Max Shachtman


Four Portraits of Stalinism

Reviewing the Books of Duranty, Shub, Wolfe and Deutscher

(December 1949)

From New International, Vol. XV No. 8, December 1949, pp. 242–254.
Transcribed by Martin Fahlgren.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Stalinism has ample reason to congratulate itself. It is so unique, free to such an extent from significant historical parallel, so defiant of standard classification, as to guarantee it exceptional success in its work of universal mystification. It has convinced 90 per cent of the world that it is the legitimate and logical continuation of a revolution that was the most democratic, most popular and most equalitarian in all history. In this grotesque mystification, it has the support of 99 per cent of its articulate opponents, who do not question the claim of Stalinism but only read it back into the revolution itself. Because this support is involuntary and even hostile, it is all the more gratifying to Stalinism.

Unanswered Questions About Stalinism

However, to say that Stalinism flowed naturally out of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia does not, even if it could be proved, add too much to our understanding. It does not dispel the mystification, it only enhances it. The critics generally leave unanswered the vital questions about Stalinism which is, after all, a living movement in modern society: What are its social roots and origins? What is its social significance in the world today? What are its perspectives for mankind tomorrow?

An intelligible and rational answer to these questions calls for respectful attention to the historical record; the ability to relate to each other those forces, social and individual, that are relevant to generalization, which presupposes the ability to distinguish dissimilar or antagonistic forces and the significant from the insignificant and the incidental; an awareness that history is made by the ebb and flow of the conflict of classes and class interests. It calls for a method, in other words; for a scientific method which we know as Marxism.

Scientific discipline in social and political problems is, unfortunately, rejected on all hands today with an impatient gesture. “What good does, it do, what good has it done?” ask all those who expected scientific analysis to obviate scientific action, instead of being only the indispensable prerequisite to it. The result of this reaction, at least in the case of Stalinism, is that the decisive questions are not only unanswered but as a rule are not even dealt with by the critics. Generally, it is either a case of sheer ignorance of the way in which to deal with the questions, or of such political prejudices as prevent dealing with them – or both. So the critics confine themselves to an examination of the personal history, the political-personal history, the personal character of Stalin. Such a study will explain everything, or nearly every thing! It is not Stalinism that will give us the key to Stalin, but Stalin who will give us the key to Stalinism!

The results of this approach are hilarious, infuriating and saddening in turn. We read, in countless versions, how Lenin was circumvented or outwitted or defeated, how the same thing happened to Trotsky, and then to Zinoviev, and then to Bukharin, and to virtually all the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution – none of whom were political children; how the same or substantially the same thing happened to scores of the most outstanding political thinkers and leaders of the bourgeois world: Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Sikorski, Mikolajczyk, Chiang Kai-shek, Herriot, Michael, and heaven alone knows who else – few of whom were political idiots. And what we read does indeed have a very stout kernel of truth in it.

The Social Approach to Stalinism and Stalin

Now, if we were to understand the social significance of Stalinism, which involves an understanding of its relationship to other social forces, all the pieces would fall into place, so to speak, and the great mystery cease to be a mystery at all. It would then become clear that all those who had occasion to come to grips with Stalin and were “circumvented or outwitted or defeated,” failed not because they were his inferior in intellect, political skill or other talent (although some of them were) or because they misread or underrated his character and qualities (although some of them did). What they misread or underrated was the social force he came to represent – and so ably, too!or else they themselves acted for social forces which were and in some cases still are incapable of coping with Stalinism. That, if we may say so, is the scientific approach to the question.

Without it, only one conclusion is left. It is that the real cause of Stalin’s triumphs lie in his personal attributes. But since these were triumphs not only over political dwarfs but also over some of the most outstanding personalities of our time – including some of the greatest captains of different classes and of many nations – it must necessarily be acknowledged that in Stalin we have a figure of truly enormous caliber. The statement by Kirov that Stalin is “the greatest man of all times, of all epochs and peoples” must then be regarded not as an insult to human intelligence but as a fair approximation of the truth.

Yet it is not the truth. It is a legend, promulgated with dithyrambic explicitness in officially approved biographies or accepted with unwitting implicitness in the unofficial biographies. The measure of the man can only be taken with an understanding of the movement. While Stalin played the outstanding and decisive role in developing the social force that bears his name, to the extent that any individual could shape and influence it, it is that social force that created and shaped the Stalin of our time and gives us the key to what he has become. The most talented of psychoanalysts could study Stalin for years and perhaps produce an interesting portrait of the patient, without bringing us much more than a step closer to an understanding of Stalinism. We would therefore make the categorical statement that since every biography of Stalin pursues a political purpose, as is inevitable and proper, no written portrait of Stalin is worth more than a casual glance if it is not based on a study of the anatomy of Stalinism.

It is from this standpoint that we examine the four portraits that have recently been drawn of Stalin (even though one of them calls itself a biography of Lenin). [1]

Walter Duranty

Readers familiar with the views Mr. Duranty has expressed in his dispatches from Moscow as the New York Times correspondent there and in his several books on Russia, will be neither astounded nor enlightened by his latest contribution. In the interests of fair-trade practices, the reader should be warned that the advertisements for the book which suggest that it will answer the spectacular question of who will succeed Stalin, are unwarranted. Duranty no more knows who will succeed Stalin than he knows how Stalin succeeded Lenin. But apart from that, the book is not a hoax, at least not to anyone acquainted with Duranty’s role and his views. It faithfully keeps the promise implicit in any writings on Russia to which he signs his name. The author produces what he has so long given you the right to expect from him, no more but also no less.

Duranty has a purpose in life which he has pursued for a couple of dozen years with adequate consistency. It is to sell Stalinism, or as much of it as possible, to that vague aggregate known as the American public. This does not mean that his book is simply a translation into English of what appears in the Moscow Pravda. That is already done by the Daily Worker. To be sure, Duranty does essentially the same thing, but it is the different way in which he does it that distinguishes him from the faithful employees of the Russian translation bureau.

The out-and-out Stalinists, who wear their badge of servitude openly and honestly, merely repeat that Russia is paradise and Stalin is god. This contention appeals only to a limited number of people. Duranty appeals to the larger number who are less susceptible to the magnetic power of the official propaganda. He claims that Russia is not paradise and Stalin is not god, or even a saint – not he, not at all. His potential victim – the average reader in the American public – immediately pricks up his ears: this man can’t be a Stalinist!

The fact is, continues Duranty, that Russia is inferior to the United States in more than one respect. (No doubt, murmurs the reader.) For one thing, it does not have democracy in our sense of the word. (The reader nods sagely.) Of course, it does have it in the Russian sense of the word. (That might well be, thinks the reader, who is not sure of what the Russian sense of the word is.) After all, it didn’t have democracy in any sense of the word under the czar. (I guess it didn’t at that, the reader agrees.) You know, they’ve got to have tough leaders, because the people wouldn’t know what to do without them. They’re pretty dumb oxen, these Russians, not like Americans [the reader’s chest swells slightly], and they are not used to self-government – something like the freed niggers in the South after the Civil War. Somebody’s got to lead them for their own good, don’t you think? (Something to that.)

