Paul Dixon (Denzil Harber)

The Nationalist Degeneration of Stalinism

From Workers International News, April 1945, pp 5-11. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Ted Crawford and Paul Flewers.

FROM the 1930s onwards the continually increasing degeneration of the Thermidorian Stalinist bureaucracy has manifested itself in every sphere of Soviet life. Some fourteen years ago the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had already been transformed from a revolutionary party into a bureaucratised appendage of the ruling caste; proletarian democracy had ceased to exist and the OGPU, from an instrument of working-class ‘terror’ against the bourgeoisie, had become the Stalinised weapon for the terrorisation of the workers and peasants. Many of the fundamental teachings of Marx and Lenin had already been revised and distorted and the history of the Bolshevik movement falsified.

But it has been characteristic of the degeneration of Stalinism—as it was of the degeneration of the parties of the Second International—that for as long as possible a façade of Marxist phrases has been preserved as a covering for the abandonment of Marxism in practice. Thus, it is hoped by the Stalinists that the advanced workers will remain unaware of the changes taking place.

However, as the degeneration of Stalinism progresses, so we witness the ever more open abandonment of Bolshevism in every field. The pace of this degeneration became more rapid from 1935-36 and has been greatly speeded up during the present war. More and more it has become apparent that, in its frantic attempts to maintain its rule over the Soviet masses, the Stalinist bureaucracy is seeking inspiration in the traditions and institutions of Tsarism. In one after another of the spheres which have been left relatively untouched in the early period of Stalinist rule, we find today not only a flagrant abandonment of Bolshevism but a conscious remoulding on pre-revolutionary lines .

Thus, family life is being remodelled on ‘traditional’ lines; higher education is reserved for the children of the privileged strata; the army is reconstructed upon a hierarchical basis with the deliberate creation of a privileged officer caste divorced from the mass of the population; anti-religious propaganda is replaced by an alliance between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the Russian Orthodox Church.

This whole reactionary movement has been accompanied by, and, as it were, knit together by, a monstrous growth of nationalism, which now—so far as official Stalinist propaganda is concerned—equals that of any of the Imperialist states engaged in the present war.

The Internationalist Position of Bolshevism—The Nationalist Degeneration of Stalinism

In no other field has the Stalinist abandonment of Bolshevism been more flagrant than in the international one. Nowhere in the writings of Lenin or his associates can there be found the slightest trace of nationalism or of national pride. On the contrary, we find there an internationalist position stated with the utmost clearness and unambiguity.

In his Farewell Letter to the Swiss Workers (8 April 1917) Lenin wrote:

The great honour of beginning the series of revolutions caused with objective inevitability by the war has fallen to the Russian proletariat. But the idea that the Russian proletariat is the chosen revolutionary proletariat among the workers of the world is absolutely alien to us. We know full well that the proletariat of Russia is less organised, less prepared and less class-conscious than the proletariat of other countries. It is not its special qualities but rather the special coincidence of historical circumstances that has made the proletariat of Russia for a certain, perhaps very short time, the vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat of the whole world.

Russia is a peasant country, it is one of the most backward of European countries. Socialism cannot triumph there immediately.

It should hardly be necessary to bring quotations to show that the attitude of Lenin during the First Imperialist War was one of proletarian internationalism, of revolutionary defeatism. But what was his position after the seizure of power, during the period of intervention and Civil War? On 11 March 1918 when the young Soviet State was reeling under the blows of German Imperialism and the armies of the Kaiser were advancing into Soviet territory, crushing the revolution as they came, Lenin wrote:

We are defencists from 7 November 1917. We are for the ‘defence of the fatherland’, but that war for the fatherland towards which we are going is a war for the socialist fatherland, for socialism as the fatherland, for the Soviet Republic as a section of the world army of socialism.

‘Hate the German, kill the German’—such was and remains the slogan of ordinary, that is, bourgeois, patriotism. But we will say ‘Hatred for the Imperialist bandits, hatred for capitalism, death to capitalism’, and at the same time, ‘Learn from the German! Remain true to the fraternal union with the German workers. They are late in coming to our aid. We will gain time, we will wait for them, they will come to our aid.’

