll.42, 45. 13 F.558, op.3, d.126, pp.218, 224. 14 See Medvedev, 1989: 586; Radzinsky, 1996: 333; Murin and Denisov, 1993: 176–7. See also Brandenberger and Dubrovsky, 1998: 873, 884n. 15 These are Kaganovich’s words. Chuev, 1992: 150, 185. 16 Plechanow, 1946: 18, 61–3. 17 For an analysis of the Stalin cult as an outgrowth of Lenin’s vanguardism, see Tucker, 1974: 279–88. 18 Lenin’s face was adorning newspapers, conference halls and posters. At times he was described as the “Supreme Leader of the People,” an “invincible giant,” the




20 21



24 25 26 27 28

“greatest human being of our revolutionary epoch,” the “chosen one of the millions,” a “leader such as is born once in 500 years” and an “enlightened genius” even by people like Zinov’ev and Trotskii. His works were publicly considered by them as “gospel” and the “Holy Bible” of the proletariat. Lenin was a unique hero, an “apostle of world communism,” and he was applauded with endless hurrahs and standing ovations. Poetry of the most abject sort was published about him. See Tumarkin, 1983: 66–7, 79–89, 95–8, 107. See also PSS, vol. 37: 111; vol. 40: 299; Kogan, 1991; Trotskii, 1947: 260; Gimpel’son, 1995: 113. On the Lenin cult, see also Enker, 1992. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 106. In his discussion with Wells in 1934, he said: “Important personalities like you are no ‘ordinary people.’ ” But he added that, “of course, only history will be able to show how eminent some particular important personality is.” See ibid., vol. 1[XIV]: 11. See Sukharev, 1991: 115–16; Artizov, “V ugodu vzgliadam…,” 1991: 125; Amiantov and Tikhonova, 1996, no.2: 48; Man’kovskaia and Sharapov, 1988: 66. Beriia, 1948. In 1932, a Stalin Institute was established in Tbilisi with the special assignment of studying the revolutionary career of the leader. Under the leadership of its director, Erik Bediia, materials were collected. They were used by first secretary of the Georgian party Beriia to compose his June 1935 speech for party activists, published as the book. Circumstantial evidence makes Stalin’s personal involvement probable. In 1934, Stalin proposed to the Politburo that the Tbilisi institute be made part of the Moscow Marx–Engels–Lenin Institute. Ivan Tovstukha was its deputy director. He was not only Stalin’s first biographer but also had long been his personal assistant. Moreover, the definitive version of the manuscript was edited by the special sectors of the trans-Caucasian district committees and of the secretariat of the Georgian party. See Sukharev, 1990: 103–6; 112–14. See also Popov and Oppokov, 1989; Rybin, 1988: 88; Man’kovskaia and Sharapov, 1988: 61; Brandenberger, 1997: 143–4, 149. After 1929, only one small biographical article on Stalin appeared, in 1930, written by M.V. Vol’fson (Brandenberger, 1997: 142–3, 145–6). Iaroslavskii’s O tovarishche Staline appeared in 1939. See Yaroslavsky, 1942. In 1935, Henri Barbusse’s biography also appeared, but it was soon taken out of Soviet libraries (Brandenberger, 1997: 144). “I.V. Stalin sam…,” 1990: 113; Brandenberger, “Sostavlenie i publikatsiia…,” 1997: 147. The Marx–Engels–Lenin Institute had begun a systematic collection of materials concerning Stalin, and of those written by him, from archives all over the country in 1933. In 1935, preparations were started for the writing of an official biography and selected works. Stalin had been personally involved in both projects. See Man’kovskaia and Sharapov, 1988: 66; Brandenberger, “Sostavlenie i publikatsiia…,” 1997: 143, 146. The first edition was published anonymously, but it was written by a team of authors, among whom were M.B. Mitin, G.F. Aleksandrov, P.N. Pospelov and I.I. Mints. See Brandenberger, “Sostavlenie i publikatsiia…,” 1997: 146; Maksimenkov, 1993: 34. The revised edition appeared under the names of six authors, among whom were Aleksandrov, Mitin and Pospelov. See Aleksandrov et al., 1993; Maksimenkov, 1993: 34. He was too involved in the Finnish war. Mitin and Pospelov sent him the final maket, but he refused to look at it. See Maksimenkov, 1993: 33; Brandenberger, “Sostavlenie i publikatsiia…,” 1997: 146. Maksimenkov, 1993: 34–5; Maslov, 1990: 107n. The first volume of the selected Stalin works appeared in 1946. See Aleksandrov et al., 1993: 25, 93f, 105, 154, 219, 225, 235, 240. Sochineniia, vol. 8: 173–5. I quote from Robert Tucker’s paraphrase of the speech (1990: 483–4). In Dimitrov’s version of the speech, Stalin said: “People speak a lot about great

Notes 309
leaders. But the cause will not be victorious if the conditions for it are lacking. Therefore the middle cadres are the main thing…. They elect the leader, they explain the positions to the masses, they guarantee the success of the cause.” See Mar’ina, 2000: 36. In a letter of December 1926 to a certain Ksenofontov, he objected to the man calling himself a “pupil of Lenin and Stalin.” “I have no pupils,” Stalin commented, “call yourself a pupil of Lenin.” See Sochineniia, vol. 9: 152. In October 1927, at the CC–CCC plenum, he said: “About Stalin, Stalin is a small man. Take Lenin…,” and so on. Comrade Stalin was only “one of the many pupils of Lenin.” See ibid., vol. 10: 172–3. In his conversation with Colonel Robins in 1933, he repeated that he could not be compared to Lenin. See ibid., vol. 13: 260. In a collection of writings called “Lenin, the great founder of the socialist state,” collected in 1934 by the Marx–Engels–Lenin Institute, Stalin wrote in red pencil on the cover: “I don’t object against this, however with that correction that the words ‘The party of Lenin and Stalin’, ‘The teaching of Lenin and Stalin’ will be replaced by the words ‘The party of Lenin’ and ‘The teaching of Lenin.’ ” See f.558, op.1, d.3118. F.558, op.1, d.5324, pp.401–2. For a similar characterisation of Lenin in 1941, see Malyshev, 1997: 114–15. Simonov, 1988, no. 4: 96. On occasion, Stalin himself used the term “the party of Lenin–Stalin.” See, for instance, Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 10. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 19. For similar examples, see Zen’kovich, 1999. In January 1937, he made similar corrections in the scenario of a screenplay by F.M. Ermler. See f.558, op.1, d.5088; Maksimenkov, 1993: 28. In May 1934, Stalin told Dimitrov and others that leaders “have no value without…assistants, collaborators.” And, commenting on a chapter concerning himself in a book on the Leipzig trial, he added: “I don’t agree that people write about me in this way…. Such language between equals is inappropriate.” See Denchev and Meshcheriakov, 1991: 71–2. F.558, op.3, d.74, p.5. In a 1936 copy of a biographical essay about Ordzhonikidze, edited by M.D. Orakhelashvili, Stalin read two passages where Ordzhonikidze’s work under Stalin’s leadership was hailed. He added: “And the CC? And the party?” “And where is the CC?” See f.558, op.3, d.317, pp.33, 109. See also Maksimenkov, 1993: 28. In a 1919 copy of Kautsky’s Terrorism and Communism, Marx was quoted to the effect that the German workers followed “a saviour (like Lassalle), who promised to help them reach the promised land in one jump.” Stalin commented in the margin: “the old sin.” See f.558, op.3, d.91, p.156. F.558, op.1, d.4572. Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 274. For another example of Stalin objecting to his public praise in April 1939, see Mar’ina, 2000: 37–8. He also scrapped an enumeration of all his arrests and exiles, as well as a whole paragraph on the beginning of his revolutionary activity. See Maslov, 1988: 57. For an occasion when Stalin demanded of Lev Mekhlis that he omit his being mentioned as the “leader of the party” in a Pravda article in 1930, see Rubtsov, 1999: 60. In 1934, he told Dimitrov: “I don’t agree that I am written about in this way. It also harms your good name. Such a language between equals serves no purpose” (Bayerlein, 2000: 106). Maksimenkov, 1993: 35. He also reduced the number of references to his “genius” and “leadership.” See “I.V. Stalin sam…,” 1990: 117–18, 120, 122–3, 126; Aleksandrov et al., 1993: 71, 100, 107, 129, 133, 139, 143, 149, 164, 170, 195. In his 1956 speech, Khrushchev (1989: 157–9) gave some examples of what Stalin had inserted into the second edition of the Short Biography. However, many of the insertions do not prove


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what Khrushchev wanted them to prove. One of them mentioned Stalin as the leader of the “leading nucleus of our party” and “the leading force of the party and the state.” Another said that he had “complete support of the whole Soviet people” and showed no arrogance of any kind. Yet another insertion: to the expression “Stalin is the Lenin of today,” he prefixed that he was only “the worthy continuer of Lenin’s cause.” According to Khrushchev, Stalin also inserted remarks on his own “genius” in developing further the “advanced Soviet military science.” What such insertions show is not only that Stalin made outrageous claims for himself but also that he wanted to be shown as representative of a larger group of leaders, of scientists, of the party, the class, the state. On Khrushchev’s tendentiousness, see Maksimenkov, 1993: 32–3, 36–7. Chuev, 1991: 254; Talbott, 1970: 47. See also Mikoian, 1999: 318. See McNeal, 1988: 152; Davies, Popular Opinion in…, 1997: 153. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 46. Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 74–6; 84–5, 88, 92–4; see also 132. “P’iu za tekh…,” 1998: 85–7. See also f.71, op.10, d.130, ll.105–8. Deutscher, 1949: 269–70. Steenson, 1978: 80, 98; Kautsky, 1974: 207, 222. Sochineniia, vol. 4: 393. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 46, 48. Sochineniia, vol. 7: 68. F.17, op.120, d.313, l.13. See, for example, Sochineniia, vol. 1: 350–1; vol. 2: 30–1, 201. Sochineniia, vol. 5: 347. This is how we should probably understand why, in a discussion with P.N. Pospelov, Stalin once called Marxism “the religion of a class, its creed”; see Maslov, 1990: 100. However, this was less straightforward than it seemed. In the leader’s library there is a January 1952 issue of Voprosy istorii in which Lenin was quoted as attacking those who turned Marxism into a “petrified orthodoxy” and into “a creed instead of a guide for action.” Stalin underlined the passage and put “Yes!” next to it. See f.558, op.3, d.41, p.87. Valentinov, 1971: 90–2. Tumarkin, 1983: 176, 181f; Valentinov, 1971: 92; Maksimova, 1993. Chuev, 1991: 235. For a discussion on this matter between Voroshilov, Enukidze and Dzerzhinskii in the commission handling Lenin’s body, see Maksimova, 1993.

13 Stalin on society, culture and science
1 See Timasheff, 1946. 2 Cited by S. Frederick Starr in Fitzpatrick, 1978: 238. 3 F.71, op.10, d.130, ll.10–11; Tarkhanov and Kavtarazde, 1992: 84; see also Sochineniia, vol. 13: 334f. 4 F.71, op.10, d.130, ll.187–8. When discussing the future of Moscow with Malyshev (1997: 137) in 1949, Stalin rejected the concept of the “garden city.” Instead, the people should have complexes of dachas available to them 30 to 40 kilometres from the city. 5 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 83–4. 6 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 217–23. In 1950–51, Nikita Khrushchev proposed to amalgamate small kolkhozy into bigger ones, each covering more than one village. The villages should be regrouped into larger settlements. According to Molotov, one of the reasons why Stalin objected to the plan was that it smelled of utopianism. He sneered: “My little Marx!” See Chuev, 1991: 362.

