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Albert Goldman

Where We Stand

(17 May 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 20, 17 May 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Why Is Stalin Premier Now?

Why did Stalin appoint himself Premier or Chairman of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars of the USSR?

Formulating the question in this manner brings out the point that Stalin’s assumption of the office of Premier is more important than the fact that Molotov was thereby removed from one of his offices. Had someone else displaced Molotov it would have been the removal of Molotov and not the fact that a certain person was substituted for him that would have to be considered as the important factor. As it is, it is Stalin’s assumption of the office that deserves the greatest attention.

Not one but several factors must be taken into consideration to explain Stalin’s decision. There is one explanation, however, that we shall absolutely ignore and that is Duranty’s idea that Stalin has of a sudden lost his modesty. Since that profound delver into the Russian soul makes the statement that Stalin never assumed any office because of modesty, Duranty must be saying that now Stalin has for some reason or other divested himself of that modesty.

Many interpret Stalin’s move as a purge of Molotov. That factor cannot be ignored. Molotov’s wife was removed as a candidate on the Central Committee of the party at the 18th Party Conference; this appeared to indicate that Molotov was already on the skids. He is still Commissar of Foreign Affairs, however, and if it is Stalin’s intention to put Molotov where Litvinov and Voroshilov are at present, it will probably not be long before Molotov’s request to be relieved of that office on the ground of ill health or some other reason will be presented to Stalin who will very graciously grant that request. But, while the desire to remove Molotov may be a factor, it does not in the least explain why Stalin should not have appointed someone else instead of appointing himself.

And if the Kremlin autocrat has decided to discard Molotov, it must in all probability also mean that he has decided to change the policy with which Molotov has been connected, just as his removal of Litvinov was meant to announce a change from the policy of collective security. What new policy can he have in mind? Either to throw in his lot with the democratic imperialists or else to become part of the Axis. But the latter course would not constitute a change of policy of such a nature as to demand the removal of Molotov. It would only be an extension of the policy followed since the Stalin-Hitler pact. Only a decision to join the democracies could explain the removal of Molotov if a change in policy was what determined that removal. And such a change is hardly probable at this time when Hitler is still riding high.

A New Agreement with Hitler

Another agreement between Stalin and Hitler seems to be in the cards, an agreement whereby Hitler, as Duranty cynically puts it, would give Stalin some wool off the backs of the Persian lambs and take all of the Middle East for himself. Just as Stalin received part of Poland, the Baltic countries, part of Rumania and of Finland, so would Hitler give him something of Iran or Afghanistan or some other concession in return for a free hand in the Near and Middle East.

But even if Stalin intends to change his policy Molotov could be removed and someone else placed in his position. Furthermore Molotov would then also be removed as Foreign Commissar. Can it be that Stalin has appointed himself because, having killed off every able person he has no one to take Molotov’s place? That would hardly be a real obstacle, for he could find some puppet to replace Molotov just as he found puppets to replace people more capable than Molotov. Stalin does not demand abilities but a willingness to take orders.

It would seem, then, that neither his desire to remove Molotov nor his intention to alter his course could explain the fact that Stalin appointed himself as Premier. Certainly they are not primary factors in Stalin’s latest step.

It must be taken for granted that Stalin’s appointment of himself indicates the existence of a serious situation confronting the Soviet bureaucracy, both internally and foreign. Even though everyone knows that important decisions are made only by Stalin, Stalin’s formula has been to blame bad conditions not on the policies but on their execution. In a very serious situation the bureaucracy would want to create the impression that the great Stalin himself is now going to participate actively in carrying out decisions. It may also be argued that, now that Stalin is officially part of the government, decisions will be arrived at more quickly and the seriousness of the situation demands quick decisions.

Stalin’s Personal Character

Nor can the personal factor be ignored. It is worth noting that Stalin has played quite an open role both in the pact with Hitler and more so in the pact with Matsuoka. The idea of playing a role similar to that of Hitler and Mussolini must have come to him many times. While manipulating behind the scenes is more in keeping with Stalin’s character, the more open part played by his fellow-dictators has its advantages. The stage may very well be in the process of preparation for Premier Stalin to meet Chancellor Hitler.

Aside from Stalin’s motives in taking the step that he did, it is an indication that the Communist Party no longer exists in the sense of its being a living and functioning instrument. It is true that Lenin also occupied the position of Chairman of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars at the time when the party was everything in the Soviet Union. But when one takes into consideration what has happened to the party since Stalin came to power, one must conclude that Stalin sees no sense in being the head of an organization that has no life in it. As Premier he becomes the official head of the bureaucratic caste which in reality has all the power that the party once had. After Stalin got rid of the party he became Premier.

He thus stepped into the office that Lenin once held. And by doing so makes it more clear than ever that his role is directly contrary to that of Lenin.

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