Gregory Bienstock 1940
Source: The Nineteenth Century and After, January 1940. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
On 21 December 1939, Josif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili had his sixtieth birthday.
A genius? Or a criminal on the largest scale? Or perhaps the ‘most eminent mediocrity’ in the Party, as Trotsky once called him in a private conversation.
Russia’s dictator has already become a legend, his name is a symbol for which men fight and die. It is difficult here not to write a panegyric or a satire. One may take comfort in the thought of the ‘historian of the future’. But will this historian not depend on our legends and judgements? It therefore becomes a duty of contemporaries to try and pierce through the veil of legend to the real core of personality. First, however, we must ascertain and analyse the different elements in the legend. And for that matter the Stalin of legend, the Stalin as he appears in the fantasy of his people is at least as important as the real man. The core of reality is not essential to a legend, and indeed need have no actual existence at all. It is of no importance for the symbol Stalin that the actual man should have certain characteristics. Yet the Stalin legend is built up on the Bolshevik legend and is a variant of it.
Books will one day be written about the Bolshevik legend. Its point of departure is the self-glorification of a revolutionary community and their founder. The growth of such a legend is a phenomenon which has been fairly often repeated in world history. The Bolshevist community attributed to itself from the first a Messianic and magic significance. It alone was in a position to rescue Russia and lead her to happiness. This Messianic idea was later extended to the whole world.
For the growth of a legend the person of its founder may be of essential importance. The Messianism and the magic of a community finds its concrete expression in this Person. Its propaganda value is increased. An impersonal community can have nothing like the fascination for the imagination of the masses as can the living personality.
Lenin as founder of the Bolshevist Sect was what Max Weber called a ‘charismatic leader’. Charisma – Grace – is always to be found in greater or less degree in every political leader. Leadership cannot be based merely upon election. It must contain a certain measure of Charisma. But the true charismatic leader is essentially other than the leader who emerges from the functional apparatus of the Party. The charismatic leader removes every intermediary between himself and the mass of his disciples, sets himself above the apparatus, destroys it if it suits him, and constructs another which becomes his obedient tool. His authority comes not from his election but from the magic of his appearance, from his luck and his success. Lenin was such a leader. The magic of his personality had an overpowering effect upon his nearest surroundings and later upon the great mass of his disciples. During his lifetime, however, it was not possible for the legend to take possession of his person, as he himself was too much a realist to allow of such a proceeding. After his death the circle of his nearest disciples and, in particular the triumvirate Stalin – Kamenev – Zinoviev, who took over directly from him, were able to draw from Lenin’s person advantages not only for the prestige of the Party, but also, what was more important, for their own authority. Lenin became a fetish, a supernatural protector of the Party and the Party State. He was revered as the invisible Head of the Bolshevik Church, his embalmed mummy on the Red Square in Moscow was merely a material symbol of this immaterial relationship.
Under the principate of Stalin, the Bolshevik metaphysics received its final formulation, became a dogma, which had nothing to do with the materialistic starting-point of the doctrine. But it must not be forgotten that Stalin merely brought to grotesque evolution germs which were already present in the original legend. Thus the motif of self-glorification and Messianic uniqueness which appears in the Stalinist epoch as coarse braggadocio was one of the essential elements of the original Bolshevik legend.
The legend of Bolshevism was transformed into the Stalinist legend, while the whole history of the Party, of the country and even of the world was represented merely as a preparation for the appearance of Stalin. This evolution was fostered consciously and with all the tricks of modern propaganda. His contemporaries were in the happy position of being able to watch the process of ‘manufacturing’ a demigod.