Notes 311
7 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 269–73. At the Eighteenth Party Congress in 1939, he had noted that, after the capitalist countries had been overtaken economically, the country would be so “completely saturated” with consumption goods that the transition to communism’s second stage could be made. See ibid., vol. 1[XIV]: 351–2. 8 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 207, 269, 294–5, 303. 9 See Buckley, 1989: chapter 3. 10 See Rüttenauer, 1965: 127f. 11 See Shore, 1947: 176f, 223f. 12 Kommunisticheskaia partiia Sovetskogo…, 1970: 197–8. 13 “Eta podderzhka vyrazhalas’…,” 1995: 133–4; see also Kemp-Welch, 1991: 26. 14 Kemp-Welch, 1991: 53–6. See also Ninov, 1990; Faiman, “Naznachentsy…,” 1996; Dubinskaia-Dzhalilovaia and Chernev, 1997: 168n; “Polozhenie ego deistvitel’no…,” 1996: 110–15. 15 Sochineniia, vol. 11: 326, 328. For the manuscript of the letter from which Stalin deleted some passages, see Faiman, “Naznachentsy…,” 1996. 16 Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 105. 17 Faiman, “Naznachentsy…,” 1996; Ninov, 1990: 198–200. For a similar letter, see Sochineniia, vol. 12: 112; Belova, 1989; see also Kemp-Welch, 1991: 101. In early 1930, Stalin defended the work of playwright Bezymenskii, who headed a left tendency in RAPP. In a letter, he assured him that, although he saw “some rudiments of Komsomol avant-gardism” in his work, he saw nothing “petit bourgeois” or “anti-party” in it. His The Shot was even a model of “revolutionary proletarian art.” See Sochineniia, vol. 12: 200. 18 Kommunisticheskaia partiia Sovetskogo…, vol. 5, 1971: 44–5. 19 Kemp-Welch, 1991: 128–31. See also Gromov, 1998: 155. 20 Kemp-Welch, 1991: 132. 21 Another basic text of socialist realism was Andrei Zhdanov’s speech at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in August 1934. See Luppol, Rozental’ and Tret’iakov, 1934: 3–5. The speech was approved by Stalin in advance. See Gromov, 1998: 301. 22 Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 251–2. 23 In 1929, he commented on a story about The 26 Commissars that it did not show due to what mistakes the bolsheviks had lost power in Baku during the Civil War. These mistakes should have been shown. And to show the Caspian sailors as one undifferentiated gang of drunks was not realistic. But why this absence of “the working class as a subject?” Stalin asked. And that in the proletarian city of Baku! He found the characters pale. See “Drama utopicheskogo soznaniia,” 1997; Dubinskaia-Dzhalilovaia and Chernev, 1997: 168. In 1931, Stalin criticised Sholokhov in a personal conversation that he had portrayed Kornilov too positively in his The Quiet Don: “What do you mean … honest?! He went against the people! A forest of gallows and a sea of blood!” See Osipov, 1991. In April 1933, the Soviet leader wrote a letter to A.N. Afinogenov concerning his play The Lie: “Why did all your party people come out as monsters, physical, ethical, or polit. monsters?” The only attractive person in the play was a negative character, he complained, adding: “it would be necessary to contrast [him] with another, honest worker, flawlessly and boundlessly dedicated to the cause (open your eyes and observe that we have such workers in the party).” See f.558, op.1, d.5088. See also Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 192; Kemp-Welch, 1991: 248f; Kumanev, 1989. In July 1934, Stalin had a few conversations with B.Z. Shumiatskii, chief of the Main Directorate of Film Industry, of which minutes were taken. It showed what kind of atmosphere Stalin wanted films to radiate. What he liked about them was when they were “forcefully” and “culturedly” composed and radiated an “active” and “happy” atmosphere. See Murin, 1995: 91–2. See also Sochineniia, vol.




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39 40

1[XIV]: 51. In 1943, he objected to a comparison in a poem of peasants to “wise rooks” as insulting towards the Soviet peasantry. See Pashnev, 1997. Senokosov, 1989: 501; see also f.558, op.1, d.5324, pp.391–3. Years after the war, he told Simonov (1988: 93) that socialist society knew its “conflicts” and its “evil” and that an art that would cover them up would be sterile. For one more letter of Stalin of February 1952 defending a novel by V. Latsis against exaggerated criticism see Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 671–3. See also Dunmore, 1984: 135. Gromov, 1998: 442. The term “engineers of human souls” came straight from avant-garde vocabulary. See Kemp-Welch, 1991: 70; Groys, 1992: 29; Bowlt, 1971: 575; Golomstock, 1990: 26, 85. See also Groys in Günther, 1990: 139; Aleksandr Flaker in ibid.: 101. Gromov, 1998: 158. See Kemp-Welch, 1991: 124–5, 142, 151–75. For the quotation, see Walicki, 1979: 143; see also 121–7, 135–46; Walicki, 1977: 11–12. See Agursky, 1987: 74, 79, 126, 144. We know this because it was considered for inclusion in the fourteenth volume of the Sochineniia. See f.71, op.10, d.130, ll.313–15. They appeared in the issues of 28 January, 6 and 20 February, and 1 March 1936, respectively. Kirpotin, 1937: 57–60, 63; “Pushkinskie dni – smotr…,” 1937: 3–5. Like Pushkin, Lermontov was known for “love of the motherland, hatred of the exploiters and struggle for the happiness of mankind”; see Egolin, 1939: 43. Cf. Rees, 1998: 100. Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 568, 570, 582–4. Zhdanov confirmed in a speech on 15 August that Stalin had personally taken the initiative for the campaign against Zvezda and Leningrad. See Faiman, “Ispolniteli…,” 1996. Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 100–1. The editorial of Bol’shevik of 15 May 1948 quoted this passage of Stalin’s speech and subsequently defined “Great Russian chauvinism” as the tendency to deny small nations “the capacity to make their own contribution to the common treasure-house of culture.” See “Sovetskaia politika ravnopraviia…,” 1948: 2. This was a clever formulation, because it did not demand the recognition of an equal contribution to world culture. A Russian chauvinist was only he who denied other nations any independent contribution. Thus this definition of Russian chauvinism was compatible with a demand to recognise Russian cultural leadership. “Doklad t. Zhdanova…,” 1946: 4–5, 7–8, 10, 12, 16, 18. For the uncorrected version of the 15 August speech, see Faiman, “Ispolniteli…,” 1996; parts of the uncorrected version of the 16 August speech have been published in Faiman, “Okonchanie,” 1996. Zhdanov stuck to the same position that he had taken in his speech to the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, where he had defended Soviet literature against the West not as Russian, but as socialist. See Luppol, Rozental’ and Tret’iakov, 1934: 3–5. The garbled version was published in Pravda of 21 September 1946. See Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 787. When Akhmatova met Isaiah Berlin in 1945, Stalin commented privately that she was now visited by “foreign spies.” See Kostyrchenko, 2000: 88. “Formidable shadows of…,” 1988: 8–9. See also Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 613, 618. Simonov, 1988, no.3: 59–61; see also 51, 57. Stalin’s remarks to the pilot Chkalov and others in March 1938 already contained similar sentiments. He repeated again and again that “no European or American” could understand the Soviet respect for heroes, because they only thought in terms of money. “Let us, Soviet

Notes 313
people, not crawl for the Westerners, for the French, for the British, and not try to win their favour!” See “P’iu za tekh…,” 1998: 85–6. “Vystuplenie tov. A.A…,” 1948: 17–21. The published text of Zhdanov’s speech was checked by Stalin. See Gromov, 1998: 398. Sochineniia, vol. 7: 88–9; vol. 11: 76–7. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 141–2. Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 293. Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 80, 84–5, 92–4. Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 275–7. Before the revolution, he expected that “neo-Darwinism” was about to be replaced by “neo-Lamarckism” because the latter took better account of qualitative change in nature (Sochineniia, vol. 1: 301). In 1930, he admitted that from his youth he had been “captivated by neo-Lamarckism” (cited in Krementsov, 1997: 165. At a congress in February 1935, Lysenko apologised in his speech that he had not explained the finer details of genetics and selection better, because he was no orator, only a “vernaliser.” Stalin interrupted him: “Bravo, comr. Lysenko, bravo!” See Izvestiia, 15 February 1935. Later that year, Stalin told another agrobiologist, who had failed to produce a good hybrid: “Experiment more boldly. We will support you.” And he had this message printed in Pravda (cited in Joravsky, 1970: 82). Then again, in February 1936, Stalin intervened at a conference of beacon-light stockbreeders. Against someone who had defended the use of experimental crosses of domestic and wild animals, the leader said: “You’ve fallen for exotica, while we need an institute that serves production” (cited in ibid.: 98). See Krementsov, 1997: 150f; Medvedev, 1969: 107. F.558, op.1, d.5325, pp.66–7. In Stalin’s library there are further traces of the same viewpoint. In a March 1948 issue of Novyi mir, in which the great role of Russian scholars in the development of world science was explained, Stalin underlined passages such as “the works of Michurin, the transformer of nature,” as well as parts lauding Lysenko and Michurin for having shown that heredity was not fixed like “fate in antiquity” and that plants could be “changed under the hands of the scholar.” Heredity could be “subjected to the guiding force of science.” Summer wheat could be turned into winter wheat and back. See f.558, op.3, d.234, pp.182–5. For another example, we could take a 1950 copy of Engels’s Anti-Dühring. In this book, Engels defended Darwin against the charge that the concept “struggle for existence” was inapplicable to nature because it had been artificially transplanted from Malthus’s population theory. Stalin underlined a passage in which Engels stressed that Darwin’s theory only accounted for the way selection made some hereditary changes predominant within a species and not for how these changes arose in the first place. He also underlined Engels’s expression “Lamarck’s merits” used in this context. See ibid., d.377, p.70. See also MEW, vol. 20: 62–70. Zhdanov, 1993: 69–71. For excerpts from the text, see Zhdanov, 1993: 74f; see also Krementsov, 1997: 153. Krementsov (1997: 165–6) saw Stalin’s comments, mostly “Ha-ha-ha,” “Nonsense,” “Get out!” and so on. In his speech, the young Zhdanov made the insightful remarks that “we communists are by nature more sympathetic to a doctrine that establishes the possibility of the reconstruction, rebuilding of the organic world, without waiting for sudden, incomprehensible, accidental changes of some mysterious hereditary plasma. It is this aspect of the neo-Lamarckist doctrine that was emphasised and valued by Comrade Stalin in ‘Anarchism or Socialism.’ ” Stalin commented: “Not only ‘this aspect,’ mister.”