As for Stalin, he’s a pretty shrewd sort of chap. Of course, he doesn’t have too many scruples about getting what he wants and thinks is good. Fact is, he doesn’t let anybody stand in his way. But after all, politics is a pretty dirty business, as you and I know, don’t we? All politicians are pretty much the same – some just get away with more than others because they’re a little smarter. (The reader joins in the sophisticated grin and relaxes in his chair.) Naturally, there are a lot of soreheads who are against Stalin, but you know how it is between the “ins” and the “outs.” (I certainly do!) Mind you, Stalin has killed off a, lot of people, but so did Lenin, and that’s how things always go with Russians who are not like we Americans. (Hmmm!) Besides, you can’t make an omelette without breaking the eggs, now can you? (This seems to be confirmed by the reader’s own experience.) Anyway, the Russians worship Stalin, and being Russians they’re satisfied with the way things are going. (Being Russians they would be, muses the reader.)

Of course, they don’t understand us the way they should, but if we understood them it would be easier for them to understand us and there’d be less trouble all around.. (Sounds reasonable, says the reader who is by now ready to join the American Council for Russian Friendship or some such flytrap.) All they want is to build up something they call socialism. But they’re terribly scared of us. (Is that a fact!) So they keep up their armed forces, even though you and I know there is no need for that. But they won’t even produce one-third as much steel next year as we produced four years ago, so there’s no need for us being scared of them, now is there? (Doesn’t look like it.) My own guess is that they really want peace, and, off the record, Molotov once said as much to me at a banquet. (You actually met Molotov?) In fact, if we threw them a few concessions, I would wager that the whole cold war would come to an end. (The reader becomes thoughtful over the simple but fair way in which the problem is treated.)

There is a simplified but fair condensation of the Duranty approach and presentation, aimed at enticing philistines who like to think of themselves as cynics, ignoramuses who want a quick and easy digest of the problem so that they can discuss it authoritatively in a Pullman smoker, and all those who want a “practical” solution to a “practical” question from a “practical” writer.

What is to be learned in Duranty’s book about Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, the Russian Revolution, Stalinism and the leading Stalinists, is worth absolutely nothing. He throws no light on any of these. But he does throw light on himself, as an individual and as a type. That alone justifies the space devoted to his writings.

His portraits of the members of the Political Bureau are almost pure Horatio Alger. They are copies of the standard pictures drawn by the Stalinist lie factory, one of whose largest departments is devoted to the fabrication of official biographies to correspond with the fabrication of officials. Duranty deviates from the lines only to the extent required to prove that he has not photographed the originals but copied them freehand. Most of these members are nonentities. Before these lines appear in print, any one of them can vanish into the void from which he came without anything being changed – like Voznosensky, who was not saved from dismissal by Duranty’s eulogies, or Kaganovich. Stalin is the only one who really counts, and that is clear from Duranty’s book.

Stalin as Lenin’s Successor

Duranty describes Stalin as the logical and legitimate successor to Lenin, from whom he differs in no essential except, perhaps, that his execution of Lenin’s program is a tremendously successful improvement on the original. Being a reporter who writes on the fly, Duranty does not have time and space for all the pertinent facts about the relationship between Lenin and Stalin. And since he has acquired a purpose in life, which is as worthy as it is rare, it is appropriate, is it not, that only those facts be chosen that fit the purpose. But what if there are not enough of them to fill out? For Duranty, that is no great problem. He learned long ago to write as he pleases.

How did Lenin come to power? His bitterest critic, after arguing that he used trickery, or force, or a thousand and one other devices, would be compelled to acknowledge that these alone explain little, if anything. Lenin triumphed in open political conflict with other politicians and political movements, with a clear, persistently-presented political program, and only after he had gained the conscious, freely-given support of masses of people. It may be argued that these masses did not represent an arithmetical majority of the population, but none denies that they numbered millions upon millions of people. That is the towering fact, and it cannot be denied even if it is argued that these millions were mistaken or misled in the support they gave the Bolsheviks.

How did Hitler come to power? Again, whether Hitler or his program is condemned or praised, whether he took power legally or illegally, democratically or by a stroke of state, none denies that he triumphed in open political conflict with other movements or that he won the deliberate, freely-given support of masses. It can be argued that these masses were social rubbish, that they were won by demagogy, that they were reactionary, that they were misled, that they were the minority, or anything else you want, but the fact that Hitler did not come to power without openly winning the support of millions simply cannot be denied.

But Stalin? What social force did he represent? What masses did he win in open political conflict with others? Every observer knows that neither the Russian masses as a whole, nor any substantial part of them, ever had the opportunity to express their support of Stalin at any stage of his bid for power; or to put it in another way, that every advance to power made by Stalin after the death of Lenin was achieved from above, bureaucratically, in the dark, conspiratorially, and in every case, the mass, even if only the mass of the party membership, was called upon to approve not a contemplated but an accomplished step. This is the rule that applies to the stages of Stalin’s rise to power, and there is not one single exception to it.

How Stalin Won Power

This is so big a fact, so characteristic, decisive and instructive (at least, it should be) that even Duranty is obliged to acknowledge it – without realizing it! Stalin is now at the top, says Duranty, “but that does not answer the questions how he did it and what he thinks of it.” What he thinks of it, Duranty doesn’t know, so we need not wait for his answer. But there is an answer to the first question, which is of paramount interest. Here is Duranty’s answer, literally:

To cut the first answer short one may say that he did it the hard way, by slow steady plugging, by intrigue and patience, and at last by the use of force.

But where are the people, the masses, the millions – those whose open support Lenin (and even Hitler, or Churchill, or Roosevelt, or Truman, or Atlee) needed before coming to power? They do not exist for Duranty, except, perhaps, as political cattle, which is not the least of the reasons why he is so strongly attracted to Stalinism. Stalin did it “the hard way” (definition: plugging, intrigue, patience plus force). But how did the hard way manage to triumph over the easy way, as exemplified, presumably, by Lenin and Trotsky? That, too, has a simple answer: Stalin had it in him!

That he had it in him from the beginning is indicated by fact that Lenin chose him to carry the red torch in Russia after the abortive Revolution of 1905–06, and later to be General Secretary of the party.

What Stalin had in him is not so easy to determine. Whatever it was, it did not come out of him in the 1905 revolution or the 1917 revolution. In the former, he played no role at all; in the latter, his role was, by all accounts, decidedly minor, subordinate, auxiliary, gray, and so far as political leadership is concerned, it was down to zero. This is so notorious a fact that Duranty does not have one word to say about what Stalin actually did in the Bolshevik revolution. Lenin and Trotsky (we speak of them not so much as individuals, but as political types) were “chosen” openly by millions and it was this choice that accounted for their rise to great positions, of leadership and power. Stalin was “chosen” by ... Lenin, or by the Political Bureau, or by the Central Committee – always at the top, from above. Duranty does not even claim more for his protagonist, and it is indeed the outstanding and most significant characteristic of Stalin as a political type. We will presently see why.

