Brian Pearce

Stalin on the Years of Transition

(Summer 1954)

From Anglo-Soviet Journal, Vol. 15 No. 2, Summer 1954.
Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

J.V. Stalin
Works, Volumes 5 and 6
FLPH and Lawrence and Wishart, 1954, 5/– each volume

These volumes cover the years 1921–23 and 1924 respectively – the years of transition from War Communism to the New Economic Policy and then of development in the direction of building socialism ‘in one country taken separately’. Stalin’s speeches, articles and letters of this period relate mostly to problems which arose from the partial revival of capitalism which took place under the NEP, including the discussion about what was to happen next – whether the Soviet republics could and should go forward to socialism or whether some other path must be taken. Now that the hoary old legends about Trotsky and his associates are being revived by certain writers for a generation to whom they are new, Volume 6 comes very timely to hand, containing as it does Stalin’s famous lecture Trotskyism or Leninism?, a masterly debunking of these legends when they made their first appearance.

The purpose of this review is limited to only one aspect of the rich and many-sided material included in the two volumes – to show how the development of certain important features of the national policy of the Soviet Communist Party and Government in 1921–24 are reflected in Stalin’s works which belong to these years.

The period covered is the one in which the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed. Already in February 1921 Stalin, surveying the situation of the separate Soviet republics at the end of the Civil War, was declaring that ‘in the present state of international relations, in the conditions of capitalist encirclement, not a single Soviet republic standing alone can regard itself as ensured against economic exhaustion and military defeat by world imperialism’, and calling for the formation of ‘a close state union’ of the Soviet republics (Volume 5, p. 22). The adoption of the New Economic Policy in March 1921 brought new reasons for establishing such closer unity – the growth of a new bourgeoisie both in the Russian and non-Russian areas called forth a need to counter disruptive nationalistic tendencies and to consolidate all the forces in all the Soviet republics which were interested in ensuring a socialist future for these republics. These internal factors did not make themselves felt immediately, however. It was not until the middle of 1922 that the idea of welding the separate republics into ‘a single union state’ was put forward on mainly internal grounds, when leaders of the government and Communist Party organisations in the Transcaucasian republics, in the Ukraine and in Byelorussia began to advocate it. ‘None of our Soviet republics is in a position to restore its economy by its own unaided efforts.’ There was need for ‘permanently functioning Union bodies capable of directing the economic life of these republics along one definite road’ (Volume 5, pp. 141–42).

Many complex and delicate questions had to be solved in working out the exact constitutional form to be assumed by the ‘single union state’. It is interesting that Stalin was at first (in November 1922) opposed to the idea of a Soviet of Nationalities (Volume 5, p. 146). By March 1923, however, he had become convinced that such a body must be included in the constitution, as a guarantee of mutual confidence and understanding among the peoples (Volume 5, pp. 193–94):

Unless we have this barometer, and people capable of formulating these special needs of the individual nationalities, it will be impossible to govern ... As yet we have no better way or means of creating an organ capable of registering all the oscillations and all the changes that take place within the individual republics than that of establishing a second chamber. (Volume 5, pp. 263–64, 266)

The proposal had originally been, however, for a Soviet of Nationalities which would function as an upper chamber, and this was not accepted. The two chambers of the central ‘Parliament’ of the USSR – one elected on a population basis and the other representing the different nationalities – were to be co-equal, each having power to control the decisions of the other (Volume 5, pp. 301, 332). Stalin also successfully opposed a scheme for two Presidiums to be elected, one by each chamber, instead of a single one elected jointly by the two chambers together (Volume 5, p. 302).

Another proposal put forward at this time which was rejected under Stalin’s leadership was one to break up the Russian Federation so that its various units (for example, the Tatar Republic) might enter the new USSR separately. To break up the RSFSR, he said, would go contrary to the movement for closer union, it would ‘upset the truly revolutionary process of union of the republics which has already begun’ (Volume 5, pp. 154–55). These proposals came from Rakovsky, Skrypnik and other persons, later exposed as conspirators against the Soviet order, who were at this time entrenched in the leadership of the Ukrainian Communist Party. They also tried, without success, to get the phrase a single union state struck out of the new constitution and to change the character of the USSR into that of a confederation (Volume 5, pp. 343, 347).

In his struggle to ensure such a handling of the national question, in the new conditions, as would facilitate leadership of the entire country by the working class (still predominantly Russian, even in the Ukraine – Volume 5, pp. 49, 337), Stalin argued against the fundamental standpoint of Rakovsky (which was also that of Bukharin) on this question. Their line, he said, was to ‘exaggerate’ the national question, to make it overshadow ‘the question of working-class power’. They aimed to place the Russian workers ‘in a position of inequality in relation to the formerly oppressed nations’. This could only tend to undermine the Soviet order, for ‘it is clear that the political basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat is primarily the central, industrial regions, and not the border regions, which are peasant countries’. Moreover, ‘it should be borne in mind that in addition to the right of nations to self-determination there is also the right of the working class to consolidate its power, and the right of self-determination is subordinate to this right – a point which should be remembered when ‘handing out all sorts of promises to the non-Russian nationalities, when bowing and scraping before the representatives of these nationalities, as certain comrades have done ...’ (Volume 5, pp. 269–70).

