Stalin


More from the interview with Ludwig, now on the question of fate:

Ludwig: My question is the following: You have often incurred risks and dangers. You have been persecuted. You have taken part in battles. A number of your close friends have perished. You have survived. How do you explain that? And do you believe in fate?
Stalin: No, I do not. Bolsheviks, Marxists, do not believe in “fate.” The very concept of fate, of “Schicksal,” is a prejudice, an absurdity, a relic of mythology, like the mythology of the ancient Greeks, for whom a goddess of fate controlled the destinies of men.
Ludwig: That is to say that the fact that you did not perish is an accident?
Stalin: There are internal and external causes, the combined effect of which was that I did not perish. But entirely independent of that, somebody else could have been in my place, for somebody had to occupy it. “Fate” is something not governed by natural law, something mystical. I do not believe in mysticism. Of course, there were reasons why danger left me unscathed. But there could have been a number of other fortuitous circumstances, of other causes, which could have led to a directly opposite result. So-called fate has nothing to do with it. (Works, vol. 13, p. 122)

Come to think of it, this is the kind of silly question Kotkin’s asks in his atrocious biography of Stalin.

I am reading a fascinating interview of Stalin, made by Emil Ludwig on 13 December, 1931. The interviewer asks some searching questions and draws out of Stalin some revealing answers and even contradictions. The interview begins with this question concerning Peter the Great:

Ludwig: Today, here in the Kremlin, I saw some relics of Peter the Great and the first question I should like to ask you is this: Do you think a parallel can be drawn between yourself and Peter the Great? Do you consider yourself a continuer of the work of Peter the Great?

Stalin: In no way whatever. Historical parallels are always risky. There is no sense in this one.

Ludwig: But after all, Peter the Great did a great deal to develop his country, to bring western culture to Russia.

Stalin: Yes, of course, Peter the Great did much to elevate the landlord class and develop the nascent merchant class. He did very much indeed to create and consolidate the national state of the landlords and merchants. It must be said also that the elevation of the landlord class, the assistance to the nascent merchant class and the consolidation of the national state of these classes took place at the cost of the peasant serfs, who were bled white.

As for myself, I am just a pupil of Lenin’s, and the aim of my life is to be a worthy pupil of his. The task to which I have devoted my life is the elevation of a different class-the working class. That task is not the consolidation of some “national” state, but of a socialist state, and that means an international state; and everything that strengthens that state helps to strengthen the entire international working class. If every step I take in my endeavor to elevate the working class and strengthen the socialist state of this class were not directed towards strengthening and improving the position of the working class, I should consider my life purposeless.

So you see your parallel does not fit.

As regards Lenin and Peter the Great, the latter was but a drop in the sea, whereas Lenin was a whole ocean.

Works, volume 13, pp. 106-7.

The first is called ‘Stalin, Affirmative Action and the Pentecost of Language‘, and the second, ‘Why a Marxist Entrepreneur is not a Contradiction in China‘.

Back to reading Stalin, which I would like to complete by the end of February. This on one grain as the currency of currencies, in the midst the intensified class struggle with the kulaks:

Grain should not be regarded as an ordinary commodity. Grain is not like cotton, which cannot be eaten and which cannot be sold to everybody. Unlike cotton, grain, under our present conditions, is a commodity which everybody will take and without which it is impossible to exist. The kulak takes this into account and holds back his grain, infecting the grain holders in general by his example. The kulak knows that grain is the currency of currencies (Works, vol 12, p. 93).

From time to time, Stalin addressed the Institute of Red Professors. Now that is a worthy name for an institute. Actually, it is the alternative title for our ‘Religion, Marxism and Secularism‘ project at the University of Newcastle.

But I am also rather taken with the ‘Friends of the USSR’, which had a world congress in November, 1927. 947 delegates from 43 countries attended and, among many other activities, they closed the congress by adopting an appeal to all the working people of all countries: ‘Make use of all means and all methods to fight for, defend and protect the U.S.S.R., the motherland of the working people, the bulwark of peace, the centre of liberation, the fortress of socialism!’

Come to think of it, our own red priest, Ernest Burgman, was chair of the Australian arm of the Friends of the USSR. Before becoming bishop of Goulburn in 1950, Burgmann was warden of St. John’s College at Morpeth. He earned his radical credentials and street smarts in the great working class political hotbed of the Hunter.

We are perhaps most used to the Cultural Revolution in relation to China – the extraordinary decade of revolutionary upheaval that is still to be fully assessed for its drawbacks and benefits. However, the term ‘cultural revolution’ actually goes back to Lenin and Stalin, where it has a distinct meaning. For Stalin, cultural revolution is a Leninist slogan which designates raising the cultural level of workers and peasants:

Therefore, the cultural development of the working class and of the masses of the working peasantry, not only the development of literacy, although literacy is the basis of all culture, but primarily the cultivation of the ability to take part in the administration of the country, is the chief lever for improving the state and every other apparatus. This is the sense and significance of Lenin’s slogan about the cultural revolution (Works, vol. 10, pp. 330-31).

