From Fourth International, vol.4 No.1, January 1943, pp.3-4.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.
The Nineteenth Anniversary of Lenin’s Death – The Capitalists Help Stalin in His Attempt to Pervert Lenin’s Ideas – But the Capitalists Must Also Tell Themselves the Truth About Stalin’s Counter-Revolutionary Role – The Role They Assign Stalin – The Fatal Flaw in Their Perspective
On January 21 it will be nineteen years since Lenin died. As we commemorate this anniversary the whole course of events testifies to the accuracy of Lenin’s famous characterization of this period of world history: “This is the epoch of imperialist war, proletarian revolutions and colonial uprisings.” We are in the midst of the fourth year of such a war; the uprising in India has aroused the whole colonial world; and all the cabinets of the capitalist world are preoccupied with the fear of the coming wave of proletarian revolutions. Willkie quite frankly expressed this fear in his November 25 speech in Toronto: “European 1917 was probably in much the same mood [as today]. It is an inevitable corollary of blood and war-weariness. Then, in 1917, Lenin gave the world one set of answers.” Today, as in 1917, the capitalist rulers are frantically seeking ways and means to prevent Lenin’s answer from becoming the answer of the workers of the world. The capitalists failed then in Russia and very nearly failed in all Europe. This time the “inevitable corollary of blood and war-weariness” faces them not only in Europe but equally in Asia which slumbered in 1917. It may well be that the twentieth anniversary of Lenin’s death will be commemorated in the capitals of new Workers’ and Peasants’ Republics in Europe or Asia.
Meanwhile, the nineteenth anniversary of Lenin’s death is likely to be commemorated by some very strange people. We do not refer to the Stalinists, who commemorated the seventeenth anniversary in 1941 as a year of imperialist war and the next one as a year of “democratic” war; this year, too, they will picture Lenin as a Russian George Washington, “founder of the Soviet Union,” and seek to wipe out from the memory of man that he was a world revolutionist. In addition, however, we must steel ourselves to the likely spectacle of Churchill and Roosevelt, or their subordinates, commemorating this nineteenth anniversary, joining with Stalin in the attempt to turn Lenin into a harmless icon. During the past year we have already had such an obscene ceremony on March15, 1942 in London high officials of the Churchill government participated at the unveiling of a plaque, draped in a British flag, which was affixed to the house where Lenin had lived for a time forty years before. As Lenin wrote of Marx: “After their death attempts are made to turn the revolutionaries into harmless icons, canonize them, and surround their names with a certain halo for the ‘consolation’ of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping them, while at the same time emasculating and vulgarizing the real essence of their revolutionary theories and blunting their revolutionary edge.” The class struggle takes many forms, including “interpretations” of Marx and Lenin. Churchill carried on the class struggle in 1918-21 by leading world capitalist intervention against the young Soviet republic; he carries it on likewise when he puts up a plaque for Lenin.
While seeking to deceive the masses, the bourgeoisie must nevertheless try to give their own class an accurate accounting of the real situation. If the capitalist rulers join with Stalin in attempting to obscure what Lenin stood for, they must also tell themselves what Stalin really stands for and thus indicate the abyss which separates the world revolutionist Lenin from the Thermidorian Stalin. Thus, for example, the leading editorial in the December 20 New York Times:
“Because of ... a Communist International guided by the Trotskyist ideology of the proletarian world revolution, Hitler could still raise an issue which frightened many Germans into his camp and win a following for similar crusaders elsewhere, including the United States. But the with the ‘liquidation’ of the Trotskyists in Russia, the proletarian world revolution began to take a back seat, on which sat in the main the Communist dupes in other countries, whom the Moscow ruler despised as tools and liquidated first wherever Moscow itself took over, as in the Baltic states. The state of Stalin became more and more a national state, and the Communist International became the tool of Russian power politics ...
“The slogans with which Stalin is spurring the Russian armies to ever greater efforts today are not the Marxist slogans, urging the proletarians of the world to unite, but slogans about patriotism, liberty and the fatherland.”
There are obvious “inaccuracies” here. By the time Hitler came to power, the Communist International was no longer guided by “the Trotskyist ideology of the proletarian world revolution.” Not the Comintern ideology, but the fact that the Soviet Union remained a workers’ state based on nationalization of the means of production, led the capitalists, “including the United States,” to facilitate Hitler’s rearming of Germany in the hope that he would destroy the Soviet Union. Only when German imperialism became an imminent menace to its capitalist rivals did they cease looking upon Hitler as the leader of world capitalism against the Soviet Union. Naturally one could not expect the New York Times to admit these indubitable facts.