But not even this low and revealing claim of Duranty’s is warranted. There is no record of Lenin having “chosen” Stalin to “carry the red torch in Russia” after 1905-6. Like many other “facts” in Duranty’s book, this one is pure invention. Stalin was then virtually unknown, and so far as his field of activity, Georgia, was concerned, the effect of his work for the Bolsheviks may be judged by the fact that this Russian province was almost entirely in the hands of the Mensheviks for years. As for Lenin’s approval (not “appointment,” as Duranty writes elsewhere) of Stalin in the post of party secretary in 1922, Duranty either does not know or will not say that Stalin was given the job precisely in order to remove that department of the party from political importance and influence and reduce it to its original, purely administrative purpose. It is precisely because Stalin’s predecessors in the secretariat, Krestinsky, Serebryako and Preobrazhensky, were active and prominent political leaders and had engaged in a political struggle which ended, at the 1922 party congress, with the rejection of their point of view (rightly or wrongly, is irrelevant here), that they were replaced in their posts by Stalin whom nobody expected (again, rightly or wrongly) to play a leading political role, that is, to utilize the post for political purposes. The only fact cited by Duranty speaks against the notion that Lenin looked upon Stalin as a man who could be entrusted with outstanding, let alone independent, political leadership, either in the party or in the country as a whole.

Duranty as a Mythologist

Duranty is a mythologist. He writes that Stalin, in 1910, “received the reward of his services to the Bolshevik cause in the shape of election, by a congress held in Paris, to membership on the Central Committe of the party. For unknown reasons, perhaps because he did not wish to live abroad, Stalin declined the honor.” It would have been ‘difficult for Stalin to decline such an honor, if only because it was not proffered. The only thing unknown in this story, is the congress Duranty invented. The Bolsheviks never held a congress in Paris, not in 1910, or in 1810 or in any other year.

Duranty writes that after the Prague congress in 1912 (which did take place), Stalin was “named head of the ‘Russian Bureau,’ which made him virtual chief of the party on Russian territory.” Here we have an improvement upon the Paris-congress story, but not a big one. Stalin was not “named head” of the Russian Bureau, he was one of four members (with Ordjonikidze, Spandaryan and Goloshchekin). The “virtual chief of the party on Russian territory” was able to work there for a total of seven months between 1912 and 1917, spending the rest of those five years in Austria or in prison and exile in Russia.

In Vienna, in 1912, Lenin urged Stalin to write an article on the national question. About this article, there is the now well-known and easily-accessible letter of Lenin to Maxim Gorky. Here is how Duranty quotes it: “Lenin was delighted and wrote enthusiastically to Maxim Gorky about the ‘wonderful Georgian who has written a great article.’” What Lenin actually wrote was: “We have here a wonderful Georgian who is writing a long article.” What is a small forgery by the side of so many big ones?

From 1905, when Stalin first met Lenin, to the very end, says Duranty, the former “never wavered in allegiance.” Now suppose he had wavered, not once but a hundred times? What would that prove against Stalin? That he was capable of differing with Lenin and holding his own against him? This would no more be a mark against him than it is against other supporters of Lenin, every one of whom “wavered” from Lenin a dozen times. By itself, all it would prove it that Stalinist mythology is mythology and that the Stalinist leader-principle was alien to Lenin. It is only necessary to read Trotsky’s writings on Stalin or even Souvarine’s Stalin (which Duranty mentions) to know that Stalin was at odds with Lenin and drew the latter’s fire a hundred times, before and after revolution – and to know this on the basis of irrefutable and unrefuted documents. Stalin needs this pistol-enforced myth, among other reasons, to say: “Just as I, the good Bolshevik, never wavered in my allegiance to Lenin, so must you, if you want to live long, never waver in your allegiance to me. Lenin’s heir.” Duranty needs it to explain that Lenin knew that Stalin “had it in him.” The same need produces another forgery (you forge by ‘deletion as well as by insertion), which is well-nigh unbelievable: Duranty does not so much as refer to Lenin’s Testament, which proposed to kick Stalin unceremoniously out of his position as party secretary because he is rude and disloyal and abuses the power he has concentrated in his hands. In a word, as soon as that which Stalin “had in him” came out of him, Lenin said: This is not the man for us, this is not a man to lead a revolutionary movement, let alone a revolutionary state – get rid of him!

The Allegiance Changes, But Not the Conception

If Lenin thus drops out of Duranty’s explanation of how Stalin “did it,” we are left with nothing more illuminating than this: he did it by chicanery, pulling strings, tricking every rival, and by being tough-minded, cruel and murderous. And the people? They were all conquered by one man? by one man plus a hand-picked machine? Of course! Why not? What are the people, after all? Rabble, cattle, at best childlike savages who need a governor until they come of age. It is more than likely that this conception of the relations between the governor and the governed was long ago instilled into the author by the ideologists of British imperialism. They bore the White Man’s Burden with a determined resignation that attracted Duranty’s allegiance. What has changed in Duranty is his allegiance, but not his conception. By aligning himself with the new despotism, he can do penance for the sins of his youth without a feeling of remorse, he can glow in a bath of socialist beatitude without washing away his jaded aristocratic cynicism and contempt for the herd, he can drink his vodka with the best of them in the new world without being deprived of a whiskey-and-soda fellowship with the best of them in the old, he can, become a courtier of the new regime without being a rebel against the old.

To him, Stalin (Stalinism) is nothing but the continuation of Lenin (the Russian revolution), a little more cruel, perhaps, but – this is most important – a lot more successful. When you know Duranty’s opinion of Bolshevism, this conclusion is not strange. His book opens with a conversation he had with Radek back in 1921, which he remembers in detail more than a quarter-century later with the aid of that miraculous mnemonic power which is so common among political writers today. It is worth quoting:

“To give you an idea,” he [Radek!] said slowly, “let me tell you what Lenin has often said about the role and duty of our party. You’ll understand that I’m not quoting Lenin directly, but this is, I think, the substance of his ideas on the subject. The Russian masses are incapable of self-government because they’ve never had anything but Tsarist tyranny for centuries throughout history. The Communist party represents the only politically conscious force in this politically unconscious mass and is formed of the most advanced workers, peasants, and soldiers, led by us Marist intellectuals. Therefore the function and duty of the Communist party is to act as tutor, leader, and educator of the masses until such time as they are capable of self-government, or what you Westerners would call Democracy. I might say that Lenin regards the Communist party as the guardian of a minor child. Such a guardianship is a common occurence under Western Law.”

“You mean then,” I said, “that the Communist party represents the elite of the masses and claims to rule in their name and on their behalf – that is, government of the people and for the people but not yet by the people.”

Radek grinned. “You might put it like that, although we intend that it shall be government by the people as soon as the people is capable of government.”

“Doesn’t that imply,” I asked, “dictatorship over the proletariat, rather than of the proletariat?”

“Perhaps, in a sense, but temporarily, just as a legal guardian appointed to manage the affairs of a minor resigns his functions when the minor reaches the age of twenty-one.”

That Duranty has some such conversation, is possible – of course not with Radek, but perhaps with the British High Commissioner of Zululand, whose ideas he now attributes, by a remarkable process of transference, to the Leninists, who are incapable of defending themselves from libel because they have all been murdered by “Lenin’s successor.” At all events, this conversation – the imaginary one with Radek or the real one with the High Commissioner – gives us the real clue to the thinking, not of the Bolsheviks, but of Walter Duranty.

The masses and asses; at best savages. They must be saddled and ridden, bridled and chivvied, stalled, fed, nursed and taught tricks until they are ... twenty-one, an age which they somehow never manage to attain. In Russia, the savages are rather absurd but pleasant souls, primitive, to be sure, but quite content and even proud of their humble status. Now and then, an exceptionally bright one is manumitted, and even given a public office together with shoes and a monocle. The rest remain savages who are very slow in reaching twenty-one.