What was the attitude of Lenin towards the achievements of ‘national culture’? In his Theses on the National Question (1913) he gave the answer:

From the point of view of social-democracy it is impermissible to use either directly or indirectly the slogan of national culture. This slogan is false, for all the economic, political and mental life of mankind is becoming more and more internationalised even under capitalism. Socialism will completely internationalise it. International culture, which is already being systematically created by the proletariat of all countries, takes to itself not ‘national culture’ (from whatever national collective it may come) as a whole, but takes from every national culture exclusively its thoroughly democratic and socialist elements.

The first step in the Stalinist abandonment of the internationalist position was made by Stalin in 1924 when he first formulated the theory of socialism in one country. Henceforth it became an article of faith for the bureaucracy that a completely socialist society could be built in a single isolated country—especially in Russia. This ‘theory’—besides being an economic and political absurdity—undermined the whole basis of proletarian internationalism and signified its abandonment by the Stalinist bureaucracy. If socialism could be built in Russia by relying upon Russia’s internal resources alone without the assistance of the workers of other countries, what was the need for the Russian workers to assist the revolutionary movements of the workers abroad? Thus the Comintern became, under Stalinist leadership, an instrument of the foreign policy of the bureaucracy and betrayed the workers’ struggles throughout the world.

But for a number of years after the adoption of the theory of socialism in a single country, the nationalist degeneration of Stalinism remained incomplete. So far as the traditional attitude of Bolshevism towards pre-revolutionary Russia was concerned, no immediate change took place. For the masses of Russia this past had been one of oppression and suffering and to them and the Bolsheviks it and its still persisting relics were things to be outlived and overcome.

As late as 1930 we find Demyan Biedny, a loyal Stalinist, publicly proclaimed as ‘the poet of the millions and tens of millions of the toiling masses’, writing as follows of Russia’s past:

A country tremendously large,

Ruined, slavishly idle, savage,

Dragging itself along behind cultured America and Europe.

A grave!

Servile labour—and a predatory parasitism.

Idleness was the people’s means of defence.

Idleness and poverty, poverty and squandering.

Squandering and boastfulness,

Are all inevitable, eternal neighbours.

The lash of the master corrupted the labour of the serf.

This then is the inheritance,

Which we have to overcome.

In 1934 this same Demyan Biedny was unwise enough to write a comic opera ridiculing the introduction of Christianity into Russia. However the opera was withdrawn: the unfortunate author was severely rebuked—he had dared to ridicule one of the national heroes of Russia—Saint Vladimir—who had not only introduced Christianity but successfully defended and enlarged the frontiers of the Russian state! Not only Demyan Biedny but the whole Soviet population learned to their astonishment that they were the heirs to a great national tradition—that of the old Tsarist Empire which had bequeathed to them the greatest achievements of a military and cultural character, which they were henceforth to cherish with pride and to defend with their lives!

The Revision of History Textbooks

The most prominent Russian historian of the post-revolutionary period had been NM Pokrovsky. His application of the Marxist method of Historical Materialism to Russian history had been sharply criticised by Trotsky in 1922 for his exaggeration of the role of trading capital in mediaeval Russia. In the inner-party struggles culminating in the defeat of Trotsky and the Left Opposition, Pokrovsky appeared as an ardent supporter of Stalin. He died in April 1932 and his death was commented upon by the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party as follows:

The Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) announces with deep regret the death of that most prominent representative of the Old Guard, of Bolshevism, NM Pokrovsky. He was an active participant in the Revolution of 1905 and in the Proletarian Revolution of October, an irreconcilable fighter for the General Line of the Party, a world-famous communist scientist, a most prominent organiser and leader of our theoretical front, and a tireless propagandist of the ideas of Marxism-Leninism.

A pamphlet of praise from every quarter for Pokrovsky’s work and learning was published immediately after his death. It included a quotation from Lenin, who, in 1921, had described Pokrovsky as ‘an essential adviser (and guide) in questions of science and of Marxism in general’. All his main works were reissued—some in mass editions.

But not even death could save Pokrovsky. Within four years there appeared a decree of that same Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party on the subject of existing history textbooks which, it suddenly discovered, contained ‘attempts to inculcate an anti-Marxist, anti-Leninist, in essence liquidationist, view of historical science’. One M Kammari writing in the April 1936 number of Under the Banner of Marxism stresses the necessity of:

… overcoming these obviously false and anti-Leninist conceptions in historical science which have already been repeatedly exposed by the Party and which have as their basis the well-known [!] mistakes of Pokrovsky.