Nevertheless, the New York Times is accurate in essence. It recognizes Stalin’s reactionary role and his uses to world capitalism as an irreconcilable enemy of “the Trotskyist ideology of world revolution.” It recognizes that the liquidation of the “Trotskyists” was a blow against world revolution. It understands the real role of the Communist International as a tool of Stalin’s nationalistic foreign policy. It makes the first open reference that we have seen in the American press to the fact, hitherto suppressed, that Stalin had ordered the wiping out of the Communist parties in the Baltic states(and also in Poland) – thousands of these Stalinists, upon being united with the Soviet Union, were murdered by the GPU. And, finally, the Times contrasts Stalin’s nationalistic slogans with the Marxist slogans under which the Soviet Union successfully fought off the capitalist world in 1917-21. Needless to say, the Times editorial writer knows very well that the “Trotskyist ideology of the proletarian world revolution“ is the ideology of Lenin; but in deference to the Stalinist myth the Times makes no reference to Lenin since Stalin pretends to be his inheritor instead of his usurper.
The capitalists have not at all abandoned their belief in the necessity of destroying the nationalized economy of the Soviet Union, if capitalism is to survive. What the Times editorial indicates is the growing understanding of the bourgeoisie that Stalin’s role aids them in approaching this goal It is this strategy which Willkie is crusading for: Stalin is useful to “us” not only in this war but also in the post-war revolutionary period. With Stalin’s help, the proletarian revolution in western Europe can be liquidated, and then the unfinished business of reviving capitalism in Russia can be undertaken. This is the perspective urged upon world capitalism by Willkie and now by the New York Times.
The fundamental flaw in this perspective is that nineteen years of Stalinism have failed to undo Lenin’s work. The firm foundations which Lenin laid down in the Soviet Union are still there. Stalin has succeeded in destroying much of the superstructure: he has wiped out the democratically-elected soviets, the factory committees, the trade unions, Lenin’s party, and rules by totalitarian methods as much as does Hitler. But the nationalized economy, the great conquest of the October revolution, remains essentially unimpaired.
It is this nationalized economy which inspires the Soviet masses to their unbelievably titanic efforts. Not the repressions which Stalin continues to wage against the Soviet masses in war as in peace. Not the incompetent and bureaucratic leadership of the Red Army – which Stalin beheaded of all its able leaders in the mass purges accompanying the Moscow trials. Not the spectacle of a bureaucracy clinging to its privileges amid the suffering of the masses. Not these but the nationalized economy is the inspiration of the Soviet masses and the Red Army. The Stalinist bureaucracy could not provide the leadership for offensive warfare. But the masses proved able, despite this, to summon up all their powers of resistance to the capitalist invader. This is the real meaning of the heroic struggle at Stalingrad; and this meaning is behind the words of General V.I. Chuikoff, in command on the Stalingrad sector, on the nature of the fighting:
“The Germans hoped to break our morale with uninterrupted tank, plane and infantry attacks. But Russians can beat any Germans, even the most fanatical, as far as firmness is concerned. Our soldiers had only one idea – not to retreat.” (New York Times, December 27, 1942.)
The morale of the Soviet masses – that is what has made the difference, not the Stalinist bureaucracy which, in war as in peace, has remained an obstacle to the success of the Soviet Union.
This Soviet morale, unparalleled in world history, is still preoccupied with the struggle against the Nazi invader. But when the German military machine cracks and revolution flares in Germany and the occupied countries – then this Soviet morale, hardened and tempered in this terrible war, will be free to deal with the bureaucratic oppressors at home. The Soviet worker has gritted his teeth and endured the bureaucracy precisely because the capitalist invader was at the border. But when the horizons of the Soviet Union are ringed with red instead of brown then, we can be confident, the masses will settle accounts with the Kremlin.
Soviet morale, product of the nationalized economy, is not the only enduring contribution of Lenin. Stalin succeeded in perverting Lenin’s party and International into reactionary instruments, but Lenin’s world-revolutionary theory succeeded in building a new instrument: the Fourth International. After Lenin’s death his work was carried on by Trotsky who, before Stalin succeeded in assassinating him in 1940, had placed the heritage of Lenin and Trotsky beyond Stalin’s reach: in 30 parties and groups in as many countries. These organizations affiliated to or supporting the Fourth International are the allies of the Soviet workers and peasants in their common task of spreading the October revolution and reviving the soviet democracy of Lenin and Trotsky.
As Soviet morale rose up despite the bestial repressions of Stalin, so from the concentration camps of Europe will come men and women maimed physically but spiritually steeled for their great role of transforming the battlefields into the Socialist United States of Europe. This is the task of the Fourth International. The events of our epoch will facilitate it, despite all the plans of the capitalists and their Stalinist allies. For, as Lenin taught us, over and over again: “This is the epoch of imperialist war, proletarian revolutions and colonial uprisings.”
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Last updated on 22.8.2008