There is, according to the legend, one doctrine alone that can bring salvation, that has already turned one country into an earthly paradise, and that will save the whole world if only the nations will be obedient and teachable. This doctrine is called ‘Marxism’ or ‘historical materialism’ or ‘dialectical materialism’ – abbreviated to ‘Diamat’. But the important thing is that the interpretation of this doctrine is in the hands of a mystic dynasty: Marx – Engels – Lenin – Stalin. In these heroes or saints the spirit of the doctrine is embodied, the virtue descends mystically from one hero to another, until the holy spirit of ‘Diamat’ finds its highest embodiment in Stalin, whose earthly name is Josif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. Stalin is no longer a hero, he is far more – a demi-god! One peasant girl said to another: ‘I have deep in my heart a great desire – to see Stalin.’ The other girl thought a moment and then, turning her big shining eyes to her friend she said in a low tone: ‘But Stalin is always with us. At this very moment he sees us and rejoices in our friendship. You are Stalin, and I, and all of us.’, pointing to her friend. ‘Stalin is – everything!’, and she embraced with a movement of her hand the whole big wonderful garden surrounding her. Thus was the conversation reported by the official organ of the Soviet government (Izvestia, 5 August 1939).
It must not be understood by this that reverence for Stalin as a divine being is widespread among the population of the Soviet Union. It is, however, a fact that the government and the Party, press and propaganda do everything possible to promote this cult of the personality of the ‘Leader of the Nations’. The deification of the ruler is in any case a tradition of the Orient, so that Stalin has not thereby instituted anything new, but has gone back to ancient tradition. That Caesar may not require those things which are God’s is a Jewish-Christian idea. In the Orient and in the Orientalised late Roman Empire there was no such dilemma because Caesar was God.
Marx and Engels were spiritual rulers. Lenin who took over their heritage was the first of the dynasty to grasp the earthly sword. Stalin unites completely in himself the two powers, the earthly and the spiritual. Stalin’s earthly dominion over the Russian Empire rests neither on conquest nor on election. He rules over the Empire by virtue of his mystic claim to be the last member of the ‘Marxist’ dynasty. The Soviet Union is an ideocratic state, in other words the actual power in this land is wielded by the bearer of an idea. Russia is dominated by ‘Marxism’, that is by a community or sect which is held together by faith in the doctrine. This community, however, has, by a remarkable psychological and sociological process, relinquished all its rights to its head. The bearer of the Marxist idea thus becomes the earthly ruler of the land, the Party Pope becomes an Imperator.
Emperor Stalin needs a pedestal to increase his somewhat inconsiderable stature. With this in view Party history and the history of the Civil War have been falsified, documents disappear, books are rewritten, libraries revised, witnesses removed. In a conversation with Bukharin, wishing in his usual way to paralyse him by blatant flattery, Stalin said: ‘We two are Himalayas, the others are nothing.’ So as really to be a Himalaya Stalin was obliged to send Bukharin and the other Party leaders into the next world. The head of the community destroyed the community itself so that all the antecedents of his own rise to power might be buried in oblivion. Stalin, who grew out of the Party apparatus himself, destroyed the apparatus in order to appear as a charismatic leader.
The true Stalin, Josif Dzhugashvili, was not born to be a prophet. The fact alone that he was a provincial obstructed his rise. Beyond this is the fact that he is half-educated and knows nothing whatever of European culture. Lenin and his immediate circle were not only men of European education, but also more or less gifted literati. Bolshevism itself grew out of the editorial office of an émigré newspaper. Russian Social Democracy, the mother-party of Bolshevism, was for many years less a political party than a communion of faith, an association of literati and propagandists. A non-literate like Stalin could not possibly play an important role in such a party, and he made no claim to do so. At this period he contented himself with a second- or even third-rank post within the party apparatus. He never has expressed independent ideas, or invented anything original. Conscious of his intellectual weakness he always sought to attach himself to a stronger intellect than his own, or tacked about between various intellectual tendencies. Lenin was, during his lifetime, his guiding star, although Stalin never stood in any intimate relationship with him. Lenin, however, valued Stalin as an obedient executive under his direction, and as a daring and ruthless revolutionary. These qualities gained him his place on the Bolshevik General Staff even before the revolution.
Stalin has always been the man behind the scenes. He shuns the limelight. The revolution of 1917 was dominated by the double star of Lenin and Trotsky, but Stalin doubtless played an important organising role. Without mixing in the theoretical discussions of the Party literati, he managed successfully to create for himself a basis for future power struggles. In this period, when no one in the Party ever mentioned Stalin, he was building up the foundations of his power by creating for himself his own clique of followers.
