Fidel Castro is renowned for his hours-long speeches (to which I would have loved to listen). But he is by no means the only communist leader who could regale an audience for hours on end. In May of 1927, Stalin made these opening comments to the students of Sun Yat-Sen University:

Comrades, unfortunately, I can devote only two or three hours to today’s talk. Next time, perhaps, we shall arrange a longer conversation.

The original site for Stalin’s Collected Works – 18 volumes – in Russian has some severe viruses attached to it. So it is now available at the University of Newcastle. This is the only Russian text that has the original pagination included, as well as additional material such as the Short Course and Stalin’s orders during the Second World War.

A new and absolute bumper issue of Crisis and Critique is just out, edited by Agon Hamza and Frank Ruda. It concerns none other than Joseph Stalin. I have a rather long piece in it called ‘A Materialist Doctrine of Good and Evil: Stalin’s Revision of Marxist Anthropology’. It can be found here.

In the process of writing a second article for the flagship Chinese newspaper, the People’s Daily (first article here), I am working my way through a journal called Marxist Studies in China. It’s published by the Institute of Marxism in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Some articles leave, shall we say, a little to be desired and some are real gems.

The journal also carries regular pieces by Russia specialists, one of them called ‘Why Is the Stalin Debate Raging Again in Russia?’. This is from 2010 and the debate has by no means abated. The authors identify four main positions: left-wing communists hold high the banner of Stalin and seek to march to a new socialist society; right-wing liberals want to uproot the legacy of Stalin and hold faith in liberal democracy and capitalism; the moderate conservatives affirm Stalin’s achievements but criticise his methods; and the patriotic faction, which seeks to avoid the political polarisation and borrow from Stalin’s experience for a new modernisation of Russia today. Guess where Putin and the United Russia Party stand?

The question remains: why is Stalin the topic of so much debate? Apart from long-term reasons, the authors focus on the Great Recession in parts of the world from 2008. Despite Russia’s stabilisation fund and Putin’s efforts to strengthen the management of major industries, the underlying problem is a fundamental shift in Russia’s economic situation. It has become primarily an exporter of raw materials as the basis of its economy. This makes it particularly vulnerable to global trends. So calls began for a new modernisation of Russia. And when did the last economic modernisation take place, turning an economic backwater into a superpower? Under Stalin’s watch. No wonder that Stalin is the topic of so much interest in the search for a new modernisation. Indeed, the authors suggest that ‘a new Stalin will come soon’.

We have often heard of Trotskyite opinions of Stalin: the latter was a man of limited intelligence and poor writing skills, who betrayed the socialist project and embodied the bureaucracy in himself. Far less often do we hear of Stalin’s views on Trotsky. Since I have recently read through Stalin’s works in some detail, let me offer an impression of his perspective on what was often a very personal conflict.

‘Pretty but useless’ (Stalin 1907 [1953], 52). This was Stalin’s first impression of Trotsky, when they met at the London Congress of the Social-Democratic Labour Party in 1907. It was the beginning of what became a long political and, in many respects, personal struggle between the two. A few years later, while Stalin was in exile, he observed that Trotsky’s version of a political bloc was an unprincipled and ‘childish plan’, expressing ‘the helpless longing of an unprincipled person for a “good” principle’ (Stalin 1912 [1953], 266, 1910 [1953], 216). Evoking circus imagery, Stalin now describes Trotsky as a ‘comedian’, if not a ‘champion with fake muscles’ (Stalin 1912 [1953], 267, 1913 [1953], 288).

By the late 1910s, the references to Trotsky begin to increase, but especially after Lenin’s death. For instance, in a letter to Lenin in 1921, Stalin writes: ‘A medieval handicraftsman who imagines he is an Ibsen hero called to “save” Russia by an ancient saga’ (Stalin 1921 [1953], 50). Or perhaps he is a ‘superman’ who stands above the Central Committee (Stalin 1924 [1953]-b, 14), taking offence at everyone. However, he is more like Tit Titych, about whom it was said: ‘Who would offend you, Tit Titych? You yourself will offend everyone! (Laughter.)’ (Stalin 1924 [1953]-b, 6).

All this is relatively light-hearted, but by the mid-1920s the struggle between them became more serious. Trotsky’s prickliness contrasted sharply with Stalin’s determination. They struggled over the legacy of Lenin, with Trotsky claiming to be the true heir, while Stalin distinguished between Leninism and Trotskyism, the latter being a deviation (Stalin 1924 [1953]-c, 1924 [1953]-a, 1925 [1954]-a, 113-19, 1926 [1954]). In short, Trotskyism is ‘a peculiar ideology that is incompatible with Leninism’ (Stalin 1924 [1953]-c, 388), let alone the policies of the Comintern (Stalin 1927 [1954]-b, 314-18). Even so, Stalin was still able to make jokes at Trotsky’s expense. Thus, ‘It is not the Party’s fault if Trotsky begins to get a high temperature after every attack he makes upon the Party’ (Stalin 1925 [1954]-b, 6-7). And: ‘he resembles an actor rather than a hero’, if not a ‘comic-opera Clemenceau’ (Stalin 1927 [1954]-b, 288-89, 1927 [1954]-a, 56).

