Joseph Stalin

Start Free Trial

Michael Karpovich (essay date 1934)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1017

SOURCE: A review of 'Leninism,' in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 4, 1934, pp. 634-36.

[In the following review, Karpovich finds Leninism valuable because of its contemporaneity with Stalin 's early years in power but otherwise finds the theories espoused "monotonous" and unoriginal.]

Those interested in political theory will not find anything new in this collection of Stalin's articles and speeches Leninism. He himself does not claim authorship of new and original ideas. His position is that of a faithful interpreter of the revelation, a guardian of orthodoxy. The fundamentals of the dogma cannot be questioned, and discussion is permissible only within its limits. In every case final authority is the word of the master. "Lenin says", with an appropriate quotation, is used again and again to prove the correctness of the "general line" of the party and to confound the dissenters. Neither was Lenin an originator of new theory. He merely developed the basic ideas of Marx in accordance with the conditions of his times. Consequently, Leninism is defined as "Marxism of the epoch of imperialism and of the proletarian revolution". It is an international doctrine, and it should not be looked upon as a "product of Russian primitiveness". The core of Leninism is the dictatorship of the proletariat, and not the solution of the peasant problem, which is of a derivative and subsidiary nature. The historical fate of the Russian peasantry is to serve as a "reserve force for the proletariat". A similar part is assigned to the oppressed nationalities of the colonial and dependent countries. All this is familiar from Lenin's writings.

Opinion has been expressed that Stalin's original contribution consists in the theory of "socialism in one country". Stalin himself has no such claim to make. Here too he merely tries to follow Lenin. The genesis of the idea is characteristic. As late as April 1924 Stalin still shared the belief that the final victory of socialism could not be gained in one country alone, and "without the joint efforts of the proletarians in several of the most advanced countries" (vol. I, p. 52). But only six months after that he found himself forced to "rectify" his position by giving a new and ingenious interpretation to the conception of "final victory ofsocialism" in Russia. By such a victory one should understand a complete guarantee against the restoration of capitalism by means of foreign intervention, and for this a proletarian revolution in other countries was necessary. But as to the upbuilding of a socialist system in Soviet Russia, this was "possible and necessary by the unaided forces of that country". Apparently, during these six months Stalin's attention was called to Lenin's pamphlet on "Coöperation" in which the master had proclaimed "the indisputable truth that we have all the requisites for the establishment of a fully socialized society" (vol. I, p. 54). "Lenin said"—and the new interpretation became the "general line" of the party, while Stalin's own original position assumed the character of a dangerous heresy. Neither was a "new doctrine" a departure from internationalism, as it was described by some writers. Stalin is emphatic on this point. "For what else is our country, the country that is building up socialism, but the base of the world revolution?" (vol. I, p. 63). The change, in other words, was in tactics, not in aim or in spirit. And we get a revealing light on the psychological motive behind it. With the hope for an immediate world revolution gone, a substitute was needed. "We cannot upbuild socialism without a belief in the possibility of what we are trying to do" (vol. I, p. 56). Indeed, how can one?

The book derives its importance from the fact that the author is the dominating figure in Soviet Russia. Stalin himself is very modest as to his personal position. Apparently his ambition does not go beyond being the principal spokesman for the Political Bureau of the party. "The only way of leading the party is by a collectivity of some sort. Now that Lenin is dead, it is absurd to think, or talk, or dream of anything else" (vol. I, p. 457). Behind this appearance of "collectivity", however, there is hiding a formidable personal power, surely no less absolute than that of Hitler in Germany or Mussolini in Italy. It is curious to watch throughout the pages of these two volumes, covering the period of 1924-1931, the growth of Stalin's prestige and authority. In the beginning he is still one of the several forces contending for the control within the party, and occasionally we find him on the defensive, trying to explain his position and to rectify his errors. At the end he is the indisputable leader of Soviet Russia, laying down the law, and making final pronouncements ex cathedra.

The impression which most of these pronouncements make upon the reader is somewhat monotonous. With few exceptions they are variations upon one and the same theme. It is significant that during all this period the Soviet government was moving within a vicious circle, facing essentially the same problems and experiencing the same difficulties. The fundamental paradox can be described, in Trotsky's words, as "contradictions inherent in the position of a workers' government functioning in a backward country where the large majority of the population is composed of peasants." In its attempts to get around this difficulty the communist dictatorship tried different methods, all of which are recorded in Stalin's speeches and articles. We can follow the gradual change from the conciliatory attitude of 1924-1925, when even the kulaks were not to be provoked, to the new socialist offensive in the rural districts, with its "mass collectivization" of peasantry and its policy of "liquidating the kulaks as a class." One of the last chapters in the second volume, Stalin's political report to the sixteenth conference of the Communist Party, is a paean of victory, full of assurances of final success. Perhaps, to some readers it might appear convicing. To the present reviewer, who is frankly skeptical, it is primarily an exhibition of official optimism, and as such belongs to the least valuable parts of the book.

Walter Sandelius (essay date 1936)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437

SOURCE: A review of 'Marxism and the National and Colonial Question,' in The American Political Science Review, Vol. XXX, No. 5, October, 1936, pp. 1026-27.

[In the following review, Sandelius finds Stalin in Marxism and the National and Colonial Question "persuasive" and "orderly. "]

Among the publications prepared by the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute appears now, in English, Marxism and the National and Colonial Question by Joseph Stalin, being a collection of articles, reports, and speeches, ranging in date from 1913 to 1935, on the subject—one may say—of Stalin's most distinctive interest and experience. A rather central thread appears throughout, though in the Marxian vein, yet in a certain judicious adjustment of the objectives of proletarian dictatorship with those "rights of nationalities" which, on the whole, have found in Stalin a consistent champion. The working class interest must come first. But the Great-Russian Communists, again and again, are charged with failure, in their party work, to reckon with the peculiarities of historical background of the lesser nationalities. War must be waged against Great-Russian chauvinism. On the other hand, the Native Communists, haunted still by the horrors of the period of national oppression, tend to exaggerate the importance of national peculiarities, and so to deviate toward bourgeois-democratic nationalism. This tendency, in the eastern regions, assumes at times the form of Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism. So, historical context, whether within or without the Soviet Union, may require a varying assertion or denial of the national idea. Essentially, the Union today may be thought of as consistently socialist in content, while varying and national in form. Outside, particularly in the Far East, which represents the "heavy reserves of our revolution," it is necessary continually—though always on guard against premature emphasis—to encourage the nationalism in states dependent upon imperialist powers. But there is no one formula for all things. This caution, persistent and in the spirit of true science, is not, to be sure, without paradoxical consequence. Stalin accepts paradox. Stalin, however, is less the philosopher than the effective controversialist steeped in history. There is convincing evidence of a tenacious, informed, forceful use of the historical argument; testimony, too, particularly in the living presence of extemporaneous speech and its proximity to events, to a personality greater than may have appeared to distant observers. The more popular of the speeches offer, now and again, a pedantic and tiresome classification of categories. But whether in the polemical or the more expository vein, always, without Caesar-pose, it is the persuasive and the orderly mind at work. Also, it is an orderly and attractive arrangement of the principal materials, appendices, and explanatory notes that has been made available.

Edmund Wilson (essay date 1937)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2879

SOURCE: "Stalin, Trotsky, and Willi Schlamm," in From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson, Ohio University Press, 1995, pp. 217-27.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in the Nation in 1937, Wilson provides a critical examination of the report of the Trotsky Commission.]

The report of the Trotsky Commission is a remarkably interesting document, which makes one realize the inadequacy, if not frivolity, of the newspaper accounts of the Mexican hearings.

In regard to the question of Trotsky's guilt on the charges brought against him at the Moscow trials, these hearings made public a great deal of material which helps to establish his innocence. As is already well known, the Oslo airdrome reported that no foreign planes had arrived at the time of Pyatakov's supposed visit to Trotsky; and the Hotel Bristol in Copenhagen, where Torosky's son was alleged to have met Holtzman, no longer existed at that time. The Stalinists later discovered a Bristol Cafe; but Holtzman had testified that he had stopped at a Hotel Bristol, and subsequent investigation on the part of the Defense Committee showed that what actually existed was a Konditori Bristol, which had a Grand Hotel with its cafe several doors away.

It is asserted that in a photograph of these buildings published in Soviet Russia Today the door of the cafe was blackened out in order to make it appear that the pastry-shop directly adjoined the cafe, and that the words, "Konditori" and "Grand" had apparently been suppressed on the signs. Trotsky gives a detailed chronology of his movements and activities during the time when he was supposed to have been conspiring to overthrow the Soviet Union, and a record of his relations or lack of relations with the persons with whom he was supposed to have conspired.

It is always open to the Stalinists to maintain that the conspirators have covered up their traces, that all the persons who have furnished statements and all the members of the commission are Trotskyists and all the documents which emanate from them forgeries. But what seems to me of overwhelming impressiveness is the review of Trotsky's whole career which is presented in the course of the proceedings. The real argument for Trotsky's innocence is indicated by him in answer to a question as to whether it is not conceivable that his desire "to achieve" his "motives" might not have led him to involve himself with Hitler:

I write articles and letters [replies Trotsky] absolutely hostile to Hitler, to fascism, and to the Japanese militarists. But in secret I enter into relations with Hess. My work, however, according to that opinion, signifies that ninety-nine or, more, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths of my time is devoted to camouflage. My whole life is a camouflage, but my real work and action take only one or two hours. .. . I am alleged to have found Hess and discussed with him the manner of the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. After the discussion, I write a new article, in effect contrary to my supposed real work.

No doubt it is true at the present time that the only people outside Russia who swallow the Moscow trials are naïve persons who cannot believe that Soviet officials could do such things as would be implied by the frameup of the old Bolsheviks, persons so ignorant of Russian politics and history that they are disqualified from holding an opinion, and fanatical or job-holding partisans who, if they do not belong to either of the other categories, take the position that all methods are permissible for the maintenance of the Stalinist power. But if there is anyone who is still puzzled by the trials, he should compare the official accounts with these hearings. He should also look into "The Stalin School of Falsification," an old book now first translated into English and important for students of the revolution, which includes documents on the last days of Lenin, suppressed by the Stalinist authorities, and the suppressed minutes of a Bolshevik committee meeting of 1917, and shows the continual plastic surgery on past events which has been going on since Lenin's death.

What is perhaps most shocking in this whole affair is the abysmal degree of credulity assumed by the official caste on the part of the worker population. The widening gap in the Soviet Union between the insiders at the top, who have access to information never allowed to reach the masses, and the public which reads the boiler-plate propaganda unloaded on them by Pravda and Izvestia is a fact which gives the key to many happenings likely to seem incomprehensible to an American.

Aside, however, from the light that it throws on the charges of conspiracy, the report of the Trotsky Commission is one of the greatest political interviews ever printed. The commissioners managed to cover in the course of their questions an enormous amount of ground—Trotsky's personal career, the politics of the revolution, the history of the Comintern, the present condition and prospects of the world, and the general philosophy behind Trotsky's opinions. Many of the questions that one would like to ask Trotsky if one were able to subject him to an unlimited interview were asked him in the course of these hearings; and I am not sure that from the point of view of the ordinary non-Marxist reader Trotsky's world-view is not here presented more impressively and more effectively than in his pamphlets and other writings, where the technical language of Marxism sometimes gets between us and the events.

The Soviet Union in its present disturbed phase has become, as Trotsky says, more completely cut off from the outside world than perhaps any great Western nation has ever been. The document called "Letter of an Old Bolshevik," which reaches New York by way of Paris, where it was published by the Socialist Messenger, the organ of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, purports to give the political developments inside the Communist Party which have resulted in the propaganda trials. If the document is authentic—and, it sounds as if it were—it is of great interest to everyone interested in Russia.

At the end of 1932, says the author of the "Letter of an Old Bolshevik," the situation in Russia was critical. The effects of the famine were so terrible that the workers, with almost nothing to eat, seemed no longer to be capable of producing. Inside the Central Committee and the Politburo there was a strong and predominant feeling that Stalin ought to go out with his program, which had hopelessly antagonized the rural population, and a counterprogram was even prepared demanding the abolition of the collectives and granting the peasants economic self-determination. Stalin got hold of a copy of the program and set the G. P. U. on the author and those who had circulated it. There was at this time a growth of terrorist sentiment among the young people of the Komsomol, who had been taught to regard the political assassins as heroes in the struggle against the Czar and who had decided that they were now confronted with an officialdom of the same obdurate kind. Stalin, on his side, with Oriental suspicion connecting these tendencies with the movement inside the party, insisted that the opposition program was practically a provocation to take his life; but Kirov, the president of the Leningrad Soviet, dissuaded the Politburo from condemning the author to death.

Then the harvest the next year turned out abundant, and Stalin, acutely conscious that his political future hung in the balance, saw to it that the peasants brought in the crop. The party—the Russians are always overawed by displays of executive energy—decided that he had justified himself, and there was no longer any question of removing him; but a struggle now began among cliques as to who was to have his ear and control him. In the meantime, at the end of 1933, a genuine Nazi conspiracy was uncovered. The Russians were forced to abandon their expectation of a revolutionary Germany next door and to look for support to the democratic countries; the Soviets entered the League of Nations and created the Popular Front in France. A movement in the direction of democracy was thus in order in the Soviet Union, and this movement was led by Kirov, a loyal follower of the Stalinist line but a relatively independent individual. He advocated conciliation with former political oppositionists, tried to make Leningrad an intellectual center. He was made a secretary of the Central Committee, with complete control of the party "ideology," a post which would have brought him to Moscow. His popularity began to rival Stalin's.

Then suddenly Kirov was shot. The motives of his assassin remained a mystery; the man, who was neurotic and exalted, seemed to have acted entirely on his own. But he had been babbling indiscreetly about the necessity of someone's "sacrificing himself; and yet nobody had restrained him from his crime. He had been able to go straight to Kirov, with no hindrance from the Smolny guards. It was certain that the group around Stalin, the group which Kaganovich headed, had no reason to welcome Kirov to Moscow. They cared nothing about ideologies; they only wanted to hang on to their jobs; and they were afraid of the new movement toward liberalism, which would certainly have cost them their places. Kaganovich, says the author of the "Letter," though able, is a man of no principle; indeed, with the hypocrisy imposed by the lack of democracy inside the party, principle has pretty much gone by the board. And Yezhov, another leader of this group, is the perfect type of the self-seeking informer who fattens on suspicious despots.

The whole development went into reverse. Yezhov, playing on the worst instincts of Stalin, proceeded to clean up on the old Bolsheviks, who had persisted, though with entire futility, in grumbling about the repressions of the government and whom he had his own reasons for disliking. The officials of the Commissariat of Home Affairs who had been responsible for Nikolaiev's reaching Kirov were let off with easy sentences, but a persecution was started by Yezhov against the former political oppositionists, who were accused of having inspired the crime. The dissidents now fell in with the sycophants in a great carnival of flattery for Stalin in the hope that his fury would subside. But the "best disciple of Lenin" now gave rein to all his vindictive instincts; the moral code of the Georgian mountains evidently resembles that which prevails among the feudists of Kentucky. Stalin now even refused to see Gorki, who had sometimes been able to restrain him; and Gorki not long afterward died. The butchering of the old revolutionaries began.

The Kamenev-Zinoviev affair had been prepared without the knowledge of Yagoda, the head of the G.P.U., and when he objected, he was arrested himself. Yezhov briskly stepped into his place and stands today at Stalin's right hand.

But now we come to something new and quite distinct from the type of old Bolshevik, whether Kamenev or Trotsky or Stalin. We come to Herr Willi Schlamm, the author of 'The Dictatorship of the Lie." Herr Schlamm is an Austrian Socialist, the former editor of the Weltbuhne. Herr Schlamm is trying to find a new political base—he is, I am told, in his middle thirties—and he feels strongly the necessity of cutting himself loose not merely from Stalinism but from the whole tradition of Russian Marxism. His book is not a political program, nor is it properly even a manifesto. It is rather in the nature of a sermon. But it may be that what socialism needs at the moment is a few sermons like this of Schlamm. Certainly "The Dictatorship of the Lie" is one of the most bracing and air-clearing documents which have yet come out of the crisis of the left.

It is impossible to do it justice in a summary, because its power depends on its eloquence and on its tone of moral candor. Herr Schlamm believes that the Moscow trials have played a catalytic role, like that of the Dreyfus case, in precipitating a division of opinion. The time has come for genuine Socialists to throw off all pious hopes and pretensions and face the fact that the government of Stalin has no longer anything to do with socialism. Stalin himself and his associates no longer represent anything much different from what Hitler represents; his example is an encouragement to Hitler, and he may very soon be Hitler's ally. What is the point, then, of raging against the repressions of Hitler after the horrors of the Moscow executions? (I am not sure, however, that Herr Schlamm is right in believing that the trials were anti-Semitic.) Why should the Marxist assume that historical forces will eventually break down the lies of Hitler and at the same time expect that the lies of Stalin can direct the eventual development of Russia? Not so can the Marxist guide history. "History does not read the newspapers—certainly not those of the Comintern."

At the time of the degradation of the old Bolsheviks, the Soviet government imported to Russia expert perfumers from Paris—the author of the "Letter" discussed above asserts that there was a deliberate attempt to associate the political terror with the idea of a more luxurious standard of living—but all the expert perfumers in the world will be powerless to sweeten the moral atmosphere. What kind of a new socialist humanity is to be expected from the tutelage of a regime, which, after making abortion impossible for the poor in a country overrun with parentless waifs, subjects children from twelve up to the death penalty, and trains the inmates of its asylums for the homeless to subscribe to bloody manifestos demanding the deaths of the original Socialist leaders? And why should the workers of any country be expected to be delighted at the prospect of having "Herr Vyshinsky's Grand Guignol" perform in their midst?

But what is really behind all this, says Schlamm, is the elimination of moral principles from socialism. What are the claims to moral authority of an advance guard of social regeneration which has shown itself to be devoid of the primary human virtues of kindliness, fair-dealing and veracity? There is no morality in the "Dialectic": from a more or less useful philosophical instrument it has been turned first into an incantation and then into the vulgar patter by which the salesman of the "correct line" succeeds in unloading his goods on the stupid. The left intellectual who exploits it is a tick in the sore flesh of the working-class movement. An intellectual, he provokes pogroms against intellectuals. He courts the workers because he hopes to manipulate them, and he despises them because he sees they can be deceived.

And they, on their side, have no "historic role" which will stimulate them inevitably to struggle. Nor does our social science of Marxism take us far. In that field our scientific knowledge is in reality still very meager, and the little we have succeeded in acquiring can never do duty for human initiative and human character. We must recognize that society has to be saved, not by the processes of a mystic dialectic, but by the influence of human beings who are self-respecting and morally sound.

"The Dictatorship of the Lie" has already had its repercussions in certain quarters. Trotsky himself has just published a pamphlet—"Stalinism and Bolshevism"—which is partly devoted to answering Schlamm (as well as some Anarchists, who have seized the occasion to raise their ideological heads). From Trotsky's point of view, Willi Schlamm is dealing in "moth-eaten metaphysical absolutes." The disasters in Russia are not due to Marxism but to the backwardness of the country. Herr Schlamm is trying to return to pre-Marxist socialism in its "German" and "most sentimental" form. Trotsky seizes on the fact that Schlamm's tract has been welcomed by the organ of Kerensky and more or less tries to drown him by tying him and Kerensky together—thereby, himself the victim of many "amalgams," being guilty of a bit of an amalgam himself.

For Herr Schlamm, who pays his respects to Trotsky, the latter represents the Leninist tradition, but he regards both Lenin and Trotsky as obsolete. Herr Schlamm is well aware, he says, that his opinions will cause him to be branded as a "Trotskyist": "Poor wretches! That is all they can do. For them, the whole great world of thought and spirit comes down finally to a Politburo, in which a couple of factions squabble." But he is really on another track.

It is not clear to me that Schlamm, as Trotsky says, has completely repudiated the class struggle. On the contrary, he speaks in one passage as if he assumed it as an elementary fact. It is true that he asserts later on that the great ideas which move and mold humanity are "incorporated in true and strong individuals" who may be "workers, peasants, intellectuals, women, or bourgeois." But does this reject the class view of society? Certainly, Schlamm has not as yet got very far in formulating his social philosophy. But I believe that the reaction he represents is more important than Trotsky supposes.

W. J. Oudendyk (essay date 1938)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 789

SOURCE: A review of The History of the Civil War in the U. S. S. R.,' in International Affairs, Vol. XVII, 1938, pp. 581-82.

[In the following review, Oudendyk finds The History of the Civil War in the U.S.S.R. interesting but unfortunately too biased to leave the reader with anything but a distorted picture.]

A New generation has grown up in Soviet Russia of men and women who have never lived under any other régime. The old generation has practically disappeared. The days of revolution and civil war are now considered sufficiently remote for the successful partisan of those days to write a history of them as seen exclusively from his point of view. Much if not most of the material from which this book has been compiled is already known (partly thanks to the publications of the Soviet Government), but here it is presented not in an objective manner (as, for instance, in Serge Oldenbourg's Le Coup d'État Bolchéviste), but is full of class hatred and vituperation against the Bolshevik's political opponents. Of course the very names of the authors preclude their treating this subject with the broadness of vision of a scientific historian. For them there exists only the narrowest party point of view. Nevertheless the book provides much interesting reading matter, as it is the product of the diligent and painstaking collection of material from many sources, not the least interesting of which are the minutes of the meetings and congresses of the Bolshevik party. These give the reader an insight into the ceaseless labours of the Bolsheviks to undermine the existing Russian State edifice which had already been so severely shaken by the February revolution of 1917. One cannot help asking, however, while reading all this self-glorification, what would have become of these much-vaunted successes if the despised capitalistic Allies had not defeated the Central Powers in spite of the disappearance—under Bolshevik influence—of the Russian front, and after the Bolsheviks had already been obliged in Brest-Litovsk to accept a treaty under which Russia would, virtually, have become a semi-colonial country.