Bongo for Chaka-Stalin

Proof? Take, for example, “the outrageous flattery and adulation lavished upon” Stalin. Who is responsible? “There seems to be little evidence that Stalin or his associates have deliberately evoked the idea Lenin-worship or Stalin-worship.” Then why don’t these atheist theocrats put a stop to it? Well, you see, you can’t very well do that, now can you? The masses are asses; at best, savages. They must be allowed their comical primitive rites. No civilized High Commissioner would try to suppress them. Take the Zulus, for instance, with their custom of “making bongo” for their chiefs, especially the greatest, Chaka. Bongo, explains our anthropo-sociologist,

consisted in sitting around campfires chanting the praises of Chaka: “all-great is Chaka,” “all-wise is Chaka,” “all-powerful is Chaka, the lion who tears armies of foes to pieces, the elephant whose tread shakes the ground like an earthquake.” Bongo evidently had a certain similarity with religion. It was a mass ceremony in which thousands took part simultaneously, but as in the case of Stalin the praise was addressed to a living man, not a deity.

Or take the Russian elections, where the masses are allowed, even forced to vote for Chaka-Stalin. A farce? To American, perhaps.

But to the average Russian the fact that he is able to vote at all [!] is a symbol of democracy and the fact that he is being encouraged (or almost compelled) to vote is a proof that he is now taking a part, however small, in the government of his own country.

No doubt! In the same sense, the average Zulu who is “encouraged (or almost compelled) “to line the streets and applaud the arrival of the newly-appointed High Commissioner on his way to the Government House, is also “taking a part, however small In the government of his own country.” Ignorant, benighted Zulu! Pathetic savage! He does not even know how close he is to living under the conditions of “the first true socialist state,” as Duranty has called Stalinist Russia. (Alas, we shall find the same apology for Chaka-Stalin’s rule over his Zulus when we come to the “Marxist,” Isaac Deutscher.)

By their rising in 1917, the Russian people showed clearly enough that they had reached their “majority.” Nobody gave them self-government, although not a few tried to deny them this right. They took it themselves, and thereby proved to be a thousand times more civilized and advanced than all the cultivated guardians and candidates for guardianship in Russia – from the Tsar and his Rasputin to Kerensky and his Social-Democrats. To all the guardians, and those who think like guardians, the spectacle was literally unbelievable. The rabble actually taking power and exercizing it with their own arms? Impossible! They have no arms, they are only animals, and every limb is a leg. Somebody must be maneuvering them very cleverly. Who? the infernally cunning Bolsheviks! How? By an infernally cunning conspiracy! But was it so easy to trick the masses into supporting them? Of course! The masses have always been tricked, that is what they are here for. To Duranty, too, it was unbelievable. That is how he came to be one of the principal workers in the notorious Riga lie-factory of the early days, from which were dispatched to the press of the world the foulest and most cynical lies about the Bolsheviks.

The Difference Between Bolshevism and Stalinism

The masses and their authentic spokesman and leaders, did everything that could be expected of them, and even more, but there were limits they could not transcend. Yet these limits had to be transcended if the revolution was to live. World capitalism and its props successfully prevented it. Exhaustion overcame the masses, and power slipped from their hands. And for that reason, the Bolsheviks too lost power – for their power lay and could lie only in the support of a self-acting, self-confident, compact and forward-moving working class, without which no “tricks” and no “toughness” and no “conspiracy” would be of avail.

The power of the new despotism, however, is inconceivable in the presence of such a working class. Just the contrary. It becomes a political possibility and a reality almost exactly to the extent that this class loses or is deprived of its compactness, its consciousness, its pride, its belief in its social capacities and its ability to exercise them to the full. Stalinism was both the product and the producer of a profound reaction and disintegration in the working class. That was and is its true hallmark. That is also why it oppresses and atomizes the working class as nowhere else in the world. That is why there is no fiercer, more ruthless exterminator of Bolsheviks, of revolutionists, anywhere in the world.

Stalinism triumphed and can triumph only in the absence of the basic classes of society – where they are absent as classes for themselves or, so to say, as erect classes. The new bureaucracy crept into power in the nightfall of the Bolshevik revolution, only after the exhaustion or destruction of the real classes. Only under such conditions could this new class, historically weak, historically doomed to instability, historically superfluous, acquire the appearance of strength, solidity and indispensability.

It is this class that found in Stalin a symbol and spokesman of such extraordinary natural fidelity to its own social characteristics as is hard to find in the history of any other class. Like his class, he has no past history, or virtually none, or a gray one; in the excellent phrase of Bertram Wolfe, Stalin is “the most striking example in all history of a man who has succeeded in inventing himself.” Like his class, he must necessarily work behind the backs of the basic classes, never facing them except when the odds are overwhelmingly favorable. Like his class, he is coarse, rude, disloyal, stealthy, abusive of power, cruel, contemptuous of human beings, human life, human rights. Like his social pygmy of a class, this political pygmy looks like a giant only when the real giants in society are on their backs, on a deathbed or pinioned to earth like a Gulliver.

The pygmy with a democratic bullwhip and a tough minded pistol, lashing the masses to unattainable self-government – there is an overlord who attracts such as Duranty. He never believed in socialism, because he never believed in social-regenerative power of the masses. But Stalinism – that’s different! There the tough and cynical are kept in power. There the rabble is kept in its place for its own good. There rubber-boned and cynical writers and other opinion-shapers are kept, just kept, but kept well. And if that’s socialism, why it suits Duranty, who has already reached the age of twenty-one, right down to the ground.

For a biography of Stalin & Co., then, money can be saved by getting the undiluted fabrications straight from the propaganda department of the Russian Embassy instead of from Mr. Duranty’s publisher. As a biography of Duranty & Co., the book has a limited but unmistakable value.

David Shub

Shub’s book is a veritable showpiece of Menshevism. Ostensibly, it is a biography of Lenin. In reality, it is a portrait of Stalin; at least, that is what it is meant to be. That is, the picture of Lenin is drawn in such a way to make him look like the twin of Stalin, or if not the twin then the legitimate father, somewhat dissimilar in personal characteristics but identical in political nature and features. Stalin therefore appears very seldom and very little in the bulk of the book. He does not need to appear more often. His role is played out by the caricature Shub makes of Lenin, by all sorts of anachronistic devices and by devices that are even less honorable.

The book has created a minor sensation, especially among people, who do not allow the rhythm of their moral indignation to be interrupted by a knowledge of facts. Take the comment of Norman Thomas, which is all the more regrettable because of his known respect for truth:

Mr. Shub’s remarkable new biography of Lenin seems to me an outstanding performance in which the biographer depends for his effect upon his presentation of facts rather than highly colored adjectives of praise or blame. The biography confirmed my impression that Stalinism is a logical, almost inevitable, development out of Leninism; but I confess that I had not thought that Lenin himself had gone quite so far in setting precedents for Stalin’s completely amoral dealings with men and nations.

That Shub’s performance is outstanding will be shown without much further ado; so will the extent to which he depends for his effect upon his presentation of facts.

Shub’s aim is indeed to “confirm the impression” that Stalinism bases itself upon Leninism and follows logically from it. It was under Lenin, he writes, that “the totalitarian state was coming into being.” At the very end of his book, after quoting Stalin’s pledge at the bier to carry out the ideas of Lenin, he writes (they are his last words): “Tactics change to meet new conditions, but the oath that Stalin took at Lenin’s bier still guides the destinies of the Soviet Union.” Mr. Duranty couldn’t say it any better and he doesn’t.