This approach to cultural revolution took on a whole new dimension when it became part of the affirmative action program of the USSR – or what was called the ‘national question’. In this case, cultural revolution meant raising and transformation the cultures of the many minorities in the USSR. Often this involved creating literate cultures where none existed before. Scripts were created, grammars written, people taught for the first time to read and write their own language, literature written, and a new intellectual and political leadership fostered. The affirmative action program also included strict punishments for racist statements and acts for scattered minorities – which included the Jews.

All of this was predicated on the core socialist idea that the party and then the government should foster rather than repress different languages and cultures. Indeed, the ‘national question’ was in many ways structured and determined by the issue of language.

Let me put it in terms of the biblical stories of Babel and Pentecost (Genesis 11 and Acts). For Babel, linguistic unity is desired and multiplicity a seeming curse; for Pentecost unity is the source of unexpected diversity.

Or in a little more detail: in Genesis, we find that initially ‘the whole earth had one language and the same words’ (Gen 11:1). Soon enough, the human effort to build a city with a tower into the heavens makes God realise the immense potential of human power. In response, God confuses human language and scatters people over the face of the earth (confusion and scattering are repeated time and again through the story, as though providing formal confirmation of the content). The account of Pentecost in Acts 2 may seem to provide a long-range resolution of this confusion of tongues. Here, the multiplicity of tongues, ‘as of fire’, appearing on the heads of the apostles, enables a united understanding of the new gospel of Christ. Multiplicity is therefore a way of understanding the same message, which may be spoken in many tongues. However, Acts has a dialectical kick: the unitary drive of the Holy Spirit, like the rush of a mighty wind, produces diversity. The result is ‘differentiated tongues’, ‘other languages’, people from ‘every nation under heaven’ hearing the apostles speak in their ‘native language’ – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs (the care with the list manifests less comprehensiveness than sheer diversity).

With this outline of the main tensions between Genesis 11 and Acts 2 in mind, it becomes possible to map different language policies and proposals (and indeed discover some surprising alliances). One cluster of such policies may be described as Babelian, or rather pre-Babelian. The desire is for one language, which existed before the divinely instigated confusion of tongues and scattering of peoples. Such a desire is predicated on the assumption that multiple languages are signs of the Fall, with Genesis 11 understood as yet another Fall story, or at least another facet of the story of the Fall that begins in Genesis 3. Far better is a universal language that would overcome the strife and discord of many tongues. Those who have pursued variations on this approach make for some strange occupiers of the same bed: Walter Benjamin’s search for the perfect, Adamic language that does not seek to communicate; the proponents of Esperanto; tsarist policy makers afraid of native languages and their connections with separatism; the Nazi refusal to acknowledge minority languages in Germany and Austria – such as the Sorbians and Slovene Carinthians; and indeed ‘assimilation’ policies around the globe even today, in which immigrants are supposed to meld into the national culture through language.

So what is Stalin’s position? It is clearly a Pentecostal one. The socialist affirmative action program actually produced more languages:

Until now what has happened has been that the socialist revolution has not diminished but rather increased the number of languages; for, by stirring up the lowest sections of humanity and pushing them on to the political arena, it awakens to new life a number of hitherto unknown or little-known nationalities (Works, vol. 10, p. 141).

Indeed, it led to the creation of new ‘regenerated nations’, that is, ‘new, socialist nations, which have arisen on the ruins of the old nations and are led by the internationalist party of the labouring masses’ (Works, vol. 11, p. 369).

This is nothing less than a Pentecost of languages and peoples. Socialists are clearly Pentecostalists, in in favour of multiplicity and diversity.

But how did these languages, cultures and peoples achieve such a regenerated state? Through a cultural revolution:

In view of this, the Party considered it necessary to help the regenerated nations of our country to rise to their feet and attain their full stature, to revive and develop their national cultures, widely to develop schools, theatres and other cultural institutions functioning in the native languages (Works, vol. 11, p. 369).

Or in more detail, for anyone who is serious about cultural revolution:

What is needed is to cover the country with an extensive network of schools functioning in the native languages, and to supply them with staffs of teachers who know the native languages.

What is needed is to nationalise—that is, to staff with members of the given nation—all the administrative apparatus, from Party and trade-union to state and economic.

What is needed is widely to develop the press, the theatre, the cinema and other cultural institutions functioning in the native languages.

Why in the native languages?—it may be asked. Because only in their native, national languages can the vast masses of the people be successful in cultural, political and economic development (Works, vol 11, p. 370).

Cultural revolution is therefore the Pentecost of languages and peoples. The result is that the message may be heard in ‘differentiated tongues’, ‘other languages’, with people from ‘every nation under heaven’ hearing the message in their ‘native language’. As for how many languages Stalin knew, that is still a matter of debate.

Stalin and minorities 01a

Stalin may have made the odd mistaken prediction, but in regard to China he was on the money:

Great popular revolutions never achieve final victory in the first round of their battles. They grow and gain strength in the course of flows and ebbs. That has been so everywhere, including Russia. So it will be in China (Works, volume 10, p. 290).

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