The only heroes in this history [The History of The Civil War in The U.S.S.R.] are the Bolsheviks; the rest of the world consists of villains, bent on betraying, cheating and robbing the "toilers." There are the Mensheviks, the socialist-revolutionaries, the petty-bourgeois, the bourgeois, the cadets, the imperialists and what not else; one and all are traitors, counter-revolutionaries, enemies of the proletariat, actuated only by the vilest and basest motives. But worse than all these are the "Kornilovites," and no words are bad enough to depict General Kornilov; it is even insinuated that he was a traitor who maliciously surrendered Riga to the Germans (p. 339 and p. 343).

The general picture that the authors draw is a distorted one, however true their dates and quotations may be. What they evidently want to impress on the minds of present-day Russia and of their sympathisers abroad is that it was the Bolsheviks who put an end to Tsarism (p. 92); that a Provisional Government arose—as a usurper—side by side with the Soviets (p. 114); that it took power only with the purpose of combating the revolution (p. 173); that the bourgeois leaders were hostile to the revolution and attacked it (p. 200); that they established their dictatorship (p. 219); and that it was by their counter-revolution that the economic disintegration of the country took the proportions it did (p. 321).

The sabotage of the capitalists (p. 368) and their offensive against the working class by striving to bring about a famine (p. 358), together with the utter vileness of the Socialist-Revolutionaries' and Mensheviks' treachery (p. 296), moved the country irresistibly towards disaster (p. 399). Only the self-sacrificing fight of the (Bolshevik) party (p. 401) could bring about an improvement. Any interference with their activities constituted a violation of elementary civil rights (p. 449). One of those elementary rights was to "raspropagandirowat" (dissolve by propaganda) the regiments at the front, and one cannot help wondering what would happen to any one who claimed that right to-day in the U.S.S.R.

The above picture—grotesque as it is to anybody who, like the reviewer, lived through those days in Russia—is cleverly, even in a masterly way, worked out, and the book is to be recommended to everyone who wishes to obtain an insight into, and understand, the Bolshevik mind. The same material, however, could be used to draw a picture in exactly the opposite colours.

The book calls itself "the first comprehensive and authoritative history of the period." Authoritative it naturally is; but comprehensive it certainly is not. Too much has been left out which a real historian would have put in.

The English translation is perfect.

C. D. Burns (essay date 1941)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 760

SOURCE: A review of 'Leninism,' in Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy, Vol. LII, 1941-42, pp. 118-20.

[In the following review, Burns finds the English translation of Stalin's Leninism a valuable source for Westerners studying the socio-political climate of the Soviet Union.]

This volume [Leninism] is an authorized translation of the eleventh Russian edition of Problems of Leninism. It contains speeches and articles which were not in the two-volume edition of 1933 or in the volume, also called Leninism, published in 1938. But the more important speeches of Stalin, included in the earlier English editions, are republished here. The speeches and articles included represent the views of Stalin from 1934 to 1939 (March 10). The development of Stalin's views will no doubt continue, but it appears to be an established tradition that whatever changes of policy are adopted by him, or by the Communist party under him, must be justified by quotations taken from the sacred texts of Marx and Lenin. Western Europe went through a similar stage of dependence for political ideas upon the sacred scriptures during the controversies about tyranny and liberty in the late Renaissance. Probably, therefore, Russian political theory is only about three hundred years behind that of western Europe. But it is interesting that this book should contain the views, not of an external observer, but of a very subtle politician. The most obvious parallel in the history of political thought is between Stalin's Leninism and the treatise on The True Law of Free Monarchies by King James I of England, first published in 1598. This is not the place for an analysis or discussion of the theory of government expounded by Stalin in his speeches and articles. But one or two notes may be made upon the peculiar form of Marxian orthodoxy before the outbreak of war between the two great dictatorships on June 22, 1941. Stalin, in his article on the problems of Leninism, quotes (p. 129) Lenin as saying that the alliance between the proletariat and the peasants aims at retaining for the proletariat "its leading role and its political power"; and also two completely contradictory statements by Lenin about dictatorships, in one of which he says, "Dictatorship is unrestricted power, absolutely unimpeded by laws and regulations . . . based on force and not on law"; and in the other that "the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is not only the use of force and not even mainly the use of force" because the proletariat represents the higher type of social organization. The reason thus given, in the second quotation, is obviously a reference to a moral principle. But the eye of faith has always been able to see contradictions in terms as mysterious truths. Thus, Stalin, in two of the articles in this book, appears to be worried by the old Marxian doctrine that the state will "fade away." In his treatment of the results of the first five-year plan, he says, "the State will die out . . . as a result of its utmost consolidation." Apparently the stronger the state becomes, the weaker it becomes. But this is due to "capitalist encirclement." We are told also that Trotsky and other such leaders were conspiring in the service of foreign spies—even in October, 1918, although nobody noticed it! Another interesting point refers to the so-called Stakhonov movement in 1935, which was an effort to speed up Russian workers. We are told (p. 548) that socialism involves payment "not according to needs, but according to work done," whereas communism involves payment "according to needs." Who is to decide what a man needs is a question that is not discussed. It is unfortunate that a politician of the great ability of Stalin should find it necessary to publish in this book a study in metaphysics written in September, 1938, on "dialectical materialism," which would hardly deserve a third class if written by a student in philosophy in any Western university. In this strange article Stalin informs us that matter is the source of sensation and that "thought is the product of matter." He is evidently not familiar with work that has been done in philosophy since Marx and Engels wrote a century ago. But one would not expect either Mr. Roosevelt or Mr. Churchill to publish an article on metaphysics; and that Stalin should do so is a sign of the very peculiar climate of opinion in which the Russian communists live. Indeed, the speeches and articles contained in this book are valuable documents for the study of a climate of opinion which is entirely strange to the more highly developed civilization of the West.

Edmund Wilson (essay date 1946)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2656

SOURCE: "Trotsky's Stalin," in From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson, Ohio University Press, 1995, pp. 231-40.

[In the following essay, which first appeared in the New Yorker in 1946, Wilson reviews the English translation of Leon Trotsky's biography Stalin, finding it a volume of great historical and political importance.]

Leon Trotsky, during the later years of his exile, set out to write a life of Lenin. The first volume of this biography, which ends with Lenin's graduation from law school, was brought out, in a French translation, in 1936, but Trotsky did not get very much further with it. Needing money, he was persuaded by a New York publisher, on the strength of a considerable advance, to break off and do a life of Stalin. It was thought that such a book could not fail to be a timely and lucrative exploit, but, like so many bright ideas of publishers, this turned out to be very much less sound than the author's own ideas for his work. A life of Lenin was needed; a life of Stalin was not. There was no full-length study of Lenin which was not either a mere journalistic job or a reflection of Soviet propaganda, and the first section of Trotsky's life seemed to indicate that the book, had it been finished, would have been one of his most remarkable works, as this installment of it constitutes what is probably the most brilliant piece of biography that pure Marxism has ever produced. In the case of Stalin, however, documentation is so meagre on his career before 1917 that Trotsky is largely obliged to confine himself to going over the same historical ground that he has covered already in his books on the 1905 and the 1917 revolutions, and pointing out that, through the years of preparation for the Bolshevik seizure of power, Stalin was scarcely known and that no credible evidence exists of his ever having done anything of importance. For the story of the years in which Stalin served as a member of the Central Committee, the years in which, behind the scenes, he was manipulating the political machine that was to make him supreme master of the government, Trotsky, whose own career in this period had all been acted on the public stage of history and thought out in terms of theoretical Marxism, cannot go behind the scenes with Stalin but can only present the latter's role as he has already done with somewhat more vividness in his story of his own life and in his polemics on Soviet politics.

This book, too, has been left unfinished, with great gaps and loose ends not tied up, for the author was assassinated, while writing it, in the summer of 1940, by a young man whom investigation seems to have shown to have been a G.P.U. agent. Then America found herself in the war as an ally of the Soviet Union, and the publishers who had commissioned the book thought it better to withhold its publication. It has thus only now appeared—Stalin, by Leon Trotsky (Harper)—in a translation, smooth and lucid, by Charles Malamuth, who has done also a careful job of editing in supplying supplementary information and, in the case of the later chapters, expanding Trotsky's notes and piecing together his fragments.

The book makes very good reading, like almost everything that Trotsky wrote, and I believe it will take its place with that body of Trotsky's work which is likely to have permanent interest. The problem of writing a biography of a Soviet political figure presents difficulties of a peculiar kind. The historian is confronted with official panegyrics that make no attempt at scholarly accuracy and that are sometimes invented out of the whole cloth, the authors of which feel no obligation even to square themselves with authoritative data provided by earlier accounts (since, for Soviet readers, the Soviet government is in a position to suppress these accounts), and he has nothing to check them but chance memories and notes by participants in or observers of the Revolution, who are sometimes themselves biassed by political animosities or loyalties, together with such incomplete records as are to be found in the Soviet press. Trotsky had, of course, his personal archives on the official transactions of the Revolution and his personal impressions of men and events, but it is difficult for him to put together any chronicle that is at all reliable on the early life of Stalin. His method here, as in the case of Lenin, is to scrutinize one by one every supposed fact that has anywhere been recorded and to try to come to some conclusion as to its probable or possible truth. With Stalin, of whom fantastic romances have been written by the professional eulogists, this process becomes mainly negative—that is, Trotsky is occupied in showing that what is asserted cannot conceivably have happened: Stalin was not a great organizer in the Caucasus, he did not always maintain a Bolshevik position, he did not serve on committees among the members of which his name has since been inserted, etc., etc. On such questions, Trotsky's demonstrations are usually acute and convincing. His analysis of evidence is reasoned with the effectiveness of a brilliant lawyer's brief. (It should be mentioned that Trotsky's dealings with what he calls the official hagiography are just as ruthless in the case of Lenin, whom he followed and admires, as with Stalin, whom he opposed and dislikes.) The only point of view from which, in general, it is possible to object to his procedure is one's feeling that he may be sometimes misled by his desire to see the workings of human life as consecutive and logical processes, the continuous exemplification of a single set of wellgrasped principles. If anything sounds at all queer, Trotsky is likely to conclude that it cannot be true. His is a world which can allow no anomalies.

In the same way, the principles of Marxism—the laws of class and group behavior—have to be made to explain all the phenomena in Trotsky's intellectual world. He admits that a great leader like Lenin may affect, in a vital fashion, the outcome of a "historical situation"; but the discipline of Marxism has developed in him so strongly an abstract and international way of approaching mankind's confusion that he tends to leave out of account, in his story of the metamorphosis of the democratic councils of Lenin into the Oriental despotism of Stalin, factors that seem to a foreigner as plain as the nose upon Stalin's face—that is, the national characteristics of the Russians that have disqualified them for political democracy. If it is true, as Trotsky says, that Stalin was ambitious for power and inexhaustibly patient and persistent in accomplishing his ends, that he became a master politician of the familiar Tammany type, who makes deals, distributes patronage, and plays rivals off against one another, that he managed to do all this very quietly, without ever sticking out his neck and always waiting to see which way the cat would jump, and that he is hardboiled and unscrupulous to the last degree, contemptuous of human ties and caring nothing about human life, it is also true that these latter qualities are not calculated to endear him to the people, and that he is also, according to Trotsky, uneducated and unimaginative, with none of the instincts that make civilization, as well as so envious, vindictive, and cruel that he cannot tolerate the presence of anyone who is superior to him in these respects, and will never, so long as he reigns, allow, in the Soviet Union, either free political contests or real general education. He has had not merely the spur to rebellion of the "underprivileged" man of spirit but also the habit of silent hatred implanted by a drunken father, who continually beat him as a child.

Why, then, did the Russians allow him—a Georgian, besides, and an alien—to become their supreme master? That is what Trotsky does not tell us. There is a Russian satirical poem by the first Alexei Tolstoy, the nineteenth-century writer, which throws a kind of light on Stalin that we cannot get from Trotsky's account. Tolstoy takes for his text the saying of an ancient chronicler that "Russia is a great and rich country, but in it there is no order," and he makes this the refrain for a long comic poem that summarizes the history of Russia. It is seen that there were only two eras when order was established in Russia—the reign of Ivan the Terrible and the reign of Peter the Great. When the people were coerced and herded, frightened, tormented and slaughtered, subjected to the caprices of a terrible czar, then, and only then, for a time there was order in Russia. Reading the poem today, we find, when we have got to the end, that a third establisher of order inevitably pops up in our minds: he is what is needed to round out the story. "It is no accident," to use a favorite phrase of Trotsky's, that the publicity agents of the Soviet Union first exploited the cult of Peter the Great and then revived and glorified Ivan. It is the Russians who have created Stalin as much as Stalin has molded the Russians. They have created him through their inveterate dislike of accepting responsibility and through their almost religious need for the authority of a great earthly father. An American travelling in the Soviet Union is amazed to find in Soviet officialdom the same characteristics of timidity, evasiveness, and inaction that he has read about in pre-revolutionary memoirs. In comparison, he comes to realize, the pettiest position in America involves a sphere, however narrow, in which the individual must make his decisions for himself. The bank teller must decide himself whether or not he will cash your check, but in Russia he cannot decide; he has to appeal to the officials above him, and these appeal to higher officials. Everybody passes the buck, and it finally lands with Comrade Stalin, who presently becomes Marshal Stalin. Now, what democracy really depends on, the only thing that can make the word real, is distribution of responsibility, and the soviets (councils) of a Socialist state in a country where this is unknown can no more be democratic than the dumas of the czardom could.

Trotsky had never been concerned about democracy, which for him had never meant anything else than the fraudulent side of bourgeois institutions, and it is curious to see him in this book at last looking around and trying to figure out what it is that went wrong and how. There is a section toward the end—only a sketch, no doubt—in which he tries to retrace the development of Stalin's murderous practice out of Lenin's good intentions. People complain, he says, about the brutal measures of the Bolsheviks in putting down the Kronstadt revolt, but surely that had been all right, the mere suppression of a handful of troublemakers, and what the authorities had done had been done "reluctantly." Then they had "erred on the side of tolerance and forbearance in the treatment of all the non-Bolshevik political parties," till these had become absolutely impossible and the Social Revolutionaries had taken a shot at Lenin. "It was in those tragic days that something snapped in the heart of the revolution. It began to lose its 'kindness' and forbearance." (These sentences do not sound much like Trotsky; and the phrasing is perhaps that of the editor.) Lenin himself had been extremely indignant when the death penalty for soldiers had been repealed: "How can you expect to conduct a revolution without executions?" he demanded. "The line of development," Trotsky reflects (or Mr. Malamuth so formulates what he finds in Trotsky's notes), "from Soviet democracy and democratic centralism within the Bolshevik party itself to totalitarianism in both spheres is not always clearly traceable." But—as Trotsky will not admit, rather, as he cannot see—what happened was that Marxist authoritarianism combined with the Russian habit of despotism to give Russia a new, streamlined tyrant.

What life got to be like in Russia after Trotsky and the other old Bolsheviks had been exiled or suppressed you may find out from I Chose Freedom, by Victor Kravchenko (Scribner). I am sorry that I have left myself so little space to write about this hair-raising book. Kravchenko is the son of a revolutionary father and grew up on the revolution. He became an able engineer, was put in charge of important work, and finally rose to the top layer of officialdom. When, in the summer of 1943, he was sent to the United States to supervise the selection of metal goods under the lend-lease plan, he had already made up his mind to leave the service of the Soviet Union, and he did so nine months later. The reasons for this conclusion form the subject of a long and detailed narrative. I Chose Freedom, as a piece of writing, is not so remarkable as One Who Survived, Alexander Barmine's rather similar book, but at this moment it is a document of first-rate interest. It covers the familiar and gruesome ground of the collectivization and famine, of the chaos of Soviet industry, of the purges of the later thirties (which Kravchenko managed to survive, through months of third degree and torture, by steadfastly refusing to sign a bogus confession of sabotage.) But it gives also the first inside uncensored story of what has been happening in Moscow since the war, and a revelation of the workings of the Soviet Embassy, a small Moscow lodged in Washington, that is likely to cause a sensation. The picture of slave labor in the Soviet Union, where there were twenty million prisoners in 1938, is absolutely appalling and shows that in this respect Russia was no different from Nazi Germany, except that, as Kravchenko notes, the Germans enslaved foreign workers, whereas the Russians enslaved their own people.

Kravchenko insists that it is no thanks to Stalin that the Russians did such a good job on the Germans. Though the Russians had for years been led to believe that they would eventually have to fight the Nazis, they were left quite unprepared for the invasion. The Red Army and the Soviet factories had been demoralized and crippled by the purges, and Stalin himself put so fatuous a trust in the Soviet-Nazi pact that he would not even believe our State Department when it told him that the Germans were about to attack. Only the bravery and resourcefulness of the people and the equipment supplied by lend-lease saved a desperate situation.

Kravchenko was very much surprised at the extent to which Soviet Russia was idealized in the United States. "The prevailing American notions about the wonders of Sovietism in practice were truly extraordinary. Great chunks of the Communist reality . . . seemed to have completely escaped American attention. These were things of which everyone inside Russia was deeply conscious. Some of us might explain them as necessary or unavoidable or even noble, but it would not occur to us to deny them. Yet when I ventured to mention such things (at times when candid conversation was possible), Americans looked at me incredulously and some even hastened to enter cocksure denials. .. . In America today, I was to learn slowly and incredulously, those who venture to tell some truth about the Stalin tyranny, who speak up for the Russian people and against their oppressors, are discounted and dismissed and sometimes pilloried as 'anti-Russian.' I became aware that my resolve to escape into the free world and to use the freedom to defend my people would not be as simple as it had seemed at a distance. I realized that I must expect to be denounced and ridiculed by precisely those warmhearted and high-minded foreigners on whose understanding and support I had counted."

Åke Sandler (essay date 1953)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5534

SOURCE: "Stalin and Hitler: A Lesson in Comparison," in The Pacific Spectator, Vol. VII, No. 2, Spring, 1953, pp. 152-66.

[In the following essay, Sandler argues that Stalin's Soviet Union more closely resembled Hitler's Germany than the socialist society proposed by Karl Marx.]

One day en route to Tiflis a guest of the Soviet government, André Gide, stopped at Gori, a small village where Josef Stalin was born. To the great French writer, who for years had followed the "experiment" in Russia with enthusiasm, the arrival in Gori was an occasion charged with emotional impact. Impulsively he decided to send the Russian leader a telegram expressing his gratitude for the lavish hospitality with which he had been treated.

At the post office Gide wrote out a message which began: "Passing through Gori on our wonderful trip I feel the impulse to send you—" The translator interrupted him with the information that the use of the address "you" was neither proper nor sufficient. He suggested as a better form of address, "You Lord of the people." Gide thought the suggestion absurd, for surely Stalin was not a vain man and did not need flattery, but to no avail. The translator was adamant.

This incident, which in other ways and situations has been experienced by other visitors to the Soviet Union, is suggestive of a prevailing concept of government that is fascist rather than communist in nature. It reveals an attitude of mind that is more akin to the Führerprinzip than to the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

This is not a new discovery, but neither has it been given sufficient attention and emphasis. Rather, students of Russia are habitually but falsely regarding and treating present-day Russia as the product of a communist revolution, and its form of government as Marxist in origin and nature. Although discrepancies between communist theory and communist practice have been pointed out and although the anachronistic element in the Marxian dialectic has been recognized in explaining the Russian Revolution as the inevitable result of the historical process, many historians and political scientists and economists, by force of habit, indifference, or ignorance persist in treating the U.S.S.R. basically as a communist state.

We are not talking here about the technical and theoretical distinction between a "socialist" and a "communist" society but the much more fundamental difference between a state that calls itself, and is so labeled by many of us, a communist (or socialist) state and one that has no resemblance to or connection with communism, socialism, or any other form of Marxism. For the forms of government developed by Lenin and Stalin—particularly those of the latter—are no more the historical application of or continuation of Marxian concepts, the dialectic, the Communist Manifesto, or any other Marxian, socialist, or communist principle or program than was Hitler's or Mussolini's form of government. From its first motivating impulse, Leninism strayed from the Marxist road and employed non-Marxian means to obtain non-Marxian ends. The New Economic Policy is only one example of this departure from the main highway. Lenin was the first "deviationist," and under Stalin this "deviation" has turned into a complete abandonment and rejection of Marxism.

In reality, of course, the Russian revolutionaries never adhered, even from the outset, to the philosophy of Karl Marx. By their actions they became instead the forerunners of fascism, of Mussolini and Hitler. The Italian Duce and the German Führer, true followers of Lenin and Stalin, added ideas and methods of their own. These innovations and adjustments altered superficially the form and system of government, but the fundamental realities remained in substance the same, namely a political and economic organization based on the Führerprinzip, on the concept of one all-powerful, infallible personality. The modern version and perversion of Plato's philosopher-king, this Great Man (Russian, Italian, or German) moves unguided and unrestrained by law; possesses the two chief virtues of the statesman, Knowledge and Truth; and knows what is best for all concerned. Invariably he does what is right because Truth is on his side.

It was in 1903, at the Social Democratic Congress in Brussels, that Lenin took the step which ultimately led to a rejection of all egalitarian principles and the development of authoritarian ones with the leadership principle as the dominant one. For in that year the international Social Democratic movement was split into those who followed Lenin (Bolsheviks) and those who rejected his leadership (Mensheviks). Immediately thereafter, Lenin organized a revolutionary conspiracy of a small group of dedicated, fanatical, ruthless, and well-disciplined men and women, all of them personally loyal to their leader.

This group became the nucleus of the revolutionary "movement" and was largely responsible for plotting, rehearsing, and executing the October Revolution, which was no more than an enlarged Munich Putsch. The "proletarian" element of the Revolution was accidental and coincidental rather than the result of spontaneous social generation. A war-weary, bread-hungry, land-thirsty people assisted the conspirators unaware of their real designs. Lenin was after the only thing in history that has motivated would-be dictators: Power—power and control over what the British geopolitician Sir Haiford Mackinder in 1904 (note the date) called the pivotal area or "the heartland," which constituted the core of the "world-island" (Europe, Asia, and Africa, which cover two-thirds of the world's land mass). From Mackinder, Lenin, who was a prodigious reader, had learned the aphorism: "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland. Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island. Who rules the World-Island commands the World."