What is it that Leninism and Stalinism have in common? First of all, the conspiratorially-prepared seizure of power by a ruthless band of power-hungry fanatics who established their own dictatorship over the nation in the name of a dictatorship of the proletariat. Secondly, both for the purpose of seizing power especially for the purpose of holding it, the planned and brutal annihilation of any opponent, dissident or critic, be he outside or inside the circle of the fanatics. Thirdly, it goes without saying, the utilization of any and all means, including the most repulsive and unscrupulous, in attaining their aims. Fourthly and in general, contempt and suspicion of the masses, of the majority, of democracy in any and all forms, and a congenital predilection for minority rule over the masses.

If all this were proved, it would have some meaning. It would not be very much, of course. It would not explain how a quasi-military conspiracy of despotic fanatics managed to establish and consolidate their rule, not in a palace revolution in some tiny Latin-American country, but over the largest country in the world, or why there was such a violent and irreconcilable battle between two groups among these fanatics which ended in the complete slaughter of one by the other. Yet, it may be admitted, it would be something – if it were proved. To prove it, all you need is properly-marshalled facts. A little social understand would help, but facts are indispensable.

A Man with Creative Imagination

Mr. Shub applies to this task talents of a special order. All his life he has been a Menshevik. Most of that life he has devoted to literary assaults upon Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the Russian revolution, week-in and week-out, for thirty years or more, in the columns of the Jewish Daily Forward. In the course of these years, he has accumulated a stupendous collection of material against Bolshevism. Not being a small-minded fanatic, he has made sure that nothing is excluded just because it is not a fact, thus saving his collection from an awkward one-sidedness. At the same time, he has not been content with the role of collector, who is after all little more than the assembler of the works of others. To the collection on which his writings are based, he has steadily added the products of his own creative imagination. To do him justice, some of his own products are easily the equal of anything produced by the outstanding inventors of our time.

It should not be inferred from this that Shub’s book is filled with lies from one end to the other, or that his hatred of the revolution is entirely pathological. That would be an exaggeration and it should be carefully avoided. It would be more exact to say that Shub makes a most exceptional effort to be dignified, objective and decent. On one page he reminds us that Lenin was often quite human, liked to play with children, like to wrestle and swim; on another page, that Lenin was man enough to keep a warm spot in his heart for his old adversary but older friend, Martov; on another page, that Lenin, though a dictator, was without personal vanity, and was also free from any narrow nationalist prejudices. Such pages exist in Shub, but they are well-spaced. The effort is evidently too great a strain. It creates an unbearable tension in the nerves, so that for the greater part of the book we get the relaxed Shub, the authentic Shub, Shub as he is normally.

The book is most impressive. The pages are studded with quotations, hundreds of them, and there are no less than 24 solid pages of reference notes for the quotations, full of titles, authors, dates, places, names of periodicals and works of all kinds in five languages. The reader is simply overwhelmed with the titanism of the research and the meticulosity of the reference. Since Shub rests his case upon these quotations and references, we have an open invitation to inspect them closely. It may be protested that this shows an unduly suspicious nature. The protest need not be pursued, for the charge is unreservedly admitted. Out of every ten writers who have fulminated against the amorality or immorality of the Bolsheviks because, it is said, they would use any means to achieve their ends, we have so far found that nine of them are not very scrupulous in their choice of means to prove their case. This has so aroused our suspicion that we now proceed to the tenth one.

Lenin Lusts for Dictatorship

Lenin’s penchant for becoming absolute dictator is set forth early in the book, where Shub writes of the 1904–1905 days, presumably to show how far back into Leninism we can find the origins of Stalinism:

Whether Lenin in that period saw himself as a future dictator is hard to say. He never stated it in so many words until power was in his hands. Then [!] I he put his cards on the table with remarkable frankness.

“Classes are led by parties,” said Lenin in 1918, “and parties are led by individuals who are called leaders ... This is the ABC. The will of a class is sometimes fulfilled by a dictator ... Soviet socialist democracy is not in the least incompatible with individual rule and dictatorialship ... What is necessary is individual rule, the recognition of the dictorial powers of one man ... All phrases about equal, rights are nonsense.”

But although Lenin did not use such language in his Geneva days, the man’s general approach to the coming revolution was already clear enough.

There is your Lenin for you. He talks about socialism, democracy and freedom, “then,” once in power, he frankly wants to become the dictator. Is Stalin any different? It looks bad, very bad. And it would in fact be bad, if what Shub puts between quotation marks was what Lenin said in the Collected Works from which Shub claims he is quoting. Now, the only conceivable document from which Shub could take his quotation is Lenin’s article on Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government which appeared in Izvestia of April 28, 1918. We take the article again and find that the first two sentences and the last sentence do not appear there at all – anywhere. They are what is ordinarily called forgeries, or more delicately, the products of a creative imagination. The other three sentences are to be found only in the completely twisted form in which Lenin originally mutilated the lucid thoughts of Shub. Here are the sentences to be found in Lenin which come closest to Shub’s very original quotations which he so carefully spaces with periods:

The irrefutable experience of history has shown that in the history of revolutionary movements the dictatorship of individual persons was very often the vehicle, the channel of the dictatorship of the revolutionary classes. Undoubtedly, the dictatorship of individual persons was compatible with bourgeois democracy.

[Further on:] Hence, there is absolutely no contradiction in principle between Soviet (i.e., Socialist) democracy and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individual persons. The difference between proletarian dictatorship and bourgeois dictatorship is that the former strikes at the exploiting minority in the interests of the exploited majority, and that it is exercized – also through individual persons – not only by the masses of the toilers and exploited, but also by organizations which are built in such a way as to rouse among these masses the historical creative spirit. The Soviet organizations are organizations of this kind.

[Further on:] In regard to the second question concerning the significance of precisely individual dictatorial powers from the point of view of the specific tasks of the present moment, it must be said that large-scale machine industry – which is precisely the material productive source and foundation of socialism – calls for absolute and strict unity of will, which directs the joint labors of hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people. The technical, economic and historical necessity of this is obvious, and all those who have thought about socialism have always regarded it as one of the conditions of socialism. But how can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one.

Nothing else that even faintly resembles Shub’s quotation can be found in this article. (We are quoting from the British edition of Lenin’s Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 334. Almost exactly the same translation of this article was published thirty years ago by the Rand School under the title, The Soviets At Work.) Mr. Shub is a common falsifier. Consequently, he is the man called upon by history to prosecute Lenin for amorality.