Pokrovsky, states M Kammari, had undoubtedly certain merits, but, unfortunately, he had never understood either Dialectical or Historical Materialism! This is shown, among other things, by the fact that he grossly overestimated the role of trading capital in mediaeval Russia!

Pokrovsky’s works were withdrawn. But the bureaucracy found it easier to outlaw the existing history textbooks than to produce new ones. In the schools of the Soviet Union the children were provided with a new edition of the History of Russia by Klyuchevsky, who died in 1911 and who, with the school of historians he helped to create, had been thus characterised by Pokrovsky:

Valuing the autocracy, these historians value in no less degree the united realm. The formation of the Russian empire is for them too the basic fact of Russian history, and they see only its bright sides. (Preface to English edition of History of Russia )

Thus the historian of Tsarism became the historian of Stalinism, and this fact revealed the real reason for the posthumous disgrace of Pokrovsky—his internationalism. Henceforth the whole past of Russia was to be searched for examples of ‘patriotism ’ and for Russian ‘heroes ’. The patriotism of Stalinism is not patriotism to the Soviet Union, the vanguard of the World Revolution. It is not even patriotism to the Soviet Union, a national workers’ state; it is patriotism to Russia —the fatherland. Let us listen to V Smirnova in her preface to The Bard in the Camp of the Russian Warriors (a patriotic poem by Zhukovsky, written over a hundred years ago and reprinted by the State Publishers of Children’s Literature in 1943 for the inspiration of Soviet Youth):

In every man there lives the feeling of the fatherland. The fatherland—this is the house, the family, the place where you were born, the factory in which you work, the field which you cultivate, the town in which you live; this is the ordinary sky over the adjacent land; this is the people to which you belong, the language which you speak and think, the culture, the history, the whole past, present and future of your native country.

Love for the fatherland is one of the strongest and noblest feelings. It makes a man capable of exploits, makes him a hero. In the history of our country there are not a few moments when the fatherland was, for the Russian man, dearer than everything in life, dearer than life itself. These were moments of the greatest national enthusiasm and of the exertion of all the popular forces, days when the whole people arose, as one man, when every man felt, thought and acted at one with the people.

Thus it was when other states attacked the freedom and independence of Russia, when they tried to subdue her by armed force and foreign troops invaded the Russian land.

Thus it was during the Great Fatherland War of 1812. The memory of this time fills with pride the heart of the Russian man.

Pokrovsky on the War of 1812

During the present war the Soviet masses have had held up to them for their inspiration, not the heroic struggles of the Civil War of 1918-20, but this alleged mass resistance to the invasion of Napoleon in 1812. On this latter subject Pokrovsky had written in 1912 the following lines which were accepted without question for over twenty years by the Russian Communist Party:

More detailed accounts of the war, even those emanating from the Decembrists themselves, completely destroy the romantic picture of the people, as one man, rising to the defence of their fatherland… even from such an arch-chauvinist source as the proclamations of Rostopchin one learns that the peasants of the districts occupied by the enemy frequently settled their accounts not with the French but with their own masters, taking advantage of the fact that neither police nor troops for ‘pacification’ were available to these latter. That Moscow was burnt not by its inhabitants acting in a fit of patriotic zeal but by the police carrying out the orders of this same Rostopchin, that the French army fell a victim not to a popular rising but to the defects of its own organisation—that, in so much as it remained without disorganisation (such was precisely the case with the Imperial Guard), right up to the end not only partisans, but even the regular Russian troops did not dare to approach it—all these facts are too elementary and too well known for it to be worth going into them here. (History of Russia )

Even the illiterate Russian serfs of the eighteenth century who were unfortunate enough to be forced into the armies of that ‘Great National Hero’ Peter the Great (who, in a Soviet film of the same name is made to say, ‘I have come through tears and blood but all for Holy Mother Russia ’), even these serfs are described today as filled with ‘national enthusiasm’ and ‘giving their strength, their talents, their very lives for the creation of great monuments of Russian culture ’ (L Timofeev in his preface to the reprint of the eighteenth century Journey from Petersburg to Moscow by Radishchev, 1944).

Stalinism and the Crimean War

Every reactionary war in which Russia has ever engaged provides the Stalinists with similar examples of ‘popular heroism’.

