Stalin


2014 22 February 03a

Thanks to LL for this one.

In a subtle and complex piece, ‘Marxism and the National Question’ (1913), Stalin explicitly links the policy of the RSDLP on national self-determination with religion. Here he writes of both freedom of religion and the need to agitate against the harmful, reactionary elements of religion:

The programme of the Social-Democrats contains a clause on freedom of religion. According to this clause any group of persons have the right to profess any religion they please: Catholicism, the religion of the Orthodox Church, etc. Social-Democrats will combat all forms of religious persecution, be it of members of the Orthodox Church, Catholics or Protestants. Does this mean that Catholicism, Protestantism, etc., “do not contradict the precise meaning” of the programme? No, it does not. Social-Democrats will always protest against persecution of Catholicism or Protestantism; they will always defend the right of nations to profess any religion they please; but at the same time, on the basis of a correct understanding of the interests of the proletariat, they will carry on agitation against Catholicism, Protestantism and the religion of the Orthodox Church in order to achieve the triumph of the socialist world outlook.

The same logic applies to the national question:

The same must be said of self-determination. Nations have a right to arrange their affairs as they please; they have a right to preserve any of their national institutions, whether beneficial or harmful – nobody can (nobody has a right to!) forcibly interfere in the life of a nation. But that does not mean that Social-Democracy will not combat and agitate against the harmful institutions of nations and against the inexpedient demands of nations. On the contrary, it is the duty of Social-Democracy to conduct such agitation and to endeavour to influence the will of nations so that the nations may arrange their affairs in the way that will best correspond to the interests of the proletariat.

‘Marxism and the National Question’, in Works, vol. 2, pp. 368-69.

In the midst of his discussion of the elections in St. Petersburg of 1912, Stalin has this little gem on bourgeois diplomats:

When bourgeois diplomats prepare for war they begin to shout very loudly about “peace” and “friendly relations.” When a Minister of Foreign Affairs begins to wax eloquent in favour of a “peace conference,” you can take it for granted that “his government” has already issued contracts for the construction of new dreadnoughts and monoplanes. A diplomat’s words must contradict his deeds—otherwise, what sort of a diplomat is he? Words are one thing—deeds something entirely different. Fine words are a mask to cover shady deeds. A sincere diplomat is like dry water, or wooden iron.

‘The Elections in St. Petersburg’, in Works, vol. 2, p. 285.

Not many people are engaged in reading Stalin these days, which is a pity. Saint Iosef actually writes rather well, as I find when reading Stalin in bed before drifting off to sleep. For instance, take his leaflet on the First of May:

As far back as last century, the workers of all countries resolved to celebrate annually this day, the First of May. That was in 1889, when, at the Paris Congress of the Socialists of all countries, the workers resolved to proclaim, precisely on this day, the First of May, when nature is awakening from her winter sleep, when the woods and hills are donning their green mantles and the fields and meadows are adorning themselves with flowers, when the sun shines more warmly, the joy of revival fills the air and nature gives herself up to dancing and rejoicing—they resolved to proclaim loudly and openly to the whole world, precisely on this day, that the workers are bringing spring to mankind and deliverance from the shackles of capitalism, that it is the mission of the workers to renovate the world on the basis of freedom and socialism.

Every class has its own favourite festivals. The nobility introduced their festivals, and on them they proclaim their “right” to rob the peasants. The bourgeoisie have their festivals and on them they “justify” their “right” to exploit the workers. The clergy, too, have their festivals, and on them they eulogise the existing system under which the toilers die in poverty while the idlers wallow in luxury.

The workers, too, must have their festival, and on it they must proclaim: universal labour, universal freedom, universal equality of all men. That festival is the festival of the First of May…

“We do not worship the golden calf!” We do not want the kingdom of the bourgeoisie and the oppressors! Damnation and death to capitalism and its horrors of poverty and bloodshed! Long live the kingdom of labour, long live socialism!

That is what the class-conscious workers of all countries proclaim on this day.

‘Long Live the First of May’, in Works, vol .2, pp 225-26.

