21st December – Anniversary of the birth of Comrade Stalin
‘Congratulating Stalin [on his birthday] is not a formality. Congratulating Stalin means supporting him and his cause, supporting the victory of socialism, and the way forward for mankind which he points out, it means supporting a dear friend. For the great majority of mankind today are suffering, and mankind can free itself from suffering only by the road pointed out by Stalin and with his help.’ Chairman Mao, Stalin, Friend of the Chinese People, December 20, 1939, in Selected Works, Volume 2, pp 335-336.
The 21st December has long been the day when Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries, throughout the world, have celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili – better known to history as Comrade Joseph Stalin.
The aim here is not to provide a biography of Comrade Stalin ( a number of biographies, memories and reminiscences more than adequately fill that gap in people’s knowledge) but to make a number of points why – 141 years after his birth and 67 years after his death – the life of this great leader of the working class deserves to be celebrated and his works and achievements studied to greater understand the difficulties of the task of achieving the Socialist revolution and the eventual construction of a Communist society.
For, by celebrating the life of Comrade Stalin, the exploited and oppressed workers and peasants of the world are, to an extent, celebrating themselves, their struggles and their desire for a better life.
How different individuals react to the life and work of Comrade Stalin is a litmus test to their political viewpoint. He is constantly vilified by capitalist and imperialist representatives, by their toadying media, by the treacherous Social Democrats of the likes of the British Labour Party, the revisionists and ‘capitalist-roaders’ who have usurped power in the erstwhile socialist countries, and the Trotskyites – who exist within the working class movement (worldwide) as a ‘Fifth Column’ to undermine and betray any chance of a successful revolution. How you see Comrade Stalin puts you into either the revolutionary or the counter-revolutionary camp.
Many of those counter-revolutionary tendencies mentioned will argue they are more concerned about the ‘excesses’ made during the construction of Socialism in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Whether those ‘excesses’ are at the level often claimed, were as a result of the intense class struggle taking place during the turbulent years after 1917 until Stalin’s death in 1953 or were caused by mistakes of judgement or policy (which did happen) is not really the point.
What Stalin, the Communist Party and the people of the Soviet Union were attempting to create was a new world order that was without the parasitical and destructive exploitative systems (culminating in capitalism) which had been causing unimaginable harm in every corner of the globe for centuries – and are still doing so till this day. All those systems have traversed the globe like the Angel of Death, leaving suffering and misery in its wake.
What Stalin was doing by establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union was to create a situation where the working class, in alliance with the poor peasantry, would be able to create the conditions where the seeds of Socialism would find fertile soil. Only a fool (and there are more than enough of them to go around) would have said that 100% of the population of the first ever Socialist State (here not forgetting the magnificent example of the Paris Commune of 1871) would immediately discard the ideological baggage of centuries of oppression and exploitation.
The first decrees penned by VI Lenin and then widely circulated on 8th November 1917 promised to fulfil the three demands that had been growing throughout Russia for more than a year – that of the end of the war, land to the peasants and food for the population in general. However, although these demands would benefit the vast majority of the population of the country there were still sizeable numbers who saw this as a threat to their own existence.
Monarchists, the large and small capitalists, the petite-bourgeoisie, the rich peasants (known as kulaks), gangsters, thieves and all those other sections of society who benefit from a capitalist society (willingly supported by the capitalist nations of the world who, ignoring their ‘differences’ of the previous four years which resulted in the slaughter of the war of 1914-1918) all joined together in an effort to strangle the nascent workers’ and peasants’ socialist state.
This led to a hugely expensive (in terms of lives and material) Civil War which the Soviets eventually won – but this did not mean that the enemy was totally defeated. Those counter-revolutionary forces changed tactics and continued to attempt to destroy the Socialist state through assassination, sabotage and various other tactics to undermine the construction of socialism.
Due to the fact that Comrade Lenin‘s life was shortened by an assassination attempt in 1918 the task of leading the country forward along the road to Socialism fell to Comrade Stalin. And he was faced with the problem of doing so in the face of numerous opposition forces within (and without) the country.
We should remember that it wasn’t Comrade Stalin who invented the concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. The term was coined by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels when they realised that the only way to overcome the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie was for the workers to construct a state form that was capable of defeating capitalism. This concept was further strengthened with their analysis of the defeat of the Paris Commune during ‘Bloody Week’ at the end of May 1871.
