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John G. Wright

How Reaction Facilitated Stalin’s Rise To Power

(12 June 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 22, 1 June 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This is a third in a series of articles in connection with the publication of Leon Trotsky’s biography of Stalin. [1]

This book shows how the personality of the incumbent dictator in the Kremlin was molded through the years and what were the outstanding personal traits that fitted him for this future role. At the same time the author discloses the nature of those social forces inside the Soviet Union that swept Stalin into power after Lenin’s death, along with the workings of the mechanism whereby Stalin was able step by step to usurp the right to such an exceptional role.

According to official legend, elaborately manufactured in the course of more than two decades by a legion of hirelings, lickspittles and falsifiers. Stalin is pictured as Lenin’s closest and most trusted collaborator, as the latter’s “best disciple” and co-builder of the Russian Bolshevik Party, as a heroic figure in the Civil War of 1919–21, invariably and unfailingly at Lenin’s side, as the originator of planned economy, etc. etc. The truth is just the reverse.

Real Role

Stalin’s real role and character clearly emerge in this book. By painstakingly tracing the career of the future dictator from his birth in 1879 to the year 1923, when he first began to emerge from the shadows, Trotsky does not leave a single stone standing of this official vast edifice of distortions, lies and brazen forgeries.

It is noteworthy that not even the most hostile critics of the book have been able or willing to challenge a single item in the rich factual material presented by the author. This biography is documented with scrupulous objectivity and conscientiousness, despite the fact that it deals with a period in Stalin’s life concerning which least has been known and strictest secrecy enforced for years.

As an orthodox Marxist and its most authoritative and brilliant exponent since Lenin’s death, Trotsky seeks for an explanation of Stalin’s role primarily in the mechanics of the class struggle. Prominent individuals in history are in the final analysis, social symbols— personifications of specific class forces.

What made Stalin an ideal mirror of the monstrous bureaucracy that rose in the USSR in the period of reaction following the October Revolution, are precisely his outstanding and most deeply rooted personal traits, namely: “distrust of the masses, utter lack of imagination, short-sightedness, an inclination to follow the line of least resistance.”

So organic in this individual is his lust for power coupled with his indifference towards the oppressed—which later turned into suspicion and distrust, and still later into animal fear — that his very act of joining the revolutionary movement was motivated exclusively by such negative reactions as envy and hatred of the rulers.

Genuine revolutionists, while remaining mortal enemies of the oppressors, are cast in an entirely different mold. They are imbued with deepest sensitivity for and love of the masses, incarnating their courage, their unyielding will to struggle, their spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice, their age-long aspirations and hopes.

‘Flesh of the Machine’

Stalin’s personal qualities made him an ideal cog in a complex political machine. He became, as Trotsky put it, “flesh of the flesh of the machine and the toughest of its bones.” In the periods of most turbulent mass upsurge he could think and react in no other terms. Thus one of the earliest agitational appeals written by Stalin to the insurgent masses in the 1905 period centers around a summons for them to rally not around their mass organization but around the “committee- men.”

The role of such an individual is the smaller as all the greater becomes the sweep of the mass movement. This is precisely what happened in Stalin’s case, and Trotsky demonstrates it irrefutably. The same qualities that facilitated Stalin’s rise on the rungs of the machine-ladder, especially in the period following the October Revolution, pushed him to the background in periods of mass upsurge in 1905, 1912 and 1917, the revolutionary peaks of Russian history.

At each of these historical turning points we find Stalin withdrawing into the shadows, vacillating, incapable of adhering to a revolutionary line, let alone assuming the initiative in advancing it. An opportunist to the core, he exhibits this most glaringly immediately following the February 1917 revolution when we find him among those preaching conciliation with the Mensheviks and urging support of the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government.

Law of Politics

Conversely it was precisely in these periods of great mass upsurge that individuals like Lenin and Trotsky were propelled most sharply to the fore. While Stalin in 1905 was explaining the virtues of “committeemen” to the Georgian people, the youthful Trotsky played a foremost role in the activities of the Petrograd Soviet, becoming its Chairman during the concluding stages of the Soviet’s revolutionary existence. Trotsky resumed this role in 1917, taking his place side by side with Lenin, as the leader of the October insurrection in Petrograd, and later as organizer-leader of the Red Army and co-architect with Lenin of the young Soviet state and the Communist International.

In the course of his detailed exposition Trotsky demonstrates what may be called one of the laws of politics, namely, that with the weakening of the mass movement the preponderance of political machines increases almost in reverse proportions, and with it, of necessity, the role played by apparatus men, in the given case, by Djugashvili-Stalin.

Stalin is invaluable among other things because it brings a clearer understanding of the paths whereby reaction was able to triumph in the Soviet Union; of how stage by stage the machine, under the leadership of Stalin, succeeded first in isolating the revolutionary proletarian vanguard inside the USSR and then in destroying the great party of Lenin. The reader is thus enabled to grasp more easily all of the Kremlin’s subsequent and current crimes and betrayals of the world struggle for socialism.

* * *

Footnote by ETOL

1. The first part in this series appeared in The Militant, Vol. X No. 20, 18 May 1946. In the following issue there was no article by John G. Wright on this topic, although a statement by Natalia Sedova Trotsky about the biography was published. This would therefore appear to be the second rather than the third part of the series.

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