This is without a doubt the calendar to get for 2014. The Russian Orthodox Church – no less – has produced a calendar for this year, with each month offering a stage in Comrade Iosef’s biography. The church website reveals a sample for January and February, and then July and August of this year. If you happen to be in Moscow or St Petersburg, you can buy the calendar at bookshops in those places, or at the publishing house, or online (ht David).

Stalin Calendar 2014 02

Stalin Calendar 2014 03

During the wave of counter-revolutionary measures at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the RSDLP (Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party) was facing a crisis. Arrests, exile, repressive government measures, decline in membership, loss of organisational unity – all these led to profound threats to the viability of the party itself. Conferences were held to deal with the matter, and those in exile attempted to publish newspapers to keep a fragmented party together. In one of his sharpest early pieces, ‘The Party Crisis and Our Tasks,’ Stalin takes aim at such measures, saying they are far from adequate. Implicit here is a criticism of Lenin, especially since Stalin mentions two of the newspapers edited by Lenin, Proletary and Sotsial-Demokrat. Here is the relevant text:

And so, how can the isolated local organisations be linked up with one another, how can they be linked up in a single well-knit Party, living a common life?

One might think that the general Party conferences that are sometimes arranged would solve the problem, would unite the organisations; or that Proletary, Golos and Sotsial-Demokrat,which are published abroad, would, in the long run, rally and unite the Party. There can be no doubt that both the first and the second are of no little importance in linking up the organisations. At any rate, the conferences and the organs that are published abroad have been until now the only means of linking up the isolated organisations. But in the first place, conferences, arranged very rarely at that, can link up the organisations only for a time and, therefore, not as durably as is required in general: in the intervals between conferences the connections are broken and the old amateurish methods continue as before. Secondly, as regards the organs that are published abroad, apart from the fact that they reach Russia in extremely limited quantities, they naturally lag behind the course of Party life in Russia, are unable to note in time and comment on the questions that excite the workers and, therefore, cannot link our local organisations together by permanent ties. The facts show that since the London Congress, the Party has succeeded in organising two conferences [the third and fourth conferences of the RSDLP, held in 1907] and in printing scores of issues of the organs published abroad; and yet the work of uniting our organisations in a genuine Party, the work of overcoming the crisis, has made scarcely any headway.

Hence, conferences and organs published abroad, while extremely important for uniting the Party, are, nevertheless, inadequate for overcoming the crisis, for permanently uniting the local organisations.

Evidently, a radical measure is needed.

The only radical measure can be the publication of an all-Russian newspaper, a newspaper that will serve as the centre of Party activity and be published in Russia…

That is why we emphasise the necessity of precisely an all-Russian newspaper (and not one published abroad), and precisely a leading newspaper (and not simply a popular one).

(Collected Works, vol. 2, pp. 158-60)

Lenin was, of course, in political exile outside Russia, while Stalin remained inside. Again and again, he was arrested, escaped, arrested again and sent into Siberian exile. Despite his immense admiration for Lenin, on this matter at least, Stalin felt and could argue from experience that someone on the ground was better placed to unite a fractured party and publish a leading newspaper that would be in touch with what was happening.

When the 28-year old Stalin attended the London Congress of the RSDLP (Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party), he first encountered Trotsky. The assessment:

Trotsky proved the be ‘pretty but useless’ (Collected Works, vol. 2, p. 52)

And in an observation that applies as much today as then:

What will a flunkey of capital not chatter about in the hope of pleasing his master (vol. 2, p. 119)

Among many other things, it reminds me of the supposedly independent ‘think tank’, The Institute of Public Affairs, which happens to be funded by big tobacco, Rupert Murdoch, a motley collection of mining magnates, and so on. Guess what? By coincidence, they are opposed to bans on smoking, restriction on media ownership, environmental restrictions on mining etc.

One of the most frequent works Mao cites is Stalin’s Short Course, but he also has some rather nice things to say about Saint Iosef.

In a piece from 1939 called ‘Stalin, Friend of the Chinese People’, Mao wrote:

On the Twenty-first of December, Comrade Stalin will be sixty years old. We can be sure that his birthday will evoke warm and affectionate congratulations from the hearts of all revolutionary people throughout the world who know of the occasion.

