FromThe New International, Vol. XIX No. 1, January–February 1953, pp. 3–17.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
And lo behold, onto the broad Red Square
JOSEPH STALIN INDEED MADE A MODEST and truly glorious entrance onto Red Square; glorious only for its finality, modest only because the “great mountain of Himalaya!” was being borne in a coffin on the substantial shoulders of Malenkov and those of his subordinates. The death of this mountainous personification of reaction, terror and violence leaves us with but one regret; that it was not the consequence of any upheaval in Russia, but, apparently, was brought on by an accident of nature.
What was the reaction of the Russian people? Did the news of Stalin’s death provoke profound grief or profound shock? Were the officially announced mourning millions disquieted by a feeling of insecurity and uncertainty over the future, or was Stalin a beloved father image to the 800 millions in the Stalinist empire?
It is likely that the dead dictator’s efforts to reach pontifical heights, his clever role as saviour of the nation in time of war and his guise of being stern and firm, yet kindly and moderate, may have reduced the people’s animus toward him compared to their detestation of the regime as a whole.
The absurdity spread by some correspondents in America that Stalin was a "moderate” who went to great lengths to keep the extremists in check was a myth consciously cultivated by Stalin. It was calculated to deflect mass hostility toward the regime from continuing in a consistent path and centering its repressed hatred on the chief despot of the Russian empire. This talent of Stalin’s to appear as arbiter and never as perpetrator, as mediator and seldom as an exponent of an extremist view served him well in the twenties. At that time he was also a "moderate,” opposed to the “extremism” of Trotsky’s permanent revolution on the one side and the rightist extremism of Bukharin on the other; neither world revolution nor capitalist restoration, he proclaimed, but socialism in one country. It was a thoroughly reactionary and extremist view but covered with a thin glaze of moderation easy to see through but difficult to pierce which fitted in so well with the moods of millions of Russians, exhausted physically and spiritually by eight years of war and revolution. This affectation of moderation which gained a genuine popularity for Stalin among sectors of the Russian population in the twenties was employed by him with much less success in the thirties and forties. During the murderous purges of the thirties, for example, Stalin seldom if ever acted the role of public prosecutor and executioner. Thus, the man who was chiefly responsible for the liquidation of the last of the important personal symbols of the Russian Revolution could manage an evasion of direct and primary public responsibility for the trials which consolidated his bureaucratic power. And when the purge threatened to get out of hand the executioners were ordered executed by the wise and genial Stalin, obviously a man of moderation.
But it is important that we do not exaggerate the point. If Stalin’s favorite role as a moderate man evoked personal fealty to him under the given historical circumstances of the twenties, it is inconceivable that a similar feeling of affection remains among numerically significant portions of the Russian population. His moderate pose could not have won anything resembling human sympathy in the face of 25 years of totalitarian terror. But the pose itself continued to have some effect. Even among the millions of Russians who experienced a deep sense of personal satisfaction at the news of Stalin’s death, it must have, nevertheless, produced a mood of uncertainty. Perhaps things would be even worse. Perhaps, with Stalin dead, the more extreme elements in the regime would take over and there would be an even greater terror. Perhaps, with Malenkov now Premier, this executioner who was known to have put the pin-prick mark of death next to the names of the old Bolsheviks, a series of trials, deportations and executions would be organized dwarfing anything hitherto known. Then again, suppose Malenkov and the reorganized presidium adopts a more aggressive policy in the cold war? Without the more moderate hand of Stalin to check this adventurism we might once more be engulfed in a war. These must have been some of the thoughts which overwhelmed the Russian people at the news of Stalin’s death. We deduce that these were the sentiments behind the solemnity of millions of Muscovites paying their last respects to Stalin not out of any excursions into that popular mystical entity, the Russian soul, but from the reasonable political assumption that a people living under the whiplash of totalitarianism for 25 years is not moved to tears of compassion over the death of its chief despot. The attitude may be more complicated than undiluted hatred but it can never be one of touching sympathy and love.
Yet Stalin found his adulators in the American press. Above all, the articles in The New York Times by Harrison Salisbury, read as if his pen were dipped in his own tear ducts.
The long lines of silent Musovites extending for ten miles into the suburbs, winding their way past Stalin’s bier to the accompaniment of Chopin’s Funeral March sent Mr. Salisbury into lyrical raptures. It never occurred to the Times’ correspondent that the millions who shuffled past the funereal display were as much motivated by the instinct of self-preservation as by any reverence for the deceased tyrant. Can one imagine a Moscow citizen presenting an explanation to a local party leader for failing to pay his last respects to Stalin!