Lenin and even more so his successor, Stalin, were engrossed in realizing ambitions of power and rule, not in carrying out a program of social justice and economic equality. Lenin had no detectable intention of transferring power to the proletariat in form of "a dictatorship of the proletariat" as envisioned and planned by Marx and Engels and, possibly, Trotsky, had the latter had an opportunity to do so; and Stalin not only followed in Lenin's footsteps but carried Lenin's ambitions to their logical conclusion: Absolute Power.

Ultimately this power, as it was accumulated and concentrated in the hands of one man, Josef Stalin, became indivisible and undelegatable; it could not and was not shared by anyone, whether it be the state, the party, or the proletariat; it had to be exclusive. This was the end result envisioned by fascism—but it was already an accomplished fact in Russia before it was realized in Germany under Hitler. It Italy, Mussolini never completely achieved this ultimate goal of dictators because he had to share his power with the Monarchy and the Church—a fact partially responsible for his "premature" undoing.

It is precisely because of the power motives stated above that communism and fascism—that Stalin and Hitler—are fruits off the same tree; these fruits may differ in form but not in substance; so-called "ideological differences" have amounted to nothing more than different shadings of color. Now that both men are dead, one might properly and without reverence for the dead contemplate their misdeeds and compare the master with his pupil to see what lesson can be derived from a comparison.

We shall refer to a man called Malenkov only in passing, as he might be nothing more than a passing phenomenon concealing the real and intense struggle for power that, I am sure, must be taking place behind the scenes; for if such a power struggle is not already going on, Soviet Russia has changed character suddenly (and I do not believe in that Darwinism-in-reverse called "Lysenkoism").

It was the power factor that united Stalin and Hitler in 1939 against what the German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop called "the unforgiving enemies of both National Socialist Germany and of the U.S.S.R.," thereby precipitating World War II. It is clear from the following declaration by Von Ribbentrop, made on August 14, 1939, and included in a Department of State publication called Nazi-Soviet Relations 1939-1941, that a union of interests between Germany and Russia was not only possible but desirable.

The ideological contradictions between National Socialist Germany and the Soviet Union were in past years the sole reason why Germany and the U.S.S.R stood opposed to each other in two separate and hostile camps. The developments of the recent period seem to show that differing world outlooks do not prohibit a reasonable relationship between the two states, and the restoration of cooperation of a new and friendly type. The period of opposition in foreign policy can be brought to an end once and for all and the way lies open for a new sort of future for both countries.

To this invitation to co-operate, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov responded that "the Soviet Government warmly welcomed German intentions of improving relations with the Soviet Union. . . ." Nine days later when the friendship pact with Russia was signed in Moscow in the presence of Von Ribbentrop, Molotov, and Stalin, the German Foreign Minister said that "all strata of the German people, and especially the simple people ["proletarians"], most warmly welcomed the understanding with the Soviet Union. The people, he said, felt instinctively that between Germany and the Soviet Union no natural conflicts of interests existed, and that the development of good relations had hitherto been disturbed only by foreign intrigue, in particular on the part of England.

Stalin replied that he "readily believed this," and "spontaneously proposed a toast to the Führer: 'I know how much the German nation loves its Führer; I should therefore like to drink to his health.'" He added: "The Soviet Government takes the new Pact very seriously." He said he "could guarantee on his word of honor that the Soviet Union would not betray its partner."

In November 1940 when Molotov conferred with Hitler in Germany, the latter confirmed his belief that friendly cooperation between his country and the Soviet Union was possible inasmuch as they "had at their helm men who possessed sufficient authority to commit their countries to a development in a definite direction." He stressed that they "need not by nature have any conflict of interests, if each nation understood that the other required certain vital necessities without the guarantee of which its existence was impossible." He believed that Russia and Germany could "achieve a settlement between them, which would lead to peaceful collaboration between the two countries beyond the life span of the present leaders."

Less than a year later Russia and Germany were at war with one another. Stalin provoked. Hitler attacked. That Hitler was a "fascist" and Stalin a "communist" was immaterial and irrelevant. Their falling out was the result of their failure to agree on how to divide the spoils of power. Just as they could not share their power with anyone at home, so they could not share their power with anyone abroad. Hitler and Stalin fought each other for that reason alone and not because of political, economic, or ideological differences.

Stalin's concept of international relations, as has been revealed on many occasions, was purely Machiavellian; it was not based on the solidarity of the working class in all countries, nor on Marx's and Trotsky's idea of world revolution, nor on the idea of "socialism in one country first," but on principles of power politics. His conduct of foreign affairs was totally unrelated to the purposes, aims, plans, and motives of international communism, with which it might accidentally coincide. His actions abroad were calculated on the basis of (1) what served his interests best and (2) what served the interests of his country, which he regarded as his own property. The power politics of the Soviet Union in no substantial way differs from that of Nazi Germany. While Hitler's foreign policy has been described as "panther imperialism" because of the Führer's catlike way of springing on his foes without warning, Stalin's has been called "jackal imperialism" because of the Soviet leader's natural habit of waiting till the victim was dying or had died before he devoured it. Sometimes he might actually attack a victim—Finland, for example—which was too small and too weak to defend itself effectively. But in most cases he proceeded as he did in Poland—let someone else do the job and then reaped the harvest of victory. Or as he did in Korea. His "liberation" of the Baltic States and the Balkans was only a further example of Machiavellian "Marxism."

Stalin's admiration for Hitler, which he expressed upon several occasions, was one tyrant's admiration for another. Asinus asinam fricat. In his own judgment, he differed from Hitler only in his superior ability and keener comprehension of the business of power politics. He told Anthony Eden that Hitler did not know when to stop. Stalin, by inference, knew when to stop, when to begin, when to stop again, and when to begin again. The "cold war" may well be an application of this idea. Witness, for example, the new "peace offensive" which began in March. No one knows when or how it will end—or when it will begin again. Similarly, frequent changes in outlook, when forced upon an individual, would tend to make him neurotic. It may be that states, too, become neurotic under such "psycho-ceramic" (crackpot) treatment. This tactic has had the effect of largely blotting out the differences between "peace" and "war," thereby confusing our concepts and leading to the bizarre circumstances wherein we have been, in one very real sense, actually at war—shooting war (Korea)—with the Soviet Union and in another sense, equally real to us, at peace with Russia in Europe. To Stalin war was diplomacy by other means; but "peace" was also diplomacy by other means (than war), to reverse Clausewitz' maxim. The so-called "peace appeals" which he issued from time to time derived from the latter concept. Like a true Machiavellian he made no distinction between "peace" and "war," except as being different attributes of diplomacy or power politics.

To assume as do our naïve native Communists and their advisers that there were any idealistic undertones in Stalin's "diplomacy," to equate reality with ideals, hopes, and visions long ago vanished—all this is the height of quixotic irony. No man posing in the cloak of a statesman was ever more void of idealism than Stalin. With Churchill, he has been described as a "realist." But compared to Stalin's "realism," Churchill's is blue-eyed idealism. This was brought out at the Yalta Conference, where Stalin discussed the problems of a bleeding mankind with unhuman unsentimentality; Churchill revealed his human "weakness" when, while speaking of the future of the small states, he said: "The eagle should let the small birds sing and care not wherefor they sang," while at an afterdinner snack in his private apartment in the Kremlin, Stalin, without noticeable emotion, told Churchill how he had "liquidated" millions of Kulaks. It was only a matter of statistics. No wonder Churchill called Stalin "a man completely free of illusions"—meaning, I suppose, a man without ideals or human sentiment.

Yet the Russians more than other people pride themselves on their "understanding" of small peoples. It is paradoxical that while Russia in 1939 was "negotiating" with her small neighbor Finland over land concessions to Russia, concessions the Finnish people refused to grant, with Soviet aggression resulting, A. I. Mikoyan, a member of the Politburo, now the Presidium, told one of the Finnish negotiators, Vaino Tanner: "Stalin is a Georgian, I am an Armenian, and many others among us belong to small peoples. We understand the position of small people well." He implied that without this "understanding," much larger concessions would have been exacted from Finland.

What Stalin's real position in Russia was has not been examined properly, nor has his permanent "monarchical" role in Soviet life been fully appreciated. Indeed, many so-called "serious" students of the Soviet government—I do not exclude myself—have behaved like the people in Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes": They thought the emperor was dressed in a dazzling uniform when in reality he was naked. It took the eyes of a child to disclose this fact. So, let us look at this recently "expired" Russian "emperor" through the eyes of a child.

Dr. Ley, head of the Nazi Labor Front, said of Hitler that he was Germany and that Germany was Hitler. Malenkov has not to my knowledge said that Stalin was Russia and that Russia was Stalin, although as the temporary or permanent successor (more likely the former), he has paid the tribute of a primitive votary to the god whose place he would like to take and will take if his career is not cut short by force majeure—the usual malady of tyrants. The reason is not that Stalin was not so regarded by those around him and by the Russian people. But such allusions were discouraged and possibly forbidden because it was felt they would sound too much like Hitlerism. The Russians have had other ways of expressing practically the same concept. Constant reiteration of his great virtues, ideals, and accomplishments at the slightest pretext and in every conceivable situation and the lavish, slavish display of his picture blown up to enormous proportions and paraded on a thousand and one occasions instilled in the Russian people essentially the same feeling for their Führer that Dr. Ley sought to convey to the German people by his sublimely ridiculous reference.

The most convincing illustration of Stalin's incarnation in the flesh of "Mother Russia" was the divine appearance of the ruler of all Russians at the May Day parade in the Red Square, when he took his place on top of Lenin's Tomb and his chieftains grouped around him in accordance with their importance at the moment. He remained a fixed star, but his chieftains—like satellites—never kept their old positions for long, and would sometimes even disappear from sight, all depending on their fortunes.

An examination of a picture of those assembled on Lenin's Tomb gave one an idea of the hierarchal nature of a despotic regime falsely labeled "government." This picture showed better than anything the clear and present manifestation of the Führerprinzip in all its rawness and in stark contrast to the teachings of Marx and Engels on whose teachings, by the way (and we want to make this clear!) we are not here passing judgment. The author, it must be understood, is in no way advocating or defending Marxism, whatever its totalitarian form. He merely insists that any resemblance between Marxism and the Soviet system is to a large degree coincidental.

By way of comparison, Lenin for all his prestige was never so far removed in terms of power from his colleagues in the party as was Stalin from his. Nietzsche spoke of "the pathos of the distance"—meaning the distance in power and prestige. That "distance" was far greater between Stalin and his associates than it ever was in Lenin's days. Although a Trotsky, a Stalin, and a Zinoviev looked upon Lenin as their rightful and acknowledged leader, they were for all practical purposes his equals. At least there was more equality than inequality in the top echelons of those days. Trotsky and Stalin exercised real authority, possessed genuine responsibility, exerted tangible power within their own jurisdictions—Trotsky over military affairs, Stalin over party matters.

Stalin's "men" have had no real power of their own—and still do not. This is true even of Malenkov, who has already proceeded to divide the little power he has. All the power they possessed was delegated power—delegated by Stalin as a reward for loyal service. This power was not something Stalin gave up; it could always be retrieved; and on numerous occasions he reclaimed the power he delegated, sometimes with the death of those who held this temporary power. Like Hitler he could at will promote, demote, remove, and dispose of party and state officials of seemingly the highest prominence and the finest reputations. Witness, for example, his treatment of Marshal Tukhashevsky, chief of staff, who, following a rigged trial, was put to death. His "crime" was identical with that committed by Stalin himself a few years later: Nazi collaborationism. This "crime," of course, was a mere pretext for removing a man who, unfortunately for him, had become too popular, too influential. The Führerprinzip tolerates no competitor.

Absolute as Stalin's power was, he varied his use of it according to the place, the circumstance, the individual, and his own personal need—with the result that his inflictions ranged from mild criticism to violent death. In the case of Maxim Litvinov, to take an example from the opposite end of the power scale, Stalin was content with demoting the man and promoting another, Molotov, for two reasons primarily: (1) Litvinov was a Jew (he needed a non-Jew to make the deal with the Nazis); (2) Molotov was less "Western-minded."

Actually it is doubtful if anyone in Russia ever asked for real authority. So much fear was instilled by this one man that few dared to challenge his authority. Not a single member of the Politburo, the most powerful policy organ in Russia, ever suggested that he might be or ought to be Stalin's successor. Nearly every Soviet Communist from time to time was mentioned as a potential heir, but such speculation showed that Stalin's power was personal and that it was the only concrete reality in the Soviet Union. Being indivisible, it could not be shared, nor delegated, nor inherited, nor given away.

Hitler solved the problem of succession by publicly designating his successors: first Göring, then Hess, and then Goebbels—one, two, three, in that order. Why did not Stalin do the same? Because as a despot he was much more clever than Hitler was. As a true Machiavellian, he trusted no one but himself; and he had seen the case histories of tyrants who had violated this rule of Machiavelli and disappeared. He saw what happened to Hitler, betrayed by his number-one successor, Hermann Göring, who, during the final stages of the war, quite uselessly usurped Hitler's power. Outwardly Stalin might care what happened to Russia after he died. He might speak and act as though the future—the future that would exist without him—would be of great importance. But in all likelihood he believed with Louis XV: "Après moi le déluge. "

Ultimately (as was true of Hitler), the Russian dictator's power rested on brute force or, more precisely, on the Soviet secret police. Prestige, respect, veneration, loyalty, and personal allegiance carried him a long way. Remove his secret police, and the prestige he enjoyed would no longer have been enough. It would not have protected him from ambitious men who sought his crown, for they had been taught to live by the laws of the jungle, where the weak are the prey of the strong.

Men who rule by brute force are often destroyed by the same force that keeps them in power. Force is always an erratic and unreliable element in power politics, as many dictators have found out, from Caesar to Mussolini. "Bayonets are good for many things," Talleyrand said, "except to sit on." If eternal vigilance is the price a free people has to pay for its freedom, constant command and control of the sources and resources of force is the price despots have to pay to keep their peoples enslaved. Mussolini told Emil Ludwig he knew how to avoid the pitfalls of dictators. He would never, he boasted, die at the hand of an assassin. And Hitler thought he led a charmed life, that he was immune to that fatal malady that frequently, suddenly, and happily takes tyrants from us at an unexpected turn of history—a visitation we must bear with equanimity.

Mussolini and Hitler both met violent deaths. Why was Stalin an exception? Or was he? The medical reports sounded convincing, but so did Lenin's. Few students of Russia now doubt that Stalin "helped" his chief across the "line." It is not inconceivable that there may have been those who were willing to give Stalin similar "assistance"—perhaps just as another purge was about to "get" them.

If this indisputably Great Tyrant escaped assassination, it was due in part, I think, to the efficiency of the MVD—an organization far more effective than the Gestapo; in part to the fact that assassins are few in the U.S.S.R.—fewer even than they were in Hitler's Third Reich; and in part to the fact that Stalin, for all his tyranny, was accepted, taken for granted, and even liked by millions. I am thoroughly convinced that he was more loved than hated by his people; that, in fact, most Russians looked upon him as their father and protector, accepted his leadership and followed him wherever he took them, in peace and in war.

This philosophy of politics is possible only in a country where the price of freedom is astronomical; where there exists no libertarian tradition; where the people have no standards against which to measure their freedoms and rights; and where rights and freedoms are entirely expendable. For such people collective obedience comes naturally, and Lenin and Stalin, when they took over, were faced with no problem in this respect, as the Russians for generations under the czars had grown accustomed to obeying.

In one of his essays on liberty Bertrand Russell quotes a Russian to the effect that the people of Russia need none of the "external" freedoms that seem so indispensable to the English and the Americans because the Russians have "free souls" whereas the souls of these Western peoples are in a strait jacket and consequently have need of "external" freedoms. Dostoevski would probably have agreed with this observation; in fact he might have first made it. And because of a preoccupation with their souls the Russians, like the Germans, have overlooked their minds. Or, more to the point, they have scorned the free mind. In two countries otherwise dissimilar—Russia and Germany—the concept, the ideal, and the practice of freedom have been strangely similar for more than four hundred years. Their contempt for unhindered freedom as we understand it in the West has been vehement. I refer, of course, to individual freedom, the only kind of freedom the West truly cherishes. Fear of power in the West has been as strong as indifference to individual freedom in Germany and Russia. Only in the West could the maxim have been born that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And only in the West could effective measures have been taken to thwart the ambitions of would-be dictators.

Russians must have found it difficult to comprehend a President of the United States compelled by a court of the country to surrender powers he thought he possessed. Even more incredible must have been the President's acceptance of the court's verdict with little or no "loss of face"! If reported at all in the Soviet press, all this must have been attributed to "democratic insanity." In Russia it could not happen.

The concept of unconsolidated power, if understood at all, would be repugnant to the Russians. The very possibility of having power split three ways into various departments or compartments would seem preposterous to them. Government and dictatorship are synonymous to them, and the possibility of a great many people sharing power of decision in important matters of state would be laughable—just as it has been laughable to the Germans. In a way the Germans killed their democracy—what there was of it in the Weimar Republic—by ridicule and scorn. When Hitler told them how he sat in the Vienna Reichstag and watched the ludicrous proceedings on the floor, how they "talked and talked," millions of Germans laughed with him. Democracy became a hilarious joke, and Der Stürmer and other Nazi publications poked fun in their caricatures at that asinine phenomenon called democracy.

The Russians could not laugh democracy out of existence as the Germans did because they have never experienced it. But as it was described to them by their leaders, by the party, and by the press, democracy appeared as a proposition deserving contempt.

The concept of delegated authority was particularly inconceivable to them. When visiting Moscow on his several wartime missions, Harry Hopkins found that no one in the government, whether an important civilian or military functionary—not even a marshal of the Soviet Union—could speak or dared to speak with finality on any subject. Each referred again and again to Stalin as the only man who could speak with authority.

The usefulness of Stalin's associates depended not on the authority they possessed, nor on their capability, but on their loyalty to Stalin personally. He had built his party and state on the basis of personal loyalty. This was not the way Lenin wanted it. Before his death Lenin warned his associates against Stalin. But the Georgian, thanks to Trotsky's attitude in taking personal succession for granted, succeeded in putting his own men in key positions. By the time the enfeebled Lenin was proposing "to find a way of removing" Stalin, the Georgian was already entrenched, and Trotsky's "magnetic personality," "electrifying oratory," and "spellbinding influence" were of no use.

Leon Trotsky never was given an opportunity to prove whether his brand of communism would have become less tyrannical than Stalin's, but what he predicted before the Revolution, what he did during the Revolution, and what he criticized after the Revolution convinces at least this writer that his critique of Stalin was dictated not so much by his concern for "pure" communism as by his bitter disillusionment over his personal failure to take the place in Russian history and in world history to which, as Lenin's "natural" heir, he thought himself entitled. It was not until his break with his chief rival for Lenin's mantle that he spoke of the "betrayal" of the Revolution. All available evidence strongly suggests that he might have "betrayed" it himself had he, not Stalin, succeeded Lenin. At any rate, an objective student of communist Russia is not justified in concluding that Trotsky and his policies would have been less dangerous to democracy and Western civilization than Stalin has been. On the contrary, because of his greater shrewdness and fanatical dogmatism he might have become an even greater peril than Stalin, especially had he been able to drape his intentions in a camouflage of "pure" communism.

With his only serious rival for Lenin's mantle out of the way, Stalin dedicated himself to the only task worthy of his complete attention—namely, to make his position of power so impregnable that neither man nor event could unseat him. By 1937 he had his first real test of strength. His second came in 1941. Not only did he survive the Nazi invasion and defeat Hitler, but he emerged from this calamity far more powerful—and as a result, far more ruthless, far more tyrannical—than he had been before. And, mirabile dictu, we saluted him, greeted him as our friend, and treated him as a man of honor.

This was the man whom Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill referred to as "Uncle Joe," and whom Harry Truman even after the cold war had begun described as "a prisoner of the Politburo." It was said that we could "reason" with Stalin; he seemed receptive to our point of view. He might not always agree with us, but he seemed like an "agreeable" sort of person—an impression that Harold Stassen brought back from his interview with Stalin in 1947. In this interview Stalin spoke of the "will to co-operate," and Stassen—our new Mutual Security Administrator—recorded and reported it as though he earnestly and sincerely believed he was dealing with a sensible man not very different from himself.

The recent purges of Jews in Russia and in the satellites were only one more demonstration of the close spiritual kinship between the Communists and Nazis.

Hitler was our enemy at a time when Stalin was our friend, and yet there was no moral difference between the two; one was as evil as the other, and their systems were equally repugnant. There was no moral difference between Buchenwald and Katyn Forest; between the killing of Jews and the slaughter of Kulaks; between the Nazi purges of 1934 and the Communist purges of 1936; between the systematic terror of the Third Reich and the terroristic system of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics; between the psychopathology of one dictator and the pathological psychology of the other; between the "mass" philosophy contained in Hitler's statement, "The German has not the slightest notion how a people must be misled if the adherence of the masses is sought," and that displayed in Stalin's "one must not lag behind a movement, because to do so is to become isolated from the masses"; between NKVD and Gestapo; between the rape of Czechoslovakia and the rape of Finland; between the Berlin-Rome axis and the Moscow-Peiping axis; between Foundations of Leninism and Mein Kampf. They are all fruits off the same tree; and by their fruits ye shall know them.

Ronald L. Meek (essay date 1953)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4827

SOURCE: "Stalin as an Economist," in The Review of Economic Studies, Vol. XXI, No. 56, 1953-54, pp. 232-39.

[In the following essay, Meek examines Stalin's economic theory.]

Whenever great changes in basic economic and social institutions are brought about, the theoreticians of the new order begin seeking to express its experience in generalised form. And sometimes—but only very rarely—it happens that the political leaders who usher in the changes are themselves men with a taste for theoretical generalisation, in which case both the new order and the theory of the new order may come to be constructed under the guidance of one and the same hand. This was the position with Joseph Stalin.