Congratulating Stalin is not a formality. Congratulating Stalin means supporting him and his cause, supporting the victory of socialism, and the way forward for mankind which he points out, it means supporting a dear friend. For the great majority of mankind today are suffering, and mankind can free itself from suffering only by the road pointed out by Stalin and with his help.

Living in a period of the bitterest suffering in our history, we Chinese people most urgently need help from others. The Book of Odes says, “A bird sings out to draw a friend’s response.” This aptly describes our present situation.

But who are our friends?

There are so-called friends, self-styled friends of the Chinese people, whom even some Chinese unthinkingly accept as friends. But such friends can only be classed with Li Lin-fu, the prime minister in the Tang Dynasty who was notorious as a man with ‘honey on his lips and murder in his heart’. They are indeed ‘friends’ with ‘honey on their lips and murder in their hearts’. Who are these people? They are the imperialists who profess sympathy with China.

However, there are friends of another kind, friends who have real sympathy with us and regard us as brothers. Who are they? They are the Soviet people and Stalin.

No other country has renounced its privileges in China; the Soviet Union alone has done so.

All the imperialists opposed us during our First Great Revolution; the Soviet Union alone helped us.

No government of any imperialist country has given us real help since the outbreak of the War of Resistance Against Japan; the Soviet Union alone has helped China with its aviation and supplies.

Is not the point clear enough?

Only the land of socialism, its leaders and people, and socialist thinkers, statesmen and workers can give real help to the cause of liberation of the Chinese nation and the Chinese people, and without their help our cause cannot win final victory.

Stalin is the true friend of the cause of liberation of the Chinese people. No attempt to sow dissension, no lies and calumnies, can affect the Chinese people’s whole-hearted love and respect for Stalin and our genuine friendship for the Soviet Union.

On Stalin’s 70th birthday, Mao sent this telegram:

Chairman Stalin,

The Council of Ministers,

The Government of the Soviet Union

Your Excellency:

On this happy occasion of Your Excellency’s seventieth birthday, I sincerely extend to you my respect and my best wishes for the daily strengthening of the fortress for world peace and democracy under Your Excellency’s leadership.

In Beijing, they even had a birthday celebration for Stalin, where Mao said:

Dear comrades and friends:

I am genuinely pleased to have the chance to join this distinguished gathering in celebration of the seventieth birthday of Comrade Stalin.

Comrade Stalin is a teacher and friend of the people of the world as well as a teacher and friend of the Chinese people. He has further developed the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism and has made extremely outstanding and extensive contributions to the cause of world Communist movement. In the arduous struggle to resist their oppressors, the Chinese people have become deeply appreciative of the importance of Comrade Stalin’s friendship.

At this distinguished gathering, on behalf of the Chinese people and the Communist Party of China, I congratulate Comrade Stalin on his seventieth birthday and wish him health and longevity. We wish well- being, strength, and prosperity to our great friend, the Soviet Union under the leadership of Comrade Stalin. We hail the great unprecedented solidarity of the working class in the world under the leadership of Comrade Stalin.

Long live the great Stalin, leader of the world’s working class and of the international Communist movement!

Long live the Soviet Union, the stronghold of world peace and democracy!

Alongside his preference for self-sufficiency and the importance of Chinese traditions, Mao was also quite aware of the importance of international conditions for the success of the Chinese Revolution. The Soviet Union was pivotal. To begin with:

The Soviet Union is a defender of world peace and a powerful factor preventing the domination of the world by the U.S. reactionaries Selected Readings, p. 348).

More specifically:

In the epoch in which imperialism exists, it is impossible for a genuine people’s revolution to win victory in any country without various forms of help from the international revolutionary forces, and even if victory were won, it could not be consolidated. This was the case with the victory and consolidation of the great October Revolution, as Lenin and Stalin told us long ago. This was also the case with the overthrow of the three imperialist powers in World War II and the establishment of the People’s Democracies. And this is also the case with the present and the future of People’s China. Just imagine! If the Soviet Union had not existed, if there had been no victory in the anti-fascist Second World War, if Japanese imperialism had not been defeated, if the People’s Democracies had not come into being, if the oppressed nations of the East were not rising in struggle and if there were no struggle of the masses of the people against their reactionary rulers in the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and other capitalist countries — if not for all these in combination, the international reactionary forces bearing down upon us would certainly be many times greater than now. In such circumstances, could we have won victory? Obviously not. And even with victory, there could be no consolidation (Selected Readings, pp. 377-78).