Stalin is an ‘apparatchik’, a man of the Party apparatus, with all such a man’s virtues and vices. His whole political Weltanschauung, his routine, his technique, arise out of the political working of the apparatus. Administration is his element. He is deeply convinced of the absolute power of the administrative order. And that is why Socialism is to him, at bottom, completely alien. Stalin is no Socialist, and that is probably the explanation of the riddle which he presents. Modern Socialism is generally hostile to ‘Statism’. That is particularly true of Marx and Lenin. In his brochure State and Revolution (1917) Lenin, shortly before he came to power, affirmed the dying out of the state as an immanent tendency of Socialist development. In this he followed Marx and and Engels. Socialism will free society from the state and bring to consummation those social forces which are hindered by the bourgeois state. Lenin regarded the overgrowth of state power in its coarsest form which developed during the civil war as a temporary phase, and himself pointed out the dangers of this growth of the Socialist idea. It is possible to be of divergent opinions as to Lenin’s sincerity. One can see in the state-bureaucratic caricature of Socialism which marks the Russian Revolution an inevitable development; but it is a fact that before Stalin it had never occurred to any Socialist to represent state despotism as a positive good.
Stalin believes neither in personality nor in society; he despises both. He only believes in the state machine. Personality and society are in themselves faulty; the state apparatus is in itself good. While Socialism in its final result postulates the replacement of the state by a free society, Stalin sees in the future the state devouring society and with it human personality. One cannot deny a certain majesty to this Utopia, it is the dream of the ‘Apparatchik’ to deprive mankind and society of its soul and to substitute for the free play of social forces the automatism of the state machinery.
In his self-satisfaction Stalin does not notice that he is exactly following the development foreseen by Dostoyevsky seventy years ago in his satiric Vision. ‘I am perplexed by my own data, and my own conclusion is a direct contradiction to the original idea with which I start’, says the Socialist Shigalev (The Possessed, first published 1871). Starting from unlimited freedom I arrive at unlimited despotism. And Shigalev suggests ‘the division of mankind into two unequal parts. One-tenth enjoys absolute liberty and unbounded power over the other nine-tenths. The others have to give up all individuality and become, so to speak, a herd...’
From the school of the ‘apparatus’ Stalin has drawn an endless contempt for mankind. The human type known to Stalin is the conscienceless striver; in the world of the apparatus there is only one ethic – intrigue. To be successful one must learn the art of flattery, of defamation and of setting one against another. Out of the struggle of the ‘Apparatchiki’ who fought over the Lenin’s heritage, Stalin, as past master of intrigue, came victoriously to the fore. Aware of his own mediocrity, he surrounded himself with nobodies. One has only to study the photographs of the notables of the Kremlin. Every impartial observer will admit that their faces are not those of intellectuals. They are anti-intellectuals, men whose very existence, and above all their success, is a denial of intellect. And why intellect, anyway? The Apparatus requires only obedience. Thought on the part of subalterns is not only superfluous but dangerous, and in Russia everyone except the Dictator is a subaltern. The Emperor Paul I once said: ‘In Russia the only important man is the one I am speaking to, and only as long as I am speaking to him.’
How is it that the mediocrity, Josif Dzhugashvili, has been transformed into Stalin, the legendary hero? I must confess that I cannot answer this question. The case of Stalin is, however, only a special case, perhaps particularly crass, of the victory of mediocrity and philistinism which is so often seen in history, particularly after periods of great changes in which all outstanding personalities are exhausted. The rise of Stalin was also facilitated by the fact that apart from Lenin and perhaps Sverdlov and Dzerzhinsky, there was no other man of strong will, no single brutal, iron-nerved daredevil in the ranks of the Bolshevik General Staff. They were all – Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev – fundamentally no more than literati and talkers. Trotsky, the only one who could compete with Stalin, was obviously not disposed to dispute power with him, for reasons which are still not clear.