Stalin's work in building the theoretical foundations proceeded more or less concurrently with his direction of the work of "building socialism". In part, it took the negative form of criticism of various economic theories which in Stalin's opinion were inappropriate to the new conditions.1 And in part, it took the positive form of the systematic expression of new concepts and theoretical propositions designed to illuminate the essential character of the new society which finally took shape in the U.S.S.R. in the 'thirties. An article in Bolshevik on "Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R.",2 published a few months before his death, represents the culmination of Stalin's work in this field.3

The immediate occasion for the publication of Stalin's article was a conference of Soviet economists held at the end of 1951 to discuss the first draft of a new textbook on political economy. In form, the article consists of a set of "Remarks" on various questions which came up at this conference, together with a number of replies to individual economists who had criticised Stalin's views. But the significance of the article is obviously much wider than its form and the immediate occasion for its appearance might at first sight suggest. The question with which Stalin is primarily concerned—the nature and content of the economic laws which operate under socialism in the U.S.S.R.—appears on the surface to be fairly remote from policy issues. But in no society, and least of all in the U.S.S.R., can the discussion of such a question really be divorced from considerations of practical policy. Stalin's statements about the economic laws of socialism in the U.S.S.R. are also, inevitably, statements about contemporary economic policies and opinions in the U.S.S.R. and about the policies to be adopted in the future. For this reason, even if for no other, Stalin's article deserves the closest scrutiny by economists in the West. The aim of what follows is to discuss selected passages from Stalin's article which may be of interest to Western economists.


Echoes of several well-known Soviet economic debates of the inter-war years are to be found in Stalin's article.4 But in essence the article represents the culmination of one particular controversy of the decade just past which hitherto had been carried on largely behind the scenes. Controversy had centred around a viewpoint first consistently expounded in an article of 1943 on "The Teaching of Political Economy in the Soviet Union" which caused a considerable amount of speculation in the West at the time.5 The basic thesis was that the economic laws of socialism "in their character, content, (and) method of action are fundamentally different from the economic laws of capitalism".6 In particular, it was argued that it was "quite un-Marxist" to think that "only those laws can be considered economic laws which manifest themselves independently of man's will and consciousness."7 In view of the unique role played by the state in the U.S.S.R., activities such as "industrialisation," "collectivisation" and "planning," it was said, must be regarded as "laws of the socialist development of our society."8 The article as a whole gave the impression that the author was trying to extend the concept of economic law under socialism so as to embrace the conscious actions of the state and planning bodies. Certainly this was the meaning read into it by many Soviet economists. N. Voznesensky, then the head of the Soviet planning organisation, affirmed (in a book which gained a Stalin Prize in 1947) that "the state plan has the force of a law of economic development. . . . Socialist planning, based on the rational utilization and application of the economic laws of production and distribution, is in itself a social law of development and as such a subject of political economy."9

In Stalin's last article, this whole thesis is decisively rejected. The economic laws of socialism, Stalin affirms, possess exactly the same objective character and operate in exactly the same way as the economic laws of capitalism. The content of the laws specific to socialism and to capitalism certainly differs,10 but not the character of these laws as such. "The laws of political economy," says Stalin, "whether in the period of capitalism or in the period of socialism .. . are objective laws, reflecting processes of economic development which take place independently of the will of man."11 It is quite wrong to argue that "in view of the specific role assigned to the Soviet state by history, the Soviet state and its leaders can abolish existing laws of political economy and can 'form,' 'create,' new laws."12 To argue thus is simply to confuse the "laws" of science with the "laws" issued by governments. Thus "socialist planning" is not in fact "a social law of development," as Voznesensky and others had maintained. There does exist, it is true, a certain objective economic law of socialism—the "law of balanced, proportionate development of the national economy"—of which the yearly and five-yearly economic plans are (or ought to be)13 a reflection. But the plans themselves must on no account be confused with the law.14

It is tempting to consider this rejection by Stalin of the 1943 thesis solely in terms of a victory of common sense overconfusion—which, in large part, it undoubtedly is. The problem of the character and method of operation of economic laws under socialism is by no means an easy one to solve. In essence, the 1943 thesis was the expression in the field of economic theory of an over-abundant confidence in the power of the Soviet system to overcome all obstacles standing in its way. It reflected a feeling, natural enough at the end of the war, that the Soviet government could do anything it set its mind to in the economic sphere—that it could, in fact, virtually make its own economic laws.15 Stalin's attack on this idea—in terms which are sometimes reminiscent of his much earlier "Dizzy with Success" article16—does indeed represent a victory of common sense over confusion, or, more specifically, a victory of realism over "adventurism". But this does not fully explain why the trend of ideas inspired by the 1943 article was considered sufficiently important in 1952 to call for one of Stalin's carefully rationed interventions. It seems reasonable to suggest that the 1943 thesis must have become closely associated with the advocacy of some particular economic policy which eventually came to be regarded as unrealistic and "adventurist."

One must beware here of proceeding too far into the realms of pure speculation, but it seems at least possible that this policy difference, if it did in fact exist, related mainly to the question of agricultural organisation. Stalin is concerned to emphasise that the continued existence of the collective-farm sector (in which the product is produced and disposed of by the individual collective farms rather than by the state) side by side with the state sector, implies, among other things, that obstacles are set up to "the full extension of government planning to the whole of the national economy, especially agriculture."17

Eventually, therefore, collective-farm property must be "raised to the level of public property." How, then, is this task to be carried out? Stalin's solution (to be further discussed below) visualises a series of gradual transitions operating over a fairly long period of time. And it seems possible that this solution may in recent years have won a victory over certain alternative solutions, more radical in character, which perhaps visualised a much more sudden transition, similar in character to that "revolution from above" by means of which mass collectivisation was originally effected. Certainly Stalin goes out of his way on several occasions to criticise, expressly and by implication, the proposals made by "some comrades" "to nationalise collective-farm property, to proclaim it public property, in the way that was done in the past in the case of capitalist property."18

It is with more radical policy proposals of this type, then, that the 1943 thesis may have become associated. Certainly the thesis would at least have encouraged the advocacy of such proposals. If the Soviet government can "do anything," if it can make its own economic laws, why should it not raise collective-farm property to the level of public property at one stroke? If "collectivisation" is a "law of socialist development," why should not "nationalisation of collective farms" also be a "law"—to be carried out in a similar manner? Stalin's intervention may have been called for, then, not only because the 1943 thesis was confused and unrealistic, but also because it was encouraging the advocacy of an over-hasty and adventurist policy towards the peasantry.19


Stalin's discussion of the economic laws of socialism is based on the assumption that the form of economic relationship at present existing between the town and the country in the U.S.S.R. will continue to exist substantially unaltered for some time. The transformation of collective-farm property into public property is visualised as a gradual process stretching over a fairly long period. The first thing which Stalin has to do, therefore, is to provide a set of theoretical concepts capable of dealing with a form of socialist society, not specifically envisaged by Marx and Engels, in which a state sector and a collective-farm sector continue for some time to exist side by side.

The key passage here is the following:

To-day there are two basic forms of socialist production in our country: state, or publicly-owned production, and collective-farm production, which cannot be said to be publicly owned. In the state enterprises, the means of production and the product of production are national property. In the collective farm, although the means of production (land, machines) do belong to the state, the product of production is the property of the different collective farms, since the labour, as well as the seed, is their own, while the land, which has been turned over to the collective farms in perpetual tenure, is used by them virtually as their own property, in spite of the fact that they cannot sell, buy, lease or mortgage it.

The effect of this is that the state disposes only of the product of the state enterprises, while the product of the collective farms, being their property, is disposed of only by them. But the collective farms are unwilling to alienate their products except in the form of commodities, in exchange for which they desire to receive the commodities they need. At present the collective farms will not recognise any other economic relation with the town except the commodity relation—exchange through purchase and sale. Because of this, commodity production and trade are as much a necessity with us to-day as they were thirty years ago, say, when Lenin spoke of the necessity of developing trade to the utmost.20

The most interesting feature of this passage is Stalin's use of the Marxian concepts of "commodity" and "commodity relation" to describe the existing state of affairs in the U.S.S.R. "Commodities," in the Marxian sense, are those products of labour which are produced not for the personal use of the producers but for exchange through sale and purchase. Commodity production requires two main conditions: first, separate ownership of such of the means of production, or such separate rights of productive use over them, as are necessary to provide a basis upon which productive activity can be carried on by more or less independent units; and, second, separate ownership of the products of this activity. "Only such products can become commodities with regard to each other," Marx wrote, "as result from different kinds of labour, each kind being carried on independently and for the account of private individuals."21 A "commodity relation" is the basic socio-economic relation which exists between the producers of "commodities" (as so defined) and which is reflected in the relations manifested between the commodities themselves in the markets where they are exchanged. What Stalin is doing is to apply this concept of a "commodity relation" to the existing economic relationships between the collective-farm sector and the state sector in the U.S.S.R. to-day (and also, by implication, to the relationships between the separate productive units within the collective-farm sector). The collective farms, although they do not actually own the land on which they work, have been granted separate rights of productive use over it, and on this basis they carry on productive activity more or less independently, each unit having a substantial degree of freedom to decide what it is going to produce and on which of the available markets it is going to sell its surplus. Thus the surplus products of the collective farms (and private plots), and the manufactured goods for which they are directly or indirectly exchanged, are alike commodities, and the relation between their producers is essentially a commodity relation.22

This analysis is primarily intended as a prelude to Stalin's consideration of the operation of the "law of value" in the U.S.S.R. For according to Marxian political economy, "wherever commodities and commodity production exist, there the law of value must also exist."23 The "law of value" sums up those economic forces which (according to Marx) regulate the prices of "commodities" and the allocation of resources to their production. Broadly speaking, the leading idea behind Marx's theory is that the basic socio-economic relationships existing between the producers of commodities generate certain "objective necessities" which assert themselves decisively in the process whereby the exchange-ratios of these commodities on the market are determined.24 Typically (but not universally) these "necessities" manifest themselves by bringing it about that exchange-ratios are broadly determined, directly or indirectly, by embodied-labour ratios.

Now it was formerly believed by many Marxists that the "law of value" could apply only in pre-socialist forms of society. It was often said that in a socialist society, where productive activity was consciously controlled by the state, exchange-ratios would be regulated not by the law of value but simply by the decisions of the planning authority. Behind such statements there usually lay the assumption, express or implied, that the victory of socialism would mean the abolition of commodity production within a relatively short space of time. Socialism in the U.S.S.R., however, differs in certain important respects from the typical Marxian model, and, if Stalin is correct, a form of commodity production still exists there. Does the law of value, then, continue to exist and operate? It does indeed, says Stalin. The fact that certain goods are still produced as commodities in the U.S.S.R. means that (within certain definite limits) the exchange-ratios of these goods are determined by economic forces which are to some extent outside the control of the planning authority. The degree to which the law of value operates as a regulator of exchange-ratios will of course vary from market to market, and it is evident that in general it will have very much less influence in the U.S.S.R. than in Western countries. But Stalin is obviously more concerned with the danger of under-estimating its influence in the U.S.S.R. than with that of over-estimating it. "Our business executives and planners," he writes, "with few exceptions, are poorly acquainted with the operations of the law of value, do not study them, and are unable to take account of them in their computations"; and he goes on to give a horrific example of what he calls "the confusion that still reigns in the sphere of price-fixing policy."25 What he appears to be saying here, in essence, is that in so far as the prices of commodities are fixed by the state, they must be fixed with careful reference to what we in the West might call the "economic realities." The prices of commodities cannot be fixed arbitrarily: incentives which depend upon them must be preserved (particularly in agriculture), and the general balance of the economy maintained.

But the law of value, according to Stalin, is not a universal law: like the state, it is eventually destined to wither away. "Value," says Stalin, "like the law of value, is a historical category connected with the existence of commodity production. With the disappearance of commodity production, value and its forms and the law of value also disappear."26 And commodity production will finally disappear only when "instead of the two basic production sectors, the state sector and the collective-farm sector, there will be only one all-embracing production sector, with the right to dispose of all the consumer goods produced in the country."27 How is this end to be achieved? Stalin, as we have seen, sets his face strongly against any form of action which might be construed by the collective farmers as "expropriation." Instead, he advocates a long-term policy of "gradual transitions carried out to the advantage of the collective farms."28 The first step, he argues, should be an extension of the system of "products-exchange" or "merchandising." The rudiments of products-exchange which at present exist in the U.S.S.R. do not appear to amount to much more than forward contracts for the sale of the whole crop, the payment consisting not only of money but also of a certain quantity of consumer goods. Stalin's idea seems to be that "as the products of the town multiply" these rudiments should be extended and developed into "a broad system, under which the collective farms would receive for their products not only money, but also and chiefly the manufactures they need."29 Apparently the differential advantages of products-exchange contracts with the state are considerable, and Stalin evidently assumes that as the state offers more and more of them all the surplus produce of agriculture will gradually come into its hands. At the same time "a single national economic body (comprising representatives of state industry and of the collective farms)" is to be set up, "with the right at first to keep account of all consumer product in the country, and eventually also to distribute it, by way, say, of products-exchange."30 What happens after that is left a little vague (no doubt deliberately), but Stalin apparently envisages that as a result of the strengthening of the ties between the collective farms and the state, the increase of productivity in both town and country, and the extension of communist education, the collective farms will be more and more prepared to accept state direction of their productive activities, so that eventually the "single national economic body" will become merged in that "one allembracing production sector" which appears at the moment as the ultimate aim. When this stage has been reached, commodity production, and therefore the reign of the law of value, will finally cease.31

At this point it should perhaps be noted in passing that the "measures for the further development of agriculture in the U.S.S.R." promulgated in September, 1953, on the basis of a report by Kruschev, although they make no mention of Stalin's Economic Problems, clearly come within the framework of general attitudes outlined in that work. Stalin was concerned above all to emphasise (a) that the collective-farm system was "already beginning to hamper the powerful development of our productive forces"32; (b) that remedial measures in the countryside must not depart from the principle of material incentives; and (c) that each collective-farm household has as its personal property a subsidiary husbandry, a dwelling-house, livestock, etc.33 The main emphases in Kruschev's report are very much the same: agriculture is lagging behind heavy industry; the principle of material incentive has been ignored in certain branches of agriculture; and there has been excessive pressure on the private plot. It is true that there is no mention in Kruschev's report of the broad system of products-exchange (which, as Stalin said, should be introduced "without any particular hurry, and only as the products of the town multiply"34);but there is little doubt that Stalin's article was intended to lay the theoretical basis for economic changes of the general type of those indicated in the report. The same can be said of the recent change of emphasis from heavy industry to light industry and the food industry. Stalin said in the Economic Problems that primacy should continue to be given to heavy industry,35 but at the same time he went out of his way, in his discussion of the "basic economic law of socialism" and (more specifically) in his reply to Yaroshenko, to point out very emphatically that production is not an end in itself, but merely a means to the end of increasing the output of consumer goods.36 In addition, his statement that the requirements of "the law of balanced (proportionate) development of the national economy" are not "fully reflected by our yearly and five-yearly plans"37 takes on a new significance in the light of recent changes. Finally, mention should also be made in this connection of Stalin's argument that the struggle of the capitalist countries for markets, and their desire to crush their competitors, may at present prove to be stronger in practice than the "contradictions" between the capitalist and socialist camps"38—a statement which must have helped appreciably to create the new atmosphere in which the present economic changes are taking place.

Stalin's analysis of the conditions of agricultural development in the U.S.S.R. is directly linked with his interesting account of the preconditions of the transition from socialism to communism.39 Communism will not be possible, he argues, until "collective-farm property (is raised) to the level of public property."40 In his discussion of the transition, Stalin is primarily concerned to combat the idea that communism is just around the corner—that "it is only necessary to organise the productive forces rationally, and the transition to communism will take place without particular difficulty."41 It is not such a simple matter as some comrades imagine, says Stalin—and in particular it is not just a technical matter. It is true that a continuous expansion of all social production will be required, in order to produce an abundance of products. But "neither an abundance of products, capable of covering all the requirements of society, nor the transition to the formula, 'to each according to his needs,' can be brought about if such economic factors as collective-farm, group, property, commodity circulation, etc., remain in force."42 And, as a third precondition, it is also necessary to bring about a great cultural advance, which will require a shortening of the working day to five hours, a radical improvement in housing conditions, and at least a doubling of real wages. This is clearly a much more sober and realistic blueprint than many which have been drawn up by writers in the U.S.S.R. (and elsewhere) in recent years.


1 One of the most interesting early examples of this was Stalin's speech on Questions of Agrarian Policy in the Soviet Union (27th December, 1929), published in Leninism, Vol. II (Modern Books), pp. 253-74.

2Bolshevik, October, 1952. The references below are to the English translation published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow.

3 On the question of Stalin's personal authorship of this work, see my review of it in the Economic Journal September, 1953, pp. 717-8.

4 For accounts of some of these debates, see A. Kaufman, "The Origin of The Political Economy of Socialism'", in Soviet Studies, January, 1953, p. 243.

5 An English translation of this article will be found in the American Economic Review of September, 1944, pp. 501 ff. Articles commenting upon it appeared in the June, September and December, 1944, and March, 1945, issues of the same journal. See also the discussion by A. Zauberman in The Review of Economic Studies, Vol. XVI (1), No. 39, pp. 2 ff.

6American Economic Review, September, 1944, p. 518.

7 Ibid., p. 513.

8 Ibid., pp. 515-9.

9 N. Voznesensky, War Economy of the U.S.S.R. in the Period of the Patriotic War (English translation by Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow), pp. 115 and 120.

10 Cf. Stalin's treatment of the "basic economic laws" of modern capitalism and socialism (Economic Problems, pp. 42-6).

11Economic Problems, pp. 7-8. It does not follow from the objective character of economic laws that society is helpless in the face of them. "Man may discover these laws," Stalin insists, "get to know them and, relying upon them, utilise them in the interests of society" (Economic Problems, p. 8).

12 Ibid., pp. 5-6. It is true, of course, that man can change the particular economic system which gives rise to the existing laws, in which case the existing laws will give place to new laws. Here, however, according to Stalin, the existing laws "are not abolished, but lose their validity owing to the new economic conditions and depart from the scene in order to give place to new laws, laws which are not created by the will of man, but which arise from the new economic conditions" (ibid., p. 8).

13 Stalin complains (ibid., p. 11) that "it cannot be said that the requirements of this economic law are fully reflected by our yearly and five-yearly plans."

14 Ibid., p. 11.

15 Stalin says (ibid., p. 13) that thousands of enthusiastic young people, who are "dazzled by the extraordinary successes of the Soviet system," begin to imagine that "Soviet government can 'do anything,' that 'nothing is beyond it,' that it can abolish scientific laws and form new ones."

16"Dizzy with Success" was an article published in Pravda in March, 1930, designed to halt the excesses which were taking place in the carrying out of the collectivisation policy. The emphasis of the article was upon the consolidation of the successes which had been achieved.

17Economic Problems, p. 76.

18 Ibid., p. 96. Cf. p. 20, where Stalin suggests that "the swallowing up of the collective-farm sector by the state sector . . . would be looked upon as the expropriation of the collective farms"; and p. 75, where a "wrong policy" put forward by Yaroshenko is mentioned (but not specified). Cf. also Stalin's emphasis on the acceptability of certain policies to the peasants (p. 17) and on their unwillingness to accept others (p. 19).

19 The extent to which the 1943 thesis was influencing opinion in this sphere may not have been fully revealed until the campaign for the amalgamation of collective farms, which began in the second half of 1949, had got under way.

20 Ibid., pp. 19-20. A summary of Lenin's practical proposals is given by Stalin on pp. 16-17.

21 Marx, Capital Vol. I (Allen & Unwin), p. 9.

22 Stalin emphasises that "our commodity production is not of the ordinary type, but is a special kind of commodity production, commodity production without capitalists." Its sphere of action is relatively narrow, and it "cannot possibly develop into capitalist production." (Economic Problems, pp. 20-1.)

23 Ibid., p. 23.

24 Cf. my fuller discussion of this question in the Economic Journal September, 1953, pp. 721-3.

25Economic Problems, pp. 24-5.

26 Ibid., p. 26.

27 Ibid., p. 20.

28 Ibid., p. 75.

29 Ibid., pp. 103-4.

30 Ibid., p. 20.

31 Strictly speaking, one ought to say that commodity production will disappear when an internal "all-embracing production sector" has been achieved, and when, in addition, world production is controlled by a single international economic organisation. For goods which enter into international trade as it is at present constituted can be said to be "commodities" according to Stalin's interpretation of the concept, and "commodity production" will therefore not disappear so long as the countries exchanging goods with one another constitute independent producing units. Stalin explicitly mentions the case of countries like Britain, which are dependent to a large extent upon international trade, in this connection (pp. 14-5).

32 Ibid., p. 76.

33 Ibid., pp. 47-8.

34 Ibid., p. 104.

35 Ibid., p. 28.

36 Ibid., pp. 42-6 and 83-7.

37 Ibid., pp. 11 and 46.

38 Ibid., pp. 37-41.

39 According to Marxist theory, society passes through two phases after the termination of capitalism. In the first phase, usually described as "socialism" or "the first phase of communism," there is still a relative scarcity of goods, there are many survivals of capitalist attitudes regarding labour, etc., and the national product is distributed according to the value to society of each individual's work. In the second phase, usually described as "communism" simpliciter or "the second phase of communism," there is an abundance of goods, labour is regarded as a matter of honour, and the national product is distributed according to each individual's needs.

40Economic Problems, p. 75.

41 Ibid., p. 73.

42 Ibid., p. 74.

The World Today (essay date 1956)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2894

SOURCE: "Anatomy of Tyranny: Khrushchev's Attack on Stalin," in The World Today, Vol. 12, No. 6, June, 1956, pp. 265-71.

[In the following essay, the anonymous writer discusses Khrushchev's criticism of Stalin's policies.]

Rarely has a document aroused more interest and speculation than the paper issued by the State Department purporting to be the text of the speech delivered on 25 February 1956 by Mr Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to its twentieth Congress. The United States Government does not vouch for its authenticity; nevertheless it has been received everywhere as plausible; it is in keeping with the tenor of statements made by responsible officials of non-Soviet Communist parties, and Communist newspapers in the West have made no attempt to denounce it as a forgery. On the contrary, they have treated it as genuine.