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54 This is suggested by Andrei Zhdanov’s notes. Zhdanov, 1993: 82–3; Krementsov, 1997: 166–7; “Iz istorii bor’by…,” 1991: 112. For Shepilov on the matter, see “Problemy istorii i…,” 1989: 53–4. See also Kostyrchenko, 2000: 91; Malyshev, 1997: 135. 55 “Iz istorii bor’by…,” 1991: 119–21; see also Rossianov, 1994: 53, 57–60; Rossiianov, 1993: 65–6; Krementsov, 1997: 180. 56 In a letter of February 1946 concerning the “question of the partiality [partiinost’] of military science,” Stalin warned that things should not be put “too primitively.” See Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 33. For Stalin, this problem also had the aspect that to divide science too strictly into bourgeois and proletarian categories suggested a strict division between scientists who were party members and those who were not. In 1951, he told Iurii Zhdanov (1993: 88) that it was wrong to treat being outside the party as an insult. “New relations between party members and non-party people have formed in our country.” And he pointed out that among the “advanced scholars” were non-party people like Michurin, Lysenko and Pavlov. “Party members and non-party people work equally for the good of the people.” The only precondition was their support for “materialism” and some “communist ideological content.” 57 In May 1950, Stalin told Shepilov that at present there “does not exist a unified political economy for all classes of society, but there exist several political economies: bourgeois political economy, proletarian political economy.” Political economy was no “neutral, unpartisan science” that might exist “independent from the struggle of the classes in society.” The point was only that the class interest of the proletariat made it face the truth, with the result that its political economy, in contrast to the bourgeois, was nevertheless “objective.” See Shepilov, 1998, no.7: 9–10. 58 The case of the “materialist and innovator” Ol’ga Lepeshinskaia, who refuted existing cytology and claimed to have found a way of producing cells from noncellular living matter, was among the most ludicrous. See Krementsov, 1997: 210–11, 221, 280; Joravsky, 1970: 132. In her book, which appeared when Stalin was still alive, she wrote that the leader had read and approved it. See Medvedev, 1969: 135. 59 Krementsov, 1997: 272–5; Karpinsky, 1987; Rossianov, 1994: 61; Kojevnikov, 1998: 27, 45; Tolz, 1997: 137. 60 Tucker, 1972: 143, 146–7. 61 See Esakov and Levina, 1994, no.2: 56–61; Krementsov, 1997: 131f. For an earlier complaint by Stalin in February 1946 that Russian military men, following Engels but without reason, looked up to German military science, see Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 31–2, 34. 62 According to the notes of D.T. Shepilov (1998, no. 5: 25), Stalin called the “internationalisation of science” an “idea of spies” at a Politburo session in June 1948. 63 Rapoport, 1988: 103–4; Esakov and Levina, 1994, no.2: 62–3. 64 Esakov and Levina, 1994, no.2: 66–9. See also Gromov, 1998: 423. 65 See “Protiv burzhuaznoi ideologii…,” 1948: 14, 22–4; see also Zvorykin, 1948: 23; “Bor’ba bol’shevistskoi partii…,” 1948: 4–5; Rozental’, 1948: 57–8; Frantsev, 1948: 46–8. In 1950, Stalin told Malyshev (1997: 139) that Soviet ships should not be “blindly” copied from American and British types, because the probable conditions of battle were different.

14 Socialist in content, national in form
1 Stalin repeated this once again in 1927, making a distinction between the formation of the “autocratic system” in Russia and of the “centralised multinational states.” See Sochineniia, vol. 9: 176.

Notes 315
2 Sochineniia, vol. 7: 136–42. At the Twelfth Party Congress, Stalin had concluded similarly: “A specific national life must stay in the republics and it will stay. The more we go forward, the more nationalities there will come.” See “Iz istorii obrazovaniia…,” 1991, no.5: 165. 3 Sochineniia, vol. 10: 150–1. 4 Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 102. 5 Sochineniia, vol. 11: 333, 336, 338–9, 343–5, 347–9. Stalin’s library contains a 1906 collection of some of Marx’s writings. It has a small piece by Kautsky, with a remark that another revolutionary crisis in Austria–Hungary would have doomed the Czech nation to Germanisation. Stalin commented: “Nonsense! Rubbish! Revolutionary explosions do not kill but awaken nations, arouse them to life.” Kautsky’s further statement that four million Czechs could never maintain their national identity among 40 million Germans provoked Stalin’s: “Nonsense!” See f.558, op.3, d.208, pp.446–8. In 1950, Stalin repeated that nations grew from more primitive narodnosti, nationalities, during the liquidation of feudal fragmentation and the appearance of capitalism (Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 122–3). 6 Stalin further explained that one of the reasons why languages in the USSR could not fuse prior to the arrival of world socialism was that substantial sections of the Ukrainian, White Russian and other populations lived in territories not held by the Soviet authority. He also noted that the unified world language of the future “will, of course, not be Great Russian, or German, but something new.” See Sochineniia, vol. 12: 362f, 368, 371; vol. 13: 3–7. See also Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 102; “U nas malo…,” 1991: 102. 7 Sochineniia, vol. 8: 151–3. 8 Union republics could theoretically withdraw from the USSR, and autonomous republics from the union republics. In the course of the years, Stalin theoretically confirmed more than once that the right to secession remained valid for all peoples of the USSR, although he was adamantly opposed to its actual use. See, for instance, Sochineniia, vol. 5: 242–3; vol. 6: 49, 139–44; vol. 10: 125. 9 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 172–4. 10 Latyshev, 1992; see also Tucker, 1990: 482. 11 Studenikina, 1957: 472–3, 737–9. 12 Malyshev, 1997: 114. 13 See Simon, 1986: 46–9, 71–3, 145–52, 178; Löwenhardt, Ozinga and van Ree, 1992: 136. See also Chuev, 1991: 276; Talbott, 1970: 106. 14 See Baranova and Rozyeva, 1977: 116, 119; Shapoval, 1999: 122. For many Soviet languages, the Cyrillic alphabet was substituted for the Latin for “reasons of economic and political efficiency.” It would enable people to learn Russian more easily. See Simon, 1986: 60–2, 178–9; Vdovin, 1992: 31. 15 Simon, 1986: 175–8. 16 On 21 February 1936, Stalin addressed a letter to the Politburo in which he objected to the use in the press of the term konkurs instead of the original Russian sorevnovanie for competition; see f.71, op.10, d.130, ll.88–9. 17 See Simon, 1986: 106, 171; see also Khoroshkevich, 1991: 88. 18 Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 161–2. See also vol. 1[XIV]: 114–15, 367. In December 1935, he condemned all efforts to “make one people – the Russian people – hegemonic, and all other peoples – subjugated, suppressed.” He called this a “brutal, wolfish policy” and proclaimed himself in favour of a “policy of friendship, a policy of brotherhood between the peoples of our country.” See Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 114–15. The interesting point about this is that he failed to mention Russian leadership at all. 19 Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 203. In his famous February 1946 speech, when Stalin noted proudly that the multinational Soviet state had succeeded where



20 21 22

23 24 25


27 28 29 30

Austria–Hungary had failed, he again attributed this only to the “brotherly cooperation between the peoples of our state” without mentioning Russian leadership; see ibid., vol. 3[XVI]: 7–8. Perhaps Stalin failed on many occasions to mention Russian leadership because that leadership could only be justified by the continuing backwardness of the other Soviet nations – which reflected badly on Stalin’s own leadership. See Vdovin, 1992: 29–33; Simon, 1986: 172–3. Vyshinksii, 1947: 29–30. To my knowledge, Stalin used it for the first time in February 1938. See Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 271. In one of his conversations with Djilas (1969: 122), Stalin explained that “people” signified “the workers of a given nation, that is, workers of the same language, culture, customs.” He must have said “toilers,” which also covered the peasants and intellectuals. But in any case Stalin used the term “people” here as signifying the population of a nation minus its exploiting class. It did not refer to a specific type or nationality. See Clark, 1995: 204–23; Tolz, 1997: 89–107; Medvedev, 1997: 110–12; Kojevnikov, 1998: 45–7; Chikobava, 1950; Gorbanevskii, 1988. Medvedev, 1997: 112–13; Gorbanevskii, 1988; Tolz, 1997: 106; Kojevnikov, 1998: 48. It has been noted that Stalin’s critique of Marr’s concept of the class determination of language and of the development of new languages through “crossing” was not new compared with conclusions that Chikobava and others had reached before him; see Gorbanevskii, 1988. But although he was helped by Chikobava and academician Vinogradov, the leader wrote the articles himself. The manuscript has been found. See Rossianov, 1994: 55, 61–62. See also Medvedev, 1997: 113–4; Radzinsky, 1996: 547–8. Moreover, Stalin’s library still shows some signs of his work on the subject. It contains a volume of the Bol’shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia of 1931 in which articles dedicated to “Language,” “Linguistics” and “Japhetic theory” are heavily underlined. See f.558, op.3, d.19, pp.378–416, 810–27. He also marked a passage in a Russian translation of The German Ideology to the effect that some languages, like English, had come about through “crossing [skrechivanie] and mixing of nations.” See ibid.: d.210, p.414. Already in 1898 Filipp Makharadze had polemicised in Kvali against Marr’s thesis of the origin of languages in equal mixtures of two earlier ones. See Makharadze, 1960: 29–30. We do not know whether Stalin remembered this. In the faraway future of world socialism the crossing of languages would be resumed, but not through the capitalist mechanism of assimilation but through a real fusion of tongues – through zonal languages to one world language, which would not be Russian but a new one (Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 118, 131–3, 138, 142–3, 168–9). According to Molotov, Stalin thought that with the worldwide victory of communism Russian would become the “main language on the planet, the language of inter-national [mezhnatsional’noe] communication.” See Chuev, 1991: 269. But this probably means that Russian would become initially the main zonal language, with some kind of global function. Mordinov and Sanzheev, 1951: 38–9. Poskrebyshev, 1952. Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 169. He also underlined a passage to the effect that the party comprised proletarians of “all nationalities of Russia” and that “it will take all measures for the destruction of the national barriers erected between them.” Furthermore, he marked a passage to the effect that “taken by themselves the so-called ‘national interests’ and ‘national demands’ have no particular value” and were only interesting in so far as they furthered class consciousness. See f.558, op.3, d.330, pp.7, 12; see also Sochineniia, vol. 1: 37, 42.

Notes 317
31 The 1946 edition of the Kratkii kurs mentioned it as deplorable that in the national regions of tsarist Russia “all or almost all state positions were taken by Russian officials” and that Russian had been the language used for “all matters” in the courts and other institutions. It had been forbidden to publish books and newspapers in the national languages, and in schools it had been forbidden to teach in the native language. The tsarist government had tried to strangle “national culture” and had carried out a “policy of violent ‘Russification’ of the non-Russian nationalities.” See Istoriia kommunisticheskoi partii…, 1946: 6. 32 Sochineniia, vol. 13: 264–5. 33 F.558, op.4, d.612, ll.4–6. 34 See Frantsev, 1948: 45; Blagoi, 1951: 34; Tsamerian, 1951: 58. 35 In the 1950 speech by Bykov, edited by Stalin, it was suggested that conditioned reflexes might in time turn into unconditional, hereditary ones. But even if this were the case, new environmental stimuli would again change heredity. The theory can never end up with fixed hereditary racial traits. 36 Sochineniia, vol. 6: 186. 37 To show his orthodoxy, Stalin quoted from Lenin’s article “On the national pride of the Great Russians,” which had said the same thing (Sochineniia, vol. 13: 24–6). See also ibid.: 110–11. When in 1936 Bukharin called the pre-revolutionary Russians a “nation of Oblomovs,” Pravda immediately rebuked him. See Vdovin, 1992: 28. 38 In his speech on the Kratkii kurs of September 1938, he told his audience that he had read Franz Mehring’s history of German social democracy. He concluded that there was little to write about in that history. The German social democrats had their “moments of pathos,” but it did not amount to much. “Compare this historical material…with the material of our party” (f.71, op.10, d.130, l.113). 39 Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 203–4. 40 Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 445–6. 41 Senokosov, 1989: 502. In May 1940, Stalin had reproached his officers that they had shown less concern for the well-being of their men in the Finnish war than Count Kutuzov, who visited his soldiers to see how they were doing and what they had to eat (Malyshev, 1997: 110). But soldiers could not avoid suffering. As Stalin noted in 1952: “Jesus Christ also suffered, and even carried his cross, and then he rose up to heaven. You, then, have to suffer too, in order to rise up to heaven” (ibid.: 138). In 1950, he wrote the following angry comment in a book on Lenin: “For Pospelov. What is this: Lenin was a patriot and Suvorov was a patriot and Peter the First was a patriot – wasn’t there a difference?” See f.558, op.1, d.5166. 42 In 1946, Stalin reminded Malyshev (1997: 131) that, in his days as an underground worker in Baku, he had known an engineer who after his studies worked as a worker for some time and became dirty like them. That was the real spirit. 43 See a 1938 Bol’shevik article, quoted by Terry Martin in Fitzpatrick, 2000: 349; Blagoi, 1951: 36–7. Martin (pp.348f) sees the late Stalinist analysis of the “primordial” Russian character as breaking with the older notion that nations were modern constructs. However, the battles against foreign enemies from the thirteenth century onwards were part of the historical process of creation of the modern nation, a process that had its roots in this period in Western Europe too. 44 See Fadeev, 1947: 20, 22, 24, 27, 30, 32; Golomstock, 1990: 142–43; Zvorykin, 1948: 24, 40; “Za bol’shevistskuiu partiinost’…,” 1948: 3–4, 6; Iovchuk, 1948: 201, 204–6. 45 Cited in Brandenberger and Dubrovsky, 1998: 875. 46 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 37–8. 47 Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 5–6, 22, 24, 35. 48 See Artizov, “V ugodu vzgliadam…,” 1991: 125, 130–1; Khoroshkevich, 1991: 88–89; Il’ina, 1991: 197–8; see also Simon, 1986: 209. 49 Ivanov, 1988: 54–5.