IN EVALUATING THE HISTORICAL PERSONALITY of Stalin much of what the analysts have written reveals that they have fallen unwitting victims to the Stalin-created myth of Stalin. His life, they note, was fraught with Machiavellian evil, but an evil of great and genius-like proportions. With his abnormal capacity for deception, intrigue and violence combined with courage, stolidity and an uncanny feeling for gauging the moods of the masses, he pulled the floundering Russian nation out of chaos. In 25 years he engineered an industrial revolution in Russia that required centuries in the capitalist West. Stalin was able to succeed where everyone failed. All the efforts of Count Witte to bring modern techniques and industry to semi-feudal, pre-revolutionary Russia failed to make more than a dent in the economy compared to what Stalin accomplished. All the naive idealism of the early Bolshevik party, all the efforts of the stubborn doctrinaire Lenin, and the Western- minded intellectual, Trotsky, could not bring order to Russia. It was Stalin who finally succeeded; Stalin whose talents built a mighty industrial Russia, introduced science to agriculture, Stalin who extended the borders of the Russian empire beyond the most extravagant ambitions of the Czars with an army, the mightiest and most feared in the world.
The “greatness” of a man is a relative concept. The heroic proportions of an individual cannot be mechanically measured but we do assume that the great or heroic individual must be endowed with certain positive talents which set him aside from other men. He cannot be an individual who is steeped in all the backward prejudices of his time and whose thought and action is heavily influenced by them.
A man, in the words of Plekhanov, “is great not because his personal qualities give individual features to great historical events but because he possesses qualities which make him most capable of serving the great social needs of his time, needs which arose as a result of general and particular causes.” He can serve those social needs either through thought or action or both. Where other men cannot understand their epoch, he can; where other men cannot foretell history, he can; where others cannot clearly see the path of progress he can point it out to them. He is the intellectual and active leader of men who, as servitor, not creator of progress can nevertheless influence the development of social institutions through his consciousness.
Lenin and Trotsky were great men of the Russian Revolution because they were able to rise far above the stultifying prejudices of their social milieu. They were men of vision, imagination and action, capable of developing ideas and policies essential to the liberation of the Russian people from Czarist oppression.
Stalin, on the other hand, can measure up to none of these criteria. As a man who served “the great social needs of his times” during and before the revolution, Stalin’s record is hardly a footnote of history, but as the Grand Executioner who led the social reaction, Stalin’s fame was made secure for all times.
As a man of ideas he fares no better as a would-be great man. For Stalin was unique among the top leaders of the early Soviet government for his lack of intellectual attainment. His major work before the twenties was a brochure on the national question written in 1913 at the mature age of 33. Aside from this short work he has contributed nothing to intellectual thought. His theory of “socialism in one country” has no theoretical value. It was not taken seriously by Marx – when raised in its essence by a German national socialist, Georgi Vollmar, as far back as 1876. The importance of this “theory” for history is that it articulated the reaction which was engulfing Russia following the Civil War.
As a man of vision, Stalin cannot qualify for admission to the hall of great historical personalities. A man without originality, he did not have the capacity to predict history. Although he was the chief architect of the new bureaucratic class it is certain that he did not play his role with any degree of prescience. As a man of culture Stalin was no less lacking. More than influenced, he was moulded by the prejudices of his time and he never raised himself above the provincial bigotry of his youth in Georgia. Men who were intellectually versatile were suspect and never forgiven by Stalin for their superiority.
The mediocrity that was Stalin, is not perceived by the journalists who are awed by his achievements, but it was apparent to and deeply felt by Stalin. His efforts at self-deification served not only a political purpose, they were no less designed to mollify his own feelings of inferiority. From an obscure student radical he emerged from the pens of his biographers as a patron saint of the Georgian workers; and from a second rate figure between the 1905 and 1917 revolutions he emerged as Lenin’s chief confidante and advisor. The extremes to which he had gone in recent years to “correct” and “re-orient” scientists, writers, philologists, artists, and musicians cannot be explained in toto by the political needs of the Russian totalitarian system. They were also the workings of a narrow, vindictive man enforcing homage from more cultured men; he sought tributes never paid to him by his more learned colleagues in the early days of the Soviet government.
Many of the journalists who see an evil great man in Stalin recognize the above-mentioned facets of his personality. Nevertheless, with a nothing-succeeds-like-success psychology, they point to the fact that Stalin became dictator despite the opposition of many men of far greater abilities. Lenin was aware of Stalin’s malignant influence on the Communist Party and the revolution for several years before his death and yet could not prevent it. And Trotsky, whose great qualities were branded on Stalin’s consciousness was nonetheless ousted from the party, exiled and assassinated – by Stalin.