Lenin’s article is directed to overcoming the post-insurrectionary looseness and anarchy in production, the petty-bourgeois trend to “grab what you can for yourself and to hell with everyone else.” He is arguing here, as is plain as day not merely from an “honest reading” of his text, but from any kind of reading, in favor of getting production going on an efficient scale, which requires, among other things, “dictators” in the process of production, which may not be necessary in a cobbler’s shop but is absolutely mandatory in complex, large-scale production. Anyone who can read English, let alone a highly moral Menshevik who can also read Russian, can see at a glance that this is what Lenin is writing about, and not what Shub is not-so-slyly suggesting. Lenin, almost as if he anticipated Shub, ends his presentation on this subject with the following emphatic statement (the italics are his own):

The more resolutely we now shave to stand for a ruthlessly firm government, for the dictatorship of individual persons, for definite processes of work, for definite aspects of purely executive functions, the more varied must be the forms and methods of control from below in order to counteract every shadow of possibility of distorting the Soviet power, in order repeatedly and tirelessly to weed out bureaucracy. (p. 339)

How Shub Quotes from Lenin

We find the same kind of falsification in Shub’s quotation from Lenin’s State and Revolution. Lenin is writing about a proletarian state in which the proletarian majority will subordinate to itself all bureaucrats. Here is how Shub presents Lenin, without quotation marks to begin with:

Human nature being what it is, he [Lenin] wrote in State and Revolution, it craves submission.

Pure forgery, and of a purely malicious kind. Lenin never wrote it or said it, or anything of the kind, either in State and Revolution or anywhere else. Shub is attributing to Lenin the idea that it is the nature of people to want to be ruled (they “crave submission”) and Lenin was going to satisfy this craving by ruling the masses with an iron hand. Then Shub goes on to quote “directly,” that is, freehand style:

“We are not Utopians,” Lenin proclaimed. “We want the Socialist revolution with human nature as it is now. Human nature itself cannot do without subordination ... There must be submission to the ‘armed vanguard’ ... until the people will grow accustomed to observing the elementary conditions of social existence without force and with subjection.”

What Lenin actually writes aims to convey a radically different thought.

We are not Utopians, we do not indulge in “dreams” of how best to do away immediately with all administration, with all subordination; these anarchist dreams, based upon a lack of understanding of the task of proletarian dictatorship, are basically foreign to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, they serve but to put off the Socialist revolution until human nature is different. No, we want the Socialist revolution with human nature as it is now, with human nature that cannot do without subordination, control and “managers.”

But if there be subordination, it must be to the armed vanguard of all the exploited and the laboring – to the proletariat. The specific “commanding” methods of the state officials can and must begin to be replaced – immediately, within twenty-four hours – by the simple functions of “managers” and bookkeepers, functions which are now already within the capacity of the average city dweller and can well be performed for “workingmen’s wages.”

We are quoting from the standard, easily available, International Publishers translation, and the paragraphs are to be found on pages 42 and 43. But where is the latter part of the last sentence quoted by Shub, and quoted as if it were part of the same sentence? It is to be found twenty-five pages later, on page 68, and, of course, it is part of an entirely different point, an entirely different paragraph and an entirely different sentence! Suppose Shub had been able to find this method of “quotation” from an opponent on a single page of the dozens of volumes of Lenin’s Works. Can you imagine for how many chapters Shub would splutter and scream at this typical example of Bolshevik polemical unscrupulousness?

Writing History Out of the Whole Cloth

Shub must have read, somewhere in his youth, where Marx wrote that man makes his own history but not out of the whole cloth. He must have translated it to himself (in general, his translations are abominable) to read that Marx authorizes him to write history out of the whole cloth. For example, he quotes from the bitter speech directed by the distinguished Menshevik, Juluis Martov, against Zinoviev, at the famous Halle Congress of the German Independent Social-Democratic Party in 1920, which was debating the question of affiliation to the Third International. Martov is saying that in Petrograd, presided over by Zinoviev, no less than 800 arrested persons were shot in reprisal for the assassination of Uritzsky and the attempt on Lenin’s life. Then, still quoting, Shub ends Martov’s statement at this point with the following sentence: “(Commotion in the hall. Cries directed at Zinoviev: ‘Hangman! Bandit!’)” For reference, Shub cites pages 216–217 of the Congress Minutes. We look up the official Minutes of the Congress, and apart from finding that Martov’s statement is on page 215 (Shub cannot even copy a page number right; but that is a trifle compared to his strong points), and that the translation by Shub is, as usual, butchered – there is no outcry of “Hangman Bandit!” recorded against Zinoviev, not on that page, not on any other page of Martov’s speech, and not on any of the 289 pages of the Congress Minutes. It is pure and unalloyed forgery. The Minutes show only this parenthesized interruption of Martov: “(Stormy outcries: Hear! Hear! from the Right)” It is possible that on that day, Shub denounced Zinoviev as a hangman and a bandit in his article in the New York Forward. In that case, he should have quoted himself. But at the Halle Congress, there was no one who said that.

Shub continues:

Martov was followed by Rudolf Hilferding, who, after Kautsky, was generally regarded as the leading theoretician of Marxism. Hilferding, who was to be slain in a French prison under Hitler, declared:

“When we beheld on this international platform our comrade Martov, we realized from his very appearance and that of Zinoviev that we had before us the representative of the oppressed, one of those socialists, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, against whom the Bolshevik terror is applied. There could have been no sharper protest against this terror than the wan and worn face of comrade Martov when he suddenly stepped on the platform.

“It is clear to us that Bolshevism is but a system of opportunist imperialist policy, flatly contradicting the fundamental principles of Marxism.

“Between us and the Bolsheviks there is not only a wide theoretical difference but an impassable moral gulf. We realize that they are people with quite a different morality and ethics.”

Sounds pretty moving and dramatic – right to Zinoviev’s face! But it rings a bit false. It sounds more like a speech that Shub would make twenty years later at a wake of the Social-Democratic Federation. However, he does give a reference – the Congress Minutes, pages 180 to 204. We find there, in the first place, that it would have been an extraordinary feat, even for Hilferding, to follow Martov in the order of speakers, since the former spoke in the morning session and the latter in the afternoon. But that is small sloppiness, which can be found on every other page of Shub. More important is the stirring quotation from Hilferding’s speech. It does not exist! Not one single word of it is to be found in the 24 closely-printed pages which the Congress Minutes devote to the complete stenogram of Hilferding’s speech. Not a single word of it is to be found in any other speech or anywhere else at the Congress. Shub simply sucked the whole quotation right out of his thumb, word by word and comma by comma. With the same thumb he points scornfully at the Bolsheviks who have “quite a different morality and ethics.” Indeed they have!

To follow all of Shub’s distortions, misrepresentations, falsifications and out-and-out forgeries to the end, would require a book bigger than his. Enough has been shown to indicate why not a single “quotation” in his “documented” book is above suspicion or acceptable at face value. Let us pass over to some of the authorities whom Shub marshals against Lenin in particular and the Bolsheviks in general. Shub examines their credentials for only one datum: Are they hostile to Lenin? If that question is satisfactorily answered, they are without reproach and receive Shubs’ Order of the Garter. The dregs of the old Menshevism, the dishonored scum of ex-Bolshevism, White-Guard gutter journalists, fishwives in pants and fishwives in petticoats – all of them served up as authorities, and not one of them but Is distinguished by the most incredible capacity for remembering, word for word, conversations never held with Lenin and letters never written by him. To Shub it doesn’t matter: he is a fair man, and he will not deny to others the liberties he allows himself.