50 51 52 53 54


55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68

69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81

Il’ina, 1991: 198–200, 202–3. See Ivanov, 1988; Il’ina, 1991; Amiantov and Tikhonova, 1996. See Il’ina, 1991: 189. See also Morozov, 1945: 74, 79–80. See Zhukov, 1995: 27; “O sotsialisticheskom soderzhanii…,” 1946: 6. See also Simon, 1986: 235–9; Barghoorn, 1956: 62–4; Conquest, 1967: 66–7, 82–3; Marples, 1992: 88. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 28. These words were made public at the VIIIth All-Union Congress of Soviets in November 1936 by Molotov. See Izvestiia, 30 November 1936. In Knorin’s and Iaroslavskii’s 1935 History of the VKP(b) it was written that the tsars organised Jewish pogroms to make the nationalities fight among themselves. Stalin commented in the margin: “Correct” (tak); see f.558, op.3, d.74, p.8. In 1949, he told Enver Hoxha (1979: 121): “Religion has nothing to do with nationality and statehood.” See Stalin’s meeting in December 1941 with Polish leaders and a later one with Roosevelt. Pinkus, 1988: 140, 341; Bohlen, 1973: 203. Chuev, 1992: 106, 128, 174–5. Chuev, 1991: 274. See also Baschanow, 1977: 70; Allilueva, 1967: 150, 174–5; 1969: 133; Talbott, 1970: 263, 269, 292–3. See also Kirillova and Shepeleva, 1992: 76. See Simon, 1986: 46, 50; Vaksberg, 1995: 83; Pinkus, 1988: 81–3. When he made friends with Hitler in August 1939, Stalin no longer trusted Jews to carry out his foreign policy. He ordered Molotov: “Remove the Jews from the narkomat.” See Chuev, 1991: 274; see also Korey, 1972: 117. Pinkus, 1988: 140–1; Luks, 1997: 23–4; Korey, 1972: 117–18; Vaksberg, 1995: 134–8; Iakovlev, 1998: 49; Liuks, 1999: 45; Gromov, 1998: 349f. Redlich, 1995: 65, 214, 248–9, 285–6, 290–1, 296, 298–300; Korey, 1972: 117. Redlich, 1995: 366, 368. Redlich, 1995: 422, 424–9, 433, 451f (especially 454, 456–9). For official Soviet definitions of the Jews as a community in a process of assimilation, see Pinkus, 1988: 57; BSE, second edition, vol. 15: 377. Erenburg, 1948. Talbott, 1970: 260. “Ob odnoi antipatrioticheskoi…,” 1949. Stalin scrapped the term “bourgeois” from the heading and retained only “anti-patriotic.” See Kostyrchenko, 1994: 52–3; Zhukov, 1995: 33. For the prehistory of the article, see also Dunmore, 1984: 135–6; Simonov, 1956: 251; Ehrenburg, 1966: 133; Vaksberg, 1995: 204–5. See Pinkus, 1988: 155; Vaksberg, 1995: 204. “Razvivat’ i kul’tivirovat’…,” 1949: 6, 8, 11; Chernov, 1949: 34–6. Murashko et al., 1997: 565, 582. Ehrenburg, 1966: 133. Simonov, 1988, no. 4: 85; see also Vaksberg, 1995: 207; Gromov, 1998: 347–8. Luks, 1997: 38; Pinkus, 1988: 156, 159. Subkowa, 1998: 228. Chuev, 1991: 189, 331, 473, 475. Krzhishtalovich, 1992: 103. Allilueva, 1967: 182–3; see also ibid., 1969: 134–5. See Pinkus, 1988: 179; Vaksberg, 1995: 242–7; Kostyrchenko, 1994: 71. Bezymenskii, “Zaveshchanie Stalina?” 1998. “‘Ego lichnost’ govorila…,” 1999: 188. This quotation of Stalin’s words by Kollontai is taken from Pravda, 2–4 June 1998, which I did not have available.

15 Did Stalin “betray the world revolution?”
1 PSS, vol. 35: 245, 248, 251, 254. 2 Protokoly Tsentral’nogo komiteta…, 1958: 171–2, 199, 202–4, 212–13, 215–17, 224.

Notes 319
3 4 5 6 7 “Deiatel’nost’ Tsentral’nogo komiteta…,” 1989, no.4: 142–4. See “‘Ia proshu zapisyvat’…,” 1992: 15–16. Socheinenia, vol. 4: 324, 333, 339–41. Trotskii, 1947: 328; Tucker, 1974: 203; Service, 1995: 120, 137; Mints, 1989: 43; Deviataia konferentsiia RKP(b)…, 1972: 61, 77, 79, 82; “‘Ia proshu zapisyvat’…,” 1992: 27; Service, 1995: 141. A passage on the future “World Soviet Republic” in a 1920 copy of a work by Karl Radek on world revolution apparently appealed to him, because he commented in the margin: “A unified world economy.” See f.558, op.3, d.299, p.19. See also Sochineniia, vol. 5: 158, 273; vol. 6: 148; vol. 10: 244; vol. 11: 203, 343; vol. 13: 105. PSS, vol. 41: 164. Lenin, Sochineniia, vol. XXV: 287, 624. In April 1923, Stalin said that in response to his reaction “comr. Lenin sent a threatening letter – this is chauvinism, nationalism, we need a central[ised] world economy, administered from one organ.” This letter has not been found. See “Iz istorii obrazovanii…,” 1991, no.4: 171, 175. Sochineniia, vol. 4: 160, 163–6, 168, 171–3, 177–8, 181, 232, 280, 395; vol. 7: 95; vol. 8: 109, 184; vol. 9: 28; vol. 11: 151; vol. 12: 255. See also Stalin, November 1918. Paraphrasing Kautsky’s remarks of 1902, he wrote in July 1921 that the roles of Russia and Europe had reversed. No longer was the former a bulwark of reaction and the latter of revolution – it was now rather the other way around. Because of the October Revolution, the Russian workers had turned from a mere detachment of the international proletariat into its “advance guard.” See ibid., vol. 5: 73, 82–3. See also 106, 178–80. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 78–9; vol. 10: 169, 247. In a 1920 copy of Zinov’ev’s War and the Crisis of Socialism, Stalin read that the foreign wars of France had turned the 1789 revolution into a national movement. Stalin commented: “The same must and can be said in the chapter about the civil war of Soviet Russia.” See f.558, op.3, d.68, p.19. See, for instance, Trotskii, 1993: 109–10; Drabkin et al., 1998: 682. See Tucker, 1990: 45–9. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 396, 399–400. Sochineniia, vol. 7: 91–2; vol. 8: 97. Sochineniia, vol. 8: 263. Sochineniia, vol. 12: 303. Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 54. Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 77, 86. Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 166. Bol’shevik wrote explicitly that the capitalist encirclement still existed because the danger of intervention was still there. See Mikheev, 1951: 61. Sochineniia, vol. 10: 51. See also Stalin’s remarks in May 1928 (Vatlin, 1999: 104). Sochineniia, vol. 7: 296; vol. 10: 288–91; see also vol. 6: 239; vol. 12: 260; vol. 13: 299. The term “peaceful co-existence” was an old one. Chicherin used it in 1920 when he hailed the Soviet–Estonian peace treaty. See Goodman, 1960: 166. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 72–6, 95, 156–7. See also vol. 7: 262–3. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 359, 369–70, 398. In a 1920 work of Radek, Stalin wrote the following explanation of the respective success and failure of the Russian 1917 and German 1919 revolutions: “In Russia the workers and soldiers joined up (because peace had not been achieved), but in Germany they did not because there peace had already been reached.” See f.558, op.3, d.299, p.55. In a 1920 copy of Zinov’ev’s War and the Crisis of Socialism, Stalin commented “Without this defeat [of Russia against Japan in 1905] there would not have been a Russian Revolution either.” See f.558, op.3, d.68, p.47.

8 9



12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

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33 34


36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45

46 47 48

Sochineniia, vol. 7: 26–7. See also vol. 10: 47f. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 294, 297–8; vol. 1[XIV]: 338; see also vol. 9: 106–8. Sochineniia, vol. 7: 13–14. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 71–2, 80, 84–5. In a 1906 collection of writings of Marx, Stalin read that, since 1789, the working class was time and again defeated. He commented: “Because of their disarmament.” See f.558, op.3, d.208, p.5. Sochineniia, vol. 8: 161, 164–5. Kosheleva et al., 1995: 155; see also 140. Sochineniia, vol. 10: 241. In a 1930 copy of an article by Engels, in which the latter wrote that he could imagine a peaceful development of socialism in France and the United States, although not in Germany, Stalin commented in the margin: “Can we imagine that? No, that’s incorrect!” See f.558, op.3, d.211, p.64. In April 1933, the leader read an article by F. Heckert, “What is happening in Germany?” The author wrote that the bourgeoisie “had started shooting first,” which had brought “all questions of the revolutionary class struggle” to the attention of the workers. Stalin found this formulation not strong enough. He deleted it and wrote that the fascist onslaught “reduces to dust the social democratic illusions on the possibility of a peaceful development and once again shows that violence is the main ‘argument’ of the bourgeoisie.” See ibid., op.1, d.4010, l.1. Also among Stalin’s personal notes, scribbled in his “blocnotes” in the 1930s, Volkogonov (1995, vol. 1: 187, 264) found the sentence: “Reformism means to forget the final goal and the fundamental means for reaching the final goal, i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 15–6, 34. F.558, op.1, d.5380, l.8. In a 1940 draft of the textbook of political economy, Stalin wrote the following comment: “under capitalism [v nedrakh kapitalizma] there can arise and develop only elements of the socialist mode of production, subjective and objective.” See f.558, op.3, d.263, p.278. See Sochineniia, vol. 7: 35, 52–3, 56, 91, 93–4, 96. In a 1924 copy of the stenographic report of the Thirteenth Party Congress, he made extensive notes in Zinov’ev’s speech. The latter noted that the recent uprisings in Hamburg, Cracow and Sofia were signs of a new wave of international revolution. Stalin wrote a hesitant “Mda…” next to it. Later, Zinov’ev noted that the period was fast approaching when the Comintern would be stronger than the Second International had been during its heyday. To this Stalin commented: “At the moment this is not true: we entered a period of collecting forces.” See f.558, op.3, d.355, pp.39, 63. Kosheleva et al., 1995: 63–4. Sochineniia, vol. 11: 298–9; vol. 12: 21, 254. Sochineniia, vol. 13: 283, 293. See PSS, vol. 41: 35–6, 71–3, 77, 95–6. Kun, 1933: 299–302. Sochineniia, vol. 5: 118–19. Babichenko, 1994: 129–30; see also Claudin, 1975: 135–6. “‘Naznachit’ revoliutsiiu v…,” 1995: 117–18, 124, 126. Firsov, 1987: 118–19; Babichenko, 1994: 132, 134. Furthermore, “reforms are only a means and a stage to the main goal” and “the reforms themselves are realised and become durable only in that case when the struggle for the main goal is not only waged, but is also the main element of the movement” (f.558, op.3, d.309, inside front page, title page, pp.18, 44, back page). Firsov, 1987: 121–3; see also McDermott and Agnew, 1996: 50. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 153. See also vol. 7: 36; vol. 10: 249–50. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 282.