But Lenin and Trotsky, and the revolution, were not defeated by Stalin. The men and the revolution they led were defeated by the failure of the working class to seize power in European countries, particularly in Germany. The revolution came first to Russia despite the expectations of all Marxists, because Czarist Russia, which Lenin so aptly called the “weakest link in the chain of imperialism,” was embroiled in a world war and handicapped with productive forces which could not stand the enormous strain of the war. Her backward economy could not even provide basic military equipment for her armies at the front, where her soldiers were being massacred.
The soviets coming to power in this peasant land inherited her backward economy. No one at the time had the illusion that the revolution could sustain itself on a healthy basis for an extended period without help from socialist countries in the more advanced countries of the West. Without industry, without technology, confronting invasion by imperialist troops from without and faced with the prospect of civil war it was not possible to contemplate raising the cultural level of the nation to that of even a second rate capitalist power, not to speak of attaining socialism which means a higher culture and technology than capitalism has ever known. Without aid from socialist governments in the West the leaders of the Soviet government understood in advance the demoralization that would set in among the working class and the rift that would take place between worker and peasant if no material benefits from the revolution were to be enjoyed.
By 1922, when Stalin was chosen general secretary of the Communist Party, the revolutionary energies of the Russian workers had been largely dissipated and thousands of their best leaders killed in the civil war. The working class had accomplished the amazing task of lifting Russia out of the autocratic grip of the Czars and establishing its own political power. But four years of war and revolution following its triumph did not bring the material advantages it sought; and the ebb of the revolutionary movement in the West only increased its weariness. The working class, no longer fired with revolutionary passion, in a sense abandoned power. So long as the economic and administrative bureaucracies were made to serve its interests the working class was the dominant power. But with the growing passivity of the workers, the bureaucracies which existed in all Russian institutions developed interests and a momentum of their own. Parties could be outlawed, factions suppressed, unions devitalized, favoritism and speculation practiced, etc., once the bureaucracies no longer felt themselves responsible to the masses. Careerists and adventurers entered the apparatus of party and state and behaved with impunity; the demobilized Red Army officers found administrative positions bringing with them methods which may have been required on the battlefield but were reprehensible in civil institutions of the post civil war period.
The NEPmen and bureaucrats who were rapidly filling in the vacuum left by the retreating working class found an excellent rallying center in Stalin and the machine which he had built in the Communist Party. As general secretary, a post which had been only of administrative importance, Stalin was in a strategic position for organizing his personal machine. With the “Lenin Levy” he had thrown the doors of the Communist Party wide open to the personally ambitious careerists who had neither sympathy nor understanding of the problems confronting the socialist movement.
Stalin was created by the bureaucracy. He was selected and nurtured by it because his personality, position and background fitted in so well with its needs. If there were no Stalin, the bureaucracy would have found another man to play essentially the same role. The individual which it sought to cement and lead it did not have to be a man of rare talents. On the contrary the bureaucracy needed an individual whose character incarnated the narrow visions and petty ambitions of the bureaucracy as a whole. Just as the inspired working class sought great men of progress to lead it during the October Revolution; so, inversely, did the bureaucracy feel the need for a leader of the same mediocre quality as itself.
The bureaucracy needed a chance to relax and maneuver. Stalin helped to provide it with that possibility. His theory of socialism in one country gave it a “program” to counter what was left of the internationalist traditions in Russia; and his ascendancy in the Communist Party apparatus provided it with the club necessary for beating down any opposition to its efforts to achieve the victory of totalitarianism in one country.
We have discussed the attempts of the statesmen and journalists to create an aura of evil greatness around Stalin because it is politically significant today. Beneath this admiration for Stalin as a leader the bourgeoisie reveals its own weaknesses. They do not look upon Stalin as a great man because of any misunderstanding about the meaning of the term. This praise is inspired by their own bankruptcy; to them Stalinism has become an invincible force, something they cannot cope with and do not understand. Hence their admiration for a single individual who appeared as mighty and awesome as the system he served so well.
The admiration for Stalin’s talents reveals not only the fear of the capitalist class for Stalinism, but envy as well. Stalin accomplished a task that they would like to see performed in their own countries: the Russian ruling class appears consolidated and unified, there is no open conflict between classes, everything seems orderly and well-organized.