Writes NV Andreevskaya of the Crimean War of 1854-55:

This war was one of aggression and was carried on by Russia as an unjust war. The victory of Russia in this war would have led to a temporary strengthening of the system of serfdom within the country… The revolutionary democrats of Russia wished for the defeat of Russia, in the hope that the military downfall of Tsarism would hasten the coming of the revolution…

For the Russian warriors defending Sebastopol it was a question of the defence of a town of the Fatherland against an enemy who had invaded the Fatherland. The defence of Sebastopol is one of the heroic moments of the military past of the Russian people…

The figures of the defenders of Sebastopol move our hearts even today, evoking in us the feeling of deep respect, pride and love. (From the Heroic Past of the Fatherland , Volume 1, published by the Peoples’ Commissariat for Education, 1943)

Some six years before the Crimean War, the Communist Manifesto had proclaimed to the whole world: ‘The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. ’ There is considerable excuse for the conscripted Russian serfs who fought at Sebastopol being ignorant of this fundamental teaching of Marx and Engels; but what can one say of NV Andreevskaya who writes nearly a hundred years later and twenty-six years after the October Revolution! Not to speak of the People’s Commissariat for Education which passes and publishes this reactionary nationalistic propaganda.

The Stalinist Canonisation of Suvorov

The soldiers of the Red Army have today held up to them as symbols and models, not the heroes of the Civil War, but Tsars and Tsarist Generals back through the centuries. Actually backward Russia produced very few generals who succeeded in defeating the armies of the more advanced West. But those for whom such distinction can be claimed enjoy all the greater honour. One of such is Field-Marshal Suvorov, who, during the wars following the Great French Revolution, led his armies even as far as the Alps.

Even the Stalinists are forced to admit that:

The army commanded by Suvorov stood on the side of the interests of the Russian Landlords’ Empire of the eighteenth century. And Suvorov himself was an active agent of the will of the Tsarist autocracy.

But—‘in all his activities he was guided by a burning love of his fatherland and the urge to increase the fighting strength of the Russian army, to lead his “miracle warriors” from victory to victory.’ (From the Heroic Past of Our Fatherland , Volume 1, 1943)

There were, of course, other sides to Suvorov’s activities, which are little stressed by the Stalinist hacks of today. For instance, in granting him the title of Field Marshal in 1794, the Empress Catherine assured him, that ‘you yourself have promoted yourself to field-marshal for you have subdued Poland ’. Also his reaction to the French Revolution was such that he petitioned Catherine thus: ‘O Little Mother! Order me to go against the French! ’ Thwarted in this wish, he had to content himself with writing to the leader of the royalist counter-revolutionaries in the Vendée, addressing him as ‘Great Hero of the Vendée! Defender of thy fathers and of the throne of thy kings ’ and expressing the wish that ‘may the evil ones ’, the French revolutionaries, ‘perish and their race disappear! ’.

Today Suvorov is the greatest hero of the Red Army and the Order of Suvorov is the highest honour it can bestow.

Examples such as the above could be continued ad infinitum and ad nauseam .

The Campaign of Racial Hatred Against Germans

Needless to say, the Stalinist attitude of extreme nationalism (which would have shamed a pre-revolutionary Kadet) is not combined with a fraternal approach to the German workers. All Germans, workers and capitalists, anti-fascists and fascists, are lumped together to be hated racially, as Germans , in a manner which leaves even Lord Vansittart far behind. Let us listen to Alexei Tolstoy, the most honoured writer in the Soviet Union today:

We, the Russians, were always modest from the consciousness of our own greatness and strength, from affliction at our faults… In our spiritual carelessness we even pitied the poor Germans. Prince Alexander Yaroslavich beat this race, Ivan the Terrible beat them; when Peter the Great was in Berlin, King Frederick humbly begged him for some wretched little towns which had been conquered by Field-Marshal Menshikov; under Elizabeth we once again beat this race most severely; under Alexander I the Germans bowed down to him and asked for wretched little towns; Nicholas I out of bravado made a gift of Hungary to the Austrian Hapsburgs… How could not the Russian heart but pity the poor Germans…

During two and a half centuries the Germans were persistently and planfully crawling into Russian life; Germans commanded Russian armies, managed the estates of the landlords; taught the Russian youth in the schools and universities; Germans settled as colonists on Russian lands; but Russia to their annoyance continued to remain Russia—they had not got enough brains and talent for them to be able to compete with the Russians in literature, in the arts, in politics; even in science… it was the Russians who dared and invented, the Germans filched from them and sold the products of Russian genius as their own; from the second half of the nineteenth century German capital led a great attack on Russia; the German Tsaritsa during the War was in the centre of an espionage organisation… And suddenly, when Russia, as a colony, was almost in the German pocket—the October Revolution decisively and for ever threw off the German parasites who had fixed their claws in her.