Notes 321
49 Degras, 1971: 44. See also Sochineniia, vol. 12: 252. Stalin attached particular importance to the term “social fascism.” On several occasions, he added it to Comintern statements. For example, he added in his own hand a passage to the theses of the ECCI plenum of July 1929 to the effect that particular attention should be paid to the struggle against the “‘left’ wing of social democracy” because that wing held up the disintegration of social democracy while in fact supporting the “policy of soc. fascism in all possible ways.” He also added a passage to Manuil’skii’s speech for the ECCI plenum of March 1931 to the effect that “the liberation of the masses of the workers from the influence of social democracy” was the immediate task of the communist parties, “without the realisation of which the successful struggle of the proletariat for its liberation from the chains of capitalism is impossible.” See Firsov, 1989, no.9: 7. 50 No direct evidence exists that Stalin ever wanted a Nazi government, but in 1931 he said to German communist leader Heinz Neumann: “Don’t you believe, Neumann, that if the Nationalists seize power in Germany they will be so completely preoccupied with the West that we’ll be able to build up socialism in peace?” (cited in Tucker, 1990: 231). 51 Weingartner, 1970: 53–9; Carr, 1982: 32–3, 37. 52 Firsov, 1989, no.9: 9–10; McDermott and Agnew, 1996: 122; Carr, 1982: 85–6. 53 F.558, op.1, d.4010, ll.1–2; see also Smirnov, 1989. 54 See Firsov, 1989, no. 9: 11. 55 Denchev and Meshcheriakov, 1991: 65. 56 And not only the people were found wanting. “Neumann doesn’t understand Marxism,” Stalin told Dimitrov. This “political degenerate” had once asked him what to read to become a good Marxist. Stalin had advised him Das Kapital, but he had found that too long and “boring.” And Thälmann “doesn’t understand the national question. I spoke with him already in 1930. He didn’t understand it.” What he did not understand was “proletarian internationalism”: “national independence through social liberation.” See Denchev and Meshcheriakov, 1991: 67–8, 72. 57 On 20 May, Dimitrov noted in his diary: “A talk with Stalin on the French question (very discontented). In France the united front also ‘from above.’ ” See Denchev and Meshcheriakov, 1991: 70–2; see also Firsov, 1989, no. 9: 11; McDermott and Agnew, 1996: 125; Claudin, 1975: 175; Carr, 1982: 126–7; Kosheleva et al., 1995: 252. 58 Firsov, 1989, no. 9: 12; Dallin and Firsov, 2000: 13–14. See also Shirinia, 1979: 41–2; McDermott and Agnew, 1996: 126; Haslam, 1984: 55–6; Hochman, 1984: 83–4; Carr, 1982: 128. 59 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 26. 60 See McDermott and Agnew, 1996: 126–7; Haslam, 1984: 56–7; Carr, 1982: 145; Tucker, 1990: 339. 61 Stalin discussed the main report in advance with Manuil’skii and Dimitrov. See Firsov, 1989, no. 9: 13. During the congress, he wrote to Molotov that it was proceeding well, and that it would become even more interesting after Dimitrov’s and Togliatti’s speeches. The draft resolutions were also fine in his opinion. See Kosheleva et al., 1995: 252. 62 Degras, 1971: 361–5; see also 356. VII Kongress der…, 1939: 174, 177–8. 63 In March 1937, Stalin told Dimitrov that a Spanish proletarian revolution was for now impossible. There was no war between the capitalist states and no major differences among the bourgeoisie as there had been in Russia in 1917. To defend the “democratic republic” was the task of the day (Bayerlein, 2000: 155). 64 The strategic place he assigned to Asia is suggested in notes he made in a 1924 copy of Trotskii’s Tasks in the East. In this work, the latter wrote that there could be no full liberation of the eastern colonies without a prior proletarian revolu-



65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76

77 78 79 80


82 83

84 85 86 87


tion in Europe. Stalin had his doubts. He wrote a hesitating “Mda…” in the margin. But Trotskii also wrote that, if opportunism remained dominant in the European revolutionary movement, Asia would teach Europe a lesson. The revolutionary centre of the world would move to Asia. Stalin did not agree. He commented: “Fool! With the existence of the Sov. Union the centre cannot be in the East.” See f.558, op.3, d.358, pp.II, 38. See PSS, vol. 41: 166, 243–4; Kun, 1933: 317–23. See PSS, vol. 10: 11, 13, 18, 137–8; vol. 11: 47, 64; vol. 12: 317–18, 320. See also KPSS, vol. 1: 77–8. Drabkin et al., 1998: 215–16. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 82–3, 99, 101. Sochineniia, vol. 6: 142–4, 146. F.558, op.4, d.598, ll.5–8. Sochineniia, vol. 7: 50. Sochineniia, vol. 8: 358–61, 365–7. Sochineniia, vol. 9: 226, 229, 237, 242, 244–8, 250–2, 259, 262, 265, 267, 294. Sochineniia, vol. 9: 237, 250; see also 253, 264, 303–5, 308. Sochineniia, vol. 9: 301. One sees this element appearing earlier. For example, in the draft outline for Stalin’s series of speeches on Leninism in March 1924 one finds the following under the heading “Dictatorship of the proletariat”: “b) Dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, its class content, its organisational form (provisional government); c) dictatorship of the proletariat, its class content, its organisational form (soviets).” See f.558, op.1, d.2609, l.2. See McDermott and Agnew, 1996: 174–9. Kosheleva et al., 1995: 104, 111–14, 116; see also 108, 117. Sochineniia, vol. 9: 333, 340–4, 357; vol. 10: 12, 14, 156–7. In August 1929, Stalin wrote to Molotov that Moscow should “undermine the authority of the government of Chiang Kai-shek, as a government of lackeys of imperialism.” To unmask Chiang was important for the “cause of the revolutionary education of the colonial workers.” See Kosheleva et al., 1995: 155–6. Stalin scribbled the following comment on a December 1933 letter by Emel’ian Iaroslavskii: “Now, after the appearance of Sov. power under the conditions…of monopoly capitalism the bourgeoisie can play a certain rev. role only in rare cases (for inst. in some colonies) and that not for long.” See f.558, op.1, d.5090. Shirinia, 1979: 105; Shirinia, Sobolev and Firsov, 1975: 205, 377–8; Sobolev et al., 1972: 276, 278. Sobolev et al., 1972: 277–85; Degras, 1971: 348; Shirinia, 1979: 102, 253–60; Haslam, 1992: 59, 64–6, 70–87. In November 1936, Stalin told Dimitrov that nothing would come of the Chinese soviets. It was now time to create a “national revolutionary government…, a government of national defence” (Bayerlein, 2000: 135). Maslov, 1994: 13. Stalin referred to Lenin’s remarks from 1915. In 1918, the latter scribbled the following note: “First conquer the bourgeoisie in Russia, then fight with the external, foreign, outside bourgeoisie” (cited in Tucker, 1990: 225). Bezymenskii, “Sekretnyi pakt s…,” 1998: 31. Bushueva, 1994: 232–3. See Bushueva, 1994: 232–3; Bezymenskii, “Sovetsko–germanskie dogovory…,” 1998: 3–4; Volkogonov, 1993; Jäckel, 1958; Bonvech, 1998: 22; Afanas’ev, 1996: 63. See also Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 404; “Posetiteli Kremlevskogo kabineta…,” 1995: 48; Khlevniuk et al., 1995: 252; Leonhard, 1986: 23; Bondarenko et al., 1990: 276; Sontag and Beddie, 1948: 64–5. Leonhard, 1986: 27.

Notes 323
89 Firsov, 1992: 18–19. On 9 September, Stalin told Dimitrov that he was happy with the position of “an observer in a war between two imperialist groupings.” See Bezymenskii, 1995: 128–9. 90 Cited in Firsov, 1992: 24–6; “Komintern i sovetsko–germanskii dogovor…,” 1989: 210; Narinskii, “Kreml’ i Komintern…,” 1995: 16; Sirkov, 1995: 60. On 7 November 1939, Stalin told Dimitrov that the bolshevik slogan to transform the First World War into a civil war had been fitting only for Russia, “where the workers were linked with the peasants and, under the conditions of tsarism, could undertake an attack by storm against the bourgeoisie.” The European workers could never have accepted the slogan of civil war, because they “had received some democratic reforms from the bourgeoisie and were attached to these.” See Mar’ina, 2000: 39–40. 91 See Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 404. 92 Firsov, 1992: 26; Lebedeva et al., 1994: 171. For the article, see Degras, 1971: 448f. 93 Firsov, 1992: 28. 94 Senokosov, 1989: 503. 95 In the first period after signing the pact he may have considered taking his bets on the German side. At this time he had a higher appreciation of the abilities of the Nazis than of their adversaries. On 7 November, he told Dimitrov: “The petit bourgeois nationalists of Germany are capable of [making] a sharp turn. They are flexible, not linked to capitalist traditions – in contrast to bourgeois leaders of the type of Chamberlain etc.” See Firsov, 1992: 26. During the Central Committee plenum of March 1940 on the Finnish war according to Dimitrov’s notes, Stalin said: “We will not only bring the White Finns to their knees, but also their teachers – the French, the British, the Italians, the Germans!” (Mar’ina, 2000: 41). 96 Brandenberger, “Lozhnye ustanovki v…,” 1997: 87, 92–3; see also Bordiugov, 1995: 154–5. 97 Dongarov, 1991: 39; see also Mel’tiukhov, 1994: 9; Raack, 1995: 24, 26. See also Zhdanov’s remarks in October 1940: Nekrich, 1997: 230; Nevezhin, 1993: 26; Bordiugov, 1995: 157. 98 Raack, 1995: 73; Raak, 1996: 42–3. 99 Nevezhin, “Sobiralsia li Stalin…,” 1995: 81; Nevezhin, “Rech’ Stalina 5…,” 1995: 65. For similar remarks by the economist Varga a few days later, see Volkogonov, 1989, book 2, vol. 1: 127–8. 100 Pechenkin, 1995: 27–8, 30. This version of the speech and the toast were made by an official of the Commissariat of Defence who was, presumably, present at the occasion. For other versions, see Enver Muratov 1993; Vishlev, 1998: 85–9; Nevezhin, “Rech’Stalina 5…,”1995: 55–6; Khoffman, 1993: 22–3; Vishlev, 1999. 101 Chuev, 1991: 45. 102 Gorianin, 1997: 9. 103 Mel’tiukhov, 1995: 70–1, 76, 79–81; Nevezhin, “Rech’ Stalina 5…,” 1995: 58, 61, 63, 67; Nevezhin, “Sobiralsia li Stalin…,” 1995: 80, 82; Mel’tiukhov, 1995: 76–7, 79–80, 82; “Upriamye fakty nachala…,” 1992: 15; Bordiugov, 1995: 68, 78; Nevezhin, 1996: 66–7, 69; Nekrich, 1997: 232. For a complete overview of such statements, see Nevezhin, 1997: 186f.