To read this paper is to recall a dozen highlights of Soviet history between the assassination of Kirov in 1934 and Stalin's death in 1953. Of these two events the first is presented in a highly equivocal light, suggesting a plot by the secret police in collusion with Stalin, the second as a release from unparalleled tyranny. Overshadowing all the rest is the sombre horror of the great purge of the later 1930s.

The ostensible purpose of the speech was to destroy Stalin's reputation, or, in its own terms, to destroy the 'cult of the individual'. Mr Khrushchev's picture of the Soviet Union between 1934 and 1953, as given here, bears a startling resemblance to the more lurid efforts of the extreme anti-Communist school. They, too, spoke of Stalin's dictatorship by terror, of mass injustice, of the execution of thousands of innocents, of cringing judges and confessions, extorted by torture, to crimes that were never committed, of the distortion of history, of the paralysing rule of fear—all of it smothered under choking clouds of servile adulation.

In contrast to Lenin, Mr Khrushchev is alleged to have said, Stalin 'abandoned the method of ideological struggle for that of administrative violence, mass repressions, and terror.' Whoever opposed him was 'doomed to moral and physical annihilation'. But not only those who opposed him. Stalin used terror against 'many honest Communists, against those party cadres who had borne the heavy load of the civil war and the first and most difficult years of industrialization and collectivization'. It was enough to be 'suspected of hostile intent'. Mass arrests and executions without trial 'created conditions of insecurity, fear, and even desperation'; in his 'intolerance and brutality' Stalin condemned to summary death many thousands who had committed no crimes at all, but who were forced to confess to the most 'unlikely crimes' by the use of 'cruel and inhuman tortures'. The military collegium of the Soviet Supreme Court is now reviewing these cases. Since 1954 it has 'rehabilitated 7,679 persons, many of whom were rehabilitated posthumously'.

Stalin is also declared to have been responsible for 'the mass deportation from their native places of whole nations'. These actions were 'not dictated by any military considerations'; others, by implication, were, and it is therefore not surprising that Mr Khrushchev did not include in his list of the uprooted the Volga Germans, the Poles, and the Baits. For these, apparently, the Stalin regime is not yet at an end.

To attribute to Stalin alone the responsibility for these and innumerable other acts is to carry the cult of the individual far indeed. It imposes too great a strain on credulity to believe that for twenty years one man could terrorize 200 million, while his colleagues in the Party, the Government, and the Army remained utterly helpless. Mr Khrushchev deplored the tendency to 'elevate one person, transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin to those of a god'; in his own fashion this is precisely what he himself has done.

Mr Khrushchev's was a curious contention for a Marxist. No revolutionary of Tsarist days would have accepted as a reason for inactivity the plea that the tyrant 'treated all others in such a way that they could only listen and praise him', or that 'a situation was created where one could not express one's own will'. It is tantamount to an admission that the revolutionary terror had succeeded—where Tsarist persecution had failed—in destroying the spirit and traditions of the party which elevates revolution against oppressors to the highest level of social obligation.

The alternative plea of ignorance, of Stalin's failure to convene the Central Committee, or to inform his colleagues of action about to be taken, cannot even have been intended seriously; it might have some validity for a few months, but not for twenty years. The present rulers of the U.S.S.R. saw their colleagues, their superiors, and their subordinates fall by the thousand. It is difficult to believe that they had to wait for Stalin's death to learn that the victims were innocent. In any case, the plea of ignorance cannot be advanced to excuse inactivity when, on Mr Khrushchev's own showing, Stalin's policies threatened the country, in the opinion of the Army chiefs, with immense losses and dangers during the war. (Neither ignorance nor obedience to orders was accepted as a valid plea at Nuremberg; in his final speech there the Chief Soviet Prosecutor, General Rudenko, said that the Nazi leaders 'were necessary to Hitler just as much as he was necessary to them. Göring, Frick, Rosenberg .. . are inconceivable without Hitler, just as Hitler is inconceivable without them'.1)

In fact neither plea was meant to be taken at face value. Mr Khrushchev was not talking to a gathering of school-children but to his country's outstanding political figures. What he was in effect saying was that they were all equally responsible. As witnesses and accomplices, none had the right to claim a preeminence on moral or historical grounds. If there was collective leadership, there was also collective guilt.

There were two interesting exceptions. Mr Khrushchev appeared to go out of his way to suggest that Mr Malenkov's guilt was greater than average by recalling two occasions during the war when he acted as Stalin's spokesman, and to display in a favourable light Marshal Zhukov, whom Stalin denigrated. (Mr Malenkov, it may be remembered, was highly critical of Khrushchev's agricultural policies at the nineteenth Congress in 1952.)

Why was the risk taken of bringing the details of this nightmare of tyranny out into the open? Why not have continued the policy of silence which was pursued up to the twentieth Congress, while eradicating the worst abuses of the earlier years? For three years the Party leaders had been cautiously refashioning many facets of Soviet society, executing or getting rid of leading officials of the secret police, encouraging local initiative, loosening the stranglehold that had virtually killed the arts, and generally reducing the extreme tensions and fears of the Stalin era. It might have been thought that this was a settled policy, and would be followed until the present itself denied the past and the dead tyrant's name sank unremarked into oblivion without explicit disavowal.

There is no convincing answer to be found in the 'objective situation', for reasons that were valid in the spring of 1956 were equally valid three years earlier. The answer can lie only in the situation within the Communist Party itself, and here there are only slender indications to support speculation.

In the published records of the 20th Congress there is only one speech which departed from the practice of silent repudiation. That is the speech of Mikoyan which contained the first explicit attack on Stalin. It seems reasonable to assume either that this section of Mikoyan's speech came as a surprise to his colleagues, or that it had been inserted by agreement 'to test audience reaction'—the first being the more likely. It was presumably a step in the manoeuvring for position within the leadership. The popularity of the measures taken after Stalin's death to mitigate the harshness of the regime suggested that support could be won by the open denunciation of its chief architect, and if prestige was to be enhanced by these means, Mr Khrushchev was unlikely to allow it to be won by a colleague. The response to Mikoyan's attack probably convinced the Party presidium that the risks were smaller than they had supposed. (There is in fact a strong suggestion, implicit in the parentheses indicating the mood of the audience which occur in the report of the speech, that the Party cadres welcomed this opportunity to purge themselves of feelings of guilt, to find a more telling and significant scapegoat than Beria.)

There was no suggestion, in Mr Khrushchev's opening speech at the Congress, of any crisis of authority. The forces making for change, embodied in the technical and administrative personnel of the country, received full recognition. But it must be assumed, post facto, that the air of confidence was in part fictitious, that the Communist leaders still felt the need to create fresh bonds between themselves and the members generally, to build relations of confidence and understanding between the rulers and the mass of the ruled. No better way could have been found—given the political narrowness of the regime—than to denounce the man who had destroyed all earlier bonds and made a virtue of mistrust.

In any case, once the conspiracy of silence was broken, it would have been difficult to stop at the point to which Mr Mikoyan ventured. Whether a landslide has been set in motion by this drastic action it is too early to say. But the subterranean forces were already there, imprisoned within the petrified Stalinist mould. They would in any case have sought an outlet, and it is more likely that they can be kept under control and guided if the initiative in their release comes from above.

What cannot be in doubt is that the dual process—of establishing a hierarchy within the leadership, and reaching a new social equilibrium—will take time to work itself out. The Soviet rulers must hope that the revelations—or rather admissions—will prove no more than a nine days' wonder, that their own part in the twenty years of tyranny and misrule will be overlooked in thankfulness that it has ended, and that they will be able to go ahead untrammelled by the discarded garments of their past.

It is difficult, unless one has lived in a totalitarian country, to understand the pressures to which its inhabitants are subjected. But what of the Communist leaders in the decadent democracies, over whom no secret police kept watch? They found no difficulty in approving the purge, and apparently as little in approving there habilitation of its victims. They were prepared to subscribe to the belief in Stalin's infallibility and now appear equally prepared to tread his reputation into the mud. Was none of them capable of distinguishing between theory and dogma, between dissent and treason? What of their historians, for whom the records were available, their scientists, technicians, writers, and artists, who were in a position to compare the Soviet output with that in other countries? It is not Stalin's writings, or genetics, or the quality of Madame Pankratova's history, or the technical standing of Western industry that have changed, but the Party line, and in following it Communist leaders outside the Soviet bloc show themselves as subservient, with backbones as flexible and pens as docile, as in the past.

This is not to suggest that the leaders of Communist Parties in the West will have as little freedom in the future as they have had hitherto. On the contrary, it seems probable that they will have a far wider scope for initiative thrust on them. The Soviet leaders have emancipated themselves from the cramping obsession that there is only one pattern of revolution; it will now be up to the leaders of other parties to seek, under licence, their own road.

Mr Khrushchev dates Stalin's degeneration from the seventeenth Congress of the C.P.S.U., that is from 1934. The choice of the date is significant, not because more than half the delegates who attended the Congress, and 70 per cent of the members of the Central Committee it elected, fell victims to the purge, but because it implies endorsement of the policy with which Stalin's name will always be associated, the policy of 'revolution from above', of forced collectivization and industrialization—whose victims were probably no fewer than those of the great purge. To have denounced him wholly, as Beria is denounced, would have destroyed too much. To deny him altogether would be to deny the present leaders' own legitimacy and the very essence of the system they are operating. For if it would be foolish not to admit that Stalin's insanely suspicious and envious character, his megalomania, ignorance, and vanity account for some of the worst abuses of his rule, it is equally incontestable that a policy which imposed such burdens, pains, and punishments could not have been applied except in a society where there are no alternative parties, alternative policies, and alternative rulers. How indeed, except in a totalitarian system, could Stalin have concentrated such power in his own hands?

This is the cardinal feature of the Soviet system which Mr Khrushchev could not attack. And it is to preserve this that Stalin's crimes were said to have been committed from a mistaken view of the interests of the Party and the masses. 'In this lies the whole tragedy.'

The more striking excrescences of the dictatorship, the paralyzing rigidity and conformity of Stalin's last years, can be condemned and abandoned now that the painful and costly stage of 'primitive accumulation' is past. There is no risk that relaxation will start the whole system sliding backwards. (In the same way the forced labour camps have largely fulfilled their economic function and can be in part dissolved: the roads and railways and houses have been built, the mines have been mechanized. Inducements can now be combined with pressure in varying degrees to get labour to the uninviting wastes of the Arctic region.) Industry now has a broad enough basis and sufficient momentum to expand without subjecting the population to conditions which only brutal terrorism could persuade them to endure in silence. The endorsement of Stalin's earlier policies implies that criticism of the Communist Party, of its position in the country, and of its monopoly of power, will still not be tolerated.

The resignation of Molotov and Kaganovich from their ministerial posts (while remaining deputy premiers) continues the programme of disavowing the past, leaving, of Stalin's old guard, only Mr Mikoyan and the figurehead President, Marshal Voroshilov. The balance of power within the presidium has shifted, and Mr Malenkov now seems to hold a fairly isolated position. While the newlyreleased forces find channels of expression, and eventually settle down into a pattern that reflects the Soviet Union's changed position, internally and externally, the machinery of political power remains unchanged and the new élite appear to have full control of its operations. They are aware of the need for experiment and adaptation, and are prepared to initiate it themselves. Stalin is said not to have visited the rural areas after 1928, whereas Mr Khrushchev spends a good deal of his time travelling round his own as well as other countries.

The men who now rule were the beneficiaries of the policy they have discarded. They are operating a new policy. For the inhabitants of the Soviet Union and its East European bloc, the change is most welcome. The extent to which 'controlled relaxation' may be permitted can perhaps be gauged from the way in which this policy has operated in Yugoslavia; there nothing has been allowed to encroach on the unique position of the Communist Party, and the reduction in the size of maximum landholdings testifies to the belief that an independent peasantry is potentially an enemy of the Communist regime.

Externally, the change in policy antedates the twentieth Congress. The rapprochment with Yugoslavia—the quarrel was singled out by Khrushchev as a glaring example of 'Stalin's shameful role' for which the Soviet Union 'paid dearly'—and the rapid development of friendly relations with the countries of Asia were all set in motion before the Congress. Broadly, Soviet foreign policy continues to aim at the neutralization of Europe, the isolation of America, and advance through the under-developed countries. But these aims are pursued with far greater flexibility and in more conventional terms than before; 'during Stalin's leadership our peaceful relations with other nations were often threatened'. There is basically no difference between competitive coexistence and cold war, but the current term emphasizes that the struggle will be waged by other than military means. For its part, the U.S.S.R. cannot begin to compete successfully until it approximates to the level of productivity achieved in the United States, and to do this it requires, not the sullen acquiescence of an intimidated working class, but voluntary co-operation, and the belief that initiative and independence will not have fatal consequences. The largest obstacle of all—the stagnation of agriculture—remains, and there is no sign that in this respect the essentials of Stalin's policy have been abandoned. Twenty-five years of collectivized agriculture have failed to attract the peasants, who, after all, represent nearly half the working population.


1Trial of the Major War Criminals, vol. xxii, p. 358 (Nuremberg, 1948).

Robert D. Warth (essay date 1960)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4080

SOURCE: "Stalin and the Cold War: A Second Look," in The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. LIX, No. 1, Winter, 1960, pp. 1-12.

[In the following essay, Warth contends that Stalin's notorious personal defectsincluding vanity, deceit, and brutality—did not necessarily have a negative impact on his political skills or his leadership ability.]

The image of Joseph Stalin in the Western world was never a pleasant one—except, obviously, during the war years when the heroic achievements of the Red Army in the common cause lent a glow of enchantment to the Soviet Union and its paternal "Uncle Joe." Through the prism of the cold war his image was refracted to become one of calculated deceit, monstrous vanity, and senseless brutality, a view which Nikita Khrushchev's celebrated "secret" speech of February, 1956, did much to confirm.

These unsavory traits Stalin undoubtedly possessed, though to what extent they warped his political judgment is far from clear. Without seeking to rehabilitate a deceased tyrant—even to the extent that Khrushchev and his colleagues have felt is expedient—this essay will suggest that popular and even well-informed opinion about Stalin, at least in relation to the onset of the cold war, is not necessarily correct.


However one assesses his personal defects, Stalin was a skilled politician—at times a master at his trade. His blunders cost his country dearly; but if greatness is judged in the purely utilitarian terms of success, then Stalin was one of the great dictators of history. Devoid of the demagogic mystique with which his bankrupt contemporaries, Hitler and Mussolini, seemed so lavishly endowed, the Soviet autocrat outlived his era; and at the time of his death he was a kind of fossil remain from the Russian past—a symbolic relic of the backward society which had brought him to power and which he himself had undermined so energetically with the Five Year Plans.

It is a kind of conventional homily that Stalin dissipated with heedless abandon the vast reservoir of good will which the Soviet war effort had stored up in the West; that by his headlong drive to master eastern Europe he plunged the world into a new crisis which has become a durable and apparently permanent feature of mid-century civilization. This is by no means a fallacious judgment; but it is also an oversimplification of what actually occurred, for history is a subtle mosaic whose basic patterns can seldom be traced in monistic terms.

Stalin was never a reckless man who gambled, as did his fascist counterparts, with the safety of the state. In diplomacy his ultimate aim was to avoid war even at the cost of appeasement—as with Japan in the early thirties and with Germany in the spring of 1941. This is not to say that he declined to take risks: he alarmed conservative Westerners by intervening in the Spanish Civil War, though with a timidity which was scarcely acknowledged at the time; he decreed the Berlin blockade but eventually backed down when his bluff was called by the airlift; and he ordered—or at any rate did not veto—the North Korean attack which very nearly ignited World War III. Yet in every case he was unwilling to commit Soviet armed forces to the struggle.

If it is conceded that Soviet policy has never displayed those characteristics of aggressive militarism by which Germany, Italy, and Japan bullied their way to transitory success two decades ago, there is the obvious answer that it was not necessary, that Communism as an international secular faith has provided the perfect disguise to conceal the Kremlin's designs for world domination. Although the Communist International was formally abolished in 1943, there is indeed no reason to suppose that Stalin intended to renounce the long-range goals of world revolution. Nor is there at the present time when even that pale ghost of the Comintern, the Communist Information Bureau, has been allowed to collapse without a successor. It is evident, however, that the revolutionary romanticism of the original Comintern died out long ago with the abortive revolt in Germany in 1923 and the nearextermination of Chinese Communism in 1927. The consolidation of Stalin's dictatorship forcefully accelerated the means by which the Comintern became an instrument of Soviet foreign policy: the tired shibboleths of Trotsky's "permanent revolution" gave way to the incipient nationalism of "socialism in one country." "One Soviet tractor is worth more than ten good foreign Communists" was the kind of remark heard in Stalin's entourage during the first Five Year Plan.

In the thirties world depression and the rise of fascism concealed from party members abroad (and a much larger circle of fellow travelers) the extent to which the original aims of the Comintern had been perverted. The cynicism with which Stalin abandoned Popular Front ideology and a policy of collective security by striking a bargain with Hitler was a shattering blow to international Communism—at least to its Western acolytes. Even the Grand Alliance of the Second World War never quite restored the glossy finish of dedicated idealism to a movement which had become so blatantly a manipulated subsidiary of the Kremlin.

Yet the cumbersome machinery of the Stalinist bureaucracy failed to crush the revolutionary potential of Communism. In China, a set of historical circumstances wholly different from those familiar in the West—and which none of the Soviet leaders ever properly understood—allowed Mao Tse-tung and his colleagues virtually a free hand in consolidating their revolution against the crumbling regime of Chiang Kai-shek; in Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito became the only Communist chieftain in Europe to achieve power without Moscow's help; and in France, Italy, and Greece, Communist-led resistance movements sprang up which were an embarrassment to Stalin as the war neared its end.


If the battle of Stalingrad was the turning point of Hitler's Russian campaign, it was also the great watershed of the wartime alliance. Querulous to the point of rudeness in chastising his allies for the absence of a second front in 1942, Stalin's protests became more dignified in 1943 as it began to dawn on him that the Red Army was capable of holding its own against the Wehrmacht. In the same year, Moscow began to show its hand in the Polish question. A subservient "Union of Polish Patriots" was organized and relations were severed with the Polish government in London. At the Teheran Conference in November, Roosevelt and Churchill virtually committed themselves to the Curzon Line as an equitable Soviet-Polish frontier. Stalin's hint to Polish Premier Wladyslaw Skorski in December, 1941, that a settlement might be arranged on the basis of the prewar boundary with some "slight alterations" was a theme to which Stalin never reverted.

By the spring of 1944, the European balance of power had shifted so markedly in Moscow's favor that Churchill's latent mistrust of Communism—which he equated with Soviet power—had begun to revive. Always more concerned with the nuances of Realpolitik than Roosevelt, the British premier hoped to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution to the approaching East European power vacuum. Without a specific understanding among any of the Big Three, such a development had already been implied by the course of the war. Stalin was in no mood for revolutionary adventurousness. Postwar security was his watchword. When the Red Army crossed the prewar frontiers of the Soviet Union, it did so as Tsar Alexander I's troops had once invaded Napoleonic Europe, not as revolutionary zealots bent upon propagating a new faith. The only eager Communist missionaries were outside the Soviet orbit: Mao, Tito, and the anonymous antifascist guerrillas of occupied Europe. Stalin expended a great deal of effort—sometimes in vain—in attempting to curb these overly enthusiastic votaries of the Communist cause. It was not simply the act of a cleyer dissembler when he asserted that Poland would remain a capitalist state because "Communism does not fit the Poles"; that "Communism on a German is like a saddle on a cow"; and that Mao and his associates were "margarine Communists."

In the expectation that Soviet primacy would be conceded in eastern Europe, Stalin went out of his way to reassure London and Washington about the "menace" of Communism. In the spring of 1944, the Italian Communist leader Palmiro Togliatti, who had spent many years of exile in Moscow, was dispatched to Naples by plane and soon curbed the party militants who were attacking the monarchy and the "fascist" regime of Marshal Pietro Badoglio. After the liberation of France and the Low Countries there was a similar concern about the party's errant "radicalism," though there was no need for crash methods à la Togliatti.

The only other country in which Communism represented a serious threat to the status quo was Greece, long a bastion of British security in the Mediterranean and the Near East. In May, 1944, the British Foreign Office broached the subject of a quid pro quo in the Balkans: Greece to fall within the British sphere, Romania—already partly occupied by the Red Army—within the Russian. Moscow assented provided Washington's approval was forthcoming. Roosevelt's original response was cool. To the State Department, "spheres of influence" was an obscene phrase, and Churchill's adroitness in disguising the proposal as a temporary wartime expedient failed to obliterate the taint of power politics. Without the knowledge of Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Roosevelt was persuaded to withdraw his objections for a trial period of three months upon the understanding that no permanent spheres were to be carved out of the Balkans and that American interests in the area would be preserved.

As Hitler's satellite empire collapsed in ruins about him, Churchill hastened to the task of implementing his Balkan entente with Stalin. The two had tentatively agreed during the summer that Bulgaria lay within the Soviet domain and Yugoslavia within the British. Meanwhile Soviet influence had continued to grow as the Red Army pushed onward, while Anglo-American forces were still meeting strenuous opposition. At their conference in Moscow on October 9, 1944, Churchill proposed and Stalin immediately accepted the notorious "percentage plan" for the Balkans: the Soviet Union to have 90 per cent predominance in Romania and 75 per cent in Bulgaria; Britain (theoretically in accord with the United States) to have 90 per cent predominance in Greece; and Yugoslavia and Hungary to be split on a fifty-fifty basis. Such a precise delineation of their respective spheres was a rather academic exercise since it was not intended as a guide to proportionate representation in future governments. But the political implications were clear enough in outline, and both Stalin and Churchill were quite satisfied not to probe too deeply into the other's interpretation of the agreement—"to let well enough alone," as the latter put it in his memoirs.

