J. V. Stalin

Talk With the German Author Emil Ludwig

December 13, 1931



First Published: Bolshevik, April 30, 1932, No. 8.
Source: Works, J.V. Stalin, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1955, Volume 13, pp. 106-25
Transcription/HTML Markup: Hari Kumar for Alliance Marxist-Leninist (North America)/Charles Farrell
Online Version: Stalin Reference Archive (marxists.org) 2000


 


Ludwig: I am extremely obliged to you for having found it possible to receive me. For over twenty years I have been studying the lives and deeds of outstanding historical personages. I believe I am a good judge of people, but on the other hand I know nothing about social-economic conditions.

Stalin: You are being modest.

Ludwig: No, that is really so, and for that very reason I shall put questions that may seem strange to you. Today, here in the Kremlin, I saw some relies 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 he 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 hut a drop in the sea, whereas Lenin was a whole ocean.

Ludwig: Marxism denies that the individual plays an outstanding role in history. Do you not see a contradiction between the materialist conception of history and the fact that, after all, you admit the outstanding role played by historical personages?

Stalin: No, there is no contradiction here. Marxism does not at all deny the role played by outstanding individuals or that history is made by people. In Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy and in other works of his you will find it stated that it is people who make history. But, of course, people do not make history according to the promptings of their imagination pr as some fancy strikes them. Every new generation encounters definite conditions already existing, ready-made when that generation was born. And great people are worth anything at all only to the extent that they are able correctly to understand these conditions, to understand how to change them. If they fail to understand these conditions and want to alter them according to the promptings of their imagination, they will land themselves in the situation of Don Quixote. Thus it is precisely Marx's view that people must not be counterposed to conditions. It is people who make history, but they do so only to the extent that they correctly understand the conditions that they have found ready-made, and only to the extent that they understand how to change those conditions. That, at least, is how we Russian Bolsheviks understand Marx. And we have been studying Marx for a good many years.

Ludwig: Some thirty years ago, when I was at the university, many German professors who considered themselves adherents of the materialist conception of history taught us that Marxism denies the role of heroes, the role of heroic personalities in history.

Stalin: They were vulgarizers of Marxism. Marxism has never denied the role of heroes. On the contrary, it admits that they play a considerable role, hut with the reservations I have just made.

Ludwig: Sixteen chairs are placed around the table at which we are seated. Abroad people know, on the one hand, that the USSR is a country in which everything must he decided collectively, but they know, on the other hand, that everything is decided by individual persons. Who really does decide?

Stalin: No, individual persons cannot decide. Decisions of individuals are always, or nearly always, one-sided decisions. In every collegium, in every collective body, there are people whose opinion must be reckoned with. In every collegium, in every collective body, there are people who may express wrong opinions. From the experience of three revolutions we know that out of every 100 decisions taken by individual persons without being tested and corrected collectively, approximately 90 are one-sided. In our leading body, the Central Committee of our Party, which directs all our Soviet and Party organizations, there are about 70 members. Among these 70 members of the Central Committee are our best industrial leaders, our best co-operative leaders, our best managers of supplies, our best military men, our best propagandists and agitators, our best experts on state farms, on collective farms, on individual peasant farms, our best experts on the nations constituting the Soviet Union and on national policy. In this areopagus is concentrated the wisdom of our Party. Each has an opportunity of correcting anyone's individual opinion or proposal. Each has an opportunity of contributing his experience. If this were not the case, if decisions were taken by individual persons, there would he very serious mistakes in our work. But since each has an opportunity of correcting the mistakes of individual persons, and since we pay heed to such corrections, we arrive at decisions that are more or less correct.

Ludwig: You have had decades of experience of illegal work. You have had to transport illegally arms, literature, and so forth. Do you not think that the enemies of the Soviet regime might learn from your experience and fight the Soviet regime with the same methods?

Stalin: That, of course, is quite possible.

Ludwig: Is that not the reason for the severity and ruthlessness of your government in fighting its enemies?

Stalin: No, that is not the chief reason. One could quote certain examples from history. When the Bolsheviks came to power they at first treated their enemies mildly. The Mensheviks continued to exist legally and publish their newspaper. The Socialist Revolutionaries also continued to exist legally and had their newspaper. Even the Cadets continued to publish their newspaper. When General Krasnov organized his counter-revolutionary campaign against Leningrad and fell into our hands, we could at least have kept him prisoner, according to the rules of war. Indeed, we ought to have shot him. But we released him on his "word of honor." And what happened? It soon became clear that such mildness only helped to undermine the strength of the Soviet Government. We made a mistake in displaying such mildness towards enemies of the working class. To have persisted in that mistake would have been a crime against the working class and a betrayal of its interests. That soon became guile apparent. Very soon it became evident that the milder our attitude towards our enemies, the greater their resistance. Before long the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries—Golz and others—and the Right Mensheviks were organizing in Leningrad a counter-revolutionary action of the military cadets, as a result of which many of our revolutionary sailors perished.