16 Revolutionary patriotism
1 Bondarenko et al., 1990: 321. 2 Brügel, 1973: 136; see also Bezymenskii, 1999. 3 Cited in Narinskii, “Kreml’ i Komintern…,” 1995: 16–7; 1998: 83.



4 Gorlov, 1990: 40; Komplektov et al., 1990: 76–7, 144, 353–4; see also 140; Orlov, 1990: 48. 5 Narinskii, 1998: 83. 6 Firsov, 1992: 28. 7 Stalin emphasised that the decision to start the war last winter had not been a rash one. He had been afraid that the war in the West would soon be over: It would be a big stupidity, political shortsightedness, to let the moment pass and not to attempt as quickly as possible, when war is still going on there in the West, to put the matter of the security of Leningrad and resolve it. To postpone this matter a month or two would mean to postpone this matter for perhaps 20 years…. They are doing some fighting of a kind over there, but it is a kind of weak war: are they making war or playing cards? See Stalin, 1996. 8 Mamedov et al., 1995: 395; see also 578. For the discussions with Cripps, see also Sipols, 1992. 9 The directives of 9 November were written in Molotov’s own hand, but Lev Bezymenskii (1995: 132) argues that they seem to have been dictated, in which case only Stalin could have been doing the dictating. 10 Mamedov et al., 1998, part 1: 30–2. 11 Gorlov, “Perepiska V.M. Molotova…,” 1992: 20. For Molotov in Berlin, see Gorlov, “Peregovory V.M. Molotova…,” 1992; Volkov, 1997; Sevost’ianov, 1993; Bezymenskii, 1995. 12 Mamedov et al., 1998: 136–7. For Stalin’s comments on this to Dimitrov, see Bezymenskii, 1995: 142. 13 Rzheshevskii, 1994: 91–2. See also N.I. Egorova in Chubar’ian et al., 1997: 294–5. 14 Narinskii, 1998: 86–7. 15 Narinskii, 1998: 89; Kennedy-Pipe, 1995: 46. See also Berezhkov, 1998. 16 Pechatnov, 1999: 75. Stalin also became afraid that the diplomatic contact with the Western powers would create undesirable respect for foreign statesmen. He complained that many responsible officials were gratified when they were praised by Churchill or Truman. “I consider such moods dangerous, because they help develop a crawling attitude towards foreigners among us. We must carry out a fierce struggle against the crawling attitude towards foreigners.” See ibid.: 82. 17 According to Molotov, they had also been day-dreaming about Alaska, but “the time for such tasks had not yet arrived.” See Chuev, 1991: 14, 100. 18 Malyshev, 1997: 136. 19 See Narinskii, 1998: 91–2; Chuev, 1991: 103–4; see also Zubok and Pleshakov, 1996: 92–3, 96. 20 Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 21. 21 Murashko et al., 1997: 413–14; see also Bela Zhelitski in Naimark and Gibianskii, 1997: 80–2. 22 In July 1924, Stalin wrote a letter to Manuil’skii commenting on one of the draft resolutions of the Fifth Congress of the Comintern. He advised the latter not to speak of a “joining of Ukrainian and White Russian territories to the USSR,” but of a “reunification of Ukraine and White Russia, which have been torn to pieces by the imperialist powers.” Otherwise it would seem as if Russia wanted to enlarge its territories. “In fact we won’t lose anything from such a correction, for all these torn off parts will join the USSR anyhow in due course.” See f.558, op.1, d.2633, l.1. 23 In November 1945, Stalin told his Polish comrade Gomulka that Lenin’s attempt to impose the Soviet order on Poland, “which for so many years was under foreign rule,” had been a mistake. See Werblan, 1998: 138.

Notes 325
24 In 1925, Stalin discussed the concept of “spheres of influence” in a speech at Sverdlov University. He insisted that it was and remained the duty of the Soviet government to support the “liberation movement” in China and Germany, and to entertain friendly relations with Persia, Turkey and Afghanistan, even if this soured relations with the great powers. The alternative policy of agreeing with the latter to delimit “spheres of influence” would constitute a case of nationalist degeneration of Soviet foreign policy. See Sochineniia, vol. 7: 168. 25 In a report of September 1945 from Moscow to Molotov, at the London conference of foreign ministers, Stalin spoke of “our satellites.” See G.S. Agafonova in Chubar’ian et al., 1998: 75. 26 Bajanov, 1995 and 1996: 54; see also Weathersby, 1995: 6–8. 27 Weathersby, 1995: 8–9. 28 Goncharov, Lewis and Xue, 1993: 143–5. 29 Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs: “[Kim] told Stalin that he was absolutely certain of success. I remember Stalin had his doubts. He was worried that the Americans would jump in, but we were inclined to think that if the war were fought swiftly…then intervention by the USA could be avoided.” See Talbott, 1970: 368. 30 Rakoshi, 1997: 7–8. See also Holloway, 1994: 286–7; N.I. Egorova in Gaiduk, et al., 1999: 72; A.M. Filitov in ibid.: 85, 95. 31 See Mastny, 1996: 113–14; Holloway, 1994: 430. According to Simonov, in September 1945 Stalin said: “For the next 10–12–15 years our squadrons will defend themselves. It is another matter if you intend to go to America. Then you will have to have another mix [sootnoshenie] of classes of ships. We will not overstress our industry because it is useless to go to America” (cited by I.V. Bystrova in Chubar’ian et al., 1997: 231. 32 Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 39. 33 Aleksandrov et al., 1993: 195; see also 231. Other theoretical contributions that Stalin made to the Marxist–Leninist science of war are listed here. 34 In February 1946, Stalin wrote that German military science, from Clausewitz to Keitel, was outmoded. Engels, too, had not always been correct in his military analyses (Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 29–34). In July 1951, he complained to a group of naval officers that “you have old traditions on your fleet. They are still from the times when the Russians learned from Holland” (Kostev and Kuzivanov, 1996: 85). 35 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 56; see also 62. 36 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 184–5. 37 Medvedev, “Kak sozdavalas’ atomnaia…,” 2000: 106–7; Holloway, 1994: 88f. 38 Medvedev, “Kak sozdavalas’ atomnaia…,” 2000: 110–11. 39 Holloway, 1994: 132. See also 117, 126. 40 Medvedev, “Kak sozdavalas’ atomnaia…,” 2000: 112; Holloway, 1994: 148. 41 Holloway, 1994: 201; Nikishin, 1989; Pestov, 1994. 42 Cited in Holloway, 1994: 261. 43 Holloway, 1994: 211. See also Sonin, 1990. 44 Holloway, 1994: 242. 45 Holloway, 1994: 225, 237–40, 250; see also N.I. Egorova in Gaiduk et al., 1999: 67. 46 See Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 55, 65, 76, 179, 305–6. Stalin realised that the Germans and Japanese were strong peoples with highly developed industries. But it should take them anywhere between ten and twenty-five years to get on their feet again. See Kennedy-Pipe, 1995: 42; Murashko et al., 1997: 38; Loth, 1996: 14; Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 167; Djilas, 1969: 90–91; Holloway, 1994: 124. 47 Werblan, 1998: 136. In May 1946, he repeated the same assessment to a Polish government delegation. See Murashko et al., 1997: 456–7. Stalin told Alexander Werth in September 1946: “I don’t believe in the real danger of a ‘new war.’ ”



48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55


57 58

59 60 61 62

63 64

The spectre of war was only revived to frighten naive people and increase military budgets. See also Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 53, 68–9. Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 107. Cited in Holloway, 1994: 247. Cited by N.I. Egorova in Gaiduk et al., 1999: 67. See Holloway, 1994: 264; “Stalin’s conversations with…,” 1995 and 1996: 5; Goncharov, Lewis and Xue, 1993: 108; Goncharov and Morozov, 1991. Bajanov, 1995 and 1996: 89. In June 1951, Stalin notified Mao that the war should not be speeded up, “since drawn out war…shakes up the Truman regime in America.” See Weathersby, 1995 and 1996: 59; see also 72. See also Mastny, 1996: 103. “Stalin’s conversations with…,” 1995 and 1996: 12–13. Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 225–9, 231, 257. Cf. ibid., vol. 13: 18. In September 1952, Zhou Enlai told Stalin that if the Americans rearmed Germany and Japan, these countries might turn their new armies against America. Stalin agreed that this was “completely possible, especially if Nazis, Hitlerites will be in charge of Germany” (cited by A.M. Filitov in Gaiduk et al., 1999: 92. Stalin took up the Slav theme early in the war. He began to use formulas singling out the Slavs for special mention, such as “the Slav and other enslaved peoples of Europe.” See Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 23, 29, 103. In December 1943, he told Eduard Beneš that the Germans should not be allowed to divide the Slavs any longer. He was “not at all a pan-Slavist, I am and remain a Leninist.” But Slav unity against the Germans was necessary (“Peregovory E.Benesha…,” 2001: 19–20). Already in 1925 the Politburo had received a proposal to co-operate with the pan-Slavic movement on the Balkans in the interest of the revolution in that region. The document, preserved in Stalin’s personal archive, has “Correct” written in the margin. See Piatnitskii, 1998: 337–8. Stalin also used the Slav argument for territorial reasons. In Teheran in 1943, he told his allies that he wanted part of East Prussia not only for its harbours but also because “these were originally Slav lands.” See Narinskii, 1998: 87. In September 1941, he had told the same thing to Dimitrov (Bayerlein, 2000: 424). See Murashko et al., 1997: 38–9; I.S. Iazhborovskaia in Chubar’ian et al., 1998: 90; f.558, op.4, d.612, ll.4–6. See also Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 184–6, 198. Murashko et al., 1997: 512. Stalin told Tito several times that the Slavs should “unite in a single front” with the Soviet Union. If they did, nobody would dare move a finger. See Djilas, 1969: 90–1; Gibianskii, 1998: 123. Stalin and Molotov also told their Yugoslav comrade Hebrang in January 1945 that a Yugoslav–Bulgarian federation might be formed along the “principle of Slav solidarity” – on the lines of the Austro-Hungarian model but without its drawbacks. See Vladimir Volkov in Naimark and Gibianskii, 1997: 65. Djilas, 1969: 65. Gromyko, 1988: 201. F.558, op.1, d.5379, ll.1, 8. “Shum vremeni, 1945–1953…,” 1999. It is recorded in Dimitrov’s diary that in January 1945 Stalin had discussed the same point of his own “Slavophilism” in a meeting with a Yugoslavian and Bulgarian delegation (Mar’ina, 2000: 46). In January 1943, Stalin told Dimitrov that the majority of the German working class enjoyed being a “ruling nation” (Bayerlein, 2000: 641). In December of that year, he told Eduard Beneš that the German people “finds itself under the influence of state fetishism.” See “Peregovory E.Benesha… ,” 2001: 15. In December 1943, Stalin told Beneš that “the Hungarians must be severely punished” (“Peregovory E.Benesha…,” 2001: 15). Sochineniia, vol. 5: 72–3.