As for the end of the Second World War and the surrender of Japan, Mao already saw what recent historians have rediscovered: Japan surrendered because Soviet troops pushed the Japanese out of China and threatened to invade Japan:

The decisive factor for Japan’s surrender is the entry of the Soviet Union into the war. A million Red Army troops are entering China’s Northeast; this force is irresistible. Japanese imperialism can no longer continue the fight … The Soviet Union has sent its troops, the Red Army has come to help the Chinese people drive out the aggressor; such an event has never happened before in Chinese history. Its influence is immeasurable. The propaganda organs of the United States and Chiang Kai-shek hoped to sweep away the Red Army’s political influence with two atom bombs. But it can’t be swept away; that isn’t so easy. Can atom bombs decide wars? No, they can’t. Atom bombs could not make Japan surrender. Without the struggles waged by the people, atom bombs by themselves would be of no avail. If atom bombs could decide the war, then why was it necessary to ask the Soviet Union to send its troops? Why didn’t Japan surrender when the two atom bombs were dropped on her and why did she surrender as soon as the Soviet Union sent troops? (Selected Readings, pp. 324, 337)

I am working on an article called ‘Towards a Materialist Doctrine if Evil’, which may form the basis of a chapter in a book on Stalin. So here are some first and possibly provocative thoughts on the crucial role of the Red Terror in such a doctrine.

One of the most significant steps in the development of a doctrine of evil is the Red Terror. I understand such a Terror as the struggle against the counter-revolution, the success of that struggle being then the success of the revolution itself. Within that struggle, the Terror peaks at certain times, such as that following the assassination attempts on Lenin or Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s. Here theory is born of practice and events, a nascent theory of the strength and power of evil. I mean not that the Red Terror is itself an evil, as so much anti-communist propaganda would have it, but that the Terror is a response to evil. In order to lay out that argument, I distinguish once again between external and internal factors. The identification of external evil is the easier option, while the awful awareness of the internal nature of evil is an awareness gained with much pain. The following traces a path from external to internal, from threats outside a new communist state to ones that emerge from its internal workings. Needless to say, I now focus squarely on the far more interesting features of a post-revolutionary situation, where real practical and theoretical innovation may be found.

Little argument is needed for the point that the Red Terror is necessary to deal with external foes, for a communist revolution must counter the international efforts to crush it. Even before the success of the October Revolution (1917) in Russia, the tsar had made an agreement with powers like France and Germany that they would assist the tsar in countering the effects of the 1905 revolutionary upsurge. These international efforts became even more intense after 1917, when the ‘Entente’ – UK, France, Germany, USA, Canada and others – enacted an economic blockade and provided troops, equipment and logistics to the White Armies during what is euphemistically called the ‘civil’ war. Less than two decades later, Nazi Germany would pick up the banner of the international cause that sought to crush communism in the USSR. A similar situation may be found with the long struggle of the Chinese Revolution, during which these powers provided significant assistance to Chang Kai-Shek’s Guomintang in its efforts to wipe out the communists. After 1949, they continued their efforts, whether through the Korean War, through economic blockades, or through diplomatic isolation. In these cases, the Red Terror played a crucial role in defeating the international counter-revolution.[1]

More important is the internal role of the Red Terror. In Russia, the first peak of the Terror followed the assassination attempts on Lenin and others in 1918. After the near fatal shooting of 30 August of that year,[2] the militant Stalin suggested a systematic mass terror against those behind the assassination attempt, but also against opponents of the new government. So the government directed Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, to commence what was officially called a Red Terror.[3]

Of course, reactionary commentators salivate over such a development, seeking to attribute as much to Lenin as possible (Figes 1998, Gellately 2007, Volkogonov 1994, Werth et al. 1999). It matters little for my analysis whether he or others approved the Red Terror, from arrests and imprisonment to the execution of the Romanov family, but what is important is the fact that it happened in response to an act of terror. That is, the Red Terror was not an initiator of violence, but a response to anti-revolutionary violence. It was thereby a response to the concrete reality of evil, a rude awakening to how vicious and desperate the internal forces opposed to the revolution really were. The belief in the inherent goodness of human beings came face to face with the deeply troubling realisation of human evil.