Balabanova’s “Letter”

There is Angelica Balabanova, who writes about the Bolsheviks as if her experience with them was traumatic. Garrulous old gossip, she is not to be relied upon for one single word she says about the Bolsheviks unless it is checked against ten established authorities. Warrant for this harsh statement about a woman who was once a revolutionist of probity, was presented in these pages years ago; it was not refuted because it could not be. Shub quotes from a Lenin letter which Balabanova claims to have received in 1917 while she was working for the Bolsheviks in Stockholm:

Dear Comrade: The work you are doing is of the utmost importance and I implore you to go on with it. We look to you for our most effective support. Do not consider the cost. Spend millions, tens of millions, if necessary. There is plenty of money at our disposal. I, understand from your letters that some of the couriers do not deliver our paper on time. Please send me their names. These saboteurs shall be shot.

Shub does not bother to find out if there is such a letter or if there ever was one. It is printed, between quotation marks, in Balabanova’s memoirs published in New York in 1938. It shows – doesn’t it? – that Lenin threw millions and tens of million around as if they were cigar coupons. Better yet, it shows what an utterly grisly monster Lenin was. Shoot comrade-couriers just because they delivered the mail a few minutes off schedule, with all the trouble people had traveling those days. Good enough, it’s authentic – print it!

But it’s a forgery, a downright and slanderous forgery! And just because it is committed by Balabanova does not make it less reprehensible than when one is committed by Stalin. Compare the “letter” as published in the 1938 American edition of her memoirs, with the “letter” as published in the German edition of her memoirs eleven years earlier (Erinnerungen and Erlebnisse, Berlin 1927). In the German edition, she tells the very same story, but this, word for word, and also between the now familiar and very useful quotation marks, is the full text of the “letter” from Lenin as given there:

Bravo, bravo! Your work, dear comrade, deserves the highest recognition. Please do not spare any means. That the material is furnished you in such an insufficient manner, is inexcusable. Please give me the name of the courier who is guilty of such gross, inexcusable negligence.

Quite different, isn’t it? There are no tens of millions, not even ordinary millions, and nobody is shot or going to be shot. Whether Balabanova ever received any such letter, we cannot say with certainty. What is certain is that at least one of the two versions of the “letter” is fraudulent. And it seems obvious enough that if one of them is conceivably genuine, it is not the one quoted by Shub from the 1938 edition. Shub is just naturally attracted to any fraud against Lenin, and where he has two frauds to choose between, the refined hand of anti-Bolshevik morality guides him unerringly to the worse of them.

A Witness Against Trotsky

There is Alexander Naglovsky. The avidity with which Shub swallows, then prints, any story which includes a report that a Bolshevik fired a pistol at someone, is almost pathological. Naglovsky tells a story about Trotsky’s arrival in Petrograd to reorganize the defense of the city from Yudenich’s attacks. Trotsky accompanied by his Cheka aide, Pavlunovsky, calls in the local military leaders for reports. He is arrogant, peremptory and, it goes without saying, lusting for blood, which he evidently has not had since breakfast. The local reports are unsatisfactory; besides, Trotsky hates Zinoviev.

Before Zinoviev had time to utter a single word. Trotsky turned to Pavlunovsky and said in his resonant voice calculated to reach all present:

“Comrade Pavlunovsky, I command you to arrest immediately and shoot the entire staff for the defense of Petrograd.”

That same night Pavlunovsky carried out the summary execution of the staff.

Who is the peddler of this story, Naglovsky? What makes him an authority? Did he witness this melodramatic episode? From whom did he hear about it? Nobody knows. Shub simply tells us he was once a Bolshevik, then quit the party, opposed it in October, then rejoined and became a government official, then turned émigré in the Twenties. In 1937, Naglovsky (now dead, it seems) sent Shub a manuscript to be published here. It is from this manuscript that Shub quotes the fabulous tale without blinking an eyelash or even suggesting that it might conceivably be one millimeter less than the truth! Trotsky shot a batch of Communists just to get even with Zinoviev? Fine! Put it in the book!

There is Roman Goul. He is way better than Naglovsky, because in his story the Bolsheviks shoot not only pistols but rifles and artillery. His story is about Kronstadt. Shub devotes a whole chapter to the Kronstadt uprising. The sailors mutiny, they want peace and freedom and refuse to capitulate. But,

Trotsky did not wait. He issued an order to the effect that if the rebels did not surrender they would be shot singly, “like ducks in a pond.”

... Trotsky kept his word. Thousands of sailors were shot like ducks in a pond. Tukhachevsky later said: “I was in the war for five year, but I cannot remember such a slaughter. It was not a battle; it was an inferno. The blasting of the heavy artillery continued all night and was so powerful that in Oranienbaum all the windows were shattered.”

[Followed by more blood-curdling quotations from Tukhachevsky, plus details on how many sailors lay dead in the streets, how many were killed later by the Cheka and how many were exiled to prison camps.]

What authenticates these harrowing quotations for Shub – Trotsky’s order to shoot them one by one “like ducks in a pond” and Tukhachevsky’s horror-stricken talk of “such a slaughter”? Again to the reference notes, where we learn that the quotations come from no less a personage than Roman Goul. And who, pray, is this nonentity? From Shub, not a word. His authority is Goul, and that’s that. But there is something to say about him. Goul was an officer, commissioned or non-commissioned, in the Czarist army, who was an anti-Bolshevik in the revolution, and turned up as an officer in the White Guard army of General Kornilov in 1918 in Rostov-on-Don. The Germans took him, interned him in Kiev, whence he landed in Berlin. There he became a contributor to the Russian anti-Bolshevik press. Before Hitler came to power. Goul wrote his principal claim to odium, Tukhachevsky, the Red Marshal. In French, it was issued, appropriately enough, by the publisher of The Amazon of the Desert, Love of the Samurai, Love in South America, The Libertine, Love in Islam and Substitute for Love. Goul’s Tukhachevsky took its honored place among these classics. It is pure boulevard-literature, or what extremely polite people call “biographie romancée” (for which a fair translation is: a biography without facts). What Goul knows about Tukhachevsky is strictly limited to what appeared before 1932 in the European equivalent of the Hearst press and worse. What didn’t appear, he gets by sucking his juicy finger. He quotes pages upon pages of private conversations of Tukhachevsky, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Voroshilov and anyone else you might be interested in – conversations which were of course never published, which never took place and which, therefore, he could not have overheard in Berlin if he wore earphones. It is from this muck, which would not be read by a self-respecting Paris janitor, that Shub takes his fearful quotations from Trotsky and Tukhachevsky.

(Stories travel. In the November 18, 1949, Seafarers Log, the paper of the Seafarers International Union, whose officials have the same genial tolerance of critics that is so characteristic of the Stalino-humanist, the editor, a soulmate of Shub, announces that he can remain silent no longer, and simply must finally tell his readers the story – the true story – of Kronstadt. Let them know, once for all that the Trotskyists, who are reducing the areas of happiness of the editor’s boss, are of a kind with the Stalinists, the Fascists and the Nazis. He gives the Shub-Goul version a slight variation: “Trotsky, as chairman of the Revolutionary Military Soviet, threatened to ‘shoot you like pheasants’.” As we see, the inevitable, authenticating quotation marks are there. The only difference in the invention is that Shub and Goul are evidently the peasant, or barnyard type, who are satisfied with ducks in a pond. The SIU editor is evidently the robust, or Western type, and prefers the pondless pheasant. The Mensheviks have no rigid party line on fowl; they confine the vice of uniformity to lying about the Bolsheviks.)

