Leon Trotsky

A Political Biography of Stalin


Written: 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 26 (Whole No. 122), 25 June 1932, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Editor’s Note

The Daily Worker last week published Stalin’s interview with Emil Ludwig, in which the infallible, the best disciple of Lenin spouts freely the wisdom of latter-day Bolshevism. Among other things, he hurls another of his notorious stink-bombs against comrade Trotsky. It suffices to characterize the Best Disciple by reprinting the following lines from Materials for a Political Biography of Stalin, written some time ago by our comrade. – Ed.

Eight years of struggle since Lenin; eight years of struggle against Trotsky; eight years of the regime of the epigones, first the “three”, then the “seven”, and finally the “one” – this entire significant period of the decline of the revolution, of its ebbing on an international scale, of the lowering of its theoretical level; brought us to a, in the highest degree, critical point. In the bureaucratic triumph of Stalin a great historical period is culminated and, at the same time the inevitability of its defeat in the near future is indicated. The culmination of bureaucracy foretells its crisis. It may be very much swifter than its growth and rise. The regime of national socialism and its hero come under the blows not only of inner contradictions, but also of the international revolutionary movement. The world crisis will give the latter a series of new impulsions. The vanguard of the proletariat will not be able and willing to suffocate in the clutches of a Molotovist leadership. The personal responsibility of Stalin is fully involved. Doubts and anxiety have entered the souls of even the most trained ones. And Stalin cannot give more than he has. He is threatened with a descent which may prove to be swifter in proportion to the artificial character of his ascent.

In any case Stalin is the central figure in the present unstable period. The characteristics of Stalin have a great political interest in connection with the course of the sixteenth congress. The present issue of the Bulletin is devoted to a considerable extent to a characterization of the chief of the apparatus, as a political worker and as a theoretician.

In the following lines we want to contribute some material to the political biography of Stalin. Our material is extremely incomplete. We choose the most essential from what we hare in our archives. But in our archives, as yet, many essential, maybe the most important material and documents are temporarily missing. From the archives of the police department which intercepted and copied in the course of decades the letters of revolutionaries, documents, etc., Stalin in the course of the last years has meticulously collected material with the help of which he was able on the one hand to maintain a hold on insufficiently reliable friends, throw a shadow on opponents, and, primarily, protect himself and his adherents against the publication of these or other excerpts or episodes which would damage the false monolithism artificially created by their biographies. These documents we do not have. The extreme inadequacy of our information must be kept in view, in appraising the following material.

* * * *

1. On December 23, 1925, the following police information was published in the party organ, Zaria Vostoka, by Stalin’s closest friends: “From the information received by me again from the agency, Djugavshvili was known in the organization by the nicknames, Soso and Koba; worked from 1902 in the social democratic party organization first as a menshevik and then as a bolshevik, as a propagandist and leader of the first district (railroad).” In reference to this police information about Stalin published by his adherents no refutation has appeared anywhere, as far as we know. From this information it transpires that Stalin began his work as a menshevik.

2. In 1905 Stalin belonged to the bolsheviks and was taking an active part in the struggle. What were his views on the character and perspectives of the revolution? As far as we know there are no documents in circulation on this account. No articles, speeches, or resolutions by Stalin have been reprinted. Why? Obviously because the republication of Stalin’s articles or letters for that period could only damage his political biography. There is no other explanation of the stubborn forgetfulness of the “chief’s” past.

3. In 1907 Stalin took part in the expropriation of the bank of Tiflis. The mensheviks following the bourgeois philistines expressed indignation against the “conspiratorial” methods of bolshevism and its “anarcho-Blanquism”. We can have only one attitude toward this indignation: contempt. The fact of taking part in a resolute, tho only partial blow at the enemy can add only honor to the revolutionary resoluteness of Stalin. It is astonishing, however, that this fact has been removed in cowardly manner from all the official biographies of Stalin? Is it in the name of bureaucratic respectability? After all we think not. It is more likely for political reasons. For, if participation in expropriation in itself cannot compromise a revolutionist in the eyes of revolutionists, the false political appraisal of that situation compromises Stalin as a politician. Separate blows at the institutions of the enemy, including “treasuries”, are compatible only with the revolutionery offensive of the masses; i.e., with the ascent of the revolution. When the masses are retreating, partial, separate, partisan blows unavoidably degenerate into adventures and lead to demoralization of the party. In 1907 the revolution was receding and the expropriations degenerated into adventures. Stalin, at any rate, showed in that period that he was unable to distinguish between high and low tides. He will disclose in the future more than once (Esthonia, Bulgaria, Canton, the third period) incapability of political orientation on a broad scale.

4. Stalin, from the time of the first revolution leads the life of a professional revolutionist. Prisons, exiles, escapes. But during the entire period of the reaction (1907–11) we do not find a single document – article, letter, resolution – in which Stalin formulated his own appraisal of the situation and its perspectives. It is impossible that such documents do not exist. It is impossible that they are not preserved, if only in the archives of the police department. Why don’t they appear in the press? It is perfectly obvious why: they are unable to strengthen the absurd characterization of the theoretical and political infallibility that the apparatus, which means Stalin himself – creates for itself.