What of the oft-cited ‘excesses’ of the Red Terror, such as the summary executions of suspected saboteurs? One element here is the uncontrolled nature of revolutionary violence. It typically runs its own course, straying here and there in the euphoria of the moment. More significantly, a Red Terror may be seen as the belated outburst of deep patterns of working class and peasant anger at the long and brutal oppression by the former ruling classes, an oppression that makes any Red Terror look tame by comparison. In Russia, the long history of capricious and vicious violence at the hands of the landlords, factory tyrants, Black Hundreds (recall the frequent pogroms), and tsarist troops were remembered. Now at last was an opportunity to settling old scores, since the workers and peasants were finally in control. In this situation, Lenin’s argument in The State and Revolution (1917 [1964]), that the dictatorship of the proletariat must smash the bourgeois dictatorship, found ready acceptance and was enacted through the Red Terror.[4]

Perhaps the greatest peak of the Red Terror as a practical working out of a doctrine of evil is that of the purges and ‘show trials’ under Stalin in the 1930s. Through repeated condemnations of Cold War propaganda, these have become the epitome of Stalin’s ‘paranoia’ and brutal ‘dictatorship’.[5] Their initial cause was the assassination in December 1934 of Sergei Kirov, head of the Leningrad Communist Party. As with the assassination attempt on Lenin in 1918, this was the trigger for seeking out the enemy within, resulting in more than 726,000 executed. The ‘Great Terror’ reached a climax between 1936 and 1938: the trial of the Sixteen, of the anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre, of the generals (most notably Marshall Tukhachevskii), and of the Twenty-One. Eventually, nearly all the Old Bolsheviks were caught up in the purge, including Grigory Zonoviev, Lev Kamenev, Karl Radek, Nikolai Bukharin, and Leon Trotsky. In the purge of the Red Army alone, 34,000 officers were arrested (although 11,500 were reinstated), including 476 senior commanders.[6] However, I am less interested here in the public relations disaster that the trials became, in the widespread debate at the time, with the defenders of the trials outweighed by those who condemned them, even in the fodder they provided for Cold War propaganda.[7] Instead, I wish to focus on the way they reveal a more realistic (and arguably pessimistic) assessment of the propensity to evil.

The key to the trials, as well as the purges, is their over-compensation for the lack of properly robust doctrine of evil, and the way they produced a nascent theory of the internal dialectic of evil. Although they may have weeded out wavering elements in Stalin’s push towards collectivisation, as well as sections of the Red Army that may have been less than resolute during the soon-to-come struggle with Hitler’s massed forces (for by far the main struggle and thereby locus of victory was on the Russian front), the sweeping nature of the trials and purges, along with the relocations of parts of the population who resisted Stalin’s moves, indicates an effort to compensate for an overly benign view of human goodness. It may be relatively easy to identify the enemy without, but the enemy within is a very different matter.