A Case for Rubber Gloves

There is (it is inevitable) Gregory Alexinsky. For this chapter in Shub you have to put on rubber gloves. At this late date, he presents his readers with the old, monstrous and long-ago discredited tale that Lenin was able to make his way to power by means of German gold from the Kaiser’s General Staff. From 1917 onward, no decent person would touch this filthy slander. After reading Shub’s re-hash of the story, the same thing can still be said.

He prints “specific evidence” which, he says, Trotsky did not attempt to meet in the annihilating refutation of the frame-up which is to be found in his History of the Russian Revolution. The “specific evidence” might pass if read at a distance of ten feet. A little closer, the most the “evidence” indicates is that Lenin in Petrograd received “2,000” (rubles? marks? crowns?) from a Bolshevik in Stockholm, Kozlovsky, who had business dealings with another Bolshevik there, Ganetzky, who in turn was connected commercially with Parvus, the former Russo-German revolutionist who had turned German imperial propagandist in the First World War. It was not unusual for Bolsheviks to engage in business enterprises from which they helped the party treasury (nor is this unusual in other working-class organizations, as Shub ought to know and does know).

If Lenin did not avow this in July, 1917, when the public prosecutor and the whole Black Hundred press were working up a frenetic lynch campaign against the “German gold” that was pouring into the pockets of the “German spy” Lenin, that shows his very good sense, for which he could thank his escape from the fate of Luxemburg and Liebknecht. And if Shub turns up his pious nose at this non-avowal, it is because his mouth is so choked with the obscene calumny against the Bolsheviks that he cannot swallow fast enough.

With no evidence except what was framed-up and exploded under the Kerensky regime, Shub parades the figure of Parvus up and down his pages as the sinister intermediary between Lenin and the German General Staff. “Early in June, 1917, Pereverzev, the Socialist Minister of Justice, received word from a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee that Lenin was in constant communication, through Ganetsky, with Parvus, who was then in Copenhagen,” writes Shub. And who was this unnamed “member of the Bolshevik Central Committee”?

Alexinsky – Gregory Alexinsky! And who was he? Alexinsky was no more a member of the Bolshevik Committee, or the Bolshevik party, at that time, then Shub was. This one-time Bolshevik had quit the party years earlier and become one of its most maniacal and unscrupulous enemies. Shub knows this as well as he knows his own name. To present Alexinsky to his readers as though he were, in June 1917, a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee is to perpetrate a deliberate and conscious fraud, meanly calculated to show the defenseless reader, whose name might be Norman Thomas, that the first revelation of Lenin’s dirty connections with German imperial gold came from a source as unimpeachable and well-informed as only a highly-placed Bolshevik leader could be.

Alexinsky was despised not only by the Bolsheviks, but by every socialist in Russia who had a grain of integrity in him. This, too, Shub knows as well as he knows his own disreputable name. Shub knows what every one ever connected with any branch of the Russian movement knows: that Alexinsky was expelled during the war from the Paris Association of Foreign Journalists as a “dishonest slanderer”; that on April 11, after the March Revolution, the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists in the Executive Committee of the Soviets joined in the adoption of a resolution to bar Alexinsky from its midst for his shady character and record, and proposed to him that he try first to “rehabilitate his honor”; that the Menshevik Dan wrote in the official organ of the Menshevik-S.R. Soviets on June 22 that “It is time to put an end to the doings of a man officially denounced as a dishonest slanderer”; that Alexinsky became, in Parisian emigration, an extreme reactionary and outright anti-Semite. He knows, in a word, that Alexinsky was a common rogue. Because Shub is another, Alexinsky becomes his star witness in the case against Lenin as a German mercenary.

His other star witness, whose charges Trotsky “did not attempt to meet,” is pathetic. He is poor old Eduard Bernstein, the German Social-Democrat who had known better days and deserved a better end. In 1921, in the Berlin Vorwärts, he “amplified” the charges he had launched three years earlier that Lenin was supplied with German imperial gold. “Now I have learned from reliable sources that the sums in question were almost incredibly large, certainly amounting to more than 50 million gold marks.” This senile fantasmagoria is taken at face value and with a straight face by Shub. More than fifty million gold marks and not a pfennig less! When the German Communists challenged Bernstein for proof, for his evidence, for his witnesses, he blustered a feeble reply but did not produce anything – neither then nor at any other time. “Even the most beautiful girl in France cannot give more than she has,” and Bernstein wasn’t even the most beautiful girl in France.

But an eminent comrade of his did investigate this charge, so monstrous in its stupidity and its intent. He was Philip Scheidemann, the Social-Democratic Chief of State of the “new Germany.” All the German imperial records were at his disposal. He had an aide, Dr. Ernst Bischoff, carry on an investigation. It goes without saying that not a speck of truth was found in the charge that the German imperial regime financed the Bolsheviks, and not a trace was found of five gold marks sent to Lenin, let alone 50 million. The results of the investigation, appropriately documented, were issued in 1919 by the official German Social-Democratic publishing house, with a preface by Scheidemann (who had as little use for Lenin as Lenin had for him), under the title, Die Entlarvung der “deutsch-bolshewistischen Verschwörung” (Exposure of the “German-Bolshevik Conspiracy”). Shub, of course, does not even mention it. He is left alone with his Alexinsky. They are worthy of each other.

Shub has one more use for Alexinsky. In 1936, the latter published in his Parisian torchon – as the French would call it – a “sensational” story about “Lenin’s Romance with Elizabeth K.” It was calculated to titillate every mentality and taste that had elevated itself to the level of a gutter. “Elizabeth K.” is not further identified. All the delicate details of the “romance” are distributed over several pages of Shub’s book with a rake. “Their relationship was so discreet and so outside the normal orbit of Lenin’s life that it has heretofore completely escaped the notice of his biographers,” he writes with a pride that fits a man who first offered this garbage to the English-reading public. Shub, who probably edits the Advice to the Lovelorn column in the Forward on the side, vouches for the authenticity of the story. Is that surprising? Alexinsky vouched for it, too. They are worthy of each other. Seldom have Goethe’s words applied so perfectly as to Mr. Shub: “Du gleichst dem Geist, den du begreifst, nicht mir.”

There is more, but it is all about the same. In any case, there is enough to show just how outstanding a performance is this Menshevik showpiece and just to what extent the author depends for his effect upon his presentation of facts, if Norman Thomas may again be quoted. After this performance, to ask the question about Shub’s political opinions about Bolshevism, or the Russian Revolution, or Stalinism, or about his evaluation of the social forces at work, would be superfluous; to answer it would be uninteresting. It would be too much like inquiring into the literary opinions of a man who writes couplets on subway billboards.

If we have learned nothing about Lenin – or second half of our review, which deals with the serious Stalin – from Shub, it is not altogether our fault. To learn something about them, we must wait for the books by Wolfe and Deutscher. But we have learned something about Mr. Shub, his morality, his ethics, his rectitude, his scholarship, his objectivity, his taste, his talents. If there is ever the occasion for another encounter with him, which God forbid, may it be no more pleasant than this one.

(Concluded in next issue)


1. Stalin & Co., by Walter Duranty. 258 pp. William Sloane Associates, Inc., New York. Lenin, by David Shub. 396 pp. Doubleday & Co., Inc., New York. Three Who Made a Revolution, by Bertram D. Wolfe. 640 pp. The Dial Press, New York. Stalin, by Isaac Deutscher. 570 pp. Oxford University Press, London-New York.

Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 2 November 2014