Notes 327
65 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 3, 5, 8, 10. For Engels’s article, see MEW, vol. 22: 11–48. In December 1930, Stalin made the same critique of Engels. See f.17, op.120, d.24, l.2. 66 The following month, Stalin elaborated on this matter in another letter to the Politburo concerning Engels’s position. Bol’shevik had written that the latter had defended a defeatist policy line, similar to Lenin’s, but Stalin violently denied that. Engels hoped for a German victory in a coming war against Russia and France. As far as he had been a defeatist at all, his defeatism had been “passive.” Lenin elaborated a “fundamentally new and uniquely correct thesis in the question of the character of war as well as in the question of the policy of the Marxists in relation to war.” See f.558, op.1, d.5324, p.35; See also Latyshev, 1992. 67 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 37, 39. 68 See Maureen Perrie in Hosking and Service, 1998: 108–9; Khoroshkevich, 1991: 89. In 1940, Proletarskaia revoliutsiia quoted Marx to the effect that Peter admired Ivan for his persistence “in his attempts against Livonia: their conscious aim was to give Russia an exit to the Baltic Sea and open the way to communication with Europe” (cited by Perrie in Hosking and Service, 1998: 114; see also Khoroshkevich, 1991: 93–4; and Kaganovich on the matter in Chuev, 1992: 149. 69 “Formidable shadows of…,” 1988: 8. 70 Il’ina, 1991: 194–5, 202–3. 71 F.558, op.1, d.5325, l.32. In October 1945, he told a Finnish delegation that he understood the “anti-Soviet moods” of the intelligentsia of that country as, partly, a product of the “policy of the tsarist autocracy towards Finland.” See ibid., d.5379, l.2. 72 Persak, 1998: 151. 73 Sochineniia, vol. 2[XV]: 213–14. 74 Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 121. 75 Stalin found the centralistic structure of the Comintern as a single unified world party unworkable. The program of the Soviet communist party, adopted in 1919, spoke of an “international communist party.” In a 1934 copy of this program, Stalin marked the “party” in this quotation and added “not so” (ne to). See f.558, op.3, d.270, p.12. Similarly, in the program of the Comintern this organisation described itself as a “unified and centralised international party of the proletariat.” In a 1936 copy of the program, Stalin again marked “party” and added “not so.” See ibid., d.271, p.7. In July and October 1934, Dimitrov alerted him to the fact that the leading organs of the Comintern were so involved in petty problems of the sections that they had no time left to work on the major ones. Furthermore, the initiative of the sections was hampered. Dimitrov proposed that the ECCI should concentrate on the broad lines of policy. Stalin notified the Comintern leader of his agreement. See Firsov, 1989, no. 9: 14; Firsov, 1991: 43–4; Dallin and Firsov, 2000: 22. 76 Firsov, 1992: 34. 77 Mar’ina, 2000: 42. 78 See Adibekov, 1997: 31; Adibekov, 1994: 6. 79 Firsov, 1992: 34–5; Adibekov, 1994: 8; McDermott and Agnew, 1996: 209. 80 Firsov, 1992: 34. In August 1941, he told Dimitrov, while discussing the re-establishment of a Polish communist party: “Better create a Workers’ Party of Poland with a Com[munist] program: [Calling it] a communist party frightens not only the outsiders but even some of our people. At this stage the task is to struggle for national liberation” (Dallin and Firsov, 2000: 197). 81 Murashko et al., 1997: 132–3. 82 Gromov, 1998: 327. Also see here for a discussion of Stalin’s authorship of the relevant speech.



83 Cited in Narinskii, “Berlinskii krizis 1948–1949…,” 1995: 17. 84 In April 1944, Stalin informed a Polish priest from the United States that his government was uninterested in the social system of Poland. He only wanted a Polish government “which understood and appreciated good relations with its eastern neighbour.” See Murashko et al., 1997: 38. In October 1944, he told Churchill that he needed “a Poland not only friendly but also strong.” See “Zaniat’sia podgotovkoi budushchego…,” 1995: 147. In answer to Churchill’s Fulton speech in March 1946, he noted that his country, “wishing to make itself secure for the future,” merely attempted to achieve “that in these [Eastern European] countries there exist governments with a loyal attitude towards the Soviet Union.” See Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 39. 85 Djilas, 1969: 90. When Molotov showed him the Yalta declaration on free elections in liberated Europe, Stalin commented: “When the time comes we can fulfil it in our own way. The real point is the balance of forces” (Chuev, 1991: 76). In May 1946, Hungarian communist leader Rákosi reported at a meeting of his Central Committee about his recent visit to Moscow, where he had met Stalin: “whenever a country achieves the conditions for the liberation of the proletariat or for socialism, this will be carried out, with no regard for whether the respective country is in a capitalist environment or not.” See Békés, 1998: 135–6. 86 Murashko et al., 1997: 457–9. In another discussion with Polish representatives in August 1946, he repeated the same thesis; see Murashko et al., 1997: 511. In September 1946, Czech communist leader Gottwald reported to his party that he had spoken to Stalin on his last visit to Moscow. The leader had told him that in particular circumstances there were other roads to socialism than soviets and proletarian dictatorship; see Spriano, 1985: 275–6. See also Muraschko, Noskowa and Wolokitina, 1994: 11; Murashko, 1998: 52; Claudin, 1975: 461. See also V.V. Mar’ina in Chubar’ian, 1998: 129–30. 87 Mar’ina, 2000: 49. 88 Mar’ina, 2000: 53–4. 89 Goncharov, Lewis and Xue, 1993: 72, 232–3; see also Shi, 1989: 127–8; Rakhmanin, 1998: 89. 90 Narinskii, “I.V. Stalin i…Novye materialy,” 1996: 20. 91 “Zaniat’sia podgotovkoi budushchego…,” 1995: 153–7. 92 Mar’ina, 2000: 47. 93 Zubok and Pleshakov, 1996: 48; Loth, 1996: 21, 23–4, 28–9, 31, 53. 94 Bonvech et al., 1994: 36–7, 39–40; see also Loth, 1996: 80. 95 Stalin often warned his East German comrades not to proceed against capitalism too quickly so as not to endanger the chances of German reunification. In December 1948, he warned Pieck, Grotewohl and the others that a transition to a “people’s democracy” and a program of expropriation was premature. The reason was that there was “not yet a unif[ied] state – you are not close to power.” Stalin added that the ancestors of the present Germans, the Teutons, had always battled openly. That was brave but foolish, he warned them severely: “The road to socialism is a zigzag.” See Loth, 1996: 143, 145–7. 96 Egorova, 1994: 41. 97 Djilas, 1969: 90. This remark suggests that Stalin obtained his clues from Kautsky and Engels. The latter had written in 1891 that in countries like Germany, where the executive had all the power, socialism could not be established peacefully. But “one can imagine that the old society might grow peacefully into the new in countries where all power is concentrated in the popular representation.” Examples were “democratic republics like France and America” and “monarchies like in Britain.” See MEW, vol. 22: 234. In his Das Erfurter Programm, Kautsky (1974: 212) had written that, whether or not in a “parliamentary republic” the monarchy was retained as “decoration…like the

Notes 329
English do” was of no consequence. In January 1945, Stalin told a Yugoslavian and Bulgarian delegation that “the Soviet form” was the best but not the only form leading to socialism. Under certain conditions, even a “constitutional monarchy” could serve the purpose (Mar’ina, 2000: 46). This is according to the notes of Wilhelm Pieck; see Loth, 1996: 32. In August 1946, he told Harold Laski of the British Labour Party that Britain too could avoid proletarian dictatorship and “repression of the bourgeois class” (cited in Loth, 1996: 33). Murashko et al., 1997: 511. In April 1947, Stalin told Harold Stassen that only a “very strong government, filled with great resolve” could bring an element of regulation into the capitalist economy, but he doubted whether the business community would obey at all; see Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 87, 89–90. But even this was too much. When the interview was published in the American press, Radio Moscow broadcast a report that Stalin had said nothing about the possibility of “regulation” under capitalism, only about “control”; see Ra’anan, 1983: 126–7. The matter was related to a debate about a book by the economist Varga (1946). See Diskussia po knige…, 1947; Nordahl, 1974; Hahn, 1982: 84–93. Because of such developments, Stalin definitely gave up on the possibility of peaceful transition to socialism in the part of the world outside the Soviet zone. An article about the American workers’ movement was published in the first issue of Voprosy istorii in 1952. It discussed the belief that in the USA, as an exception to the rule, the “violent revolution of the proletariat” could be avoided. The author characterised this hope as a case of “dogmatism.” It held fast to Marx’s thesis concerning the possibility of a peaceful transition in Great Britain and the United States, which was obsolete “in the situation of imperialism.” Stalin underlined the phrase that Marx had only “conditionally” mentioned this possibility and added in the margin: “precisely dogmatism.” See f.558, op.3, d.41, p.86. Adibekov, 1994: 22; Gibianskii, 1998: 127; Békés, 1998; Gibianskii, 1993: 134–6. In July 1949, Stalin told Liu Shaoqi that the two parties should exchange opinions, “but our opinion should absolutely not be taken as a directive.” See Rakhmanin, 1998: 83. In a report of the Communist Party of China in the same month and in which Stalin made private notes, he underlined sentences to the effect that, although the Comintern had been abolished, the CPC would submit to the decisions of the Soviet party, even when it disagreed. Stalin added a firm “No!” twice in the margins. See Ledovsky, 1996: 84. Prior to the conference, Zhdanov sent Stalin summaries of the points he intended to address. Stalin probably read and corrected the speech itself. The leader was in any case constantly informed of proceedings during the conference by Zhdanov and Malenkov, and later he also adapted the minutes to his tastes. See Zubok and Pleshakov, 1996: 130–1, 133; Gibianskii, 1993: 146–8; Adibekov, 1994: 49–51, 72–3. Already in November 1946 Zhdanov had wanted to use the term “Anglo-American bloc” in a speech, but then Stalin deleted it. See V.O. Pechatnov in Chubar’ian et al., 1998: 192. Procacci et al., 1994: 225, 227, 229, 251. Mikoian (1999: 548) recalls that Stalin hoped to export grain to India in order to weaken the relations of that country with the imperialist world, and that he appreciated Perón for his independent position. Procacci et al., 1994: 453, 455. Procacci et al., 1994: 195, 353. Cf. Stalin’s own remarks in August 1947 (Mar’ina, 2000: 50). Narinskii, “I.V. Stalin i …Zapis’ besedy,” 1996: 7–10, 14–15, 19–21. “I. Stalin: ‘Mozhet…,” 1993: : 124–5.