IN DISCUSSING THE POSSIBLE DEVELOPMENTS within the Russian empire following Stalin’s death, the columnists eliminated whatever copy problems their editors may have had. Unfortunately, the space consumed by the journalist experts was not justified by the product, with such rare exceptions as, for example, the sober and factual articles by Harry Schwartz of the New York Times. Just one sample of misinformation: Hanson Baldwin, also of the New York Times, writes that Malenkov is “associated by some observers with the school of thought in Russia that believes it is to Soviet interests to fight sooner rather than later.” The military analyst does not identify these anonymous “observers” which would be interesting only because their observation is at loggerheads with all known interpretations of the Malenkov-Zhdanov rift. The New York Post’s columnist, Frank Kingdon, possibly for lack of anything better to do takes a peek into the Russian mind and finds that Lenin and Stalin were born of the “Russian brooding soul ...”
But we do not wish to be cantankerous. If one were to examine the hundreds of articles written on the subject of Stalin’s death, it would not be difficult to find dozens of minor and major factual errors. But a more serious quarrel with the journalists is over the question of their analytical approach.
Any extended analysis of Russia cannot avoid speculation, but it should be speculation in which the writer’s imagination is tempered by an understanding of the basic features of the society under discussion. Because this was absent, their speculations often ran out of control, with predictions of palace revolutions, unbridgeable rifts between China and the Kremlin, revolutions in the satellites and Malenkovite consolidation through war with the West as the imminent aftermath of Stalin’s death.
The basic weakness in the analysis and predictions of the “experts” was their failure to note the differences between the Russian bureaucracy and other elite bodies.
The Russian bureaucracy is more than a bureaucracy, it is a class. It is not merely a governmental apparatus, as in a capitalist country. The bureaucracy in Washington can undergo internal strife publically, it can be replaced, and even investigated, but that will not necessarily entail a conflict signifying the collapse of capitalism. Whether or not the Republicans remain in power in 1956, capitalism will remain intact and a Democratic administration will guard the American capitalist way of life with no less zeal than its predecessors. The right to exploit labor and the right to produce and sell commodities on the market are not endangered and are not contingent upon which major party enjoys governmental power; and they are not threatened by inter or intra party strife.
In Russian society this division between politics and economics does not exist. The bureaucracy is in no way separated from a class controlling the means of production. In Russia the state is the sole owner of the means of production and the bureaucracy is itself the collective controller of the means of production, through its control of the state.
A conflict, then, which emerges within the Russian bureaucracy cannot be thought of in the same terms as the factional struggles and interparty conflicts of capitalist democracies. Two capitalist politicians who are constantly at each other’s throats may both be imbued with the same class consciousness and more or less equally responsible from their own class point of view. For their fight does not necessarily endanger the rule of their class. In a bureaucratic collectivist society, on the other hand, a fight between different factions of the bureaucracy on any significant scale does endanger the rule of their class. Factional struggles must be subdued, and kept within bounds. If a conflict in the Russian bureaucracy is not settled discreetly and quietly through the final decision of a dictator or directory, or a purge or similar methods which the Russian bureaucracy uses to resolve real, imagined or potential differences within its ranks, how then can it be resolved? Certainly not through organization of different parties and elections. A prolonged and fierce faction fight within the bureaucratic collectivist class which is not settled or ameliorated in a reasonable period within its upper echelons threatens to dislocate the whole social system. That such a struggle is anathema to the bureaucratic collectivists is as obvious to them as it is to us.
It is not with the easy wisdom that comes from hindsight that we say that no one rightfully could have expected a fight of major proportions to break out in the Kremlin for Stalin’s mantle; for that could have materialized only if the Russian leaders were completely irresponsible fools, bent on self-destruction. The bureaucratic collectivists have a class consciousness which is more highly developed that that of any other class in the world today. It has a clearer understanding of its needs and interests, and one of its primary needs is to present a united, cohesive front to its class enemy at home – the working class; to its immediate class enemy abroad – the bourgeoisie; and to the subordinate compradore bureaucratic collectivists in the satellite countries.
The appeals for unity to avoid panic were not directed to the nation as a whole; they were addressed to the ruling class, warning them that any breach in this monolithic front might be filled by the enemy. There could have been no doubt that the bureaucracy would answer this call with an unerring class instinct. There has been no indication that the political differences within the bureaucracy- on the organization of agriculture, the political role of culture and science, a Western versus an Eastern orientation, degree of risk to take in the cold war – are so great that they cannot be resolved or mediated today by the Communist Party in the usual manner.
Several experts looking to history for precedents to justify their predictions of paralyzing dissension within the Communist Party, turned to the factional struggles in the party which were intensified after Lenin’s death. Poorer evidence could not be offered. Looking at the openly conducted party struggles in retrospect, we can see that they were conducted in a democratic paradise in comparison with what exists in Russia today. At that time, it was still possible for different factions to conduct an ideological fight publically. When Bukharin expressed a point of view, which Trotsky felt reflected the pressure of the petty bourgeoisie and might have led to the restoration of capitalist power, he did not believe that his life was at stake. When the Left Opposition fought to preserve the policies and traditions of the October Revolution Trotsky could not have known that some day a Stalinist assassin would reward him with a pickaxe at the base of his skull for it. In short, a factional struggle in the early twenties still had the semblance of an ideological conflict, while today, to disagree with any persistence can prove fatal. Terror is not only exercised against the masses to keep them in check, it is exercised against all levels of the bureaucracy. Yesterday, only Stalin was secure from the confessioners’ dock or less public liquidation; today no one can enjoy that sense of security; tomorrow it may be Malenkov who will be the only reasonably safe man in Russia.
The conflict in the Russian Communist Party which actually began before the death of Lenin had the elements of a class struggle. The forces represented by Stalin were those of an incipient bureaucratic collectivist class, pitted against the proletarian policies of the Left Opposition and then running counter to the pressures of the petty-bourgeoisie within the party.
The forces of bureaucratic collectivism won the struggle and proceeded to liquidate all class opposition within and without the party. No such situation exists in the Stalinist Party today. There are, indeed, different tendencies but they are not moved by the social force and passions engendered by class warfare.
THE DEATH OF STALIN in our opinion is no cause to expect a break in the coming period between the satellites and Russia or to destroy the working arrangement which exists between the Kremlin and Peiping rulers. The bureaucratic collectivist classes in the Eastern European nations no doubt feel considerable discomfiture over their political and economic subordination to the Kremlin. But the bureaucratic collectivist class is not an internationalist class. Equal partnerships between different bureaucratic collectivist nations are only possible on the basis of equal power. This equality of power does not exist between Russia and any other totalitarian regime in Europe, or even with China. Russia is the supreme totalitarian force. In Eastern Europe it is particularly unwarranted to think that as a result of Stalin's death the ruling classes there will make any dramatic break for independence. They owe their very existence to the Russian ruling class. They did not come to power as the result of any misdirected mass movement against the bourgeoisie. They came to power and maintained it only because they had the force of the Russian army behind them. Lacking in any popular appeal, constantly supervised and purged by the selective Russian bureaucracy and at the same time unsure of their future if they did manage to achieve independence from Moscow during the cold war, we do not give much credence to the theory that Stalin’s death will precipitate a violent struggle between the Russian and satellite bureaucracies.
The relations between China and Russia are more tenuous, for the former is in a better position to bargain for equal partnership with the Kremlin than any of the satellites in Europe. The Chinese ruling class did not come to power via a Russian army of occupation; nor was the central authority of the Chinese Communist Party residing in Moscow for long years, transported to Peiping at the propitious moment and conveniently installed by the Kremlin. The Chinese Stalinist class established its own traditions; with its own armies and with widespread support among the Chinese people it came to rule over a nation of 400 millions.
The force then which binds the Peiping bureaucracy to the Kremlin is only in part due to a fear of Russian military might but to a much greater degree by a mutuality of interests. China is an economically primitive land which can expect no material assistance from any country other than Russia. Moreover, she is engaged in a shooting war with America and cannot afford a rupture with Russia which would mean cutting herself off from vital military supplies. Finally, the Chinese ruling class is well aware of what is involved in the cold war. Should war come and Russia lose, then bureaucratic collectivism as we know it today would be destroyed. This crucial fact increases the consideration of both ruling classes for each other. To think that Mao would initiate a break with the Kremlin because he is jealous of Malenkov, as many writers have predicted, in the light of all the factors operating today which tend to weld them together is reducing the importance of personal ambition in politics to an absurdity.
OUR DISCUSSION THUS FAR has emphasized those factors tending to give a measure of cohesiveness to world Stalinism today. But it must be understood that we do not consider the bureaucratic class a homogeneous force, or regard bureaucratic collectivism as either invincible or stable. The nervousness with which the bureaucracy reacted to Stalin’s death, the talk of “disarray and panic” in its unity appeals, are themselves indications that beneath the surface cohesiveness of the Kremlin oligarchy, there are disruptive cross currents and potential- ally explosive conflicts. It cannot be otherwise with any regime which finds it necessary to resort to naked terror to maintain itself. The terror does not find its source in the depraved mentalities of the ruling clique but reflects the unpopularity of the regime among the masses and mirrors serious dissatisfaction in the ruling class itself.
In Russia we have the anomalous situation of a ruling class which lives in perpetual terror of itself. The purge system is not merely directed against dissenters; nor is it only for the purpose of keeping the working class in subjugation. It is directed against all levels of the ruling class, serving the bureaucracy as a guarantee against any relaxation on the part of bureaucrat or worker. It is the means whereby the bureaucracy attempts to regenerate itself, for the Russian ruling class is unquestionably a tired ruling class. It has won tremendous economic advantages for itself: wage differentials in Russian industry and in her military and administrative organs are even more disparate than in capitalist countries. But it has never been able to relax; that is, it has never been able to attain anywhere near the maximum personal satisfaction out of the material advantages it has won. The purge system will not allow it.
Life in such an atmosphere, even for a bureaucrat, is not an enviable one – and sometimes it is a suddenly foreshortened one. This political-psychological factor cannot be overestimated as a disintegrating tendency in Stalinist society. Each member of the ruling class jealously guards his position, maneuvers for promotion, yet lives in constant fear of punishment for an obscure misdemeanor, or even for none at all. The plant superintendent seeks to please his party superior, but is suspicious of his subordinate foreman. The party official, himself, is in constant fear of displeasing his political overseer, who in turn is never certain that there will not be an ominous knock on the door in the early morning hours. Each bureaucrat must cater to his superior, but be prepared to denounce him at the same time, should he fall from grace.
This mutual fear and distrust penetrates the uppermost reaches of the bureaucracy. Constant vigilance against all is the law of the bureaucratic land. It is inevitable that in this atmosphere of all pervading terror personal factionalism and cliquism should flourish.
Aside from factionalism born of pure fear, there is a related factionalism motivated by different interests. The Russian bureaucracy is a vast conglomeration of 15 million party functionaries, party and non-party industrial magnates, kolkhoz supervisors, army officers, administrators, internal security officials, etc. Within this mass of 15 million, approximately half belong to the Communist Party, whose top committee, the presidium, is the undisputed ruling body of the Russian empire. But this committee, aside from Malenkov, includes the Minister of Internal Affairs, Beria, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Molotov, Minister of War, Bulganin, etc. These men owe their first allegiance to the party. Nevertheless, for their own ambitions and safety, they are forced to seek some sort of mass base in their ministries and to secure this support they must enhance the relative prestige and material well being of their respective ministries, thus generating jealousies, intrigue and cliquism within the presidium which reverberates down to the lowest levels of the bureaucracy.
Economic inefficiency is another product of the purge and terror system. Meeting quotas can be, literally, a question of life or death. Given this somewhat morbid prospect, it is not difficult to see why factory managers will often manufacture figures instead of goods. But as Russia has a state planned economy, false figures in one sphere of production leads to further unrealistic quotas and lop sided overall planning.
The disintegrative tendencies within Stalinism have been increased rather than diminished by Stalin’s death. Stalin served a unique role within the Russian ruling class. He had behind him the machinery and prestige for placing himself above the factional conflicts within the bureaucracy. He was the supreme moderator and the ultimate judge and executioner. There is even evidence that the arch-manipulator of our times encouraged personal and political animosities within the ruling circles as a means of insuring his special function.
The death of the almighty co-ordinator leaves vacant on the peak of the bureaucratic hierarchy, a post which served as a stabilizing factor in the life of the bureaucracy. A directory cannot operate with maximum efficiency and no individual in it has the “qualifications” to assume Stalin’s terrible personal power. Stalin consolidated his unquestioned personal power over the corpses of ally and foe. There is no reason to believe that a new Stalin would utilize any more charitable methods.
Malenkov is no Stalin, though apparently he was created in his mentor’s image. He has no ties with the October Revolution, he was not instrumental in consolidating the bureaucratic class in the late twenties and thirties and he has not been able to build the personal machine which Stalin did over a period of thirty years. Moreover, Malenkov comes to leadership of the bureaucracy at a time when it numbers in the millions, is already divided, suffers from fatigue and has none of the idealism, warped though it was, of the generation which backed Stalin’s bloody march to power. Given these facts it will take many years and many purges to build a Malenkov myth and if one is established it can only be done over the opposition, and perhaps over the bodies of the elder statement on the presidium whose bureaucratic souls must rankle at the thought of playing a subordinate role to this newly arrived leader. The consolidation of the presidium, the reduction of the number of ministries are symptomatic that all does not go well with Stalin’s choice. This initial reorganization has a levelling effect in the highest committee of the party by placing the tightened presidium in a better position for watching both Malenkov and the reduced number of ministries. Malenkov’s “voluntary” abandonment of his secretaryship of the party, even though it was to one of his lieutenants, is symptomatic of the Premier’s dubious position.