There is no sense in arguing with them [the Germans]—in our epoch it is only possible to make a German understand by means of a bayonet.

Alexei Tolstoy will not even grant the Germans any racial affinity to the Russians. True, linguistic study long ago proved that Russian and German, like most of the languages of Europe, have a common source. But Alexei Tolstoy, since he ceased to be a White Guard and returned to the Soviet Union, has studied Marxism (!) and thus armed, easily disposes of the science of comparative philology:

Many roots [of Sanskrit] are common for the languages of certain tribes of India, of Persia, for the Celts, the Germans and the Slavs. But this important circumstance merely proves that on the huge territory from India to the Atlantic Ocean there once lived tribes with similar forms of social development and by that very fact [!—our emphasis] similar forms of language. (All three quotations from Whence Came the Russia Land , State Political Publishers, 1942)

Let us take another example of the present Stalinist attitude towards Germany and the Germans—and, incidentally, of the new appraisal of the First Imperialist War now put forward by Stalinism:

Wilhelm II in making his campaign of plunder against Russia had his ‘Fifth Column’ at the Tsar’s Court. The residence of the German Tsaritsa was as full of spies as a sticky leaf is of dead flies. The Tsarist General Staff was under the continual observation of the German General Staff. The rotten regime of Tsardom by its whole existence objectively helped the German imperialists in their aggressive plans. But our multi-nationed people did not reconcile itself with it in the way the German fascist milk-sops reconcile themselves with their arch-reactionary regime, for our people was a people of heroes and not a people of slaves. It overthrew the Tsarist throne and that social order which hindered it from straightening its powerful shoulders, and thus preserved its fatherland. (The Hero-People; the Warrior-People , State Political Publishers, 1944)

Who is this speaking? None other than D Manuilsky—the ‘leader’ and the ‘theoretician’ of the Third International in its period of Stalinist degeneration—the man who was the instrument for forcing upon the Communist Party of Germany the notorious theory of ‘Social-Fascism’ which made it impossible for the Communists to win the masses from Social Democracy and thus ensured the defeat of the German workers and the triumph of Hitler!

Less than two years before Hitler came to power Manuilsky was telling the German workers that:

Fascism in Germany, in the Hitler form, is maybe on the downgrade and, in fact, is already on the downgrade as a result of the activity of our Party, [and] that in Germany the chief enemy today is the Brüning government supported by Social Democracy, a government for the carrying through of Fascist dictatorship. (The Communist Parties and the Crisis of Capitalism , March-April 1931)

And, on the eve of Hitler’s victory, that ‘the united front of struggle cannot be replaced by the Comintern “from above”. It can only be formed from below.’ (Social-Democracy—Stepping Stone to Fascism , December 1932)

Now as a direct result of his own disastrous policy, the German workers have endured eleven years of Nazi rule, Manuilsky has the audacity to brand them as ‘a people of slaves’!

Stalin Revives Pan-Slavism

The ideologists of the old Tsarist Empire did more than propagate the type of nationalism now so faithfully copied by Stalinism; they were also the advocates of a ‘wider’ form of nationalism—Pan-Slavism. In its attempt to get under its rule the various Slavic races, then mostly under Austrian or Turkish rule, Tsarism in the nineteenth century spoke loudly in praise of the Slavs as a racial unit. In particular it advocated the unity of the Slavs against the Germans.

Marx characterised Pan-Slavism as follows:

Bohemia and Croatia (another disjected member of Slavonic family, acted upon by the Hungarian, as Bohemia by the German) were the homes of what is called on the European continent ‘Pan-Slavism’. Neither Bohemia nor Croatia was strong enough to exist as a nation by herself. Their respective nationalities, gradually undermined by the action of historical causes that inevitably absorb into a more energetic stock, could only hope to be restored to anything like independence by an alliance with other Slavonic nations. There were twenty-two millions of Poles; forty-five millions of Russians, eight millions of Serbians and Bulgarians; why not form a mighty confederation of the whole eighty million of Slavonians and drive back or exterminate the intruder upon the holy Slavonic soil, the Turk, the Hungarian and above all the hated but indispensable Niemetz, the German? Thus in the studies of a few Slavonian dilettanti of historical science was this ludicrous, this anti-historical movement got up, a movement which intended nothing less than to subjugate the civilised West under the barbarian East, the town under the country, trade, manufactures, intelligence, under the primitive agriculture of Slavonic serfs. But behind this ludicrous theory stood the terrible reality of the Russian Empire. (Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany )

Today Stalinism has extended its nationalism to embrace Pan-Slavism.