By the 1930s Stalin has dispensed with the humour at Trotsky’s expense. With the plots against the government, Trotsky’s expulsion from the party and international engagement, Trotskyism was transformed from a political trend in the working class to a ‘wild and unprincipled gang of wreckers, diversionists, spies and assassins acting on the instructions of the intelligence services of foreign states’ (Stalin 1937 [1978], 249; see also 251-52). Indeed, Trotskyism had become part of a fifth column, one with international bourgeois forces if not of fascism itself. It is full of duplicity and double-dealing, engaging in nothing less than terrorism against the Soviet state. One must never forget, writes Stalin, that ‘the more hopeless the position of the enemies becomes the more eagerly will they clutch at extreme methods as the only methods of the doomed in their struggle against the Soviet power’ (Stalin 1937 [1978], 244).

The one who ‘pretty but useless’ thirty years before has now become a ‘fiend’, a ‘venal slave’, if not a ‘monster’ (Stalin 1937 [1978], 244, 1939 [1978], 395). The feeling was mutual.

Stalin, I. V. 1907 [1953]. “The London Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Notes of a Delegate).” In Works, Vol. 2, 47-80. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1910 [1953]. “A Letter to the Central Committee of the Party from Exile in Solvychegodsk.” In Works, Vol. 2, 215-18. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1912 [1953]. “The Results of the Elections in the Worker’s Curia of St. Petersburg.” In Works, Vol. 2, 263-68. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1913 [1953]. “The Elections in St. Petersburg (A Letter From St. Petersburg).” In Works, Vol. 2, 279-94. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1921 [1953]. “A Letter to V. I. Lenin, March 1921.” In Works, Vol. 5, 50-51. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1924 [1953]-a. “The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists: Preface to the Book “On the Road to October”.” In Works, Vol. 6, 374-420. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1924 [1953]-b. “Thirteenth Conference of the R. C. P. (B.), January 16-18, 1924.” In Works, Vol. 6, 3-46. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1924 [1953]-c. “Trotskyism or Leninism? Speech Delivered at the Plenum of the Communist Group in the A.U.C.C.T.U., November 19, 1924.” In Works, Vol. 6, 338-73. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1925 [1954]-a. “The Results of the Work of the Fourteenth Conference of the R.C.P(B.): Report Delivered at a Meeting of the Active of the Moscow Organisation of the R.C.P.(B.), May 9, 1925.” In Works, Vol. 7, 90-134. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1925 [1954]-b. “Speech Delivered at a Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the R.C.P.(B.), January 17, 1925.” In Works, Vol. 7, 6-10. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1926 [1954]. “Reply to the Discussion on the Report on “The Social-Democratic Deviation in Our Party”, November 3, 1926.” In Works, Vol. 8, 311-72. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1927 [1954]-a. “Joint Plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission of the C.P.S.U.(B.), July 29-August 9, 1927.” In Works, Vol. 10, 1-96. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1927 [1954]-b. “The Revolution in China and the Tasks of the Comintern: Speech Delivered at the Tenth Sitting, Eighth Plenum of the E.C.C.I., May 24, 1927.” In Works, Vol. 9, 288-318. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
Stalin, I. V. 1937 [1978]. “Defects in Party Work and Measures for Liquidating Trotskyite and Other Double-Dealers.” In Works, Vol. 14, 241-74. London: Red Star Press.
Stalin, I. V. 1939 [1978]. “Report on the Work of the Central Committee to the Eighteenth Congress of the C.P.S.U.(B.) (Delivered March 10, 1939).” In Works, Vol. 14, 355-429. London: Red Star Press.

I am working on an article that will eventually form part of the Stalin book, called ‘The Delay of Communism’. I came across yet another text from Stalin where the poet of old comes to the fore, now in terms of reinterpreting Marx’s 11th thesis on Feuerbach:

The adoption, as a starting point, of the repudiation of all doctrinairism (Right and Left) when changing strategy and tactics, when working out new strategic plans and tactical lines (Kautsky, Axelrod, Bogdanov, Bukharin), repudiation of the contemplative method and the method of quoting texts and drawing historical parallels, artificial plans and lifeless formulas (Axelrod, Plekhanov); recognition that it is necessary to stand by the point of view of Marxism, not to “lie down on it,” that it is necessary to “change” the world, not “merely to interpret” it, that it is necessary to lead the proletariat and be the conscious expression of the unconscious process, and not “contemplate the proletariat’s rear” and drag at the tail of events (Works, volume 5, p. 82).


I am working my way through a fascinating journal series called Marxist Studies in China. The journal began in 2008 and, as one would expect, covers a range of topics. Last night I was particularly intrigued by an article by Cheng Enfu and Hu Leming, called ‘Sixty Years of Studies on Marxist Theory in China’. They point out that in 1953 the Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPC for the Translation of the Works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin was established.

And who of these Marxists was published first? In 1953, the first volume of Stalin’s Works rolled off the press. By 1956, the complete set had been translated and published.

By contrast, Lenin’s collected works began to appear in 1956 and was not complete until 1963. As for Marx and Engels, their collected works began to appear in 1956 and the first edition was completed by 1966.

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