This very Krasnov, whom we had released on his "word of honor," organized the whiteguard Cossacks. He joined forces with Mamontov and for two years waged an armed struggle against the Soviet Government. Very soon it turned out that behind the whiteguard generals stood the agents of the western capitalist states—France, Britain, America—and also Japan. We became convinced that we had made a mistake in displaying mildness.

We learnt from experience that the only way to deal with such enemies is to apply the most ruthless policy of suppression to them.

Ludwig: It seems to me that a considerable part of the population of the Soviet Union stands in fear and trepidation of the Soviet power, and that the stability of the latter rests to a certain extent on that sense of fear. I should like to know what state of mind is produced in you personally by the realization that it is necessary to inspire fear in the interests of strengthening the regime. After all, when you associate with your comrades, your friends, you adopt quite different methods than those of inspiring fear. Yet the population is being inspired with fear.

Stalin: You are mistaken. Incidentally, your mistake is that of many people. Do you really believe that we could have retained power and have had the backing of the vast masses for 14 years by methods of intimidation and terrorization? No, that is impossible. The tsarist government excelled all others in knowing how to intimidate. It had long and vast experience in that sphere. The European bourgeoisie, particularly the French, gave tsarism every assistance in this matter and taught it to terrorize the people. Yet, in spite of that experience and in spite of the help of the European bourgeoisie, the policy of intimidation led to the downfall of Tsarism.

Ludwig: But the Romanovs held on for 300 years.

Stalin: Yes, hut how many revolts and uprisings there were during those 300 years! There was the uprising of Stepan Razin, the uprising of Yemelyan Pugachov, the uprising of the Decemberists, the revolution of 1905, the revolution of February 1917, and the October Revolution. That is apart from the fact that the present-day conditions of political and cultural life in the country are radically different from those of the old regime, when the ignorance, lack of culture, submissiveness and political downtroddenness of the masses enabled the "rulers" of that time to remain in power for a more or less prolonged period.

As regards the people, the workers and peasants of the USSR, they are not at all so tame, so submissive and intimidated as you imagine. There are many people in Europe whose ideas about the people of the USSR are old-fashioned: they think that the people living in Russia are, firstly, submissive and, secondly, lazy.

That is an antiquated and radically wrong notion. It arose in Europe in those days when the Russian landlords began to flock to Paris, where they squandered the loot they had amassed and spent their days in idleness. These were indeed spineless and worthless people. That gave rise to conclusions about "Russian laziness." But this cannot in the least apply to the Russian workers and peasants, who earned and still earn their living by their own labor. It is indeed strange to consider the Russian peasants and workers submissive arid lazy when in a brief period of time they made three revolutions, smashed tsarism and the bourgeoisie, and are now triumphantly building socialism.

Just now you asked me whether everything in our Country was decided by one person.

Never under any circumstances would our workers now tolerate power in the hands of one person. With us personages of the greatest authority are reduced to nonentities, become mere ciphers, as soon as the masses of the workers lose confidence in them, as soon as they lose contact with the masses of the workers. Plekhanov used to enjoy exceptionally great prestige. And what happened? As soon as he began to stumble politically the workers forgot him. They forsook him and forgot him. Another instance: Trotsky. His prestige too was great, although, of course, it was nothing like Plekhanov's. What happened? As soon as he drifted away from the workers they forgot him.

Ludwig: Entirely forgot him?

Stalin: They remember him sometimes—but with bitterness.

Ludwig: All of them with bitterness?

Stalin: As far as our workers are concerned, they remember Trotsky with bitterness, with exasperation, with hatred.

There is, of course, a certain small section of the population that really does stand in fear of the Soviet power, and fights against it. I have in mind the remnants of the moribund classes, which are being eliminated, and primarily that insignificant part of the peasantry, the kulaks. But here it is a matter not merely of a policy of intimidating these groups, a policy that really does exist. Everybody knows that in this ease we Bolsheviks do not confine ourselves to intimidation but go further, aiming at the elimination of this bourgeois stratum.

But if you take the laboring population of the USSR, the workers and the laboring peasants, who represent not less than 40 per cent of the population, you will find that they are in favor of Soviet power and that the vast majority of them actively support the Soviet regime. They support the Soviet system because that system serves the fundamental interests of the workers and peasants.