Malenkov, Beria and Molotov already have a history of personal and political rivalries, promoted and at the same time kept in bounds by Stalin. Each has already headed factions which have undergone purges and liquidations since the end of the war. For Malenkov to attempt to assume Stalin’s personal powers would arouse not only the hostility of frustrated ambitions, but a fierce opposition by the other members of the directory who would have good cause to fear for their very lives. Today, the fear of the personal consequences of a struggle for power and the class need to present a monolithic front acts as a balance against a mortal struggle in the bureaucracy. Nevertheless, Stalin’s death has created a precarious unity which has become an additional disintegrative tendency in the Russian ruling class.
It is in our opinion worthwhile to speculate on the possible effects of the supreme moderator’s death on the mass Communist parties outside of the Iron Curtain. The Stalinist organizations in democratic capitalist countries are not bound to the Russian bureaucracy by all the ties which weld the satellite bureaucracies to the Kremlin. In the French and Italian Communist Parties, the Stalinist leaderships have bureaucratic collectivist class ambitions which are not likely to be realized in the near future through an invasion of the Russian armies. These parties remain subordinate to the Kremlin because of the similarity of class interests, the pressures of the cold war, the prestige which is gained for them in the Kremlin “alliance,” and, to some extent, a fear of future physical reprisals should they disobey the instructions of the Russian Communist Party. But as the leadership of the French and Italian Communist Parties seek to create a mass base for themselves in their respective working classes they can be most successful when their propaganda and tactics takes into consideration the moods of the French and Italian workers and the domestic political scene, in general. Differences naturally arise within the leadership of these organizations on how best to advance their class ambitions. The Kremlin, however, cannot permit these disputes in their mass foreign agencies to get out of hand, nor can it allow policies which in any way do not fit in with its overall world strategy. With Stalin alive the Kremlin’s dictates to foreign parties were uncontested. The question that arises now is how will these mass parties in Europe be affected, in the event of a serious internal difference, by dictums from the Kremlin without the backing of Stalin.
Let us take the Marty-Tillon expulsion from the French Communist Party as a case in point. Both of these Stalinist leaders favored a continuation of a militant line in France as opposed to the new policy that was to be adopted as a world Stalinist tactic at the Nineteenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party. This new policy called for a more subdued approach. Translated into French Stalinist politics this meant propaganda with a slight people’s front flavor to unite all “progressive” Frenchmen against the encroachments of American imperialism on the French nation. The objections of Marty and Tillon coincided with the tougher policies that had reportedly been advocated by the militant Western oriented Zhdanov faction in the Russian Party.
The refusal of Marty and Tillon to bow to the new line for the French Stalinists that was being prepared in Moscow was a most ill-mannered breach of Stalinist etiquette. The subsequent expulsion of these prominent figures who had been heroes inside the Party was no doubt approved of, if not decided, in Moscow, and just as surely had the full approval of Stalin.
Should a similar disagreement arise within the French or Italian Communist Parties, this time with more or less equal divisions in their leaderships, the ability of the Russian to pass judgment with equanimity is open to question. Stalin could excommunicate any individual from the world Stalinist movement. It is not certain that the Russian presidium with Malenkov as its head could do the same, and even less certain if a difference existed within the presidium corresponding to the competing groups in the Western parties. It is not likely that Malenkov can function today as arbiter even inside the Russian regime and this leaves us with the pleasant thought that his word will not suffice at all times to mend the breaches which occasionally appear in Stalinist parties not within the Russian empire.
IT IS ALMOST A MONTH since Stalin has been embalmed, entombed and sanctified and the world is still waiting for the psychological offensive that the Washington administration was to let loose.
A day before the death of Stalin, the press was granted an interview by President Eisenhower. The questions revolved around the problems that would be brought on by Stalin’s imminent death. But the President was cautious; a cautiousness based not so much on profound reflection as on plain ignorance. He had nothing to say, which is perhaps the best course he could have pursued for himself. He did promise to be wary and watchful and assured his interviewers that he was dedicated to the cause of peace.
But if Eisenhower is not too perspicacious, what about his reputedly more astute political advisers, such as Dulles and Bedell Smith (whom Eisenhower believes to be the best authority on Russian affairs)? What would be the political nature of the campaign designed to drive a wedge between Mao and the Kremlin that was to come out of Dulles’s high powered conference with Anthony Eden? What would the State Department’s directives to the Voice of America produce?
