Peter Petroff, Social-Democrat, June 1930

Stalin versus Marx

Source: Social-Democrat, June 1930, p.5;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Peter Petroff, whose name will be familiar to an older generation of our London readers, is to an incomparable degree qualified to put before us the situation as it has developed during the last twelve years in the Soviet Union. An active revolutionary in the 1905 phase, an exile in Siberia, a colleague of John McLean on the Clyde, deported along with Tchitcherin to Russia in 1918, he was made immediately on his return Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and subsequently, as Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs, signed at Berlin on behalf of the R.S.F.S.R. the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Attached to the Military Command against Denikin, sent to Siberia to liquidate the crisis after the expulsion of Koltchalk, Petroff was a trusted friend of Lenin. Absolutely refusing, however, to take his seat on the Communist International from its very outset, endeavouring to establish honest co-operation with the British Labour Movement, he found his position in Russia impossible so long ago as 1921. The author of two important State publications on the Economic Development of Russia, our comrade will be a regular contributor to the Social-Democrat.

Those who are not familiar with the developments in Russia find it rather difficult to appraise Stalin’s theoretical views.

His followers in all countries are advertising him as a Marxian. And as the number of people who do not know anything about Marxism is very large this is actually believed. Yet all the deeds and most of the utterances of Stalin have nothing in common with Marxism.

Stalin himself apparently considers Marxism a very inconvenient theory for his purposes. For it is difficult indeed to reconcile the revolutionary ideas of Marx with the official teachings and the practice of the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union. This is the reason why Marxism is now being adulterated with what is termed Leninism – a term which nobody would ever have dared to use while Lenin was alive. Only after Lenin’s death this convenient was coined to cover the general retreat from Marxism.

Stalin defines Leninism as follows: “Leninism is Marxism of the epoch of imperialism and of the proletarian revolution. Or, rather: Leninism is the theory and policy of the proletarian revolution in general, especially the theory and policy of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

This definition is clearly intended to open a back door. While doing lip service to Marxism it provides the possibility to back out whenever the Marxian theory becomes inconvenient.

Thus Stalin’s term “Leninism” implies that Marxism has done its service in the pre-war time and has become obsolete – now it has to be modernised – that is to say, replaced by Leninism.

Stalin emphasises that Leninism does not mean the application of Marxism to Russian conditions, but is a universal theory that must be applied “to all countries without exception including the most advanced capitalist countries.”

According to Stalin the corner stone of Leninism is the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Marx and Engels considered the dictatorship of the proletariat as the essential political aspect of the transitional period from capitalism to Socialism. They believed that this transition from capitalism to Socialism can take place only when a certain stage of maturity of capitalist society has been reached. “A system of society never vanishes before all the productive forces for which it has space have been developed, and new higher conditions of production never take the place before the material conditions of existence of the latter have developed within the old society itself.”

Thus Marx considered that the social revolution can take place only when the material conditions of Socialism have been created by capitalism itself and when the productive forces have outgrown the existing forms of production. This certainly implies that at the time of the social revolution the proletariat forms the overwhelming majority of the population. The dictatorship of the proletariat, according to Marx, is therefore the dictatorship of the immense majority over a small minority of capitalists.

If the dictatorship of the proletariat is the dictatorship of the immense majority of the people, why should this majority desire to destroy the forms of democracy? For Marx the dictatorship of the proletariat meant the democratic rule of the proletarian majority.

Marx and Engels clearly stated that they regarded the Paris Commune as dictatorship of the proletariat, and emphasised the spirit of democracy prevailing in the Commune: “The Commune was composed of deputies elected by adult suffrage in the various districts of Paris. They were responsible and could be recalled at any time.... Nothing could be more hostile to the spirit of the Commune than the abolition of adult suffrage in favour of hierarchical investiture.”

This surely proves the necessity of replacing Marxism by “Leninism” in order to justify Stalin’s methods.

And, now, what is the “dictatorship of the proletariat” according to Stalin’s patent “Leninism.”

Quite apart from the Russianising of the idea of the proletarian dictatorship by turning it into a “dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry,” this “Leninist” dictatorship entirely differs from the Marxian conception.

At the early stages of the October revolution the dictatorship was embodied in the Soviets – comparatively democratically elected bodies representing the masses of the workers and peasants.

Very soon this was replaced by the dictatorship of the Communist Party, which usurped the rights of the Soviet electorate. Central and local authorities hitherto elected by the Soviets and Soviet Congresses were now appointed by the party organisations, and the Soviets or Soviet Congresses had only to register the party’s decisions by show of hands. Simultaneously the freedom of the Press and the freedom of speech was limited to the Communist Party.

The dictatorship of the party soon deteriorated to a dictatorship of the party caucus. The right of election and the freedom of expression of opinion were by and by abolished also within the party. The Soviets retained their right to “elect” but they could elect only (by show of hands) those candidates put forward by the party caucus. And those “elected” to various bodies and positions could at any time be recalled – by the party caucus. The same methods soon were applied inside the party too; the members were “free” to “elect” their committees, branch secretaries and delegates, but only those put forward by the caucus. As to the freedom of expression of opinion both members of the party and other citizens were (on matters that matter) perfectly free to express the official opinion, but no other.

Even this was not the last stage of development of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” – the very caucus was blown up by the general secretary of the party – Stalin – who is now carrying on the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” while his fellow members of the Executive Committee, elected simultaneously and by the same electorate as Stalin, are sitting in prison in Siberia or in Constantinople.

Marx said: “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority.” And further: “The first step of the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class and to win the battle of democracy.”

It is, therefore, only natural that Stalin should try to modify Marxism. But Leninism must also soon become obsolete for Stalin. For Lenin says:-

“Democracy for the overwhelming majority of the people and the suppression by force, i.e., the exclusion from the democracy of the exploiters and oppressors of the people – this is the change democracy will have to undergo in the transition from capitalism to communism.”

So Leninism does not suffice – Stalin will have to find another “ism” to justify his practice. Perhaps Bonapartism will do.