That, and not a policy of so-called intimidation, is the basis of the Soviet Government's stability.

Ludwig: I am very grateful to you for that answer. I beg you to forgive me if I ask you a question that may appear to you a strange one. Your biography contains instances of what may be called acts of "highway robbery. Were you over interested in the personality of Stepan Razin? What is your attitude towards him as an "ideological highwayman"?

Stalin: We Bolsheviks have always taken an interest in such historical personalities as Bolotnikov, Razin, Pugachov, and so on. We regard the deeds of these individuals as a reflection of the spontaneous indignation of the oppressed classes, of the spontaneous rebellion of the peasantry against feudal oppression. The study of the history of these first attempts at such revolt on the part of the peasantry has always been of interest to us. But, of course, no analogy can be drawn here between them and the Bolsheviks. Sporadic peasant uprisings, even when not of the "highway robber" and unorganized type, as in the case of Stepan Razin, cannot lead to anything of importance. Peasant uprisings can be successful only if they are combined with uprisings of the workers and if they are led by the workers. Only a combined uprising headed by the working class can achieve its aim.

Moreover, it must never be forgotten that Razin and Pugachov were tsarists: they came out against the landlords, hut were in favor of a "good tsar." That indeed was their slogan.

As you see, it is impossible to draw an analogy here with the Bolsheviks.

Ludwig: Allow me to put a few questions to you concerning your biography. When I went to see Masaryk he told me he was conscious of being a Socialist when only six years old. What made you a Socialist and when was that?

Stalin: I cannot assert that I was already drawn to socialism at the age of six. Not even at the age of ten or twelve. I joined the revolutionary movement when fifteen years old, when I became connected with underground groups of Russian Marxists then living in Transcaucasia. These groups exerted great influence on me and instilled in me a taste for underground Marxist literature.

Ludwig: What impelled you to become an oppositionist? Was it, perhaps, bad treatment by your parents?

Stalin: No. My parents were uneducated, but they did not treat me badly by any means. But it was a different matter at the Orthodox theological seminary which I was then attending. In protest against the outrageous regime and the Jesuitical methods prevalent at the seminary, I was ready to become, and actually did become, a revolutionary, a believer in Marxism as a really revolutionary teaching.

Ludwig: But do you not admit that the Jesuits have good points?

Stalin: Yes, they are systematic and persevering in working to achieve sordid ends. Hut their principal method is spying, prying, worming their way into people's souls and outraging their feelings. What good can there be in that? For instance, the spying in the hostel. At nine o'clock the bell rings for morning tea, we go to the dining-room, and when we return to our rooms we find that meantime a search has been made and all our chests have been ransacked.... What good point can there be in that?

Ludwig: I notice that in the Soviet Union everything American is held in very high esteem, I might even speak of a worship of everything American, that is, of the Land of the Dollar, the most out-and-out capitalist country. This sentiment exists also in your working class, and applies not only to tractors and automobiles, but also to Americans in general. How do you explain that?

Stalin: You exaggerate. We have no especially high esteem for everything American, nut we do respect the efficiency that the Americans display in everything—in industry, in technology, in literature and in life. We never forget that the U.S.A. is a capitalist country. But among the Americans there are many people who are mentally and physically healthy who are healthy in their whole approach to work, to the job on hand. That efficiency, that simplicity, strikes a responsive chord in our hearts. Despite the fact that America is a highly developed capitalist country, the habits prevailing in its industry, the practices existing in productive processes, have an element of democracy about them, which cannot be said of the old European capitalist countries, where the haughty spirit of the feudal aristocracy is still alive.

Ludwig: You do not even suspect how right you are.

Stalin: Maybe I do; who can tell?

In spite of the fact that feudalism as a social order was demolished long ago in Europe, considerable relies survive in manner of life and customs. There are still technicians, specialists, scientists and writers who have sprung from the feudal environment and who carry aristocratic habits into industry, technology, science and literature. Feudal traditions have not been entirely demolished.

That cannot be said of America, which is a country of "free colonists," without landlords and without aristocrats. Hence the sound and comparatively simple habits in American productive life. Our business executives of working-class origin who have visited America at once noted this trait. They relate, not without a certain agreeable surprise, that on a production job in America it is difficult to distinguish an engineer from a worker by outward appearance. That pleases them, of course.

But matters are quite different in Europe.

But if we are going to speak of our liking for a particular nation, or rather, for the majority of its citizens, then of course we must not fail to mention our liking for the Germans. Our liking for the Americans cannot he compared to that!

