It seems as though many people do not realise Stalin wrote anything. They express surprise when I tell them I am reading through all of his written work – not that I should be reading it, but that he wrote at all. Ah well, the Cold War has much to answer for.

In the midst of his theoretically important (and long) address to the fourteenth conference in 1925, he has this great vignette on vodka and building socialism with white gloves. The context is the need to avoid being indebted and thereby dependent on Western Europe and North America:

A word or two, by the way, about one of the sources of reserves—vodka. There are people who think that it is possible to build socialism in white gloves. That is a very gross mistake, comrades. Since we are not receiving loans, since we are poor in capital, and since, furthermore, we cannot go into bondage to the West-European capitalists, not being able to accept the enslaving terms that they offer us and which we have rejected, only one alternative remains—to seek sources in other spheres. After all, that is better than bondage. Here we have to choose between bondage and vodka, and those people who think that it is possible to build socialism in white gloves are grievously mistaken. (Works volume 7, p. 349).

Even in Georgia today, you can buy a bottle of Stalin vodka:


Stalin vodka 01


Is this the real reason why Russia deviated temporarily onto the capitalist path in 1991?

(Voice: What about icons; there’s a demand for icons). As for icons, someone has just given a reminder that the peasants are asking for icons. I think that we should not follow the example of the capitalist countries and put vodka and other intoxicants on the market, because, profitable though they are, they will lead us back to capitalism and not forward to communism; but there is no such danger in pomade (laughter).

Lenin, Collected Works, volume 32, p. 426.

As some of you know, I have just spent a month in China, teaching a seminar on Marxism and Religion at Fudan University. But I also discovered some elements of a more quirky China:

On arrival, I paid my respects to Mao:

In fact, I had a unique Chinese experience: ‘I’ll meet you by Chairman Mao’s statue’ is something you can say only in China in a matter-of-fact way.

But I also assisted a mythical creature at the Imperial Tombs in Nanjing with a particularly troublesome snotball:

Paid a visit to …

Where I met a member of the ‘old’ left:

Back at Fudan I defended Lenin:

For which I was given a bottle of Lenin vodka (thanks Sergey):

But I also enjoyed paddling along a canal:

Meandering along the local streets where I lived:

And singing revolutionary songs in Lu Xun park:

All of which made me leap for joy: