J. V. Stalin

Against Vulgarising
the Slogan of Self-Criticism

June 26, 1928

Source: Works, Vol. 11, January, 1928 to March, 1929
Publisher: Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
Transcription/Markup: Salil Sen for MIA, 2008
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

The slogan of self-criticism must not be regarded as something temporary and transient. Self-criticism is a specific method, a Bolshevik method, of training the forces of the Party and of the working class generally in the spirit of revolutionary development. Marx himself spoke of self-criticism as a method of strengthening the proletarian revolution. 1 As to self-criticism in our Party, its beginnings date back to the first appearance of Bolshevism in our country, to its very inception as a specific revolutionary trend in the working-class movement.

We know that as early as the spring of 1904, when Bolshevism was not yet an independent political party but worked together with the Mensheviks within a single Social-Democratic party—we know that Lenin was already calling upon the Party to undertake "self-criticism and ruthless exposure of its own shortcomings." Here is what Lenin wrote in his pamphlet One Step Forward, Two Steps Back:

"They (i.e., the opponents of the Marxists—J. St.) gloat and grimace over our controversies; and, of course, they will try to pick isolated passages from my pamphlet, which deals with the defects and shortcomings of our Party, and to use them for their own ends. The Russian Social-Democrats are already steeled enough in battle not to be perturbed by these pin-pricks and to continue, in spite of them, their work of self-criticism and ruthless exposure of their own shortcomings,* which will unquestionably and inevitably be overcome as the working-class movement grows. As for those gentlemen, our opponents, let them try to give us a picture of the true state of affairs in their own ‘parties' even remotely approximating that given by the minutes of our Second Congress!" (Vol. VI, p. 161. 2 )

Therefore, those comrades are absolutely wrong who think that self-criticism is a passing phenomenon, a fashion which is bound speedily to go out of existence as every fashion usually does. Actually, self-criticism is an indispensable and permanent weapon in the arsenal of Bolshevism, one that is intimately linked with the very nature of Bolshevism, with its revolutionary spirit.

It is sometimes said that self-criticism is something that is good for a party which has not yet come to power and has "nothing to lose," but that it is dangerous and harmful to a party which has already come to power, which is surrounded by hostile forces, and against which an exposure of its weaknesses may be exploited by its enemies.

That is not true. It is quite untrue! On the contrary, just because Bolshevism has come to power, just because Bolsheviks may become conceited owing to the successes of our work of construction, just because Bolsheviks may fail to observe their weaknesses and thus make things easier for their enemies—for these very reasons self-criticism is particularly needed now, after the assumption of power.

The purpose of self-criticism being to disclose and eliminate our errors and weaknesses, is it not clear that in the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat it can only facilitate Bolshevism's fight against the enemies of the working class? Lenin took into account these specific features of the situation which had arisen after the Bolsheviks had seized power when, in April-May 1920, he wrote in his pamphlet "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder:

"The attitude of a political party towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how serious the party is and how it in practice fulfils its obligations towards its class and the toiling masses. Frankly admitting a mistake,* ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the circumstances which gave rise to it, and thoroughly discussing the means of correcting it—that is the earmark of a serious party; that is the way it should perform its duties, that is the way it should educate and train the class, and then the masses" (Vol. XXV, p. 200).

Lenin was a thousand times right when he said at the Eleventh Party Congress in March 1922:

"The proletariat is not afraid to admit that this or that thing has succeeded splendidly in its revolution, and this or that has not succeeded. All revolutionary parties which have hitherto perished, did so because they grew conceited, failed to see where their strength lay, and feared to speak of their weaknesses.* But we shall not perish, for we do not fear to speak of our weaknesses and shall learn to overcome them" (Vol. XXVII, pp. 260-61).

There is only one conclusion: that without self-criticism there can be no proper education of the Party, the class, and the masses; and that without proper education of the Party, the class, and the masses, there can bo no Bolshevism.

Why has the slogan of self-criticism acquired special importance just now, at this particular moment of history, in 1928?

Because the growing acuteness of class relations, both in the internal and external spheres, is more glaringly evident now than it was a year or two ago.

Because the subversive activities of the class enemies of the Soviet Government, who are utilising our weaknesses, our errors, against the working class of our country, are more glaringly evident now than they were a year or two ago.

Because we cannot and must not allow the lessons of the Shakhty affair and the "procurement manoeuvres" of the capitalist elements in the countryside, coupled with our mistakes in planning, to go unheeded.

If we want to strengthen the revolution and meet our enemies fully prepared, we must rid ourselves as quickly as possible of our errors and weaknesses, as disclosed by the Shakhty affair and the grain procurement difficulties.

If we do not want to be caught unawares by all sorts of "surprises" and "accidents," to the joy of the enemies of the working class, we must disclose as quickly as possible those weaknesses and errors of ours which have not yet been disclosed, but which undoubtedly exist.

If we are tardy in this, we shall be facilitating the work of our enemies and aggravating our weaknesses and errors. But all this will be impossible if self-criticism is not developed and stimulated, if the vast masses of the working class and peasantry are not drawn into the work of bringing to light and eliminating our weaknesses and errors.

The April plenum of the C.C. and C.C.C. was therefore quite right when it said in its resolution on the Shakhty affair:

"The chief condition for the successful accomplishment of all the indicated measures is the effective implementation of the slogan of self-criticism issued by the Fifteenth Congress."* 3

But in order to develop self-criticism, we must first overcome a number of obstacles standing in the way of the Party. These include the cultural backwardness of the masses, the inadequate cultural forces of the proletarian vanguard, our conservatism, our "communist vainglory," and so on. But one of the most serious obstacles, if not the most serious of all, is the bureaucracy of our apparatus. I am referring to the bureaucratic elements to be found in our Party, government, trade-union, co-operative and all other organisations. I am referring to the bureaucratic elements who batten on our weaknesses and errors, who fear like the plague all criticism by the masses, all control by the masses, and who hinder us in developing self-criticism and ridding ourselves of our weaknesses and errors. Bureaucracy in our organisations must not be regarded merely as routine and red-tape. Bureaucracy is a manifestation of bourgeois influence on our organisations. Lenin was right when he said:

". . . We must realise that the fight against bureaucracy is an absolutely essential one, and that it is just as complicated as the fight against the petty-bourgeois elemental forces. Bureaucracy in our state system has become a malady of such gravity that it is spoken of in our Party programme, and that is because it is connected with these petty-bourgeois elemental forces and their wide dispersion"* (Vol. XXVI, p. 220).

With all the more persistence, therefore, must the struggle against bureaucracy in our organisations be waged, if we really want to develop self-criticism and rid ourselves of the maladies in our constructive work.

With all the more persistence must we rouse the vast masses of the workers and peasants to the task of criticism from below, of control from below, as the principal antidote to bureaucracy.

Lenin was right when he said:

"If we want to combat bureaucracy, we must enlist the cooperation of the rank and file" . . . for "what other way is there of putting an end to bureaucracy than by enlisting the co-operation of the workers and peasants!"* (Vol. XXV, pp. 496 and 495.)

But in order to "enlist the co-operation" of the vast masses, we must develop proletarian democracy in all the mass organisations of the working class, and primarily within the Party itself. Failing this, self-criticism will be nothing, an empty thing, a mere word.

It is not just any kind of self-criticism that we need. We need such self-criticism as will raise the cultural level of the working class, enhance its fighting spirit, fortify its faith in victory, augment its strength and help it to become the real master of the country.

Some say that, once there is self-criticism, we do not need labour discipline, we can stop working and give ourselves over to prattling a little about everything. That would be not self-criticism but an insult to the working class. Self-criticism is needed not in order to shatter labour discipline, but to strengthen it, in order that labour discipline may become conscious discipline, capable of withstanding petty-bourgeois slackness.

Others say that, once there is self-criticism, we no longer need leadership, we can abandon the helm and let things "take their natural course." That would be not self-criticism but a disgrace. Self-criticism is needed not in order to relax leadership, but to strengthen it, in order to convert it from leadership on paper and of little authority into vigorous and really authoritative leadership.

But there is another kind of "self-criticism," one that tends to destroy the Party spirit, to discredit the Soviet regime, to weaken our work of construction, to corrupt our economic cadres, to disarm the working class, and to foster talk of degeneration. It was just this kind of "self-criticism" that the Trotsky opposition was urging upon us only recently. It goes without saying that the Party has nothing in common with such "self-criticism." It goes without saying that the Party will combat such "self-criticism" with might and main.

A strict distinction must be drawn between this "self-criticism," which is alien to us, destructive and anti-Bolshevik, and our, Bolshevik self-criticism, the object of which is to promote the Party spirit, to consolidate the Soviet regime, to improve our constructive work, to strengthen our economic cadres, to arm the working class.

Our campaign for intensifying self-criticism began only a few months ago. We have not yet the necessary data for a review of the first results of the campaign. But it may already be said that the campaign is beginning to yield beneficial fruits.

It cannot be denied that the tide of self-criticism is beginning to mount and spread, extending to ever larger sections of the working class and drawing them into the work of socialist construction. This is borne out if only by such facts as the revival of the production conferences and the temporary control commissions.

True, there are still attempts to pigeon-hole well-founded and verified recommendations of the production conferences and temporary control commissions. Such attempts must be fought with the utmost dete-mination, for their purpose is to discourage the workers from self-criticism. But there is scarcely reason to doubt that such bureaucratic attempts will be swept away completely by the mounting tide of self-criticism.

Nor can it be denied that, as a result of self-criticism, our business executives are beginning to smarten up, to become more vigilant, to approach questions of economic leadership more seriously, while our Party, Soviet, trade-union and all other personnel are becoming more sensitive and responsive to the requirements of the masses.

True, it cannot be said that inner-Party democracy and working-class democracy generally are already fully established in the mass organisations of the working class. But there is no reason to doubt that further advances will be made in this field as the campaign unfolds.

Nor can it be denied that, as a result of self-criticism, our press has become more lively and vigorous, while such detachments of our press workers as the organisations of worker and village correspondents are already becoming a weighty political force.

True, our press still continues at times to skate on the surface; it has not yet learned to pass from individual critical remarks to deeper criticism, and from deep criticism to drawing general conclusions from the results of criticism and making plain what achievements have been attained in our constructive work as a result of criticism. But it can scarcely be doubted that advances will be made in this field as the campaign goes on.

However, along with these good aspects of our campaign, it is necessary to note some bad aspects. I am referring to those distortions of the slogan of self-criticism which are already occurring at the beginning of the campaign and which, if they are not resisted at once, may give rise to the danger of self-criticism being vulgarised.

1) It must be observed, in the first place, that a number of press periodicals are betraying a tendency to transplant the campaign from the field of businesslike criticisms of shortcomings in our socialist construction to the field of ostentatious outcries against excesses in private life. This may seem incredible. But, unfortunately, it is a fact.

Take the newspaper Vlast Truda, for example, organ of the Irkutsk Okrug Party Committee and Okrug Soviet Executive Committee (No. 128). There you will find a whole page peppered all over with ostentatious "slogans," such as: "Sexual Promiscuity—a Bourgeois Vice"; "One Glass Leads to Another"; "Own Cottage Calls for Own Cow"; "Double-Bed Bandits"; "A Shot That Misfired," and so on and so forth. What, one asks, can there be in common between these "critical" shrieks, which are worthy of Birzhovka, 4 and Bolshevik self-criticism, the purpose of which is to improve our socialist construction? It is very possible that the author of these ostentatious items is a Communist. It is possible that he is burning with hatred of the "class enemies" of the Soviet regime. But that he is straying from the right path, that he is vulgarising the slogan of self-criticism, and that his voice is the voice not of our class, of that there cannot be any doubt.

2) It must be observed, further, that even those organs of the press which, generally speaking, are not devoid of the ability to criticise correctly, that even they are sometimes inclined to criticise for criticism's sake, turning criticism into a sport, into sensation-mongering. Take Komsomolskaya Pravda, for example. Everyone knows the services rendered by Komsomol-skaya Pravda in stimulating self-criticism. But take the last issues of this paper and look at its "criticism" of the leaders of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions—a whole series of impermissible caricatures on the subject. Who, one asks, needs "criticism" of this kind, and what effect can it have except to discredit the slogan of self-criticism? What is the use of such "criticism," looked at, of course, from the standpoint of the interests of our socialist construction and not of cheap sensation-mongering designed to give the philistine something to chuckle over? Of course, all forms of arms are required for self-criticism, including the "light cavalry." But does this mean that the light cavalry must be turned into light-minded cavalry?

3) It must be observed, lastly, that there is a definite tendency on the part of a number of our organisations to turn sell-criticism into a witch-hunt against our business executives, into an attempt to discredit them in the eyes of the working class. It is a fact that certain local organisations in the Ukraine and Central Russia have started a regular witch-hunt against some of our best business executives, whose only fault is that they are not 100 per cent immune from error. How else are we to understand the decisions of the local organisations to remove these executives from their posts, decisions which have no binding force whatever and which are obviously designed to discredit them? How else are we to understand the fact that these executives are criticised, but are given no opportunity to answer the criticism? When did we begin to pass off a "Shemyaka court" 5 as self-criticism?

Of course, we cannot demand that criticism should be 100 per cent correct. If the criticism comes from below, we must not ignore it even if it is only 5 or 10 per cent correct. All that is true. But does this mean that we must demand that business executives should be 100 per cent immune from error? Is there any one in creation who is immune from error 100 per cent? Is it so hard to understand that it takes years and years to train our economic cadres and that our attitude towards them must be one of the utmost consideration and solicitude? Is it so hard to understand that we need self-criticism not for the sake of a witch-hunt against our economic cadres, but in order to improve and perfect them?

Criticise the shortcomings of our constructive work, but do not vulgarise the slogan of self-criticism and do not turn it into a medium for ostentatious exercises on such themes as "Double-Bed Bandits," "A Shot That Misfired," and so on.

Criticise the shortcomings in our constructive work, but do not discredit the slogan of self-criticism and do not turn it into a means of cooking up cheap sensations.

Criticise the shortcomings in our constructive work, but do not pervert the slogan of self-criticism and do not turn it into a weapon for witch-hunts against our business or any other executives.

And the chief thing: do not substitute for mass criticism from below "critical" fireworks from above; let the working-class masses come into it and display their creative initiative in correcting our shortcomings and in improving our constructive work.

Signed: J. Stalin


Pravda, No. 146, June 26, 1928

* My italics. — J. Stalin


1. K. Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow 1951, p. 228).

2. See V. I. Lenin, Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 7, p. 190.

3. See Resolutions and Decisions of C.P.S.U. Congresses, Conferences and Central Committee Plenums, Part II, 1953, p. 390.

4. Birzhovka (Birzheviye Vedomosti—Stock Exchange News)—a bourgeois newspaper founded in St. Petersburg in 1880. Its unscrupulousness and venality made its name a by-word. At the end of October 1917 it was shut down by the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet.

5. "Shemyaka court": an unjust court. (From an ancient Russian story about a judge named Shemyaka.)—Tr.