I would like to identify two moments when the new theoretical awareness of the dialectical nature of evil began to work its way to the surface, the one individual and the other collective. Let me begin with the individual confessions given in the trials, for they indicate not so much cowering before the threat of coercion or even the result of such coercion (the common position of those who condemn the trials), but the fact that those charged owned the confessions. That is, even if they had not committed all the acts confessed, they came to believe that they were in fact true. The confession of Bukharin is the paradigm of this process. This central figure in the communist party, with senior roles – among others, member of the Politburo, secretary of the Comintern, chief editor of Pravda and author of major works – and for a while Stalin’s closest ally, fell out due to his opposition to Stalin’s move leftward, especially the push to undertake rapid collectivisation. His initial confession, the spectacular withdrawal, the reinterrogation, admission to the totality of the crimes but denial of knowledge of specific crimes, 34 letters to Stalin (written from prison) with their tearful protestations of loyalty and admission, the four books written, and then his conduct in the trial in which he subtly criticised the very confession he had made, even to the point of questioning the out-dated role of the confession itself – all these illustrate the sheer impossibility of locating the dividing line between good and evil.[8] Above all, Bukharin’s last plea plays out all these contradictions in extraordinary detail. Once again he admits all his guilt in opposing the rapid push towards communism, even in plotting to overthrow the government, but then he turns around to question and deny individual charges, saying at times that he can neither deny nor confirm a charge own admission (Bukharin 1938, 767-79). The most telling section is when he identifies within himself a ‘peculiar duality of mind’, even a ‘dual psychology’ that was caught in the contradiction between a degenerating counter-revolutionary tendency and what he calls a ‘semi-paralysis of the will’, a contradiction that was in turn generated by ‘objective grandeur of socialist construction’. He is nothing less than the Hegelian ‘unhappy consciousness’ (Bukharin 1938, 776-77). I suggest that this extraordinary text reveals a deep awareness of the impossibility of distinguishing between guilt and innocence, for we are all so in any given moment. So he concludes: ‘The monstrousness of my crime is immeasurable especially in the new stage of struggle of the U.S.S.R. May this trial be the last severe lesson, and may the great might of the U.S.S.R become clear to all’ (Bukharin 1938, 779).

On a collective level, it is telling that the Great Terror was very much a public experience, and not the shady and covert program that it is so often depicted to have been. It involved mass participation, with widespread belief in the guilt of the victims. Everyone was encouraged to inform on and denounce anyone suspected of sabotaging the economy, of acting on behalf of a foreign enemy, or of efforts to undermine the government. Popular enthusiasm for the self-cleansing was almost universal. It is de rigueur to decry such mass brutality, but this reaction misses the collective nature of the old communist process of self-criticism. Here, the self-examination for failings in fostering the cause becomes a collective venture that seeks to strengthen the body through purging what is harmful. But such purging threatens to become a never-ending process, not because one needs to find continual scapegoats for failure to achieve the goals of the cause, but because the closer one draws to the goal, the more frantic become the forces of evil. Perhaps the most astute awareness of the awful nature of evil comes from Stalin himself. At a plenum of the party’s central committee in early 1937, Stalin observed:

We must smash and throw out the rotten theory that with each forward movement we make the class struggle will die down more and more, that in proportion to our success the class enemy will become more and more domesticated … On the contrary, the more we move forward, the more success we have, then the more wrathful become the remnants of the beaten exploiter classes, the more quickly they turn to sharper forms of struggle, the more mischief do they do the Soviet state, the more they grasp at the most desperate means of struggle (Daniels 1993, 261).[9]

The more grace is apparent, the more desperate becomes the devil – or so would the same theory be expressed the traditional theological terms. However, here we need to be careful, for Stalin still tends to externalise the threat, glimpsing its full possibilities only fleetingly. The first half of the text identifies the dialectic of struggle: tensions and conflicts do not cease the closer one nears a desired goal; they become even more exacerbated. The easy option at this point would be to speak of external, international threats, which were real enough. And often he linked the internal struggle with outside forces, seeing the former as a fifth column. However, the real struggle is collectively internal, with the beaten ruling class redoubling its efforts to defeat the communist cause. But here he stops. He does not go the next step and ask from where the threats within the party come, why it is that prevarications, doubts, resistance, seem endemic even to the party faithful. Such a statement reveals a nascent theoretical elaboration of what I am calling a materialist doctrine of evil, but it still stops short.

References 

Boer, Roland. 2013. Lenin, Religion, and Theology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bukharin, Nikolai. 1938. Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’ Heard Before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR, Moscow, March 2-14, 1938. Moscow: People’s Commissariat of Justice of the USSR.

Cohen, Stephen. 1980. Bukarin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography 1888-1938. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Daniels, Robert Vincent, ed. 1993. A Documentary History of Communism in Russia: From Lenin to Gorbachev. Burlington: University of Vermont Press.

Figes, Orlando. 1998. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924. Harmondworth: Penguin.

Furr, Grover. 2011. Khrushchev Lied. Kettering: Erythros.

Gellately, Robert. 2007. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Koestler, Arthur. 2006 [1941]. Darkness at Noon. New York: Scribner.

