Source: The Communist Review, January 1950
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription: Marxist-Leninist Translations and Reprints
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works.
Stalin, A Political Biography
By Isaac Deutscher
Oxford University Press, 25s.
Recently the Oxford University Press published a bulky biography of Stalin by a well-known political journalist of the Economist. Mr. Deutscher, the author, is concerned with politics, and he called his book, therefore, “a political biography.” It is important to see what is the political aim of this bulky volume.
In the present international situation, in the struggle between the Soviet Union and the New Democracies on the one hand, and America, Britain and the rest of the capitalist world on the other, everything written politically is either for imperialism and against the Soviet Union, or vice versa. Mr. Deutscher’s Stalin has one aim only: to blacken the Soviet Union, the Communist Party, and to slander its leader—Joseph Stalin.
His hatred of the Soviet Union runs through the book, The Russians can “rightly be called a nation of savages.” During the war against the fascists “Russia was replete with elements of weakness.” At the time of the siege of Moscow, Mr. Deutscher asserts, without the least shred of evidence, that “members of the Party destroyed their membership cards and badges... symptoms of anarchy appeared in many places all over the area between the fronts and the Volga.” These calumnious statements are quoted to show Mr. Deutscher’s view on the Soviet people and the Soviet Union.
From beginning to end he labours hard to belittle Stalin, his achievements and his views. He rarely bothers to summarise Stalin’s views, but dismisses them as “incoherent,” “crude,” “contradictory.” These epithets occur like a monotonous refrain in the book. Yet Deutscher never proves his accusations of the contradictions in Stalin’s writings and speeches. Stalin, being the “descendant of serfs,” cannot claim to be a theoretician, Mr. Deutscher is trying to suggest. For “theory” belongs to “intellectuals,” and no self-educated people or workers can claim to know “theory”
When the author deals, for example, with Stalin’s famous essay on Marxism and the National Question, one would expect a summary from him of that article, but the reader is merely given a dose of fiction. According to Deutscher, “Lenin probably suggested to him the synopsis of the essay, its main argument and conclusions.... Bukharin may have helped him to look up the books and quotations he needed.... Almost certainly the ‘old man’ (Lenin, C. A.) pruned the essay of the stylistic and logical incongruities with which the original must have bristled” (pp. 1l6-l22). The inquisitive reader might ask: Where did Mr. Deutscher get his facts for this fantastic assertion? Mr. Deutscher is even too shy to quote the source in a footnote. It is not difficult, however, to find his “authority”: Trotsky. The reader must bear in mind that in 1912, when Stalin was engaged in writing Marxism and the National Question, Trotsky was the bitterest enemy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
It was of this essay of Stalin that Lenin, who was so impressed by it, wrote to Gorky: “We have amongst us a wonderful Georgian who set down and wrote for Prosvezhchenia a long article in which he gathered all the Austrian material” (Lenin, Col. Works, Russian Edition, Vol. XVI, p. 328). Writing ten months later, Lenin again referred to Stalin’s article and again praised it extensively. In his article on The National Programme of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, he says: “In Marxist theoretical literature this position and the fundamentals of the national programmes of the Social-Democrats have lately been illumined (in the first place Stalin’s article comes to mind)” (Vol. XVII, p. 116).
It is of great interest to note that at the time Lenin was waging a bitter struggle against Liquidationism in the Social-Democratic Party, and particularly against Trotsky—one of the main propagandists of the Liquidationists. In one of his articles Lenin drew attention to another of Stalin’s articles exposing the Liquidators. He writes:
“The correspondence of Comrade K. (Stalin, C. A.) deserves the profound attention of all who treasure our party. A better exposure of the Golos policy (and of Golos diplomacy), a better refutation of the views and hopes of our conciliators and compromisers it is hard to imagine.” (Lenin, Rus. Col. Works, Third Edition, Vol. XV, p. 217, written in September 1911.) It is far from accidental that the same article of Lenin contains a brilliant attack against Trotsky and his role as a liquidator among the Mensheviks.
In the 1905 Revolution, according to Deutscher, Trotsky was the only “leader.” “At the ‘general rehearsal’ the chief actors, apart from Trotsky. . . failed during the most important acts” (pp. 75-76).