5. Only one letter of that period, due to oversight, got into the press and it entirely confirms our hypothesis.

On the 24 of January 1911, Stalin wrote to his friends from exile. This letter was intercepted by the police department, was reprinted on December 23, 1925, still by the same more servile than wise editorship of the Zaria Vostoka (Dawn of the East). This is what Stalin wrote:

“You have certainly heard about the ‘tempest in a teapot’ abroad; blocs – Lenin and Plechanov on one side, and Trotsky-Martov-Bogdanov on the other. The relation of the workers to the first bloc, as far as I know, is favorable. But in general the workers are beginning to look with contempt on the work abroad; ‘let them climb on the wall to their hearts’ content; in our estimation those should work to whom the interests of the movement are dear, and the rest will happen.’ This, in my estimation, is for the best.”

This is not the place to consider how correctly Stalin defines the composition of the blocs. The question is not in this. Lenin led a fierce struggle against legalizers, liquidators, and opportunists, for the perspectives of the second revolution. This struggle determined fundamentally all the groupings abroad. But how does the Bolshevik Stalin appraise these battles? As the most helpless empiricist and unprincipled practicalist: “a tempest in a teapot; let them, so to say, climb on the wall; work, and all will be well.” Stalin welcomes the frame of mind of theoretical indifference and the imaginary superiority of the near-sighted practicalists over the revolutionary theoreticians. “In my estimation, this is for the best”, he writes, addressing those moods that were characteristic of the period of reaction and downfall. We have in this manner in the person of the Bolshevik Stalin not even a political conciliationalism, for conciliationism was an ideological current which strove to create a principled platform, – we have a blind empiricism which entirely disdains the principle problems of the revolution.

It isn’t difficult to imagine what a castigation the editorship of the Zaria Vostoka got for publishing this letter, and what measures were taken on a general governmental scale to prevent such letters from appearing in the future.

6. In his report at the seventh plenum of the E.C.C.I. (1926) Stalin characterized the party’s past in the following manner: “... the history of our party if taken from the moment of its birth in the form of a Bolshevik group in 1903, and traced through its subsequent stages up to our time; can be said without exaggeration, to be a history of the struggle of contradictions inside the party – there is not and cannot be a ‘middle’ line in questions of a principle character —”. These imposing words are aimed against ideological “conciliationism” in relation to those against whom Stalin led a struggle. But these absolute formulas of ideological irreconcilability are entirely contradictory to the political physiognomy and political past of Stalin himself. He was, as an empiricist, an organic conciliator, but particularly as an empiricist he did not give his conciliationism a principled expression.

7. In 1912 Stalin contributed to the legal paper of the Bolsheviks, Zvesda (The Star). The Petersburg editorial board in direct struggle with Lenin, issued this paper at first as a conciliationist organ. Here is what Stalin wrote in the programmatic editorial: “... we will be satisfied if the paper, not falling into the political infatuations of the different fractions, will successfully defend the spiritual treasures of the democracy, on which at present obvious enemies and false friends are boldly encroaching” (Revolution and C.P.S.U.(B), in Materials and Documents, Vol. 5, page 101–162).

The phrase about political Infatuations of different (!) fractions is aimed wholly at Lenin, at his “tempests in teapots”, at his eternal readiness to “climb on the wall”, out of some “political infatuations.”

Stalin’s article, in this manner, entirely coincides with the vulgar-conciliationist tendency of the above quoted letter of 1911, and wholly contradicts his later announcement of the impermissibility of a middle line in questions of a principle character.

8. One of the official biographies of Stalin proclaims: “In 1913 he was again exiled to Turuchansk, where he remained until 1917.” The Stalin jubilee number of Pravda expresses itself in the same way: “The years of 1913–14–15–16 Stalin spent in exile in Turuchansk” (Pravda, December 21, 1929). And not a word more. These were the years of the world war, the collapse of the Second International, of Zimmerwald, Kienthal, of the deepest ideological struggle in socialism. What part did Stalin take in this struggle? Four years of exile should have been years of intensive mental work. The exiles in such circumstances keep diaries, write tracts, work out theses, platforms, exchange polemical letters, etc. It is impossible that Stalin in four years of exile did not write anything on the fundamental problems of the war, the International, and revolution. But it would bet futile for us to look for some traces of Stalin’s mental work during these astounding four years. In what manner could this occur? It is perfectly obvious that if only one single line could be found where Stalin formulated the idea of defeatism or announced the necessity of a new International, this line would have been published long ago photographed and translated into all languages, and enriched with learned commentaries by all the academies and institutions. No such line was found. Does this mean that Stalin did not write at all? No, it does not mean this. This would be entirely incredible. But this means that among all the material written during these four years there was nothing, absolutely nothing, which can be used to-day for the strengthening of his reputation. In this manner the years of war, when the ideas and slogans of the Russian revolution and Third International were forged, proved an empty space in the ideological biography of Stalin. It is very probable that at that time he spoke and wrote: “Let them climb on the wall there and arrange storms in a glass of water.”

9. Stalin arrives in Petrograd with Kamenev about the middle of March 1917. Pravda, directed by Molotov and Shliapnikov, had a vague, primitive, but nevertheless “left” character directed against the provisional government. Stalin and Kamenev put aside the old editorship as too left and took up a thoroughly opportunist position in the spirit of the left mensheviks: (a) support of the provisional government as far as: (b) military defense of the revolution (i.e., the bourgeois republic); (c) a union with the mensheviks of the Tseretelli type. The position of Pravda in those days presents indeed a scandalous page in the history of the party and in the biography of Stalin. His March articles which were the revolutionary result of his meditations in exile explain perfectly why not a line from Stalin’s works from the war epoch have appeared up till how.

(To Be Continued)

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Last updated on: 23.12.2013