Joe Hansen

“In Stalin’s Realm”

“The Russian Workers’ Own Story”

(September 1938)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 38, 17 September 1938, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2015 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2015; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

(Continued from last issue)

The Russian Workers’ Own Story
by Boris Silver
251 pp. London, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. 7s. 6d. 1938

In the very educational system the school teachers attempt to circumvent the systematic propaganda of Stalin. This is explained by a local secretary of the Communist Party – incidentally an ardent defender of Stalin:

“You see even though Stalin’s book on Leninism is to form a part of Lenin’s work and is now made a compulsory possession of every library and a textbook in every school, very few grown-up intelligent people in Russia take Stalin as anything more than a joke so far as education is concerned.”

The Youth Know

This is more concretely shown in a surprise visit paid by a high official – of course a Stalinite – to a class in which is taught the history of the Communist Party. The school teacher recounts the visit as follows:

The Stalinite official begins questioning one of the pupils: “Who organized the proletariat to overthrow Czarism and capitalism in the Soviet Union?”

“Various parties for the overthrow of Czar-ism; only the Bolshevik Party was against capitalism.”

“Who was the leader of the Bolsheviks?”

“Comrade Vladimir Ilyitch Lenin.”

“Who were his chief assistants?”

“Many Bolsheviks. I can only name Comrades Krupskaya, Zinovieff, and Kameneff.”

“What did the party do in 1905?”

“It tried to organize armed risings, but succeeded only on a small scale.”

“What was Trotsky doing in 1905?”

“You will excuse me, comrade inspector. Trotsky was not a member of the party at that time.”

The government official questions the next boy.

“What part did Comrade Stalin take in preparing the party for the October Revolution?”

“He was always a member of some committee and occasionally a secretary.”

“Was his a leading part?”

“It depended whether the part played by his committee was an important one.”

“How did Comrade Stalin mainly distinguish himself as a leader?”

No answer was forthcoming. The official asked if any other member of the class could answer the question. A girl rose and said: “He always carried a book under his arm in order to show that he was a learned man.”

“And was Comrade Stalin not a learned man?”

“He must have been more learned than the workers of his time, because they did not even know how to read.”

“What made you say that Comrade Stalin carried a book under his arm?”

“I saw a photograph in the library.”

The official questioned the class generally: “Who was Comrade Lenin’s chief assistant in the October Revolution and civil wars?”

“Trotsky,” came the loud answer.

“And who else?”

“The proletarian soldiers.”

The official turned to the top girl: “Have you read any book by Comrade Stalin or have you ever been told about Leninism?”

“I have seen the book in the library, tried to read it, but could not make out what Leninism was.”

“And how would you connect Lenin with Marx?”

“In the same way as I would connect a great Shakespearean actor with Shakespeare – because Lenin first studied then acted Marx.”

The class applauded the answer. The official left hastily, commenting that this wasn’t the standard system of education in Russia, a remark which the school teacher took as a compliment.

That not even the writings of Trotsky have been completely suppressed in Russia is shown by the following incident: In one of the workers’ libraries in the Ukraine, Silver noticed a student studying a book by Trotsky. The student happened to be the daughter of the secretary of the Communist Club. Silver asked if Trotsky’s books aren’t “illegal” in Russia. “No,” came the answer, “they’re not illegal; they’ve merely disappeared from Russian libraries.”

Tells Who Supports Stalin

Stalin’s power rests upon a very unstable base. His followers are far from being so numerous as the one-ticket shot-gun elections would indicate. Grisha, the old Bolshevik friend of Silver, estimates the number of Stalin’s supporters as follows:

“As a member of the party with unbroken service and a delegate to nearly all the conferences, I have had it driven home to me how the circus character of the conferences has been gradually and systematically developed, in the same tempo as the number of delegates of the Black Hundred and international crook type has increased at conference after conference; I don’t think I’m wrong in estimating that 90 per cent of the delegates represented 80 per cent of members of the same type as themselves. We can therefore assume that fully a million and a half members are supporters of Stalin.

“We will call that the ‘dynamo.’ The ‘flywheel’ is the G.P.U., three-quarters of a million of them well paid, strictly disciplined and ready to kill anyone but themselves, as long as they are given all the privileges that a subject of Stalin can get. The ‘machine’ is the three to four million bureaucrats. Add to these about a million young people who have never had a chance to look upon anything except through the eyes of very skillful propagandists, and a similar number of workers who believe that ‘quack’s pills are best’ because they hear it and see it everywhere. Add all these together and you have the sum total of Stalin’s supporters. The total may not be quite as big as the figures would indicate, for people are apt to discard pills when they find they don’t give the results expected, and not all the bureaucrats are Stalin’s supporters. Remember, in Czarist days we had many good Socialists among the Czar’s civil servants. Who is against? Nobody can tell that with any measure of certainty. That can only become more or less clear at a real crisis. But I am not far wrong when I say that in the south Stalin has very few admirers and is very little feared.”

”They’re a New Aristocracy!”

Boris Silver’s observations confirm entirely the reports of the Tchernavins, of Lyons, of Fred Beal, of Ciliga, etc., as to the inhuman repressions of the Stalin bureaucracy, its increasing strangulation of the productive forces, the tragic and farcical nature of the trials staged with no other intention but to tighten the grip of Stalin’s gang upon the workers’ state.

On Stalin’s course as a whole a school teacher comments:

“Stalin is also responsible for the discovery that Socialism is possible in one country alone and that permanent revolution means permanent dictatorship of the proletariat. It didn’t take genius to discover such absurdities which are both meaningless and contradictory, because over whom would a dictatorship rule if socialism turned everybody into proletarians? And if the present unprecedented advertising boost of him as the great leader succeeds, we may yet see for the first time mediocrity destroying the work of genius, unless, of course, there are still enough people left in Russia able to form a party such as Lenin had in his mind at an historical moment when Stalin and his bureaucracy are at death grips either with ambitious rivals or ambitious foreign powers.”

As for the intensity of feeling against the bureaucracy this is ably expressed by an old worker – a boot maker.

“They are our masters; they make us work! They’re a new aristocracy! ... There will never be equality in Russia until every one of these new aristocrats is strangled.”

How Oppression Will End

A class-mate of Silver’s in the days before 1905 outlined his idea of how Stalin will be overthrown:

“Today leadership, political as well as military, has gradually come to mean personal power over the workers and peasants; membership of the Communist Party is now just a sound investment in a gigantic commercial trust, and even the Bed Army is becoming more and more saturated with snobbishness and other petty bourgeois motives. Take it from me, Stalin will not only have his stuck-up proletarian generals like Voroshiloff and Budenny; he may also have means to corrupt men as capable as Tukhachevsky and Egorov, and to purge the army of all true Socialists who cannot possibly accept him as they accepted Lenin and Trotsky.

“It will, of course, take a very long time to convert the Red Army into a national army, because the reserve is still international and so too ready to fight tyranny at home as well as abroad. There is only one comfort – Russia can never be wholly conquered, it is too vast for that, and the Russian people had tasted freedom for nearly ten years before Stalin succeeded in becoming a tyrant. They will make good use of a war situation to get rid of their oppressors at home first, and afterwards of the invaders by teaching their soldiers how to get rid of their oppressors.

“That’s the way I – a lifelong Socialist – and very many like me – feel about it.”

Boris Silver leaves Russia not as an embittered pessimist ready to review the fundamentals of a Marxism he never understood – but as one hopeful for the future, convinced that Stalin and his bureaucracy are a temporary phenomenon.

This book is worthy of a place in the library of every one interested in knowing what is happening in the U.S.S.R.


Last updated on: 13 September 2015