During over a thousand years, beginning with the seventh century [writes Nikolai Derzhavin, The Eternal Struggle of the Slavs Against German Aggressors , published by the All-Slav Committee, Moscow 1943], the freedom-loving Slav peoples stood as an insurmountable obstacle in the path of the rapacious expansion of the German conquerors, who were pushing towards the East from the rivers Elbe, Oder and Vistula, and always offered the aggressors the most obstinate and stubborn resistance as they still continue to do.

The greatest of the Slav peoples, which in the course of many centuries in the struggle for its just cause, for its freedom and independence, gave the most annihilating resistance to the plundering propensities of the German barbarians in the Middle Ages and the German Imperialists in modern times, was and remains the Russian people, the eldest brother, the defender and friend of all the Slav peoples.

Since the German invasion of the Soviet Union an ‘All-Slav Committee ’ has been set up in Moscow, needless to say, completely under Stalinist control. On 23 and 24 February 1944 it called in Moscow a ‘Meeting of Warrior-Slavs’. This latter issued a manifesto addressed to its ‘Brother Slavs’ and which ends with the following slogans:

Long live the fighting unity of the Slav peoples!

Long live the manly, the brave Warrior-Slavs!

Long live the great Russian people, which has inspired all the Slav peoples in the self-sacrificing struggle for honour, freedom and the independence of their fatherland!

Long live the heroic Red Army, the liberator of the Slav people!

Long live the genius-leader, the true friend and defender of the Slav peoples, Marshal Stalin!

Thus the slogan ‘Workers of the world unite!’ has today been replaced by the Stalinists by that of ‘Slavs of the world unite!’.

Russian Nationalism and the National Minorities of the USSR

It will have been observed from quotations that have been given that the USSR—despite occasional references to ‘our multi-nationed people’—is regarded by the Stalinist propagandists as a creation of the ‘great Russian people’. Now in the USSR of 1941—after the inclusion of the western parts of Poland and the Baltic States—as in the old Russian Empire, the Russians proper are in a minority. True it is possible for the Stalinists to perform the same jugglery as the statisticians of Tsarism and to include as Russians, the Ukrainians and White Russians. By this doubtful expedient it is possible to claim that the ‘great Russian people’ have a numerical preponderance in the USSR. But even so there are many millions of other entirely non-Russian races also present—Turkomen, Kazakhs, Tadzhiks, Georgians, Mordvinians, Armenians, Esthonians, Latvians, etc, etc. What part have they in the ‘heroic past’ of the ‘warrior people’?

In his preface to the English edition of his History of Russia (Martin Lawrence, 1931) NM Pokrovsky wrote:

We [the Bolsheviks] alone, finally have abandoned the idyllic picture of the unification of a mass of ‘backward’ peoples under the ‘enlightened’ guidance of the Russian Tsars—because it has become possible for these peoples to tell how the ‘propagators of enlightenment’ tortured, oppressed and exploited them.

Today the non-Russian peoples of the USSR are expected to regard as ‘national heroes ’ those very Russian Tsars and their generals who ‘tortured, oppressed and exploited them ’.

Nor is this all. Up to the middle of the 1930s, the rights gained by the national minorities as a result of the October Revolution had not been seriously infringed upon. One of the achievements of the Revolution consisted in the fact that in the case of the Asiatic nationalities the traditional practice of writing their languages in Arabic characters had been abandoned in favour of new alphabets based upon Roman characters, which were much more easily learned. But with the new Stalinist turn towards Russian nationalism these new Roman characters were ousted in one Asiatic language after another, to be replaced by Russian characters, which are quite unsuited to any non-Slavonic language. This change was officially explained as making it easier for the non-Russian peoples to learn ‘the great Russian language’—the fact that at the same time it was made more difficult for them to learn to read and write their own languages was not considered worth mentioning.

During this same period, numerous arrests of prominent local leaders took place in the non-Russian republics and autonomous areas on charges of ‘local nationalism’.