Roosevelt held aloof from any explicit rejection or affirmation of the plan. By the tactics of procrastination he defaulted on a unique opportunity for a political settlement in the Balkans before Soviet power, based on the de facto position of the Red Army, could consolidate itself. But Churchill's initiative did pay a handsome dividend just two months later: Greece was preserved as a Western outpost when the Communist-led army of the National Liberation Front was forced out of Athens by British troops. While incapable of documentary proof, the presumption is strong that Moscow's fiat restrained the Communists from attempting to seize power. Churchill later acknowledged with gratitude the Kremlin's forebearance: "Stalin . . . adhered strictly and faithfully to our agreement of October, and during the long weeks of fighting the Communists in the streets of Athens not one word of reproach came from Pravda or Isvestia"

In the case of Marshal Tito, Stalin uncovered a streak of stubbornness in his subordinate which undoubtedly confirmed his later prejudice that "Muscovites"—Moscowtrained Communists—were infinitely preferable to antifascist resistance leaders whose loyalty and doctrinal purity was more likely to have become polluted by long years away from the socialist fatherland. Stalin's aides were aghast at Tito's independent attitude toward "the boss" when the two met for the first time in Moscow in September, 1944. Their initial encounter was in fact so chilly that Tito ascribed it to his acrid telegrams in 1942-43 when Moscow had timidly refused to assist the Partisans because the Western powers were then supporting the Chetniks of General Mihailovich. Tito was shocked and offended by Stalin's insistence that the exiled King Peter be reinstated but reluctantly signed an accord several months later with the king's premier, Dr. Ivan Shubashich, promising a coalition government. That the agreement meant very little was clear by mid-1945, yet it would seem that Stalin was anxious to uphold his end of the bargain with Churchill by curbing Tito's burgeoning power.


The controversy about the Yalta Conference (February, 1945) has been so thoroughly aired that it would be superfluous to review the proceedings once again. But it would not be amiss to emphasize that it was not human frailty but the disruption of the Grand Alliance which was to make an obscure Crimean city a term of abuse in the lexicon of American politics. Whereas the simple and personal becomes enshrined in the folklore—a crafty Stalin hood-winking an ill and naïve Roosevelt—the complex and impersonal is duly registered in forbidding tomes of neglected scholarship. Stalin too made concessions and displayed a flexibility which was not to be duplicated by Soviet diplomacy during the aging dictator's remaining years. However painstakingly the Yalta literature is scrutinized for clues as to the motives, aspirations, and personalities of the leading protagonists, the conclusion is inescapable that the Yalta failure lay elsewhere: in the rapid erosion of military necessity—always the best cement for unstable alliances; in the hidden rivalry to fill the political vacuum left by a collapsing Germany; and in the "normal" resurgence of ideological hostility between two disparate systems.

That in 1945 Stalin contemplated a Communist eastern Europe may be doubted—not because his frequent protestations to the contrary should be taken at face value but because of his actions. His insistence that the "Polish goose"—Churchill's phrase—be stuffed with German territory and that the ethnically "correct" Curzon Line become Poland's eastern frontier; his demand for heavy reparations from Germany and her tributary states; his willingness to partition the Balkans; and his tight rein upon the European Communist parties all bespoke the language of nationalism, not of revolution. The hobbling of capitalist Germany to insure against future aggression was the key to his strategy in Europe—a far cry from Lenin's day when Germany had been the lodestar of world Communism. In return for his disavowal of revolutionary aims, Stalin continued to expect Anglo-American recognition of Russia's developing "security zone" in the East and to be deeply chagrined by the refusal of his allies to accept what he considered just recompense for the unparalleled sacrifices which the Russian people had made.

At the Potsdam Conference (July-August, 1945) Allied unity was already beginning to crack, for the war against Japan, which the Soviet Union was soon to enter, was insufficient to halt the process of disintegration. Stalin presented a host of complaints and demands which remained unsatisfied, and the bitter Anglo-American criticism of Soviet policy in eastern Europe was likewise passed over without action. Stalin's attitude was that it was "unjust" to complain about the situation in Romania and Bulgaria because "he was not meddling in Greek affairs."

In the end nothing was done to alter the political complexion of the vassal empire which the Russians were already erecting. Indeed, the possibilities for effective countermeasures were severely limited. Stalin was not a man to be swayed by moral exhortation, and a show of force was neither politically nor militarily feasible. The only realistic alternative lay in exploring the opportunities which the Stalin-Churchill pact presented. Precisely the opposite course was pursued. It became clear at Potsdam, if it had not been before, that the United States would never countenance spheres of influence in Europe. To Stalin it must have seemed that Britain was drawing closer to the American position; certainly Churchill was beginning to have his doubts about the scheme, for Stalin's inability to discipline Tito was a serious flaw which Churchill took as a sign of bad faith. Since the agreement had been an informal and personal transaction, the election victory of the Labour party before the conference ended could only arouse concern as to the continuity of British policy. While neither country specifically disavowed the sphere arrangement, Potsdam was an important way station in a general retreat from the supposed evils of "power politics" and "secret diplomacy" to a "democratic" concern for moral rectitude and hollow propaganda triumphs.

Stalin returned to Moscow to fulfil his Yalta promise by declaring war on Japan. The protracted negotiations with China for a treaty of friendship and alliance were brought to a speedy conclusion on August 14, by which time the first two articles were already obsolete. Because the Soviet government promised material and moral support to the Nationalist regime "as the central government of China," the pact came as a stunning rebuff to the Chinese Communists, though they obediently acquiesced in what must have seemed a betrayal of the revolutionary heritage of the Soviet state. The dazzling vista of a Communist China, so natural to the Bolshevik elite in the mid-twenties, was a Utopian fantasy to the hard-bitten oligarchs of the mid-forties. Stalin was too much the "realist" to perceive the revolutionary currents which more than two decades of disappointment had taught him were mere figments of overwrought Marxist imaginations. It was left to Western commentators to enshrine the undeserving Stalin as a super-Machiavellian who could simultaneously aggrandize the Russian state on a scale never conceived by the most ardent imperialist of Tsarist times and nurture a revolution of the dimensions of the Chinese upheaval.

American intervention in the Chinese civil war for the ostensible purpose of disarming the defeated Japanese troops prompted misgivings in the Kremlin. The Red Army delayed its occupation of Manchuria and continued to strip the area of its industrial assets on the principle that this was enemy "war booty." Moscow was already indignant at its virtual exclusion from Japanese affairs and had recalled its Tokyo representative because, as Stalin complained, he was "treated like a piece of furniture." (The remark recalls Churchill's similar protest to Stalin at Potsdam that the British mission in Bucharest had been "penned up with a closeness approaching internment.") Nevertheless the Russians were usually circumspect in their relations with the Nationalist government and repeatedly advised Mao to abandon the futile struggle with Chiang. Kuomintang charges that their opponents were receiving Soviet aid were never confirmed by an independent source, and the probability is strong that they were intended for American as well as domestic consumption.

The Communist victory in China, which already looms as one of the transcendent events of Asian if not of world history, reflects no credit upon Stalin's revolutionary acumen. It reveals him instead as a conservative imperialist much more anxious to consolidate Soviet gains in Manchuria than to gamble upon what was to become one of the "blue chips" among Communist investments. In the end the Soviet dictator was able to avoid a repetition of his Yugoslav blunder of 1948—but only by the narrowest margin and with the grating knowledge that his Chinese comrades considered themselves junior partners in a joint enterprise, not wage slaves in a monopoly run for the benefit of the Soviet Union.


At the first postwar conference of the powers, a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in London (September-October, 1945), nothing had yet occurred to dramatize to any of the future cold-war protagonists the increasingly perilous but still outwardly friendly relationship among them. The attempt to agree on the minor European peace treaties proved abortive. The underlying point of friction, though it was never stated in so many words, was the refusal of the Atlantic powers to acknowledge Soviet preponderance in eastern Europe. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, with the adherence of Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, insisted on the letter of the Yalta declaration on liberated Europe and clung to the ritualistic formula of "governments both friendly to the Soviet Union and representative of all the democratic elements of the country." Byrnes knew, or should have known, that his statement was a contradiction in terms. No democratic government in the Western sense, except perhaps in Bulgaria (and in Finland as it turned out), could have satisfied the Soviet or any other reasonable definition of "friendly." Nor did the prospects for democracy in an underdeveloped area whose people had never become familiar with civil liberties, an effective parliament, or a fluid social order seem to trouble the Anglo-American representatives. The Russians were hardly prepared to admit their own unpopularity either as Communists or as imperialists, although Stalin had posed the issue bluntly enough at Potsdam when he declared that "a freely elected government in any of these countries would be anti-Soviet, and that we cannot allow." But they could—and did—suspect with good reason that it was not so much the state of democracy in eastern Europe which was the matrix of the dispute as the expansion of Russian power into a region where the tsars had been unable to penetrate save for brief and transitory interludes.

The Kremlin's foreign policy became increasingly rigid as the afterimage of the Grand Alliance gradually faded from view. In domestic affairs a return to Marxist first principles—Soviet style—smoothed the way for the later excesses of the Zhdanovschettina, a far more drastic cultural straitjacket (instituted in the name of Stalin's chief henchman, Andrei Zhdanov) than the United States was to endure in the Age of McCarthy. A strata of reason lay beneath the aberrant tendencies of Soviet xenophobia. The prewar experiences of the Soviets, with memories stretching back to Allied intervention in 1918-20, were not such as to inspire confidence in the Western democracies; and during the war itself the bitterness engendered by the prolonged delay in opening the second front was not wholly a product of the inequality of bloodshed. It also stemmed from the belief that while the material wealth of the homeland—created at such a heavy cost to the living standards of the Russian people—was being wantonly pillaged, the United States and to a lesser extent Britain were privileged sanctuaries where capitalists of the Wall Street image waxed fat and sleek on the blood of the Soviet worker and soldier. That such enrichment was an accident of geography rather than a calculated conspiracy was perhaps emotionally indigestible, but the Marxist axiom that war is the health of the capitalist order was a valid commentary as far the United States was concerned. The Great Depression had been transformed into general prosperity by the clash of arms, not by the natural workings of a free economy. The irony of the situation was that the postwar crisis in the capitalist West, which Moscow had every reason to expect from its theoretical extrapolations, was postponed into the indefinite future, first by the pent-up demand for consumer goods and then by a rearmament program designed to counter the threat of Soviet aggression.

It may be that there was nothing which the West could have done to reverse the trend of Soviet policy. But given the traditional European state-system of competing sovereignties, each a law unto itself, there does seem to have been an opportunity for realistic negotiations of the kind which Churchill pursued with such vigor and then abandoned, presumably in the face of American objections. Admittedly it would have been "immoral" to permit limited Soviet expansion into eastern Europe by negotiated agreement. But would that not have been preferable, considering the impossibility of establishing any countervailing power, to introducing a policy of "containment" which only fed the Kremlin's anxiety neurosis and induced Stalin to weld over the last remaining chinks in the Iron Curtain? At the very least, Greece could have been spared the horrors of civil war in 1946-48 and Czechoslovakia—provided Stalin's eastern preserve was legitimized—salvaged as a democratic oasis in central Europe.

There is no more delusive sagacity, however, than the wisdom of hindsight; and it is less my purpose to find fault with Western policymakers than to revise in a minor way the "good vs. evil" stereotype which has tended to pervade American thinking about the rest of the world—a kind of provincialism which evades a sober appraisal of what a foreign policy can and cannot do in a world which is, unhappily, still a jungle arena of competing nation-states.

William Henry Chamberlin (essay date 1962)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2415

SOURCE: "Khrushchev's War with Stalin's Ghost," in The Russian Review, Vol. 21, No. 1, January, 1962, pp. 3-10.

[In the following essay, Chamberlin examines the possible motives behind Nikita Khrushchev's decision in the early 1960s to openly denounce Stalin and his tyranny by having Stalin's body exhumed and removed from its exalted spot next to Vladimir Lenin's.]

There was high historical drama and some political risk in Nikita Khrushchev's decision to carry his war with the ghost of Josef Stalin to the point of removing the embalmed corpse of the deceased dictator from what was, until recently, the Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum, the great secular shrine of the Soviet Union. Even more challenging was the decision to erect a memorial to the innocent victims of Stalin's tyranny.

Eloquent proof of the powerful spell Stalin cast upon the country he ruled with a rod of iron for twenty-four years is the fact that only now, more than eight years after his death, are the Russian people being told the truth about his grim record of brutal criminality. It is true that about three years after Stalin's death, at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, in February, 1956, Khrushchev took the first step toward destroying the image of Stalin as the all-benevolent, all-wise, all-powerful "father of peoples" and "sun of the universe," to recall two phrases of Byzantine flattery which were frequently used about Stalin in his lifetime.

At that time Khrushchev's indictment of Stalin's crimes was selective. He said nothing about those acts of mass cruelty which might be regarded as enhancing the power and interests of the Soviet state, the "liquidation of the kulaks as a class," the man-made famine of 1932-33, the deportations from Poland and the Baltic States, the massacre of some 15,000 Polish officer war prisoners in the Katyn Forest and elsewhere in 1940. What he emphasized was Stalin's habit of torturing and killing devoted Communists, his miscalculations in the planning and conduct of the war.

However, this speech was not officially published in Russia. It remained in the category of Lenin's famous Political Testament, something known to sophisticated Communist Party members, but a matter of rumor and hearsay to the majority of the Soviet people. Khrushchev even tried to soften the impact of his own indictment, delivered behind closed doors, by publicly referring to Stalin as "a great fighter against imperialism," leaving the impression that he had rendered great services to the Soviet Union, even if he had been led astray by what was euphemistically referred to as "the cult of personality."

But now the declaration of war on Stalin's ghost is uncompromising and implacable. What was authorized by the Twenty-Second Congress is comparable with the practice of the impotent Roman Senate, in the time of the absolute power of the Emperors, in decreeing the throwing down of the statues of those Emperors who had behaved as tyrants—once they were safely dead. The most remote collective farm, the loneliest mountain village in the Caucasus will hear that the body of Stalin, once adored as a mortal god, has been excluded with infamy from its place next to Lenin in the Soviet pantheon.

The motivation for this spectacular denigration is not altogether clear, although three factors seem to have played a part.

First, the Twenty-Second Party Congress, hailed as a demonstration of unity of the triumphant "builders of Communism" in the Soviet Union with the fraternal Communist parties of some eighty countries, may be remembered as an occasion which emphasized the rift between Moscow and Peiping, for which the ostensible issue of tiny backward Albania is scarcely the most important explanation. Peiping and its sympathizers in the world Communist movement have always refused to accept the downgrading of Stalin. For Khrushchev to emphasize this downgrading is a natural reaction to strained relations with Peiping.

Second, it has apparently seemed expedient to stigmatize as "Stalinists" the "anti-Party" group of Khrushchev's open and secret opponents in the Communist Party. To associate Malenkov, Molotov, Voroshilov and other individuals who have opposed Khrushchev as closely as possible with Stalin's acts of arbitrary cruelty is a normal maneuver in inner-Party in-fighting.

Third, Khrushchev, in trying to exorcise the ghost of Stalin, may be hoping to win popular support by creating the impression that he is completely dissociating himself from Stalin's policies. As against the risk of administering a traumatic shock to those Soviet citizens who are still indoctrinated with the cult of Stalin's unique virtue and wisdom, there is the possibility of rallying the allegiance of those who remember with bitterness the undeserved suffering Stalin brought to the uncounted thousands whom he slaughtered, to the millions whom he banished to slave labor concentration camps.

To be sure, Khrushchev cannot assume the role of Stalin's accuser with clean hands. Like every prominent political figure in the Soviet Union, he survived the purges of the Stalin era only by obsequious sycophancy and by zealously carrying out any purging assignments which the dictator entrusted to him. Here is the voice of Khrushchev, greeting Stalin on his seventieth birthday in December, 1949:

Comrade Stalin, the genius leader of our party, rallied the peoples of our country and led them to the triumph of socialism. . . . Stalin stood at the cradle of each Soviet Republic, protected it and paternally helped it to grow and flourish. . . . This is why all the peoples of our country, with extraordinary warmth and filial love, call the great Stalin their dear father and genius teacher.

To-day the peoples of the great Soviet Union and all advanced progressive mankind wholeheartedly greet our dear Comrade Stalin, inspirer of the indissoluble friendship of peoples.

Glory to our dear father .. . the genius leading the Party, the Soviet people and the working people of the whole world, Comrade Stalin.

The following passage in the most authoritative biography of Khrushchev1 brings out the present Soviet dictator's full identification with Stalin's method of rule by unlimited terror, directed against the ruling Communist Party, as well as against the Soviet peoples as a whole:

In 1937 Khrushchev became a member of a "purge troika," sent to liquidate "the enemies of the people" in the Ukraine. The other members were Molotov and the dreaded NKVD chief, Ezhov. The purge-team worked effectively. Most members of the Ukrainian Cabinet, of the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet and of the Ukrainian Central Committee were summarily executed. According to conservative estimates, sixty percent of the Ukrainian CP apparatus was liquidated, not to speak of the thousands of ordinary Party members, and their accomplices, the "class-hostile" elements among non-Party people.

According to the official Soviet "History of the Ukraine":

"With the arrival in the Ukraine of the close comrade-in-arms of Stalin, N. S. Khrushchev, the eradication of the remnants of the enemy and the liquidation of the wrecking activities proceeded particularly successfully."

Stalin was a most vivid living illustration of the eternal truth of Lord Acton's dictum: "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." He was a figure of blood and horror in Russian history unmatched since the paranoid Tsar Ivan the Terrible, whom in many ways he resembled. In the violent twentieth century the only man who might rival him in the number of human lives he blighted and destroyed was Adolf Hitler. Stalin also represented the most emphatic refutation of Lenin's Utopian dream that, after a period of absolute dictatorship, the very need for the existence of the state would disappear and men would live in perfect freedom. This theory presupposes a measure of selfless dedication on the part of the wielders of the dictatorship which is contrary to all historical experience of human nature. When entrusted with unlimited power, Stalin's proved record of criminal super-gangsterism, now at last revealed to the Russian people, warrants every word of George F. Kennan's eloquent indictment:2

This was a man of incredible criminality, of a criminality effectively without limits; a man apparently foreign to the very experience of love, without pity or mercy; a man in whose entourage no one was ever safe; a man whose hand was set against all that could not be useful to him at the moment; a man who was most dangerous of all to those who were his closest collaborators in crime. . . .

By way of response, apparently, to what seems to have been some opposition to his purposes on the part of the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934, Stalin killed, in the ensuing purges of 1936 to 1938, 1108 out of a total of 1966 of the members of the Congress. Of the Central Committee elected at that Congress and still officially in office, he killed 98 out of 139—a clear majority, that is, of the body from which ostensibly he drew his authority. These deaths were only a fraction, numerically, of those which resulted from the purges of those years. . . .

All this is apart from the stupendous brutalities which Stalin perpetrated against the common people: notably in the process of collectivization, and also in some of his wartime measures. The number of victims here—the number, that is, of those who actually lost their lives—runs into the millions. But this is not to mention the broken homes, the twisted childhoods and the millions of people who were half killed, who survived these ordeals only to linger on in misery, with broken health and broken hearts.

It might also be noted that Stalin killed all his six colleagues in the Politburo at the time of Lenin's death (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Bukharin and Tomsky), thereby giving rise to the grim joke that, having killed all his friends, he was beginning on his acquaintances. After the end of the war, enraged by the cordial reception which Moscow Jews gave to the Ambassador of Israel, Mrs. Golda Meir, he let loose a wave of anti-Semitic terror and persecution, in which some of the best known Russian Jewish writers and intellectuals perished.

It is perhaps understandable that a cunning tyrant, possessed of the two mighty weapons of the totalitarian state, unlimited terror and unlimited propaganda, could have fooled a considerable number of his own people. But one of the most depressing aspects of the Stalin story is the way in which he fooled considerable numbers of people in the West. The United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Mr. Joseph E. Davies, described Stalin as a man so kindly that a child would sit on his lap and a dog would sidle up to him. Although the list of Stalin's broken treaties and promises is endless, this same Ambassador Davies, in a speech in Chicago in February 1942, offered the following endorsement:

By the testimony of performance and in my opinion, the word of honor of the Soviet Government is as safe as the Bible.

There is nothing in the memoirs or in the available historical material to show that either Roosevelt or Churchill realized that, in Stalin, they were dealing with a monster, with one of the greatest mass murderers of all time. Had this been realized, even when military expediency dictated co-operation against Hitler, Western policy in the concluding phase of the war and in the immediate postwar period might have been shaped along more realistic lines.

Stalin's career is another historical illustration of the point that revolutions are usually made against weak, rather than strong governments, that the most terrible tyrants are likely to die peacefully in their beds. (Whether Stalin's own death was due to natural causes is a mystery that may never be cleared up with certainty. His personal secretary Poskrebyshev mysteriously disappeared at the time of his death and was never heard of again. As Stalin's paranoid mind was apparently tending in the direction of another big purge, with the arrest of a number of prominent Russian physicians on poisoning charges as a macabre curtain-raiser, his death was distinctly convenient to his lieutenants, none of whom could be sure of not being one of the victims of the new purge.)

It is by no means certain that Khrushchev has finally banished Stalin's ghost, even though he felt politically strong enough to evict the deceased dictator from the shrine which his body had occupied since his death. Stalin has become such a gigantic myth in Soviet history that its elimination seems bound to leave a big spiritual and psychological vacuum. His belated condemnation poses distinctly awkward questions.

What, for instance, was Khrushchev doing in the Stalin era to thwart Stalin's crimes? What about the Communist Party, which is supposed to be the highest source of authority and the supreme repository of political wisdom? What went wrong with its functioning when a bloody tyrant could place himself above all restraint and put to death large numbers of veteran Party members who were innocent of any crime? If so many of Stalin's judgments were nothing but a despot's whims, what about the trials of an earlier period which sent to their deaths Lenin's old comrades, Zinoviev and Kamenev, Bukharin and Rykov? What about Trotsky? Once Stalin's method of extorting false confessions by torture is officially established, who can be sure of the genuineness of any political trial that took place under his rule?