While warning against dominant-nation jingoism among Russians and striving continually to improve educational and other institutions so as to give greater scope and dignity to the non-Russian nationalities, Stalin in this period never tired of reminding all concerned of the hard fact of actual inequality, actual backwardness of economic and social structure which no demagogy or romanticism should be allowed to conceal if it were to be remedied in the only way possible: ‘Schools will not carry you very far ... The Russian proletariat must take all measures ... to ensure the building of centres of industry in these republics’; and he mentions measures already taken (April 1923), such as the export of entire factories from Moscow to Georgia and Central Asia (Volume 5, p. 283). There was need for systematic assistance by the Russian workers to the non-Russian peoples (and its voluntary acceptance by the latter) ‘in their cultural and economic development, without which what is known as “national equality of rights” becomes an empty sound’ (Volume 5, p. 116). ‘The party’s task is to help the labouring masses of the non-Great-Russian peoples to catch up with central Russia, which has forged ahead’ (Volume 5, p. 25); and for this, ‘real and prolonged assistance from outside’, by the Russian workers, was necessary (Volume 5, p. 191; see also Volume 5, pp. 35–36, 39, 58–59).

The actual backwardness of the non-Russian areas meant that there was, in most of them, ‘little or no industrial proletariat’ (Volume 5, p. 25), which in turn meant that ‘in the national republics ... party membership is low generally’ (Volume 5, p. 210; see also Volume 6, p. 11). This situation obliged Russian Communists often to undertake, in person and on the ground, much of the work of leadership in the non-Russian areas:

Since there is a shortage of local workers, it is obviously necessary to engage non-local workers for the work, people of other nationalities, for time will not wait; we must build and govern, and cadres of local people grow slowly. (Volume 5, p. 341)

In some of the border regions the victory and consolidation of Soviet rule had led to an ‘influx of petty-bourgeois nationalist elements into the party for the sake of a career’ (Volume 5, p. 29). NEP conditions strengthened their influence, which was expressed both in transforming the local Soviet authorities into de facto bourgeois governments (for example, the situation in Bukhara described in Volume 5, pp. 338–39) and in an intensification of nationalism directed not only against the Russians but also against neighbouring weaker nationalities, for example, Georgians against Ossetians (Volume 5, p. 192). This led in extreme cases to actual treason and conspiracy with foreign powers, especially where the ideas of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism gained a hold (for example, Validov, Sultan-Galiyev and others in the Tatar Republic, Volume 5, pp. 308–09).

One of the principal methods of work used by the enemies of the Soviets, both internal and external, in the entire period since the end of the war of intervention, was the fostering of an attitude of ‘ourselves alone’ in the border regions, an attitude of distrust or disregard for the Russian working people. Stalin always stressed the need to combat this tendency. Even the Russian settlers on the land in the border regions were not all kulaks, and the fight against the Russian kulaks in those areas must not be conducted on a basis of ‘Russians versus the rest’; the task of the Communists in places like Northern Ossetia and Bashkiria where there had been Russian colonisation must be one of uniting the efforts of ‘the labouring masses of these nationalities’ with those of ‘the labouring masses of the local Russian population in the struggle for liberation from the kulaks in general and from the rapacious Great-Russian kulaks in particular’ (Volume 5, p. 27).

Throughout these volumes, as everywhere in Stalin’s works, we observe his high estimation of the capacities of the Russian working class, one of the fundamental elements in his thinking. In May 1924 he noted that Russians made up seventy-two per cent of the membership of the Communist Party (at a time when their proportion in the total population was about sixty per cent) and that ‘the proportion will evidently increase as a result of the Lenin enrolment’ – the action of 250,000 of the most advanced non-party workers in joining the Communist Party in the period immediately following Lenin’s death, a rebuff to hopes expressed by enemies that this great loss would weaken the USSR (Volume 5, p. 211). The socialist revolution had succeeded first in Russia not only because of factors arising from the country’s backwardness, as some alleged, but also because it possessed ‘the most revolutionary proletariat in the world’ (Volume 6, p. 78).

The Trotsky faction derived all their arguments about the impossibility of building socialism in Russia ultimately from their ‘lack of faith in the strength and capacity of the Russian proletariat’ (Volume 6, p. 395). Their advocacy of solving the country’s economic problems by means of mass ‘labour armies’ under military discipline, instead of adopting the GOELRO plan for electrification, followed from their disbelief in the Russian workers’ capacity to master modern technique (Volume 5, p. 50). It was not for the workers in general that they had this contempt, overtly at least: the workers ‘in other, more advanced, more civilised countries, will be truly capable of performing miracles’, they said; but not the Russians. History has shown that better judgement of the capacities of the Russian workers was possessed by the Georgian who in 1926 reminded fellow Georgians ‘to whom I am obliged for my present position in our party’ that it was in Petrograd, ‘in the circle of the Russian workers, the liberators of the oppressed peoples and the pioneers of the proletarian struggle of all countries and peoples’, that he had become ‘one of the master workmen of the revolution’ (Reply to Greetings from Workers of the Main Railway Workshops in Tbilisi, in Stalin’s Works, Volume 8, Russian edition, p. 175; English translation in Labour Monthly, December 1949).

Last updated on 6 June 2015