Ludwig: Why precisely the German nation?

Stalin: If only for the reason that it gave the world such men as Marx and Engels. It suffices to state the fact as such.

Ludwig: It has recently been noticed that certain German politicians are seriously afraid that the traditional policy of friendship between the USSR and Germany will be pushed into the background. These fears have arisen in connection with the negotiations between the USSR and Poland. Should the recognition of Poland's present frontiers by the USSR become a fact as a result of these negotiations it would spell bitter disappointment for the entire German people, who have hitherto believed that the USSR is fighting the Versailles system and has no intention of recognizing it.

Ludwig: I know that a certain dissatisfaction and alarm may he noticed among some German statesmen on the grounds that the Soviet Union, in its negotiations or in some treaty with Poland, may take some step that would imply on the part of the Soviet Union a sanction, a guarantee, for Poland's possessions and frontiers.

In my opinion such fears are mistaken. We have al- ways declared our readiness to conclude a non-aggression pact with any state. We have already concluded such pacts with a number of countries. We have openly declared our readiness to sign such a pact with Poland, too. When we declare that we are ready to sign a pact of non-aggression with Poland, this is not mere rhetoric. It means that we really want to sign such a pact.

We are politicians of a special brand if you like. There are politicians who make a promise or statement one day, and on the next either forget all about it or deny what they stated, and do so without even blushing. We cannot act in that way. Whatever we do abroad inevitably becomes known inside our country, becomes known to all the workers and peasants. If we said one thing and did another, we should forfeit our prestige among the masses of the people. As soon as the Poles declared that they were ready to negotiate a non-aggression pact with us, we naturally agreed and opened negotiations.

What, from the Germans' point of view, is the most dangerous thing that could happen? A change for the worse in our relations with them. But there is no basis whatever for that. We, exactly like the Poles, must declare in the pact that we will not use force or resort to aggression in order to change the frontiers of Poland or the USSR, or violate their independence. Just as we make such a promise to the Poles, so they make the same promise to us. Without such a clause, namely, that we do not intend to go to war for the purpose of violating the independence or integrity of the frontiers of our respective states, no pact can he concluded. Without that a pact is out of the question. That is the most that we can do.

Is this recognition of the Versailles system? No. Or is it, perhaps, a guaranteeing of frontiers? No. We never have been guarantors of Poland and never shall become such, just as Poland has not been and will not be a guarantor of our frontiers. Our friendly relations with Germany will continue as hitherto. That is my firm conviction.

Therefore, the fears you speak of are wholly without foundation, They have arisen on the basis of rumors spread by some Poles and Frenchmen. They will disappear when we publish the pact, if Poland signs it. Everyone will then see that it contains nothing against Germany.

Ludwig: I am very thankful to you for that statement. Allow me to ask you the following question: You speak of "wage equalization," giving the term a distinctly ironical shade of meaning in relation to general equalization. But, surely, general equalization is a socialist ideal.

Stalin: The kind of socialism under which everybody would get the same pay, an equal quantity of meat and an equal quantity of bread, would wear the same clothes and receive the same goods in the same quantities—such a socialism is unknown to Marxism.

All that Marxism says is that until classes have been finally abolished and until labor has been transformed from a means of subsistence into the prime want of man, into voluntary labor for society, people will be paid for their labor according to the work performed. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work." Such is the Marxist formula of socialism, i.e., the formula of the first stage of communism, the first stage of communist society.

Only at the higher stage of communism, only in its higher phase, will each one, working according to his ability, be recompensed for his work according to his needs. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

It is quite clear that people's needs vary and will continue to vary under socialism. Socialism has never denied that people differ in their tastes, and in the quantity and quality of their needs. Read how Marx criticized Stirner for his leaning towards equalitarianism; read Marx's criticism of the Gotha Programme of 1875; read the subsequent works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, and you will see how sharply they attack equalitarianism. Equalitarianism owes its origin to the individual peasant type of mentality, the psychology of share and share alike, the psychology of primitive peasant "communism." Equalitarianism has nothing in common with Marxist socialism. Only people who are unacquainted with Marxism can have the primitive notion that the Russian Bolsheviks want to pool all wealth and then share it out equally. That is the notion of people who have nothing in common with Marxism. That is how such people as the primitive "Communists" of the time of Cromwell and the French Revolution pictured communism to themselves. But Marxism and the Russian Bolsheviks have nothing in common with such equalitarian "Communists. "

Ludwig: You are smoking a cigarette. Where is your legendary pipe, Mr. Stalin? You once said that words and legends pass, but deeds remain. Now believe me, there are millions of people abroad who do not know about some of your words and deeds, but who do know about your legendary pipe.