It is sometimes reported from Germany that parents avoid talking about the Nazi period, because of fear that their children will reproach them for not having done something to prevent the monstrous crimes that took place in the concentration camps. This moral and psychological problem is compounded in the Soviet Union, because there has been no break in continuity, because Khrushchev and his associates are the direct political heirs of Stalin.

"The truth shall make ye free" is a famous Biblical phrase. It would probably be too much to hope that the final moment of truth about Stalin and his crimes will immediately free the Soviet people from the effects of forty-four years of totalitarian indoctrination and regimentation. But this moment of truth will probably make it more difficult for a new Stalin to arise. It will almost certainly sow seeds of doubt among the more intelligent young Soviet citizens about the infallibility of their system. And the exposure of Stalin for what he was, not a "father of the peoples," not a "genius leader of progressive humanity," but an amoral monstrous tyrant, seems calculated to shake the cocky self-confidence of the most indoctrinated Young Communist.

Nor will the dual role of Stalin's faithful henchman and Stalin's belated accuser be altogether easy to play, even for a politician of Khrushchev's audacity, bounce, and ingenuity.


1 George Paloczi-Horvath, Khrushchev, p. 92.

2Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin, pp. 256-258.

Antón Donoso (essay date 1965)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 15540

SOURCE: "Stalin's Contribution to Soviet Philosophy," International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. V, No. 2, May, 1965, pp. 267-303.

[In the following essay, Donoso traces Stalin 's place in the development of Soviet philosophy, arguing that his most significant contribution was "his ability to bring theory in line with practice. "]

It has been said that "throughout the whole of the Stalinist period Stalin himself was the only person in the Soviet Union who ever dared to say anything new."1 This was especially true in the field of philosophy. The history of Dialectical Materialism in the Soviet Union from the death of Lenin on January 21, 1924 until the ascendency of Khruschev in the later 1950's is largely the history of Stalin's philosophical activities. It will be the purpose of this paper to present an account of these activities, to examine any significant contribution made by Stalin to Soviet Dialectical Materialism, and, finally, to attempt to determine how the so-called "de-Stalinization" has affected this contribution in respect to the contents of selected, current Soviet textbooks in philosophy.

In order to place his contribution to Soviet Marxism in its proper historical context I shall preface my remarks with a short prologue dealing with the origins of Russian Marxism and the philosophical situation in the Soviet Union at the time of Stalin's rise to power.


The spread of Marxism in Russia as an economic theory began in the 1870's but it did not emerge as a social movement until the 1880's. As a consequence of the revolutionary activities of certain Russian exiles and their polemic with a Russian form of socialism known as Narodnichestvo, there arose that socio-political phenomenon later to be known as Soviet Marxism.

The acknowledged leader in the emergence of Russian Marxism was Georgy Valentinovich Plekhanov (1856-1918). Son of a prosperous landowner, he left Russia both to escape the government and to learn the sources of influence that European socialism was having upon other exiled Russians. He went (1881) as a Narodnik but in ten years he had entered wholly into the Marxist camp. His works attack the Narodnik position on the "subjective" method in history and sociology (denying that the social sciences involve "ideals"), on the role of the individual in history (denying that history is made by heroes and not the masses), and on the idea that Russia possessed some sort of peculiar historical destiny (denying that, unlike the rest of Europe, Russia would by-pass capitalism on its way to socialism because of the peculiar Russian obschina system of peasant communes).

This polemic gained for Plekhanov the respect of Lenin, a respect that remained unabated when Plekhanov became a Menshevik. In 1914 Lenin remarked: "The best exposition of the philosophy of Marxism and of historical materialism is given by G. V. Plekhanov."2 In 1921, in a discussion of the role of trade unions in Soviet society, Lenin wrote:

It is appropriate, I think, to observe for young members of the Party that one cannot become a class-conscious real Communist without studying—and I mean studying —everything written by Plekhanov on philosophy, for it is the best of all the international literature on Marxism.

And, in a footnote, he added:

Incidentally, I cannot but express the wish, first, that the edition of Plekhanov's works now appearing should separate out all the articles on philosophy into a special volume or special volumes, with a more detailed index, etc. For this must form part of a series of obligatory text-books of Communism. Secondly, a workers' state in my opinion ought to require of professors of philosophy that they should know Plekhanov's exposition of Marxism and be able to pass on this knowledge to students.3

It must be pointed out that Plekhanov's legacy, for the Soviets, excludes the works of his later menshevik period (after 1903). Unlike Lenin's application of Marxism to the imperialistic state of capitalism, so the Soviets say,

Plekhanov proved unequal to the tasks of the new era. [He] was too much under the sway of the traditions of the Second International, and in his later works he not only resisted the further development of Marxism, but deviated from the Marxist philosophy and distorted it in several respects.4

In 1903 ideological differences divided the infant group into two main factions. Lenin came to control the majority group, known as the Bolsheviki. In the decade before the First World War Lenin had reason for grave concern within the very ranks of the Bolsheviks. It took all his talents to offset the attempts of certain intellectuals to salvage the practical aspects of Marxism by putting them on a new theoretical basis, one called "empirio-criticism."

This was the name given to a group of positions based on sense experience and tending toward epistemological idealism. The group included men such as Mach, Avenarius, Poincaré, Bogdanov, and certain Neo-Kantians. Out of this controversy grew Lenin's famous Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1909), a book in which he attempted to destroy any efforts at Marxist philosophical revisionism and to show that a theory of knowledge and a theory of matter can be developed from the principles of Marxism.

Recent Soviet historians of philosophy tell us that, although the book generally was praised as dealing a deathblow to Machism (empirio-criticism),

Stalin did not understand the scientific character and the importance . . . of the battle that Lenin decreed against this revision of Marxism. In contradiction to the facts, Stalin characterized the fight by Lenin against Machism and Ostzovism as a "tempest in a glass of water."5

Certain letters of Stalin tell us that he considered Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-criticism as a "unique summary of its kind of the theses of the philosophy (epistemology) of Marxism," but at the same time to contain "certain errors." He even expressed a sympathy for Bogdanov's attack against Lenin (in Science and Faith, 1910). We are told by these same Soviet sources that the position of Stalin during this controversy was that of an eclectic, in that he was for the assimilation by Dialectical Materialism of the "positive aspects" of Machism, an assimilation Lenin had declared revisionistic.

In the years immediately following the Bolshevik victory of October, 1917 it was not considered obligatory for the members of the Party to follow Lenin's philosophy. In fact, such freedom in the field of philosophy existed that not only materialist philosophy but a variety of idealist systems were put forward and allowed to be taught. When the positive work of reconstruction began, these views came into open conflict and the non-Leninist professors of philosophy were dismissed from their positions.

When Stalin came to power in 1924 there were two trends in materialism in philosophical circles in the Soviet Union. The most prevalent variety was the "mechanistic" view that all higher-order phenomena, including psychic and social phenomena, could be reduced ultimately to mechanical processes. The other trend was rather positivistic in temper and denied philosophy had any right to existence now that science had developed.6


It was in such an atmosphere that Stalin took the reins of power, although it would be six years before he could consolidate that power. Previous to 1924 he had written little in general and almost nothing on philosophy. His literary career began in 1901 and consisted for the most part of articles published in various newspapers. R. H. McNeal, speaking of Stalin's early career, reports:

As a political writer he attracted little attention. His compositions appeared only in exceedingly obscure newspapers in the Caucasus and many of them (including the largest single essay he ever wrote, Anarchism or Socialism) were written in the Georgian language, which neither Lenin nor other leading Bolsheviks could read.7

Contemporary Soviet historians of philosophy, speaking of the contribution of Georgia, have the following to say concerning this early work by Stalin:

The articles of J. V. Stalin, Anarchism or Socialism?, published during 1906 and 1907 in the Georgian Bolshevik newspapers Ajaili Tsjovreba (New Life), Ajali Droeba (New Times) and Dro (The Times), contributed to the battle against the anarchists and towards the diffusion of the fundamentals of dialectical materialism and of historical materialism in Georgia. These articles were considered later by Stalin himself as the work of a novice Marxist. In this work are popularized certain theses of dialectical materialism. Nevertheless, there is also grave error found therein. The author of this work affirmed, for example, that nature exists in two distinct forms: the material and the ideal, and that "we are not able to imagine one without the other." Consequently, in this he departed from the materialistic solution of the fundamental problem of philosophy, that is to say, of the recognition of the primary character of matter, and of the derived character of consciousness [mind]; and, as such, conceded to idealism. Also erroneous was his manner of viewing Darwinism, even accusing it of rejecting development in a dialectical sense; that is, Darwinism was interpreted as a vulgarly evolutionistic doctrine. Such a coarse error was in contradiction with the appreciation of Marx, Engels, and Lenin in regard to Darwinism. This error of Stalin had its origin in his identification of evolutionary changes with quantitative and revolutionary changes with qualitative changes. He also was mistaken in presenting neo-Lamarckism as a progressive dialectical doctrine, considering it as part of a tendency as idealistic and reactionary as psycholamarckism; the other current (mechanolamarckism) was frankly mechanistic, that is, antidialectic.8

Actually, Stalin's debut as a theoretical (i.e., ideological or philosophical) writer came in 1913 with his contribution to a journal of an article entitled "The National Question and Social Democracy" (later known as "Marxism and the National Question"). He had been replaced earlier as editor of Pravda and given a short leave to try his ability as a theoretician.

Although this did not establish him as a peer of the prolific and theoretically minded leaders of Russian socialism, it was successful enough to be reprinted as a booklet a year after its publication in a journal, and it gave Stalin some standing as a Bolshevik expert on the problem of nationalities, to which his long service in the Caucasus also entitled him.9

Of Stalin's pre-1924 works the only one even remotely significant for philosophy is the series of articles of 1906-07 entitled Anarchism or Socialism? However, reference for philosophical purposes is seldom made to it and I will omit it in my more detailed consideration. I shall concentrate instead on the following four major philosophic works by Stalin: Foundations of Leninism (1924), Dialectical and Historical Materialism (1938), Marxism and Linguistics (1950), and Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. (1952).10

Beginning in April, 1924, three months after Lenin's death, Stalin delivered a series of lectures at the Sverdlov University in Moscow. The lectures, dedicated to the new members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union recruited in the Lenin memorial enrollment, were published as Foundations of Leninism. As Stalin rightly observed, "the foundations of Leninism is a big subject." Omitting an exposition of those Marxist aspects of Lenin's philosophy, Stalin discusses only those points Lenin contributed as new to the "general treasury of Marxism." In answering the question "What is Leninism?" Stalin tells us that it is more than just an application of Marxism to the peculiar conditions of Russia, for Leninism is an international phenomenon. Also, Leninism is more than just a revival of the revolutionary elements of the early writings of Marx, for Lenin developed Marxism under the new conditions of imperialistic capitalism. What, then, in the last analysis, is Leninism? Here are the words of Stalin:

Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and of proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular. Marx and Engels pursued their activities in the pre-revolutionary period (we have the proletarian revolution in mind), when developed imperialism did not yet exist, in the period of the proletarians' preparation for a revolution, in the period when the proletarian revolution was not yet a direct, practical inevitability. Lenin, however, the disciple of Marx and Engels, pursued his activities in the period of the unfolding proletarian revolution, when the proletarian revolution had already triumphed in one country, had smashed bourgeois democracy and had ushered in the era of proletarian democracy, the era of the Soviets.11

These lectures on Leninism were the extent of Stalin's participation in the philosophic activity of the times. It was to be four years before he stepped, in 1929, into the disputes concerning interpretation of Dialectical Materialism.12 At that time he complained, in a speech, that the theoreticians had not kept pace with the practical developments of Marxism in the Soviet Union and accused philosophers in general of dragging their feet in the battle on the two fronts against Rightist and Leftist deviationism. By 1931 he was instrumental in having the Central Committee of the Party condemn both mechanism and its positivistic ally, as well as the "menshevizing idealism" of a third faction.

This double condemnation by the Central Committee marks a decisive turning point in the history of Soviet philosophy.

Whereas previously there had at least been a continuing opposition between rival tendencies within Soviet philosophy, and a resultant conflict of schools and opinions, with discussion and controversy, all such contention is from this time forward abolished; the course of philosophy flows in the narrow channel of officially prescribed opinion; all controversy is now directed outwards merely, against the "bourgeois" ideology which is striven against as a class enemy. To be sure, "discussions" are still conducted to promote the emergence of truth from an interchange of conflicting opinions, being devoted merely to discovery and "rooting-out" deviations on the part of individual authors from the course laid down by the "classics of Marxism," Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.13

Nothing much happened philosophy-wise for a long time, but when it did it was associated with the name of Stalin. Indeed, to read the journals of the times, we are lead to believe that there was really only one productive philosopher in all of the Soviet Union. As Mitin wrote:

The further advancement of Marxist-Leninist theory in every department, including that of the philosophy of Marxism, is associated with the name of Comrade Stalin. In all Comrade Stalin's practical achievements, and in all his writings, there is set forth the whole experience of the world-wide struggle of the proletariat, the whole rich storehouse of Marxist-Leninist theory.14

A criticism of philosophy was included in the general political and social house-cleaning that marked the new Soviet Constitution of 1936. Soviet philosophy was told that it was "out of date," too abstract and too scholastic in presenting the subject, too polluted with quotations from such deviationists as Trotsky. Like all conscientious Bolsheviks, the leading philosophers acknowledged these faults, thanked the government for setting them straight "just in time," and set out to repair the damage. Soviet philosophers at last came to acknowledge the dictatorship of the proletariat in their sphere.

In the years that followed there was a striking decline of philosophical literature and discussion. It is probably inaccurate to attribute this entirely to fear of Party criticism, although this factor had its effect. That any member of the Party should have feared criticism was extremely bourgeois and unbolshevik. It was the required norm in the Soviet Union that all phases of socialist activities should progress only and solely by the dictum of "criticism and self-criticism." This meant that in every field the members of the Party were to cooperate for the advancement of socialism and the realization of communism by working together, by acknowledging their own faults and shortcomings for the benefit of all, and by criticizing each other. As a matter of historical fact, what actually occurred is that criticism came from above, from the superiors, and self-criticism came from below, from the subordinates who acknowledged this criticism. This occurred throughout the last fifteen to twenty years of Stalin's rule. And periodically the philosophical journals would be full of such criticism and self-criticism—a philosophical chapter of faults!

Exactly what was lagging on the part of philosophy in socialist construction may be seen in the following:

It should also be borne in mind that ideology was underrated in many Party organizations, and propaganda and agitation work neglected. For a long time a part of the Party cadres did nothing to improve their knowledge of Marxism-Leninism. The result was that, as a whole, ideological work lagged behind the scale of the Communist construction going on. Taking into consideration the general requirements of Communist construction and the specific circumstances of the post-war [Second World War] period, the Party launched an offensive on the ideological front.15

The most important philosophical work to appear after 1936 and before the end of the Great Patriotic War was The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviki). It was published in 1938 and at first was listed as edited by a Commission of the Central Committee headed by Stalin. However, and especially since 1948, the entire work was attributed to his personal authorship. This is probably so only in an indirect way; but there has never seemed to be any doubt that Stalin himself did write Section 2 of Chapter 4, "On Dialectical and Historical Materialism," for it would have been the most dangerous portion of the history to have been entrusted to a subordinate.16

Soviet philosophical circles greeted its appearance as epoch-making, as having raised Dialectical Materialism "to a new and higher level" and as being "one of the pinnacles of Marxist-Leninist philosophical thought."17 At any rate, the essay is extremely easy reading and its clarity and conciseness makes it excellent for pedagogical purposes, its main use in the Soviet Union until a few years after Stalin's death. For the purpose of a brief exposition, the work can be divided into three parts: Marxist Dialectical Method, Marxist Philosophical Materialism, and Marxist Historical Materialism. In speaking of the dialectical method, Stalin discusses its four principal features: (1) nature is an integrated whole; (2) nature is in a state of continuous change; (3) quantitative changes lead to qualitative changes; and (4) natural phenomena contain internal contradictions. These four principles then are applied to the study of the history of society to show us that: (1) each society must be studied contextually; (2) societies are not eternal; (3) a change in the way we make our living leads to a change (called "revolution") in our thinking; and (4) the contradictions in society are the economic classes of exploiter and exploited.

In presenting Marxist philosophical materialism Stalin lists its three principal features: (1) the world is material, not spiritual; (2) matter or nature exists outside and independent of our consciousness of it; and (3) the world and its laws are fully knowable, i.e., there is no "thing-in-itself ' forever barred to the human mind. He then applies the materialism to the study of society and history to show that, just as it is possible to have a science of living things, or biology, and to predict and control by means of its laws, so it is possible to have a science of society and history and to predict and control by means of its laws. This new science is socialism; and it tells us that there are two aspects to society, the spiritual and the material. The spiritual aspect includes a society's political, moral, religious, philosophical, and cultural ideas or ideals. This aspect is secondary in origin to the material aspect, which includes all the factors that enter into the way a society makes its living.

This is not to say that the spiritual aspects are of no significance to a society. Far from it! Historical materialism, Stalin tells us, stresses the importance of these factors. The old social ideals are significant because they hamper the development and progress of society; the new social ideals are important because, once they have emerged from the material conditions, they hasten the further development of these same material conditions. For example, modern technologically advanced capitalism has engendered a cooperative and social mode of making a living by bringing together a great number of individuals to work in huge corporations. Thus, the material conditions of society are social, at least in this respect. Such a condition has given rise to new socialistic spiritual ideals, which once they have emerged must be re-applied in an orderly manner by the Party of the Proletariat to bring into balance the superstructure with the basis or foundations of the society.

With the above as his background Stalin launches into an examination of the "conditions of material life of society," to determine, in the final analysis, what precisely determines the ideas and views of a given society. He lists three determining factors of the material life of a society: (1) geography, (2) population, and (3) mode of production. Of these, the mode of production, or the method of procuring the means of life necessary for human existence, is the chief factor that ultimately determines the way a society thinks, its ideological superstructure. A change in the mode of production will generate, eventually and necessarily, a corresponding change in ideology in an effort to yield a synthesis of the contradictions existing between antithetical superstructure and basis. There have been, in the course of history, five main relations of production or ideological superstructures: the primitive communal, the slave, the feudal, the capitalist, and the socialist systems. In each case, the change in system occurred because of a change in the mode of production, which change began with a modification of the old productive forces.

During the period from 1938 to 1950 the many incursions of the Party into the philosophical sphere were made by subordinate personalities or party institutions.18 It was twelve years before Stalin personally found it necessary to take pen in hand and lay down the law on matters of Marxist ideology. The occasion was the current "free discussion" in the seemingly innocent subject of linguistics.19 On May 9, 1950 such a discussion was opened in Pravda on linguistic problems, an area hitherto dominated by Marr's theory of languages, a theory formulated after the Bolshevik Revolution and before his death in 1934.

In brief, the theory considered language to be part of the super-structure of society, along with religion, art, ethics, etc. Accordingly, language is the result of class structure. Before the rise of classes there had prevailed a system of hand-signals or gesture-language. This passed into articulate speech, reflecting formal thinking, which, in turn, reflected the split-up of society into classes. This formal logic and its speech will be superseded, once the classless society is reached, by dialectical materialist thinking. In this classless society "thought gains the upper hand over language, and will continue to gain it, until in the new classless society not only will the system of spoken language be done away with, but a unitary language will be created, as far, and even further, removed from articulate language as the latter is from gesture."20 Thought will no longer be dependent on its phonetic and material expression in language; thought itself will replace language to give a universal means of communication to the members of the new classless and universal society.

Stalin's entrance into the discussion followed more than a month of "free discussion" by others.21 The first point that he stressed is that, contrary to Marr, language is not to be assigned to the super-structure of society since it is not the outcome of the mode of production but of society as a whole. Moreover, language is not part of the basis of society.

Language, as has been said, is created by society in general, for the benefit of the whole of society, not in the interests of any one class and at the expense of other classes. In fact, class-conditioned words constitute barely one percent of the total vocabulary. Language grows according to the developmental laws of society as a whole and not by the laws of either the superstructure or the basis.

This means that unlike ideology, which develops by sudden eruptions or explosions, language grows by way of a gradual accumulation of new elements and the equally gradual dying away of old ones. And, as far as the unitary and universal thought-language predicted by Marr, according to Stalin this is no "language" at all, but rather a soundless and immediate communication of thoughts implying idealism and leading to the destruction of Marxist materialism. To separate material language from thought would make thought immaterial—to Stalin, plainly a contradiction.

These letters of Stalin on linguistics had a most important effect on Soviet philosophy and were to dominate the field until his death.

The last important work by Stalin bearing on philosophy appeared in October 1952. It was his Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R., originally published in the periodical Bol'shevik. In its external trappings the work purported to be Stalin's concluding comments on a discussion begun in 1951 on a new textbook on political economy.22 However, as it came immediately prior to the XIXth Party Congress that met in the same month,23 the comments are much more pertinent and were an opportunity for Stalin of rebuking the impatience of certain youthful party-members who supposed that the Soviet regime "can do anything" in the area of economics. On the contrary, says Stalin, the Soviet regime is bound by objective economic laws, existing independently of the will of man, and can create no new laws of its own. Even under socialism these economic laws retain their objective, necessary character, just as do the laws of physical nature. Man can do no more in economics than he can do in any other science—he can do nothing but recognize economic laws, utilize them by guiding their operation into particular channels willed by him, and "impart a different direction to the destructive action of some of the laws."

The work contained many other questions, but all are of lesser philosophic interest.


I now turn to an evaluation of Stalin's contribution to Marxism. Concerning any evaluation of Stalin's definition of Leninism, as given in his 1924 lectures on the Foundations of Leninism, it must be pointed out that, due to Stalin's political position, his definition managed to become the official one among the many advanced by various individuals. Stalin took great pains to dispel the misinterpretation of Leninism as practical Marxism only. He quotes from Lenin to show that for his predecessor "without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement."24

Anyone who wishes to be scientific in his attack on contemporary imperialistic capitalism must be a Leninist, says Stalin. And anyone who wishes to be a Leninist must adopt the "special Leninist style" in his revolutionary activities. This "style" has two specific features: (1) the Russian revolutionary sweep and (2) American efficiency.