Stalin’s occidental admirers are impressed by his success. The root of European Stalinism must, at bottom, be sought in the respect for brute force and success founded upon it. The man who calls himself a ‘Leftist’ and a ‘Progressive’ finds something imposing in success as such, regardless of what is achieved, and at what sacrifice. These words ‘Left and ‘Progress’, by the way, express remarkable geometric-sociological ideas. Left of what? Of what central point? Progress whither? Marxism, which, on the Continent of Europe, in the last decade before 1914 was completely domesticated and derevolutionised, has received new power by contact with the great Russo-Asiatic peasant and workers’ revolution. Now, however, the ghost of this Marxism, having become the ideological trimming of a vast national upheaval, has come back to Europe and is again exercising its power of attraction upon those who cannot and will not see that it is something new and alien.
Stalin’s successes? In internal politics they consist in this: he has transformed Russia into a concentration camp, a slave state, robbed millions of peasant families of their possessions and their lives, trodden underfoot the ideas of personal freedom and human dignity; banished truth from his realm and made lies the daily bread of his subjects and his worshippers inside and outside the country.
Even with those of his admirers who venture on an occasional timid criticism of the demigod, it has become a reflex to speak of his ‘brilliant successes’ in the realm of industrial construction. Apart from the fact that independent experts are very sceptical of Stalin’s ‘successes’ in the economic sphere, apart from the colossal sacrifices in lives and possessions that these ‘successes’ have cost in every case, can it not be said here as in the Gospel of Luke (ix:25): ‘For what is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world and lose himself or be cast away?’ Stalin is in truth seeking with Satanic guile to buy the soul of the Russian man with the illusion of material wealth.
The same timid Western European critic might humbly venture to point out to Stalin, the Benefactor, that his ‘imperialistic’ foreign policy of the last months is in contradiction to his internal policy. But the humble critic is wrong. Stalin’s foreign policy is not in contradiction to his internal policy. Both policies are built up upon brute force and shameless hypocrisy. Twenty years ago, moreover, the Soviet government, with the leading collaboration of Stalin, treated the little country of Georgia in the same callous and hypocritical manner as Finland today. It is remarkable that it never occurs to these members of his Stalinist Majesty’s Opposition that only a completely amoral despot with a contempt for mankind could follow a foreign policy such as Stalin’s. And at the same time he appears in the eyes of these loyal critics as a brilliant builder of social democracy in Russia. One really has the right to ask what these people understand by democracy and socialism.
The Stalin – Hitler alliance naturally appears in the eyes of the two confederates as a means to an end. It needs no proof that the two rightly mistrust each other and ultimately wish to ruin each other. This is regarded by ‘Leftists’ of every shade as a sign of Stalin’s great genius. Apart, however, from transient and superficial combinations, these two men must in some way feel themselves spiritually akin. Their total amorality and the equally total brutality that derives from it, have a common root in the satanic arrogance with which both lay claim to a godless messianism.
The thing Stalin most hates is personal freedom, and, in general, the free human personality. It contradicts his passion for levelling, his goal, the automatising and mechanising of society. Stalin hates the human soul. It is his greatest enemy because it is free and divine. He hates God because God is the father of human freedom, of the free human spirit. In his hatred of Christianity and of the Western civilisation which is built upon it, he and Hitler come together. This remarkable fact should give Western European Stalinists who are trying to explain away the alliance between the two despots and to treat it as of no consequence, furiously to think.
Dostoyevsky, who felt and prophetically saw the Russian spirit in its deepest fall and its highest glory, takes as motto for his Possessed, that deepest study of the problem of the revolutionary man, the strange story from the Gospel of Luke (viii:27-35) of the devils that left the body of the possessed man and went into the swine. And at the end of the novel one of the heroes says of this Bible story:
Those devils that come out of the sick man and enter into the swine are all the sins, all the foul contagions, all the impurities, all the devils, great and small, that have multiplied in that great invalid, our beloved Russia, in the course of ages and ages. But a great idea and a great will will encompass it from on high, as with the lunatic possessed of devils. And the sick man will be healed and I ‘will sit at the feet of Jesus’ and all will look upon him with astonishment.
The time is perhaps not far off when Russia will be healed of all her devils great and small, and will sit at the feet of Christ. Is it not time, however, that intellectual Europe should free herself from her devil, the devil of satanic Hybris and amorality that has revealed itself in such alarming fashion in the worship of Stalinism?