It was from his study of the successes and failures of the Paris Commune that Comrade Lenin then developed those ideas which were to be the guiding force for the October Revolution of 1917 and which are published in his important work State and Revolution. Lenin realised that any future revolution would be doomed to failure if it failed to learn from the experiences in Paris and determined that the fate of the revolutionary workers of Russia would not be that of their international comrades who died against the wall of the Père Lachaise cemetery in 1871.
Comrade Stalin was merely following the path signposted by the great revolutionaries who had preceded him. As he was always at pains to stress he was merely a pupil of these great theoreticians. But he was the pupil who had to put their ideas into practice in a country where the workers had the power to do so for the first time ever. (And those who argue that the situation would have been different if Comrade Lenin had lived further into the 1920s have obviously never read any of Lenin’s post-October Revolution writings.)
It is for putting the dictatorship of the proletariat into practice and attempting to crush any vestige of capitalism in the Soviet Union that Comrade Stalin is so vilified. That was in the past, during the present and will be in the future as capitalism seeks to undermine the confidence of the working class that they can build a new future and to create false fears for their ever trying to do so.
Comrade Stalin learnt very early on that, as Chairman Mao was to write in 1927, ‘a revolution is not a dinner party’, Chairman Mao, Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan, p8.
As an illustration of this understanding of the revolutionary reality it’s worth referencing a short message he sent to the OGPU (the Joint State Political Directorate, i.e., the internal security forces) on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of their foundation, on 20th December 1932, where he described them as ‘the bared sword of the working class’. JV Stalin, Works, Volume 13, p160.
One of the other possible reasons for the hatred that capitalism has for Comrade Stalin was that, of all the great Marxist leaders, he was the only one who came from a background for whom revolutionary Marxism became the way out of their oppression and exploitation – became ‘the theory of the working class’.
He was born into poverty and in his early revolutionary activity he was able to establish an instant rapport with those workers with whom he came into contact. He wasn’t an intellectual who came from ‘outside’ to tell what workers had to do. He was one of them and had experienced what they were going through. This remained with him when he became the leader of the Party and the country – and was also one of the reasons he gained support within the Party when there were attempts by the Trotskyites and others, from the ‘Left’ or the ‘Right’ Oppositions, to stage a coup against the Marxist-Leninist leadership.
But, again, Comrade would have taken pride in being attacked by these odious entities. As Chairman Mao wrote in 1939;
‘To be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing but a good thing’. Chairman Mao, Selected Works, Volume 6.
In following this previously untravelled road did Comrade Stalin make mistakes or, on occasion, lose track of what were the main issues? The answer would have to be yes – but it is very difficult to quantify it even though Chairman Mao reportedly classified Comrade Stalin’s ‘record’ as ‘70% good to 30% bad’. And it’s always easy to criticise with the benefit of hindsight. If something was done incorrectly in the past then for any criticism to be valid there would have to be a suggestion of how matters could have been handled differently.
For most of its revolutionary existence (which I consider to be between 1917 and 1953) the Soviet Union was alone, completely alone. It was barely a year old before 14 capitalist nations who had spent the previous 4 years trying to destroy one another got together to invade the new Socialist state in support of the Old Regime ‘Whites’ – a bunch of marauding murderers who acted in the same way as the invading Nazis just over twenty years later.
Having defeated the reactionary forces the construction of a Socialist society was an uphill struggle, fraught with difficulties. But many of those difficulties were overcome and, at the time of the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution the country was indistinguishable from what it had been under the yoke of Tsarism.
Stalin was very much aware of the threat from the Fascists (permitted to get to their position of strength due to the lack of purpose of the so-called ‘democratic’ capitalist states who saw the threat of Socialism/Communism as greater than that of militaristic fascism). The writings of Comrade Stalin from the 1930s clearly demonstrate that the threat to the Soviet Union from external, as well as internal, forces was very well understood. As a consequence of the need to be as fully prepared as possible and to put the threat as far into the future as could be managed – hence the 1939 Non-Aggression pact with the Hitlerites – he was always aware of the danger. That then determined domestic policy, with the collectivisation and industrialisation of the country.
Even anti-Communist anti-Fascists admit the contribution of the Soviet Union in the defeat of the Nazis in the so-called ‘Second World War’ but how effective would the Soviet Union had been without all that had developed in the politics, economy and culture from 1928 to 1941? And if Comrade Stalin is to take the blame for some of the things that happened in that period who is to take the credit?