The psychological offensive has, of course, turned out to be a complete washout. Neither Dulles, nor Smith, nor all the Russian experts have been able to turn the death of Stalin to any political advantage. In a prepared press conference statement following the death of Stalin the best that Dulles could do was predict the greater chances for peace in a world where “the Eisenhower era begins as the Stalin era ends.”
We doubt that the multitudes in Asia and Europe living in the shadow of hunger and war will find much solace in Dulles’ assurance that this is the beginning of “the Eisenhower era”; it is no less doubtful that the 800 millions ground under the Stalinist tyranny can find any credibility in Dulles’ promise that this is the end of the Stalin era.
Our search for a more intimate view of the projected political offensive coming from Mr. Dulles came to an abrupt halt upon reading in the March 10th issue of The New York Times that the Secretary of State speaking at a luncheon indicated that while America would pursue “no new tactics or new strategy, he (Dulles) hoped there would be a new spirit.” However, if American psychological warfare mediums are alerted for a campaign to utilize the death of Stalin as a divisive force between Russia and Eastern Europe and China, and even as a means to dislocate the Russian government, new tactics and new strategy are called for; at least something a little more plausible than a “new spirit.” (It was not made clear where this hoped for change of spirit was to take place – in Washington or Moscow – and no clue given as to the anticipated new contours of this divining force.)
While the Kremlin dominated peoples’ are not likely to learn of Dulles’ hoped for new spirit, the Voice of America can at least make direct contact with them; for despite McCarthy the Voice remains Washington’s main medium in the psychological campaign against the Kremlin. But the best that the Voice has done so far to upset the Stalinist regime was to repeat America’s “official condolences” over the death of Stalin, repeat Eisenhower’s statement of sympathy and good wishes for the Russian people, and quote from editorials appearing in American newspapers. None of these announcements, we fear, is going to weaken the Kremlin’s rule. Radio Free Europe, the heavily financed, private American counterpart of the Voice of America broadcasting to the satellite nations informed its listeners that the death of Stalin would not bring about their immediate liberation and advised them “to remain calm and act with caution.” The precise meaning of these anxious words is, we suspect, as much a puzzle to their author as to their audience.
It is not difficult to find the immediate reasons for the inability of the current administration in Washington to make any political capital out of the death of Stalin. It is an administration with a Congress that is heavily weighted with the worst of know- nothing traditions. Eisenhower himself is a symbol of intellectual vacuity in American politics and his cabinet and advisors, so heavily loaded with prosperous car-dealers and others recruited from the babitt business world, are singularly ill equipped to cope with the dynamic political phenomenon of Stalinism. The Secretary of Defense, Charles E. Wilson, had no inhibitions over declaring that one of his choices for a leading post on American psychological warfare division was Arthur Godfrey because he “knows the mass mind”! Not with the best will in the world (and we do not grant this) can Washington’s chief executive and his grey administration conduct an ideological struggle against bureaucratic collectivism. And if these men lack talent and understanding, what must be said for the American Congress! Can one imagine a Congress which is increasingly falling under the influence of the most ignorant and malicious elements in American political life, the McCarthys, Jenners, Veldes, etc., developing a political program and approach to counter Stalinist propaganda in France, Italy and Asia. The very thought is ludicrous. McCarthy is an expert at hounding all real and imaginary non-conformists, Stalinists and anti-Stalinists but he is without any qualifications, personally, politically or intellectually to break the hold of Stalinism over millions of people – unless, of course, he could bring them before a Congressional investigating committee and eventually jail them on contempt charges.
The political paralysis of the Republican administration’s world ideological battle cannot accurately be diagnosed as cerebral malfunctioning or a low intellectual metabolism, real and widespread as these illnesses are in the Eisenhower entourage and Congress. Had Stevenson been elected along with a Democratic Congress we doubt that his administration could have inspired a division in the Stalinist ranks any more successfully than Truman, whose administration provided so much grist for the Stalinist propaganda mills.
Ironically enough, not only did the administration fail to make any political capital out of the Russian despot’s death, but it was the new Russian regime which managed to exploit the death of their god to some ideological advantage. With the speeches of Malenkov, Beria and Molotov at Stalin’s rites it initiated a new “peace” offensive which has gained considerable momentum, succeeding in disorienting the Washington experts.
The failure of the Eisenhower administration to capitalize on Stalin’s death is not only due to ineptness; it is the result of a fundamental inability of American capitalism to counter the political drive inherent in Stalinism. Stalin's death affords no significant advantage to Washington because the conflict has never been a duel between two governments, much less between individuals. It is a deadly struggle between two contradictory social systems and in this struggle the American-led forces of capitalism have proven only their impotence.
Last updated: 21 February 2019