While Trotsky made theatrical speeches in Petersburg, the Bolsheviks organised the uprising in Moscow and the Caucasus, the two most important revolutionary events of the 1905 Revolution. The Mensheviks, including Trotsky, condemned the Moscow uprising and bitterly attacked the Bolsheviks at the time. Mr. Deutscher writes:
“The Soviet (the St. Petersburg Soviet led by the Menshevik Trotsky, C. A.) called on the country to stop paying taxes to the Tsar.” This he calls the great “revolutionary heroism” of Trotsky. It may surprise Mr. Deutscher that even the Cadets in their Viborg Manifesto called on the people not to pay taxes to the Tsar. But the real revolutionaries were the Bolsheviks who organised the military uprising in Moscow. They were attacked from all sides, and not least by Trotsky. Lenin called Trotsky “vain and empty” (Lenin, Col. Works, Vol. VII, p. 194).
Now let us turn to the period of the October Revolution, the civil war and the development of the Soviet Union.
Mr. Deutscher makes a lot of play with Stalin’s “mistake” early in March 1917 in supporting the Menshevik Soviet. He never mentions the fact that, first, Stalin admitted it and corrected it, and secondly, that seven years later, in 1924, Stalin again said clearly that he made a mistake in March 1917, and that he “renounced it altogether, and in the middle of April after I had subscribed to Lenin’s thesis” (Stalin, Col. Works, Vol. VI, p. 333).
All the time Deutscher tries to belittle Stalin’s role in the October Revolution: “In the days of the upheaval Stalin was not among its main actors” (p. 166).
According to Deutscher, not only was Stalin not prominent in the October uprising, but he goes on to slander the whole of the Party: “This was the result of the ineffectiveness of the Central Committee” (p. 167).
If the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks showed such “ineffectiveness”, who, then, led the insurrection? Mr. Deutscher knows only one person: Trotsky. “Trotsky, who as President of the Soviet, dominated all its activity.... Trotsky—all the threads of the insurrection were now in his hands” (p. 161). Even Lenin’s role is mocked at. “In the light of the actual rising his (Lenin’s, C. A.) first sketch looks like a somewhat naive essay in adventure” (p. 158).
Now let us look at some facts. Trotsky himself joined the Bolsheviks in July 1917. What happened to the Party up to that date, to the Party that led successfully the October Revolution? During the first imperialist war, between July 1915 and December 1916, the Party organised 480 strikes in Petrograd alone, with 500,000 participants. On February 14, 1917, the Bolsheviks organised the stay-in strike at the Putilov Works, with 30,000 participants. During January and February 1917 the Bolsheviks led 575,000 strikers. In Petrograd, early in 1917, there were no less than fifteen sub-district committees of the Party.
Who led all this work and built the committees and cells? People like Stalin, Sverdlov, Kalinin, Molotov and others, whilst Trotsky was a regular visitor to New York cafes and a constant contributor to Menshevik papers.
It is important to note that Lenin had the following to say about Trotsky in February 1917: “Trotsky arrived, and this scoundrel at once came to an understanding with the Right-wing of Novy Mir against the Left Zimmerwaldians! Just so! That is just like Trotsky! He is always equal to himself—twists, swindles, poses as a Left, helps the Right, so long as he can.” (Lenin to Inessa Armand, Labour Monthly, September 1949).
Trotsky, who joined the Bolsheviks in July 1917, hesitated a long time before doing so. Only after Lenin’s taunts in July that year to him and his colleagues did Trotsky join the Bolsheviks.
Deutscher’s picture that Trotsky solely led the insurrection can now be considered ludicrous. In a highly organised and centralised Party like the Bolsheviks, Trotsky, whatever he did during October, could only carry out the wishes and orders from the Central Committee of the Party.
One of the great weapons in organising the insurrection was Pravda, led and edited by Stalin. The paper gave the Party message to hundreds of thousands of workers, and led the masses. In the beginning of 1917 there were 23,600 members in the Party. By August 1917 there were 200,000. The Central Committee and Pravda played the key role in mobilizing the militant workers and soldiers into the Bolshevik Party. Trotsky had nothing to do with that.
On the eve of the Insurrection the C.C. of the Bolsheviks elected the first political bureau to lead the Revolution composed of Lenin, Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Sokolnikov, and Bubnov. A Military Revolutionary Committee was elected on October 29 to direct the insurrection, and it was composed of Stalin, Sverdlov, Bubnov, Dzherzhinsky, and Uritsky. Trotsky as chairman of the Petrograd Soviet did, and spoke, what the Military Revolutionary Committee and the Political Bureau decided.
Let it be borne in mind that when the first Soviet Government was formed, Trotsky was assigned to the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and not to any of the Defence Commissariats. On the other hand we find Stalin, at the side of Lenin, directing the orders to General Dukhonin, the Chief of Staff of Kerensky, and ordering the general’s dismissal. Stalin is the only Commissar at the time, who in addition to being a Commissar of a special department (Nationalities) was assigned many responsible positions, either at the front, or in organising a Party Congress, or putting matters right in the Ukraine or Georgia. From these assignments Lenin learned of his great military abilities.