Stalin: I left my pipe at home.

Ludwig: I shall now ask you a question that may astonish you greatly.

Stalin: We Russian Bolsheviks have long ceased to be astonished at anything.

Ludwig: Yes, and we in Germany too.

Stalin: Yes, you in Germany will soon stop being astonished.

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 "Schieksal," 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.

Ludwig: Lenin passed many years in exile abroad. You had occasion to be abroad for only a very short time. Do you consider that this has handicapped you? Who do you believe were of greater benefit to the revolution—those revolutionaries who lived in exile abroad and thus had the opportunity of making a thorough study of Europe, but on the other hand were cut off from direct contact with the people; or those revolutionaries who carried on their work here, knew the moods of the people, but on the other hand knew little of Europe?

Stalin: Lenin must be excluded from this comparison. Very few of those who remained in Russia were as intimately connected with the actual state of affairs there and with the labor movement within the country as Lenin was, although he was a long time abroad. Whenever I went to see him abroad—in 1906, 1907, 1912 and 1913—I saw piles of letters he had received from practical Party workers in Russia, and he was al- ways better informed than those who stayed in Russia. He always considered his stay abroad to be a burden to him. There are many more comrades in our Party and its leadership who remained in Russia, who did not go abroad, than there are former exiles, and they, of course, were able to be of greater benefit to the revolution than those who were in exile abroad. Actually few former exiles are left in our Party. They may add up to about one or two hundred out of the two million members of the Party. Of the seventy members of the Central Committee scarcely more than three or four lived in exile abroad.

As far as knowledge of Europe, a study of Europe, is concerned, those who wished to make such a study had, of course, more opportunities of doing so while living there. In that respect those of us who did not live long abroad lost something. But living abroad is not at all a decisive factor in making a study of European economies, technique, the cadres of the labor movement and literature of every description, whether belies letters or scientific. Other things being equal, it is of course easier to study Europe on the spot. But the disadvantage of those who have not lived in Europe is not of much importance. On the contrary, I know many comrades who were abroad twenty years, lived somewhere in Charlottenburg or in the Latin Quarter, spent years in cafes drinking beer, and who yet did not manage to acquire a knowledge of Europe and failed to understand it.

Ludwig: Do you not think that among the Germans as a nation love of order is more highly developed than love of freedom?

Stalin: There was a time when people in Germany did indeed show great respect for the law. In 1907, when I happened to spend two or three months in Berlin, we Russian Bolsheviks often used to laugh at some of our German friends on account of their respect for the law. There was, for example, a story in circulation about an occasion when the Berlin Social-Democratic Executive fixed a definite day and hour for a demonstration that was to be attended by the members of all the suburban organizations. A group of about 200 from one of the suburbs arrived in the city punctually at the hour appointed, but failed to appear at the demonstration, the reason being that they had waited two hours on the station platform because the ticket collector at the exit had failed to make his appearance and there had been nobody to give their tickets to. It used to be said in jest that it took a Russian comrade to show the Germans a simple way out of their fix: to leave the platform without giving up their tickets.... But is there anything like that in Germany now? Is there respect for the law in Germany today? What about the National Socialists, who one would think ought to be the first to stand guard over bourgeois legality? Do they not break the law, wreck workers' clubs and assassinate workers with impunity? I make no mention of the workers, who, it seems to me, long ago lost all respect for bourgeois legality. Yes, the Germans have changed quite a bit lately.

Ludwig: Under what conditions is it possible to unite the working Glass finally and completely under the leadership of one party? Why is such a uniting of the working class possible only after the proletarian revolution, as the Communists maintain?

Stalin: Such a uniting of the working Class around the Communist Party is most easily accomplished as the result of a victorious proletarian revolution. But it will undoubtedly be achieved in the main even before the revolution.

Ludwig: Does ambition stimulate or hinder a great historical figure in his activities?

Stalin: The part played by ambition differs under different conditions. Ambition may he a stimulus or a hindrance to the activities of a great historical figure. It all depends on circumstances. More often than not it is a hindrance.

Ludwig: Is the October Revolution in any sense the continuation and culmination of the Great French Revolution?

Stalin: The October Revolution is neither the continuation nor the culmination of the Great French Revolution. The purpose of the French Revolution was to abolish feudalism in order to establish capitalism. The purpose of the October Revolution, however, is to abolish capitalism in order to establish socialism.