99 100




104 105 106 107 108 109



110 According to M.S. Kapitsa, Stalin once complained to Mao that “Europe is still not ready for socialism.” See Goncharov, Lewis and Xue, 1993: 72. Stalin advised the same policy of a combination of broad anti-American patriotic unity and long-term socialist perspectives and violent revolution to the Japanese communists. See “Stalin’s meetings with…,” 1990: 127–8; Mastny, 1996: 91, 121. See also Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 186–7. 111 Gibianskii, 1998: 130, 133. See also Djilas, 1969: 140–1; Mar’ina, 2000: 46. 112 Grigoriev and Zazerskaya, 1994: 137–8. 113 Djilas, 1969: 141; see also Gibianskii, 1998: 133. 114 Cited in Goncharov, Lewis and Xue, 1993: 31. See also “Stalin’s conversations with…,” 1995 and 1996: 7, 27f; Tikhvinskii, 1994. 115 See Goncharov, Lewis and Xue, 1993: 38–44; Goncharov and Morozov, 1991. 116 Goncharov, Lewis and Xue, 1993: 71–2, 232–3; Shi, 1989: 126–8; Rakhmanin, 1998: 83, 89. See also Ledovskii, 1997: 26; Ledovskii, 1999: 81–2. In a report of the CPC Central Committee of July 1949, sent to Stalin in preparation for the discussions with Liu, the Soviet leader made private notes. The report explained that the “people’s democratic dictatorship” represented a class alliance of the workers and the peasants, but that the “liberal bourgeoisie” was allowed to cooperate with it. The new state was neither a proletarian nor a bourgeois dictatorship, but political representatives of the bourgeoisie were encompassed by it, and that was the difference with Lenin’s model of 1905–7. And in form it was also between bourgeois parliamentarianism and a Soviet system. It would be a “dangerous adventurist policy” to mount a full-scale attack on the bourgeoisie right now, because that class would be driven to the imperialists in that way. Stalin commented on these analyses with five times a firm “Yes!” See Ledovsky, 1996: 74–6. 117 Chuvakhin, 1995: 130; see also Hoxha, 1979: 101–2. 118 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 107; see also 95. 119 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 230–1. At the first plenary session of the Central Committee after the 1952 party congress, Stalin said, in Simonov’s (1988, no. 4: 97) paraphrase, that he expected a “difficult struggle with the capitalist camp.” The most dangerous thing to do now would be “to shiver, get afraid, to withdraw, to capitulate.” He called for “courage” and “resolve.” As late as February 1953, he wrote to Mao that the Western European communist parties needed “much more assistance than until now.” See Volkogonov, 1995, vol. 1: 267. 120 See Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 46, 107. 121 Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 312–14; see also 94. In a 1931 copy of a book on Leninist education, Stalin scribbled in the margin: “1) civic, juridical, polit. equality = bourgeois. 2) soc., econom. equ.-ty = proletariat”; see f.558, op.3, d.182, p.46. In later years, he no longer believed in the dichotomy in this sense. It would be bourgeois to confine equality to the juridical sphere, but juridical equality was no longer considered bourgeois.

17 The philosophy of revolutionary patriotism
1 The term “Leninism” arose after the split between the bolsheviks and the mensheviks in 1903. It was introduced by the mensheviks to suggest that bolshevism was a leader-oriented cult to be distinguished from Marxism. Lenin did not use the term. In the early years he considered himself an “orthodox Marxist” in the Kautskyan sense. However, the bolsheviks gradually adopted the term. By 1923, it had come into regular use. See Shcherbakov, 1990. 2 Sochineniia, vol. 6: 69–71, 78–82, 88–91; see also vol. 8: 13–15. 3 Sochineniia, vol. 10: 92.

Notes 331
4 The first occurrence that I found for the combined term was by Voroshilov, who spoke of “Marxists–Leninists” in a session of Lenin’s funeral commission on 23 January 1924. See Maksimova, 1993. 5 Shcherbakov, 1990. 6 Sochineniia, vol. 11: 280. In his speech of December 1929, where he discussed various rightist “theories,” he mentioned the “Marxist–Leninist theory.” See vol. 12: 142. 7 See Shcherbakov, 1990. 8 Maslov, 1994: 9–10, 25; see also f.17, op.120, d.313, ll.4–5. Stalin stressed that Marx had written the manifesto, and not Engels (Maslov, 1994: 24–5). 9 Maslov, 1994: 11–12, 18, 25; see also f.17, op.120, d.313, ll.10, 13. 10 See also KPSS, vol. 2: 859–60; Sochineniia, vol. 1[XIV]: 384f. 11 In late 1930, Stalin told a group of Soviet philosophers that “with Engels too not everything is all right.” In his comments on the Erfurt Program there was “a little place concerning ingrowing into socialism. Bukharin tried to use this…. It is not a bad thing if, for example, we’ll hurt Engels somewhere in this work.” See f.17, op.120, d.24, l.2. 12 And in 1946 he wrote in a letter (which was published in Bol’shevik 1947, no. 3) that Engels had had too negative an appraisal of the tsar’s generals. See Sochineniia, vol. 3[XVI]: 32. 13 In his speech of October 1938, he attacked Engels’s thesis of the equal importance of human sexual reproduction and material production in the development of society as an unjustified dilution of orthodox materialism. According to Stalin, Marx did not agree; see Maslov, 1994: 15–16. See also f.17, op.120, d.313, l.8. In the 1937 copy of Der Ursprung…, Stalin commented on Engels’s use of the term “group marriage”: “And on what basis did the group marriage arise?” See f.558, op.3, d.378, ll.46, 217. See also remarks against Engels’s historical materialism in his January 1941 speech (Latyshev, 1992). 14 Latyshev, 1992. For similar remarks in a letter to Kaganovich of 1934, see: “Iz neizdannoi perepiski…,” 2000. 15 On rare occasions, Stalin targeted Marx in public. In 1926, he said that Lenin had been correct to point out that Marx’s hope for a peaceful transition to socialism in some countries had now become obsolete. See Sochineniia, vol. 8: 251. On one occasion, he even admitted that Engels had improved upon Marx when he allegedly abandoned the latter’s thesis that a European revolution was impossible without one in Great Britain. See vol. 9: 97. 16 For example, in a 1930 collection of articles Stalin rejected Engels’s remark that the democratic republic was the “specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat.” He commented: “And the Par. commune! Today this is no longer true. Today we have to speak of soviets.” See f.558, op.3, d.211, pp.64–5. 17 A 1937 copy of Der Ursprung… is full of “Ha-ha,” “Not very convincing” and “So what.” When Engels wrote that in a class society every advance in production signified a “regress in the situation of the oppressed class,” Stalin commented: “Not completely” (f.558, op.3, d.378, pp.157, 207, 234). In a 1951 copy of one of Marx’s works, the Soviet leader added an ironic “Well, well [Ish’ty]…Why?” to Engels’s remark in the introduction to the essay that he omitted Marx’s sharp personal attacks (ibid., d.207). 18 See, for example, f.558, op.3, d.114, pp.442, 455. 19 Other authors mentioned were Belinskii, Tolstoi, Ricardo, N. Ziber, Chernyshevskii, Pisarev, Dobroliubov, Struve, Tugan-Baranovskii, Plekhanov, Lenin, Marx, Engels, C. Letourneau, H.T. Buckle, Julius Lippert, Camille Flammarion and Charles Lyell (Kaminskii and Vereshchagin, 1939: 50, 68–71, 73); Stalin. K shestidesiatiletiiu…, 1940: 22, 24–6, 29; Rasskazy starykh



20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27


29 30 31 32 33 34


36 37 38 39 40 41 42

rabochikh…, 1937: 36). For a catalogue of the library “comr. STALIN’s Marxist circle of seminarists,” see f.71, op.10, d.275, ll.1–15. The list was typed out at the time of Stalin’s rule, and there is no original in the delo. See also Iremaschwili, 1932: 17–23, 25; Enukidze, 1925: 5. F.558, op.4, d.32, 53, 55. See also Kaminskii and Vereshchagin, 1939: 71. Cited in Gugushvili, 1963: 216. See Vakar, 1936. See Tucker, 1974; 118. Sochineniia, vol. 2: 1f. For the history of the library, see Spirin, 1993. See also Ilizarov, 2000, no. 3: 200f; Medvedev, “‘Luchshe pust’ boiat’sia…,” 2000. For additional information on the fate of Stalin’s personal archive, see Ilizarov, 2000, no. 4: 152–8. F.558, op.1, d.2510. See also Volkogonov, vol. I.2, 1989: 119–20. Stalin read at least parts of Marx’s Das Kapital. The fond Stalina contains several copies of volumes or parts of volumes, but the nature of the notes he made in them does not suggest an intense effort or creative reading. A 1929 copy of the first volume contains sporadic lines of “B” (vnimanie) marks. See F.558, op.3, d.203. Remarks added in the book seem to be in handwriting that was not Stalin’s. In a 1934 copy of the first volume of Das Kapital (d.206), Stalin made notes only in the introduction. There is no copy of the second volume of the work. The fond Stalina does contain two copies of the second part of the third volume, in both of which the notes are concentrated in the chapter on the “absolute ground rent,” which was intensely read. See f.558, op.3, dd.204, 205. Finally, there is a copy of the part on David Ricardo in the second volume of Theorien über den Mehrwert (which is considered to be the fourth volume of Das Kapital). In some chapters Stalin put many lines, although hardly any words. See d.209. F.558, op.3, dd.1, 84. There is a report that, during his years in exile, Stalin read Machiavelli’s The Prince. See Tucker, 1974: 212. There are indications that there were more books with marginal notes in the library, which disappeared. See Medvedev and Medvedev, 2001: 35f. F.558, op.3, d.46, p.15. See Dupeux, 1985: 82f. van der Zweerde, 1994: 359–61. Esakov, 1993: 84–7; Plimak, 1997: 10–11; van der Zweerde, 1994: 364. Kuleshov et al., 1991: 349. No source is given for this conversation. See also Plimak, 1997: 11; van der Zweerde 1994: 362, 364. The corrections amount to nothing of significance. The one exception is that he wrote “Not so” next to a characterisation of Marxism as a “teaching of the masses.” He added that it was an instrument in the hands of the “proletarian” masses. See Esakov, 1993: 90–2. The party secretary was also unhappy that, in his introduction, Aleksandrov had quoted “great Russian scholars and philosophers” like Chernyshevskii, Dobroliubov and Lomonosov in support of a tolerant style of scientific debate, which was not in conformity with Marxist–Leninist militancy. See Zhdanov, 1947: 8–13, 15, 18–20. Shepilov, 1998, no. 5: 11–12. On Suslov and Shepilov, see also Kojevnikov, 1998: 37. See, for example, “Protiv burzhuaznoi ideologii…,” 1948: 17, 20, 28. Shepilov, 1998, no. 5: 13–14. Iovchuk, 1948: 193–4. I.Ia. Shchipanov in Pavelkin, 1951: 254–5, 298; Illeritskii, 1953: 56–8, 60, 62. Illeritskii, 1953: 122–4; I.Ia. Shchipanov in Pavelkin, 1951: 251–2. “Formidable shadows of…,” 1988: 8; see also Artizov and Naumov, 1999: 613. In 1945, Stalin had acknowledged that Polish workers were more cultured than Russian because Poland was closer to the West (Malyshev, 1997: 129). One of the

Notes 333
arguments why the Politburo should ban Dem’ian Bednyi’s Bogatyri in 1936 was that the play failed to acknowledge that the Russian conversion to Christianity had been a “positive stage in the history of the Russian people, because it contributed to the rapprochement of the Slavic peoples with the peoples of higher culture” (Maksimenkov, 1997: 221). A 1945 book on the economies of pre-capitalist formations was read by Stalin in part, but he did not make any notes; see f.558, op.3, d.244. The same goes for an undated Foundations of Historical Materialism, in which he underlined for instance a passage by Engels on the influence of ideas on the economy; see d.242, p.713. A 1938 copy of Plekhanov’s book on the “monist” interpretation of history contains sporadic comments, for instance: “Ideas lag behind being, they arise with a delay, they are secondary, produced”; see d.251, pp.67, 90. In a 1938 textbook on political economy, Stalin wrote: “‘being determines consciousness’, or: the ‘material’ (the basis), as the foundation, and the ‘ideal’ as the superstructure (the materialist understanding of history)”; see d.257, p.218. The only substantial piece of writing I found is a long, handwritten note on the “slave owners’ society,” which Stalin inserted in this 1938 textbook on political economy; see d.257, inserted papers. He seems to have had a special interest in this type of society. In his memoirs, Shepilov (1998, no. 7: 9–10) quotes another long exposé written by the leader in 1950 in another version of the textbook. See also Tolz, 1997: 80. In his October 1938 speech, Stalin insisted that proper definitions of concepts like the “productive forces” should be used. See Maslov, 1994: 23–4; see also f.17, op.120, d.313, ll.12–13. Izvestiia, 16 May 1934; see also Artizov, “Kritika M.N. Pokrovskogo