This is the reason for Stalin’s outstanding role during the Civil War. Deutscher, as usual, distorts completely his role, and attributes victories of Stalin to Trotsky. Thus the famous Tsaritsyn victory is ascribed to Trotsky! Stalin, though not Commissar of War, was given by Lenin and the Soviet Government plenary powers to take decisions without consulting with Trotsky, the then Commissar of War.
When the Commissar of the Workers’ Inspectorate was first formed in 1919, Stalin was appointed its first Commissar. At the Eleventh Congress of the C.P.S.U.(B) in April 1922, Preobrazhensky, who became afterwards a leading Trotskyist, criticized Lenin for appointing Stalin to a number of Commissariats. Lenin retorted:
“Preobrazhensky has frivolously complained that Stalin is in charge of two Commissariats.... But what can we do to maintain the existing situation in the People’s Commissariat for the Affairs of the Nationalities and to get to the bottom of all these Turkestan, Caucasian and other questions? After all, they are political problems! And they are problems that must be solved: they are problems which have been occupying European States for hundreds of years and which have been solved in the democratic republics to only the smallest degree. We are solving these problems, and we must have a man to whom any representative of the Nationalities may come and discuss matters at length. Where are we to find such a man? I think that even Preobrazhensky could not name anybody else but Comrade Stalin.
“The same is true of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate. The work is tremendous. But to handle the work of investigation properly, we shall have a man of authority in charge, otherwise we shall be emerged in Party intrigues” (Lenin, Col. Works, Vol. XXVII, pp. 263-4).
In addition to all that, Stalin took a leading part in directing the work of the Polit-Bureau (see Lenin, XXVII, pp. 298 and 379).
Deutscher makes a lot of play about Lenin’s famous article “Better Less But Better,” written in February 1923, criticising the work of the Inspectorate. According to Deutscher, the article “was a devastating attack on Stalin as the Commissar of the Inspectorate” (p. 251). Stalin stopped being Commissar of the Inspectorate in May 1922, when he was appointed General Secretary of the Party. At the time when Lenin wrote this article, Avanesov was in charge of the Inspectorate.
Deutscher, relying on Trotsky, devotes a lot of space to the so-called Lenin’s Testament. He writes that it “was never published in Russia.” Stalin, in his article “The Trotskyist Opposition Before and Now,” published in Pravda on November 2, 1927, and reprinted in his Collected Works, Vol. X, pp. 175-177, quotes all the extracts about himself and Trotsky. Stalin points out that Lenin noted “the non-Bolshevism of Trotsky” and did not draw attention to any political error of Stalin, but to Stalin’s “rudeness”. Stalin writes that he is proud to be “rude” to everybody who attempts to break the Party.
Stalin is proud that the enemies of the Party direct their ire against him:
“Moreover, I consider it a matter of honour that the opposition directs all its hatred against Stalin. ‘This has to be like that. I think that it would be strange and insulting if the opposition, which is trying to ruin the Party, would have praised Stalin, who upholds the fundamentals of the Leninist Party’” (p. 173).
The whole fight of the Party against Trotskyism is distorted. The little support Trotsky had amongst the members and amongst the workers is ignored. Trotsky’s policy, which attracted round it many of the declassed elements of the Soviet Union, is not mentioned.
The Five-Year Plan and Collectivisation is distorted beyond recognition. The movement of the Stakhanovites is not mentioned, and so on, and so on. But instead the book is full of gossip from diplomatic corridors and material from lying, spurious books.
Mr. Deutscher surpasses himself when he comes to the famous trials of the Trotskyist spies and wreckers during the middle thirties. All the trials “were of course shameless inventions” (p. 377). It will be of considerable interest to quote the opinion of Mr. Churchill. In his Memoirs Churchill records a conversation with President Benes, which is of great historical importance and deserves to be given in full. He writes:
“When President Benes visited me at Marrakesh in January 1944, he told me this story. In 1935 he had received an offer from Hitler to respect in all circumstances the integrity of Czechoslovakia in return for a guarantee that she would remain neutral in the event of a Franco-German war.. . . In the autumn of 1936 a message from a high military source in Germany was conveyed to President Benes to the effect that if he wanted to take advantage of the Fuehrer’s offer he had better be quick, because events would shortly take place in Russia rendering any help he could give to Germany insignificant.
