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Henry Judd

World Politics

A Look at the Pharaoh of All the Russias
on His Seventieth Birthday

(2 January 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 1, 2 January 1950, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“We are simple Soviet people,
Communism is our glory and honor.
If Stalin says this shall be – it will be.
We will answer the leader, ‘This is’.”


Last week the world (or a substantial sector of it) rejoiced in the seventieth birthday of a man known variously in some circles as Big Brother or Number One. Characteristically enough, the event itself bore the imprint of The Genial Chief. By decree, command, order and “suggestion,” the world witnessed an outburst of creative talent, spontaneous explosions of energy and tremendous surgings of the human spirit. Poems were produced (see sample above), oratorios written, plays and films created, cities renamed, mountains moved, production schedules surpassed, the direction of rivers changed and – it is said – a new Chinese alphabet (with Russian letters) devised. All this was called forth in the Year 70 of the “Stalinist epoch” when mankind in tens of millions displayed its joy on the Master’s day of birth. O happy day!

Workers, intellectuals, peasants and agrarian workers, professionals and officials – all alike mobilized in a truly totalitarian manifestation of what the mighty state and its propaganda machine can do. It was clear that the Russian regime had seized upon an opportunity to mobilize its power, take stock of its forces, both internal and external, and present the world with its own political greeting card for the holiday season.

Voluntary or involuntary demonstration, the machine of the “Stalinist epoch” is not too concerned by that problem. It measures power in terms of the capacity to mobilize and to move. The accompanying visit of Mao Tze-tung to Moscow was an important part of the act, since it was intended to mark the triumph of Stalinism in China, together with a notice to the world that Mao, for the moment at any rate, marches with Big Brother, not the Beast of Belgrade.

The Bureaucracy Leads the Choir

The emotional and propagandistic storm raised over Number One’s birthday is worth reflecting on. Much of its character is obvious – a consciously whipped-up, totalitarianized demonstration where men are literally forced to pay homage to perhaps the most sinister figure ever thrown up by history. Above all among the masses, both in Russia itself and particularly in the satellite countries, can we be sure that the shameful and orgiastic display utterly lacked any sincerity or real feeling. It is most unlikely that the Czech workers who “voted” a Sunday’s holiday as a work day for a private plate for Number One were enthusiastic over this event! At the same time, of course, the weight of the machine makes it impossible to estimate the masses’ true feelings in this respect.

It must be recognized at the same time, however, that .a substantial sector of the "celebrants" (it would be impossible to make a statistical estimate) participate in the festivities with true and unconcealed delight. The strength, homogeneity and influence of Big Brother’s gang varies inversely, of course, with its distance from the Kremlin. To them, Big Brother is a mighty and appealing symbol – he represents power, political authority, power and more power. To touch Big Brother is to touch the source and delight of their deepest yearning – power and authority. These men of a new class – or a would-be ruling class – have a community and affinity with the Kremlin Boss which cannot be underestimated.

As for Big Brother himself, what a fantastic and incredible creature he has now become! If he has not yet reached the perfection attained by the totalitarian idol made famous in the George Orwell novel 1984, at least he has passed far beyond the purely biographical and analytical descriptions of him contained in the well-known biographies of Souvarine, Trotsky, Deutscher, et al. The socio-biological description of Big Brother, based upon historic development, no longer suffices. He is still sly, shrewd, infinitely dishonest and untrustworthy, a bureaucratic manipulator, a dull-witted theorist and a narrow-visioned opportunist. All this is true, but perhaps its importance is outweighed by broader and more obscure features which Big Brother now assumes.

For he is hardly the same figure – the man called Koba – who passed through the various stages of the Russian revolutionary movement, Marxism, etc. Only in narrow personality terms, which influence the particular WAY in which he does things, can we trace him to this familiar past now. This new Big Brother is someone different, both as a human personality and, above all, as a symbolic and mythological figure.

Pharaoh and Myth

As an individual, the tendency is now to lift him into the category of the ancient pharaohs – more God than man – all-seeing, all-pervading, all-wise, the solver of all problems and, most important of all, the center and source of all power. But we must now recognize that his power is expressed somewhat differently – he is no longer so much the active wielder of power as the final arbiter of power struggles. As such, he holds the ultimate power, just as a pharaoh was mediator between men and gods.

As myth, he is the embodiment of two doctrines: (1) His victory is inevitable and assured on an international scale – only destruction awaits the iconoclasts who break from his path; (2) his way and his example are the only ones possible. Thus each brother of Big Brother must model himself after him, but firmly check and control his ambitions. In essence, then. Big Brother holds out before us the unlovely vision of what a completely Stalinist world would be like.

Perhaps the most pitiful figures in the whole charade are the intellectuals and professional idolators who participated in the birthday exercises. It has been suggested by others that an outstanding emotional and psychological driving force among many modern intellectuals is perhaps best described as a “death yearning,” a turning away from life. Without going into this complex question, perhaps we see here an excellent description of what such theorists have in mind.

For is it not now clear that the permanent purge forms an organic part of the Big Brother system – particularly as concerns the intellectuals and petty bourgeoisie? The louder the praise, the shriller the hosannahs, the more hysterical the genuflections – the closer is death, humiliation, purging and slander for the Shostakhovichs, Ehrenburgs and the rest of the pitiful collection of the Soviet intelligentsia. How else could Big-Brother make perfectly clear who is master in the house, and the transitory value of art and culture (as compared with power) under the Big Brother system? An oratorio is but premature funeral music for its composer.

The system of Big Brother must fall, but the question is HOW shall it fall, and BY WHOM shall it be chopped down. One way – the American way – would, in reality, mean the ironic triumph of Big Brother since it would lead to chaos; that is, the very food upon which Big Brother has always fed. The other way – that of democratic and socialist struggle – would destroy Big Brother root and branch, together with every hopeful Little Brother. We shall yet see which way will take precedence.

In the meantime, having in mind the bio-physical Big Brother who pollutes the earth, let us not be unwilling to express prayerfully the hope that his 71st birthday anniversary will be a genuine celebration of joy and thanks – in honor of a departed, deceased and late Big Brother.

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