Larina, Anna. 1994 [1988]. This I Cannot Forget: The Memoirs of Nikolai Bukharin’s Widow. Translated by Gary Kern. New York: W. W. Norton.

Lenin, V.I. 1917 [1964]. “The State and Revolution.” In Collected Works, 385-497. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Losurdo, Domenico. 2008. Stalin: Storia e critica di una leggenda nera. Translated by Marie-Ange Patrizio. Rome: Carocci editore.

Resis, Albert, ed. 1993. Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Roberts, Geoffrey. 2006. Stalin’s Wars: From World Qar to Cold War, 1939-1953. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Service, Robert. 2004. Stalin: A Biography. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Tucker, Robert C. 1988. Stalin as Revolutionary: 1879-1929. New York: Norton.

Tucker, Robert C. 1990. Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941, New York. Norton.

Volkogonov, Dimitri. 1994. Lenin: A Biography. New York: Free Press.

Werth, Nicolas, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, and Stéphane Courtois. 1999. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


[1] The definition of a successful communist revolution is one that defeats the counter-revolution and then has the peace to begin the process of constructing socialism.

[2] After the bullets missed Lenin on 14 January, two found their mark on 30 August. One hit his arm and the other was embedded in his neck and spilled blood into a lung. They were fired by Fanya Kaplan, the Socialist-Revolutionary, and they left Lenin clinging to life. Even here, external forces seemed to have played a role, with the British agent, Robert Bruce Lockhart, engaged in inciting a plot to overthrow the Soviet government due to its efforts to seek a eace treaty with the Germans (Cohen 1980).

[3] It was officially announced in an article called ‘Appeal to the Working Class’, in the 3 September 1918 issue of Izvestiya. A couple of days later the Cheka published the decree, ‘On Red Terror’.

[4] By comparison, in China one of the most telling instances of counter-revolutionary brutality of the Guomintang before 1949 was the practice of shooting, without question, any woman found with natural feet and short hair. The assumption by the forces of Chang Kai-Shek was that any such woman was obviously a communist.

[5] Roberts tellingly demolishes this psychological argument, developed most fully by Robert Tucker (1988, 1990). For Roberts, it was more of a political paranoia, not entirely unjustified by the forces ranged against the communists (Roberts 2006, 17-18).

[6] For many Western Marxists, these purges have become the litmus test of romantic socialism. In this light, Stalin ceases to be a Marxist at all, betraying the revolution due to chronic paranoia and for the sake of his own aggrandisement. It also enables many Western Marxists to dismiss the Russian Revolution as a successful revolution, leading to the curious position that the true revolution is yet to come. I have argued elsewhere that this is clear manifestation of the bewilderment and resentment by Western Marxists that a successful revolution has not happened in the West (Boer 2013, 207-9).

[7] For instance, even the U.S. Ambassador to the USSR at the time, Joseph E. Davies, found the trials fair (Larina 1994 [1988]). By contrast, at the time the trials marked either the conversion to Trotskyism or the break with communism completely by many Western communists. The debate continues today, with some repeating Cold War denunciations and others tracing the profound effect, on the reception of Stalin, of Krushchev’s ‘secret speech’ at the Twentieth Congress of Communist Party of the USSR in February 1956 (Service 2004, Furr 2011, Losurdo 2008). It is worth noting that the trials fooled the High Command of Hitler’s Wehrmacht, who believed that the Red Army had been weakened by the loss of many of its leading commanders. This faulty assessment led them to believe that they would take Moscow in short order, only to find that the Red Army had been renewed and strengthened (Roberts 2006, 15-19).

[8] The trial and Bukharin’s behaviour has perplexed observers ever since. Apart from the dismissal of the confessions as coerced, some have suggested it was the last service of a true believer in the cause, that he used Aesopian language to turn the trial into a one of Stalin himself, indeed that he subtly pointed to his innocence while ostensibly admitting guilt. These interpretations not so much misread the material, but they manifest at a formal level precisely the tension at the heart of a materialist doctrine of evil (Cohen 1980, Larina 1994 [1988], Service 2004, Koestler 2006 [1941]).

[9] Stalin repeated this observation often at the time, as Molotov recalls (Resis 1993, 254, Roberts 2006, 18).

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