“While Benes was pondering over this disturbing hint, he became aware that communications were passing through the Soviet Embassy in Prague between important personages in Russia and the German Government. This was a part of the so-called military and old-guard Communist conspiracy to overthrow Stalin and introduce a new régime based on a pro-German policy. President Benes lost no time in communicating all he could find out to Stalin. Thereafter there followed the merciless, but perhaps not needless, military and political purge in Soviet Russia, and the series of trials in January 1937, in which Vyshinsky, the Public Prosecutor, played so masterful a part.” (Churchill, The Gathering Storm, pp. 224-225.)
This very authoritative statement should dispose of Deutscher’s lies and slanders about the Moscow trials.
It is of more than historical interest to know what the first report published by the British Government on Russia had to say about Stalin. The Emmott Report (named after the Chairman of the Committee on Russia appointed by Lloyd George’s Government) describes Stalin as one of the four strong men in the Soviet Government and places him next in importance to Lenin (Russia, No. 1 (1921), Cmd. 1240, p.30. The report was completed in November 1920).
The biography of Stalin in the Report describes him as: “The ablest of the many Georgians who are working under the Soviet Government... He was formerly one of the principal organisers of the Bolshevik Section of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party and a close collaborator with Lenin... He has a reputation for remarkable force of character and considerable ability.” The Report also says:
“It also appears that Stalin has for some time ceased to take an intimate part in the work of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Control, and that in addition to his other work as People’s Commissar for Nationalities he has devoted a considerable amount of time to military work” (p. 28).
This reference in the Emmott Report should finish with the myth that Stalin was unknown before 1924.
It is not without interest to see that a Tory Committee appointed by Lloyd George’s Government to examine the situation in Russia pinned their hopes on the possibility of Trotsky succeeding Lenin as the head of the Government and bringing a more “Liberal” regime. Thus as far back as 1920 at the height of Trotsky’s revolutionary popularity Trotsky was looked on as an ally of British Conservatism.
Even in 1920 when Trotsky’s counter-revolutionary activity was not yet recognised by the Party, British Conservatives saw in him an ally of theirs. As Lenin said he “poses as a left, helps the right.”
The Trade Union Delegation that visited Russia in November 1924, recognised the bourgeois character of Trotsky. “Trotsky, who only joined the Party just in time to take a prominent part in the October Revolution, represents liberal non-conformity (in other words, capitalism, C. A.) as against die-hard Communism.” (Russia, Official Report of the British Trades Union Delegation, London, 1925, p. 15).
Deutscher devotes two chapters to the Comintern, one long chapter to the war and one to Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam. The struggle against fascism and for Collective Security, Russia’s joining the League of Nations, the United Front, all these measures advanced by the Soviet Union and the Communist International to prevent the outbreak of a world war, all this has been distorted beyond recognition. According to Deutscher, Stalin during that period was for a full truce with capitalism, and advised the Communist Parties almost to abandon the class struggle (pp. 417-426). There is hardly need to quote chapter and verse from Stalin to the contrary. The facts are too well known.
The struggle against fascism and the fight to prevent the outbreak of a new war, like the fight during the war for the opening of the Second Front, was the essence of the class struggle in international affairs. The attempt of the Munichites, Chamberlain, Halifax, Londonderry, Daladier, Bonnet and others to divert Hitler for an attack on Russia is minimised (pp. 431-434); the author never mentions that even after Hitler entered Prague in 1939, and during the time Chamberlain sent his “illustrious” negotiators to Moscow, a British Cabinet Minister, Hudson, had offered the Germans a loan of £1,000 million and gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph where he suggested that Germany’s “Lebensraum” could be met in the expanses of Siberia and China.
Deutscher never deals with the “phoney” part of the war when Chamberlain and Daladier sent military supplies and were preparing to send armies to Finland, and to attack Russia through Syria and Iraq.
During the war our lampoonist is forced to admit that Stalin showed great leadership. But even then, Stalin’s famous scorched-earth speech was “flat and so uninspiring”—the same speech that inspired the most glorious partisan movement in the history of the world.
In brief, Deutscher’s book on Stalin is an anti-Soviet tirade based on distortions, gossip, and blatant lies. History will not require Deutscher’s opinion on Stalin. The enormous achievements of the Soviet Union, the immortal victories over the fascist armies, the growing might of the Communist influence and the building of a Communist society are the monuments to Stalin’s greatness.
Deutscher’s lampoon—and the book is a 600-page lampoon—is part and parcel of the “cold war” which the imperialists are waging against the Soviet Union led by Stalin. It is hardly surprising to see how the right wing press, from the Tory Observer, the Economist to the Fabian New Statesman have acclaimed it. The book has to be exposed for all the lies and distortions it contains. It has no other value at all. Reaction rages at the Soviet Union, and at Stalin in particular, because Stalin “upholds the fundamentals of the Leninist Party.”