But the most striking example of the new attitude towards the non-Russian national minorities is furnished by the treatment of the Volga Germans. The ancestors of these Germans came to Russia in the year 1762. Together with the other nationalities of the Soviet Union, the Volga Germans passed through the October Revolution, the Civil War in which they furnished not a few brave fighters for the Red Army and the whole subsequent period, during which their loyalty remained unquestioned. Nevertheless, in August 1941 the whole of the population of the German Volga Republic—some 1,400,000 Soviet people —were forcibly removed from the land which they had occupied for nearly two centuries and deported to Siberia. The Stalinists had ceased to regard the Volga Germans as workers and peasants; now they were considered as ‘Germans’—and as such potential agents of the then advancing armies of Hitler!

The Inevitability of the Nationalist Degeneration of Stalinism

The development of the worst manifestations of Stalinist nationalism dates from the middle 1930s—from the time when it had become obvious, even to the bureaucracy, that the German bourgeoisie had called Hitler to power not merely to crush the German working-class movement but also to attempt to solve the problems of German capitalism by external expansion—and expansion primarily at the expense of the Soviet Union.

The Stalinist bureaucracy saw itself faced with the task of ideologically mobilising the Soviet population for the coming war. But it could not do this upon the old, Bolshevik lines. In the Civil War from 1918 till 1920 the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky had rallied the workers and peasants behind it under slogans concretising the defence of the conquests of the October Revolution, and the preparation of the World Revolution. At the same time it had broken the morale of the armies of intervention by appealing to the workers in those armies upon the basis of international class solidarity. Thus they appealed to the British soldiers sent to Northern Russia:

You are working men too. What interests have you in fighting for the gang of Russian counter-revolutionaries and international capitalists? As working men your business should be to support your fellow workers in those places where they succeed in taking power, for the victory of the workers in one country is a step toward the emancipation of the workers in all countries.

Such could not be the approach of Stalin. The bureaucracy cannot call upon the masses of the USSR to defend the conquests of the October Revolution lest it should arouse memories of the pre-Stalinist period when these conquests were still fully enjoyed by the masses. Nor can it risk arousing the internationalist sentiments of the Soviet workers since the bureaucracy rightly sees in these a threat to its own domination. Therefore, the official Stalinist propaganda has almost completely avoided all reference to the heroic memories of the Civil War though these must be still fresh in the minds of the masses. It has preferred to concentrate rather upon such events as the defeat of the Teutonic Knights of the Sword by Prince Alexander Nevsky in the year 1242!

Likewise it has been impossible for the Stalinists to call upon the German workers to overthrow Hitler and establish a workers’ state. For it fears, and once again rightly, that the setting up of a workers’ state in Germany, or anywhere else, would lead to the destruction of its own rule in the Soviet Union which is based precisely upon the isolation of the first workers’ state. For years now Stalin has therefore consistently sabotaged the workers’ movement throughout the world.

Living parasitically upon the Soviet masses, the Stalinist bureaucracy has naturally come to regard itself as the heir to the old ruling classes of Russia and their traditions. The heroes of these former ruling classes have become the heroes of the bureaucracy. In their leaders—in Alexander Nevsky, Dmitry Donskoy, Peter the Great, etc, etc—the present rulers of the Soviet Union see but earlier and less perfect prototypes of the present Leader—Stalin. Though itself not a class but merely a parasitic caste, the Stalinist bureaucracy attempts to ape the methods of the old Tsarist Empire, and in so doing hopes to consolidate its own rule. Faced with the threat of war it could only appeal to the masses in the same way as its Tsarist predecessors did—upon the lines of Russian nationalism.

This ideology of the Stalinist bureaucracy does not, of course, fall from the skies. It flows inevitably from its position as a parasitic caste in an isolated workers’ state in a backward country. While the basis of the workers’ state—the social ownership of the means of production—still survives in the Soviet Union, political rule has passed into the hands of the bureaucracy, which absorbs an increasing proportion of the wealth produced by the socialised economy. It has thus certain features in common with the old ruling class of Tsarist Russia which it attempts to ape.

But this contradiction between the political rule of a parasitic bureaucracy and socialised industry cannot be of indefinite duration in the postwar world. Either the Stalinist bureaucracy will succumb to the pressure of World Imperialism—headed by USA—and socialised industry will be destroyed in the USSR; or the Soviet workers with the assistance of the workers of the rest of Europe and the USA will overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy and re-establish Soviet democracy once more.

Last updated: 5 March 2009