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Jack Weber

Stalin’s Analogy Between Himself
and Bloody Ivan

(March 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 13, 29 March 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The American press has taken a great interest in an article on Ivan the Terrible that, has appeared in the official Soviet organ, Izvestia. That article portrays the first Czar as a heroic, if cruel figure, whose great achievements for Russia have not been understood. Naturally the world press is little interested in a figure of the Sixteenth, Century. It accepts, without saying so, the obvious analogy between Stalin and Ivan the Terrible. But it is puzzled by the semi-admission of this analogy in Stalin’s press.

The Stalinist bureaucracy certainly rules in the style of Ivan the Terrible. It speaks of itself almost, at one and the same time, as the continuator of Leninism and of Peter the Great and now of his predecessor Ivan the Terrible.

How can one explain this admission?

The explanation lies in the fact that the Stalinist bureaucracy has no solid social foundation under it. It rests neither on the working class, nor on the bourgeoisie. The existence of the ruling clique of the Kremlin is therefore highly unstable and its future is dangerously uncertain. It seeks frantically for some historic tradition on which to rest firmly, but which way shall it look ? Its right petty bourgeois wing, growing stronger and stronger, drags Russia back towards the restoration of capitalism. Its left wing, growing ever weaker, pulls back in fright towards the working class and the proletarian revolution. From the point of view of the reactionary wing, the position of Ivan the Terrible in history is highly significant.

Ivan’s Role in History

Ivan the Terrible fits into that period in history when national states arose: Ivan, the first Czar, like Louis XI of France and James I of England used the new force in society, the burghers or commoners, to help subdue his rivals among the nobility, the boyars or lords. Having succeeded, he set himself up as absolute ruler of the feudal nation. In this struggle the Czar, like the Kings, played the progressive role of unifying the nation arid establishing the wide boundaries inside which the capitalist forces could expand and develop.

However, once the King or Czar, had achieved power, he turned upon the commoners who had helped him into the saddle. He then rested his. power on the submissive feudal aristocracy. In order to overthrow feudalism, the capitalists had to dethrone the absolute Kings.

Stalin would like us to read history, in reverse. Those who move in a certain political direction want to persuade themselves and others that their motion is forward. But how can one make reaction appear progressive? By comparing it to that period of history when the same phenomenon, apparently, was progressive. Stalin wants to give the impression that he is using his terribly cruel methods out of necessity, the same necessity that drove Ivan the Terrible to build a strong, lasting nation. Stalin is building Russia!

But in what sense does Stalin rebuild the nation ? His whole work all these years has been one of damming up and stifling the proletarian revolution inside the Russian boundaries. The proletarian revolution cannot be confined inside one country. It tends to spread and sweep away the national boundaries. The capitalist revolution united the nation. The socialist revolution unites the working class and all the oppressed of the entire world. In this day and age, when the national boundaries have become the greatest of obstacles to the progress of humanity, the attempt to bolster them up is reactionary to the highest degree.

The more the Stalinists turn to the traditions of the Russian nation and of capitalist patriotism, the more this indicates that their face it set towards capitalist restoration. But to accomplish this, the bureaucracy will have to settle accounts first of all within its own ranks even more that it has done. It would have to burst into fragments.

We Grant Stalin His Analogy

We readily grant Stalin his right to the analogy with Ivan the Terrible so far as cruelty and sadism are concerned. Ivan killed his own son, Izvestia now has it appear, because he was a traitor. Stalin too – do we read the analogy correctly? – killed those he once loved, the great Bolsheviks, because they had become traitors, Ivan the Terrible confessed publicly all his sins. Perhaps Stalin will do the same! Let us aid him. To what were the Bolsheviks traitors? To the revolution? No, only to Stalin’s lust for power, a lust that made of him the willing tool of reaction. In the interests of this reaction, directed against the workers’ revolution that had boosted Stalin to power, Stalin, like Cain, killed all his brothers and many, many more besides.

Even Ivan stands higher in history than Stalin, for at least his cruelty went with a progressive historic cause. Ivan the Terrible strengthened the nation. Stalin undermined the workers’ revolution and weakened the nation. Ivan added territory to Russia. Stalin, by agreement with Hitler, added Finland and the Baltic states. But in doing so he lost the sympathies of the world working class, far more than he gained. If Ivan the Terrible is the symbol of the victorious nation, Stalin is the symbol of working class defeat.

Let Stalin find, his tradition in Ivan. The Russian workers and the world proletariat must regain the traditions of Lenin and Trotsky, of working class victory. They must hurl down the sinister Stalin who belongs in the Sixteenth and not the Twentieth Century!

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