This is where those who place so much emphasis on an individual over an extended period of time come a cropper. And if not careful they will just characterise the working class as mere pawns in a larger game rather than the movers and shakers of history since the dominance of capitalism in the economic sphere. The October Revolution wouldn’t have happened without Comrade Lenin but Lenin didn’t make the revolution. Likewise with the unique and rapid changes that occurred in, more or less, a ten year period in the late 1920s into the 1930s. Is the defeat of fascism conceivable without Comrade Stalin? Would it have happened if Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev or any of the other of the top pre-October revolution leaders of the Bolshevik Party had been at the helm?
Don’t matters have to be placed in context?
And unfortunately, tragically, those countries and regimes who subsequently criticised Stalin are no longer around to justify their stance.
When it comes to any discussion about Comrade Stalin it’s almost obligatory to talk about the so-called ‘personality cult’. That’s not because it’s important in itself, not because it has any real validity in the debate, it’s just that by repeating a lie so often and over so long a period of time it has became part of ‘Stalinist’ folklore.
The question of iconography in a Socialist society is a difficult one. Each Socialist society developed its public images and statuary in a different manner, depending upon the specific culture. And, due to adverse factors, this is a debate that is on hold for the moment as capitalism is presently in control of the public space.
One of the first decrees of the new Soviet Union was one relating to public monuments. This was dated 12th April 1918 and was signed by VI Lenin, A Lunarcharsky and JV Stalin. It decreed that all Tsarist related monuments be removed and monuments commemorating the recent (October) revolution be erected in their place.
However, over a period of time that erection of public monuments started to become slightly atrophied into the erection of statues to the great Marxist theoreticians or leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. That was probably a mistake but at the same time there’s an argument for it, as there was for the construction of the mausoleum for Lenin in Red Square in Moscow. As time went on that meant there were many thousands of public monuments to Comrade Stalin throughout the Soviet Union. A failing as it seemed to happen by default rather than design. Nonetheless what these statues are demonstrating is not just the individual but the political ideology they represent.
If we look at capitalist countries the iconography is often similar but with the same purpose – as a propaganda tool to try to sell the dominant ideology.
In Christian countries you couldn’t move before falling over a church and crosses. That changed when those buildings became too expensive to maintain and were either demolished or turned into flats. In Moslem countries you can’t move without falling over a mosque.
(In Albania, since the restoration of capitalism in the early 1990s, you can’t move for a new church (Catholic or Greek Orthodox) or a Mosque. I encountered some Albanians when I first visited the country who complained about the amount of concrete that went into the famous bunkers that existed throughout the country. The argument was that this was using concrete that could be used for houses – whether that argument was valid I have my doubts. However, in the last twenty of so years the amount of materials and general resources spent in building religious structures has far outweighed what went into a cheap form of national defence – and there’s not a dicky bird about taking resources away from other projects.)
In the United States every federal building, government office, post office, state school, etc., has a picture/s of the current President. The statue of Lincoln at the Memorial named after him in Washington DC is six metres high. There are faces of four past Presidents carved into the side of a mountain at Mount Rushmore. There are big bas reliefs of Confederate Generals in hills all over the southern states.
In Britain there are statues of the monarchy (i.e., the most vicious and powerful thugs and gangsters of their time) throughout the country, together with those individuals who had made their ‘fortunes’ out of the rape, theft and exploitation of peoples throughout the world, mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
A similar situation will exist in other capitalist-imperialist countries and has been for many centuries. It’s only in recent times, especially in the last year, that the existence of some of these monuments and their existence is being challenged – mainly as more people become aware of the issues surrounding Trans-Atlantic slavery. That’s all well and good but there still will remain statues/buildings/streets named after those who became wealthy at the ‘legitimate’ trade of capitalism, those factory, mill and mine owners who sucked the blood from men, women and children in the expanding industrial centres throughout Britain.
This just goes to demonstrate that what goes on the streets is complex and fits in with the situation of a particular country at a particular stage of its development.
I, personally, favour the approach adopted by the Albanians which are documented in the monuments as part of the Albanian Lapidar Survey, conducted in the last ten years.
So we should put the ‘cult of the personality’ into context.
These are all important matters and should be studied and investigated by revolutionaries but in order to learn and not to denigrate Comrade Stalin – one of the greatest champions the workers and peasants of the world have ever had.