The Russian revolutionary style is an antidote to inertness, routine, conservatism, mental stagnation and slavish submission to ancestral traditions . . . without it no progress is possible.

This characteristic runs the danger of degenerating into empty revolutionizing, i.e., to empty slogan-making and a lack of plain everyday work. American efficiency is the antidote to this.

American efficiency is that indomitable force which neither knows nor recognizes obstacles; which with its business-like perseverance brushes aside all obstacles; which continues at a task once started until it is finished, even if it is a minor task; and without which serious constructive work is inconceivable. But American efficiency has every chance of degenerating into narrow and unprincipled commercialism if not combined with the Russian revolutionary sweep.25

The combination of the two is the "essence" of Leninism in Party and State work.

Of the works I have considered, the first to be praised by the Soviet philosophers themselves in the most glowing terms was the short essay of 1938, On Dialectical and Historical Materialism. Stalin was praised not so much for what he said concerning dialectical method but more for the fact that he said something. After all, Engels was unable to bring to completion his projected Dialectic of Nature: and Lenin was not able to correlate into book-form his collected material on the dialectical method. "To Stalin alone it has. been reserved to give the first comprehensive, systematic account of the doctrine of the materialist dialectic."

In previous treatments of Marxism, philosophical materialism had always been examined before dialectical method. That Stalin reversed the order was deemed highly significant as an indication of the importance of the dialectic. It is generally recognized, however, that in the portion of his essay dealing with historical materialism Stalin is much more in his element. When the work first appeared, Soviet philosophers discovered in its very appearance something significant for historical materialism, namely, that Stalin was the first to disclose the laws of development of socialism after its victory in the U. S. S. R. and to establish the road to communism—socialist industrialization and collectivization of agriculture.

He was also held to have improved upon Leninism in regard to a number of problems, such as those of the State, social classes, labour, the drivingforces of social development, and the position of nationalities under socialism and communism.27

Discounting the characteristic Soviet exaggeration of the times, Stalin does indeed show some originality in these areas and makes considerable departure from the original Marxist views. This is true especially in three areas: (1) the great emphasis he places on the "retroactive" influence of the superstructure; (2) an elaboration of the developmental laws in a socialistic classless society; and (3) the great stress he placed on the "national" factor. I shall now examine these in more detail.

Once the new ideological superstructure has arisen from a change in the basis of society, it acts in a "retroactive" manner to organize and carry the changing mode of production to its completion. That is, once ideas have arisen they can react, in turn, upon the material basis to contribute powerfully to its further development. This is seen, in principle, in Lenin; but the great emphasis placed by Stalin upon the "subjective factor" in completing the process of socialization has led some to conclude that he held this factor to be the decisive force in history. If true, nothing could be further from Marx. There seems to have been little change in official Soviet doctrine on this point as a result of the "de-Stalinization" policy.28

In a classless or socialist society any further development of the basis does not take place by "leaps" or revolutions; otherwise the dictatorship of the proletariat would be overthrown. Rather, the development now occurs according to a different type of "leap," a gradual change, since socialism is the end of the explosive type of dialectic. Certain further changes in the mode of production, such as complete collectivization of agriculture, take place now, not by "revolution from below" as in nonsocialist societies, but by the process termed "revolution from above." This means, as Stalin was to point out in Marxism and Linguistics, that the socialist government takes the initiative in such actions.

Nowhere is Stalin's teaching seemingly more different from the original intention of Marxist historical materialism than it is on the national question. This emphasis on the "national" is coupled with his drive to reinstate the individual in his old rights. He still held, in general, that the driving force of social development is the proletariat as a class and not specific individuals, but he put a new interpretation on the individual.

From 1934 onward there was an ever-increasing degree of national patriotism spreading in the Soviet Union. Certain figures of the country's history were resurrected to places of honor, as seen in the literature of the times. This provided an opportunity for the deification of the founders of Marxism-Leninism and later for the glorification of Stalin himself.

By the early forties this Soviet emphasis on the national became clearly visible. In the political and military sphere the Second World War was declared a contest between socialism and imperialism and turned into the "Great Patriotic War." It is probably no exaggeration to say that Stalin's marriage of communism and nationalism (especially the Russian variety) prevented the defeat of the Soviet Union. In the historical and cultural sphere the Soviet Union was depicted increasingly as the "heart and backbone of human history." Everything of historical importance that ever had taken place within its territories, as far back as the ancient Chaldeans and Assyrians, was declared as evidence for the superiority of socialism. Everything occurring outside its boundaries was reckoned as more or less marginal. The exaggerated, often ludicrous, reports that the Russians had first discovered or invented "such-and-such" stem from this era.

Stalin had been concerned especially with the national question for a long time, and had come to be acknowledged as an expert in that area (the field of nationality affairs or the relations of peoples in the multinational Soviet Union), even while Lenin lived. At the XVIth Party Congress of 1930 he coined the celebrated formula that national cultures should be "national in form but socialist in content." He was to maintain that the period of building socialism in the U. S. S. R. is the opposite of the period of the collapse and abolition of national cultures—it is a period of the "flowering" of national cultures so as to fulfill their potentialities and create the appropriate conditions for merging them into one common culture with one common language in the period of worldwide socialism. Is this contradictory? Certainly, says Stalin, but "anyone who fails to understand this peculiar feature and 'contradiction' of our transition period, anyone who fails to understand these dialectics of the historical process, is dead as far as Marxism is concerned."29 Stalin, despite his apparent intellectual crudity, seemed to have sensed that nationalism goes a long way in cementing any society, socialist or otherwise. His marriage of communism and nationalism was to be of the greatest practical advantage to the Communist regime in the U. S. S. R., and one of his shrewdest strokes of practical genius in politics.

When Stalin's booklet on Marxism and Linguistics appeared, it was greeted as a "new, world-historical contribution to the treasury of Marxism." It is quite possible that this time the praise was accurate, for Stalin appeared to have introduced an entirely new theory in his amplification of historical materialism. What was so historymaking in these letters of 1950 was the implication that a phenomenon, language in this case, could belong to neither the superstructure nor the basis of society, nor to an "intermediate" area but to society as a whole. This third area had never before been referred to in Marxist theory.30

All in all, it is not difficult to agree that "what he [Stalin] said was sensible, temperate, and on the whole far better linguistics doctrine than much that had preceded it" in the Soviet Union.31 In this consideration of language Stalin was led to an examination of the development of socialism. In reality this was a further elucidation of his 1938 contribution of the active role of the superstructure and the manner in which the dialectic occurs in a socialist society, namely, by gradual and not by explosive leaps.

The main contribution of Stalin to the development of Soviet Marxism in this essay, as well as in all his others, is, in my considered opinion, his practical genius to justify in theory what he had been doing already in fact. The new course in the field of Bolshevik politics that Stalin had been pursuing for at least sixteen years was to find a theoretical anchorage in Marxist-Leninist theory as a result of this essay. According to Marxism-Leninism, theory and practice must proceed simultaneously. That this was not always the case in actual fact can be seen from the periodic rebukes by the Party to Soviet philosophers. It is to Stalin's credit that he saw the importance of grounding his practices in theory, of making his decisions according to Marxist theory. And he was not adverse to amplifying the main body of Marxism to accomplish this, for he recognized that it gave his decisions a sort of "scientific" necessity. More than anyone in the history of Marxism, Stalin has proven himself nimble in replacing out-dated formulas with new ones. In Stalin we see the relativism and pragmatism of Soviet Marxism.32

Is this the hated heresy of "revisionism?" Your answer will depend on who you are. Trotsky called Stalin a "revisionist"; but, on the other hand, Stalin called Trotsky a "falsifier" of Marxism. Stalin himself would have answered the charge of "revisionism" by reminding us that Marxism, above all else, is not dogmatic! Stalin is emphatic (dogmatic?) in his denial of dogmatism in his Marxism and Linguistics. Marxism is not a collection of unchanging dogmas. He who thinks so sees only the letter of Marxism but not its essence or content.

Marxism is the science of the laws of development of nature and society, the science of the revolution of the oppressed and exploited masses, the science of the victory of socialism in all countries, the science of the building of the communist society. Marxism is a science and cannot stand still; it develops and perfects itself. In the course of its development Marxism cannot but be enriched by new experience, by new knowledge; consequently, its separate formulas and deductions cannot but change in the course of time, cannot but be replaced by new formulas and deductions corresponding to the new historical tasks. Marxism does not recognize any immutable deductions and formulas, applicable to all epochs and periods. Marxism is the enemy of dogmatism.33

Again: in an effort to embarrass Stalin, Trotsky and Kamenev attempted to show that Marx, Engels, and Lenin did not believe in the possibility of socialism in one country.

Stalin, who normally depended heavily on scriptural authority, neatly shifted his ground and argued that "Marxism is not a dogma but a guide to action," that if Engels were alive he would say, "To the devil with all old formulas! Long live the victorious revolution in the U.S.S.R.!" And if Lenin had plainly said that the victory in one country is impossible, said Stalin, he must have meant merely that the 'complete' victory is impossible.34

The entire series dealing with Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. (1952) is most interesting, but the most important part of it, philosophically speaking, is the first section wherein the Soviet economists, especially the younger and often over-enthusiastic ones, are told that the laws of economics are as objective for a socialist society as are the laws of physical nature. To think otherwise is to be a "subjective idealist."35

Some historians see in this emphasis by Stalin on complying with reality, or the objective character of laws, a sign of pessimism and conservatism. True, Stalin by this time had learned by practice that the inevitable communist society was not just around the corner, and that unrealistic views in a centralized economy could cause national crises. However, in my opinion, this issue is part of the greater, overall problem of how the laws of the dialectic affect socialism as a society. The dilemma remains that either the laws of the dialectic apply to all societies, including socialism (and it, too, will pass away), or socialism is not a true society.36

The booklet on Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. is virtually Stalin's last testament. His death is recorded as follows in the 1960 edition of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union:

On March 5, 1953 soon after the [19th Party] Congress Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin died. The enemies of socialism counted on confusion breaking out in the ranks of the Party and in its leadership, and on vacillation appearing in the conduct of home and foreign policy. But their hopes were dashed. The Communist Party rallied still closer round its Central Committee, and raised the allconquering banner of Marxism-Leninism higher than ever. The Leninist Central Committee successfully led the Party and the entire people forward, along the road to Communism.37


The downgrading of Stalin began openly at the XXth Party Congress in 1956.

The months leading to this event in February, 1956 were full of subtle bargaining and maneuver [between those seeking the leading position of power in the Party], in which the major issue was Stalin. Ever since the old man's death his status had been ambiguous. His bemedalled corpse had been placed beside Lenin's in the public mausoleum, under the direction of mortician Khrushchev ("Chairman of the Commission for the Funeral of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin"), and remained enshrined in statue, picture, book, and toponymy. But his sanctity had been called into question in a number of implicit but fairly clear respects.38

An immediate and important reversal of Stalinism was the retreat from rule by terror. The revelation of the sorrowful state of the agricultural situation cast doubts on Stalin's ability as planner in this field. Stalin's charge of heresy was discredited with the renewal of friendly relations with Yugoslavia. More important for the purposes of philosophy was the so-called thaw in intellectual life.

From the opening session of the XXth Party Congress on February 14th until February 25th the only speaker to raise any specific criticism of Stalin was Mikoyan. On the last day Khrushchev delivered his famous attack on Stalin at a meeting closed even to foreign Communist observers.39 He attacked Stalin for his vanity, arbitrariness, brutality, and blundering. The H.C.P.S.U. speaks of the event as follows:

The question of overcoming the personality cult, alien to Marxism-Leninism, and of eliminating its consequences, occupied an important place in the proceedings of the Twentieth Congress. . . . It criticized, from the standpoint of principle, the mistakes brought about by the cult of Stalin, and planned measures to eradicate its consequences completely.

In criticizing the personality cult, the Party was guided by the well-known propositions of Marxism-Leninism on the role played in history by the masses, parties and individuals, and on the impermissibility of the cult of the personality of a political leader, no matter how great his services.

The Party was aware that open criticism of the errors stemming from the cult of the personality would be used by the enemies for anti-Soviet purposes. Nevertheless, it decided on that step, which is regarded as a matter of principle and prompted by the interests of Communist construction. It proceeded from the fact that, even if its criticism gave rise to some temporary difficulties, it would indisputably yield positive results from the point of view of interests of the people and of the ultimate goal of the working class. The personality cult had to be denounced above all in order to provide sure guarantees that phenomena of this kind would never again arise in the Party and the country, that Party leadership would be based on the collective principle and on a correct, Marxist-Leninist policy with the active, creative participation of millions of people. The criticism of this cult was of tremendous importance for the consolidation of the Party and the creative development of Marxism-Leninism, the extension of Socialist democracy, and also for the whole of the international Communist movement.40

During all this criticism Khrushchev was emphatic on the point that:

He had many defects but Stalin was a devoted Marxist-Leninist, a devoted and steadfast revolutionary. Stalin committed many mistakes in the later period of his activity but he also did much that was useful for our country, for our party, for all international workers' movements. Our party, the Soviet people, will remember Stalin and give him his due.

The de-Stalinization never meant to deny that Stalin rendered great services to the cause of Communism and was "an outstanding theoretician."42 Stalin was attacked more for his political methods than for his theoretical contributions to Soviet Marxism. Nevertheless, there have been significant changes since the so-called de-Stalinization in the presentation of Dialectical Materialism, as seen from the various current Soviet textbooks we shall presently examine.

The definition of Leninism presented by Stalin in the Foundations of Leninism (1924), with his apologia for the coming of the proletarian revolution to relatively backward Russia, continues to dominate ideology.43 The greatest change in Stalin's philosophical contribution has been in connection with his famous essay of 1938 on Dialectical and Historical Materialism. Within a year of his death reviewers of textbooks on Marxism, which books followed the method of exposition inaugurated by Stalin in his booklet, "now declared that it would have been more to the purpose if the exposition had begun, not by dealing with problems of method, but with a description of Marxist philosophical materialism."44 The reason given by one critic is that "it is not possible to throw light on the manner and method of investigating the material world without having previously explained what this material world itself consists in."45 Soviet philosophers had come to recognize the pedagogical advantages of presenting the dialectic, as the rhythm of development in reality, after it has been explained what reality is.

One critic, B. M. Kedrov, of the Moscow Academy of Social Sciences, went further in his criticism and declared that textbooks on Marxism would be better to dissociate themselves entirely from the exposition by Stalin. The four points listed by Stalin as the principal characteristics of the dialectical method are said to omit a whole series of important problems. (This will be the same reason for objecting to Stalin's exposition of philosophical materialism.) Foremost among the omitted problems of dialectics is the "law of the negation of negations," the characteristic Lenin especially emphasized in his great admiration of Hegel's methodology. Briefly, it explained the re-emergence of the old negated aspect in a form higher than the original. Although not examined, this category of the dialectic is recognized as a fundamental law in a recent Soviet text on the Categories of Dialectical Materialism.46 The book appeared after the XXth Party Congress and exhibits the ideological theses proposed by that meeting. It is significant that the lengthy bibliography contains no reference to Stalin's works. While Lenin is cited throughout the text, there is only one brief reference to Stalin, in connection with the cult of the personality.47

A text that does illustrate the return to the Leninist mode of presentation, of philosophical materialism first48 and then dialectical method, is F. V. Konstantinov, editor, The Fundamentals of Marxist Philosophy. Its "Prologue" tells us that the authors are against idealism and metaphysics (which means the same in Soviet Marxist thought) as well as revisionism, "which actually constitutes the principal danger in the bosom of the worker and communist movement and against dogmatism." They emphasize their agreement with the declaration made by the representatives of the Communist and Workers' Parties of the Socialist countries at their conference in Moscow, November 14-16, 1957, namely, that the basic theory of Marxism-Leninism is Dialectical Materialism and that its application is the task of the workers' parties. The book is divided into an introduction and two parts. The first part, dealing with Dialectical Materialism, introduces the subject by first speaking of matter, its forms of existence, and consciousness before presenting the fundamental laws of the dialectic. An entire chapter (IX) is devoted to the "law of the negation of negation." The only work by Stalin included in the bibliography is Questions of Leninism, to which reference is made in connection with an attempt to show the indissoluble unity of Marxism-Leninism.49

However, that Stalin has not lost all his recognition as a "classicist" in Soviet philosophy can be seen from the following.

After Lenin, the philosophy of Marxism was developed and carried forward by his disciples, among them including the eminent Marxist J. V. Stalin. Except for a series of statements and errors, in relation to the cult of the personality, into which Stalin slipped during the last period of his life, his works constitute a valuable contribution to Marxist thought.50

F. V. Konstantinov, presently Director of the Institute of Philosophy, Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., is also general editor of a textbook on Historical Materialism. There is no mention of Stalin in connection with the reference to the cult of the personality as idealistic, as seen in section four (dealing with the role of the leaders of the worker class) of the chapter.51 This can be explained by the fact that the Prologue of the text is dated March 1954. However, there also is no reference to Stalin in the chapter (VIII) dealing with "The Role of the Popular Masses and of the Individual in History." This may be taken as an indication of the ambiguous position Stalin had in the years preceding the XXth Party Congress and his official re-evaluation.

The only recent textbook on Marxism-Leninism to appear in English translation has been Fundamentals of Leninism-Marxism. It, too, is authored by "a group of scholars, Party officials and publicists." The "Authors' Note" reminds us that criticism is still very much a part of the philosophical science in the U.S.S.R. Note the following:

The authors are fully aware of the complexity of their task, which was to provide a scientifically competent and, at the same time, popular exposition of Marxism-Leninism, a science which is being constantly developed and enriched owing to changing historical conditions. It is only natural, therefore, that this attempt, the first in many years, to summarize in a single book the basic propositions of Marxism-Leninism cannot be free from shortcomings and defects. All readers' criticisms and advice for improving the book will be gratefully taken into account in preparing the second edition.52

Of the numerous footnotes only three refer to Stalin. One, from Problems of Leninism, deals with the fact that the rising bourgeoisie did not realize that their innovations in production means would lead eventually to a re-grouping of social forces.53 The second deals with Stalin's definition of "nation;"54 and the third is a reference to Stalin's realization (in 1931) that a high rate of industrial growth for the Soviet Union was a matter of life or death for the first socialist state in the world.

The text exhibits the non-Stalinist form of presentation of Marxism, philosophical materialism first (Chap. 1) and materialist dialectics secondly (Chap. 2). In the chapter dealing with the role of the masses and the individual in history there is a consideration of the contradiction between the cult of the individual and Marxism-Leninism and a mention, in the usual words, of Stalin as an example of the harm of such a cult.

A significant departure in form can be detected in the latest edition of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Historically speaking, the book has been rewritten to place Stalin in proper perspective in history and to avoid the exaggerations and lies connected with the cult of the personality. Philosophically speaking, there is absent a section that summarizes the theory of Soviet Marxism. Stalin's exposition in the 1938 edition has been removed but not replaced. The only references to ideology are of a historical nature, namely, sections of Lenin's development of Marxist philosophy and theory of the party, as well as his theory of socialist revolution.55

There has also been a notable lessening of the cultural isolationism between the Soviet Union and the West. Thus, the 1960 edition of the H.C.P.S.U. acknowledges (p. 630) that, while patriotism has led to a rise in the ideological level of the people,

. . . at the same time certain mistakes were made in propagating Soviet patriotism. The press frequently portrayed all life in the capitalist world as being a mass of corruption. The activity of the progressive forces was underrated and achievements in science and technology abroad were ignored. This hindered the speedy utilization of major discoveries made in science and technology abroad, limited creative contacts between Soviet and foreign scientists and engineers, and impeded the establishment of close ties with the democratic, progressive section of the people in the capitalist countries.

This lessening of isolationism in regard to philosophy has taken, among other means, the path of participation, in an ever-increasing degree, in the last three world congresses of philosophy. In an effort to extend its participation to the greatest possible number of attending delegates, the Soviet Union, unlike any other country, had translated into English and distributed gratis copies of the papers delivered by her delegation at the latest congress, the XHIth, held in Mexico City, September 7-14, 1963.56

This does not mean that peaceful co-existence has entered the area of philosophy. According to the late Premier Khrushchev, in the course of his castigation of those comrades who signed a "petition" calling for such coexistence, those who wish to propagate ideological coexistence are the enemies of the Soviet people, for they wish to replace the "cement" of communist ideology, which unites the Party into a monolithic whole, with the "salt" of a bourgeois ideology that would destroy all that the Soviets have built and hold dear.57

Despite the lessening of cultural isolationism, the Communist regime has continued Stalin's emphasis on nationalism, without acknowledging him as its source.58 Lenin's name increasingly is attached to this policy. For example, N. S. Khrushchev, in his report to the Extraordinary Twenty-First Congress of the Party (1959), tells us: "The Leninist national policy, which provides ample opportunities for the all-round economic and cultural progress of all peoples, finds vivid expression in our plans."59 This continued emphasis on Soviet patriotism does not, however, interfere with what the 1960 edition of the H.C.P.S.U. calls "proletarian internationalism." This name refers to the fraternal co-operation, mutual aid and sincere mutual support in the struggle for Communism to be found between the U.S.S.R. and the Peoples' Democracies of Europe and Asia.

Stalin's booklet on Marxism and Linguistics, greeted as a "new, world-historical contribution to the treasury of Marxism," was not considered much of a reference work by the time D. P. Gorski, among others, wrote Thought and Language. This series of essays is based on the thesis that thought and language constitute an indissoluble organic unity; that it is impossible to understand either the naturalness of thought as a generalized reflection and mediation of reality or the naturalness of language as a means of communication, of an exchange of thoughts between persons, if thought and language are considered isolated and separated from each other.60 Of the six essays only two mention Stalin. D. P. Gorski, in his "Language and Knowledge," quotes Stalin when discussing language as a means of exchanging thought. V. Z. Panfilov, in his "On the Correlation Existing between Language and Thought," refers to and discusses Stalin's position that: (1) phonetic language constitutes the only material basis for abstract and generalized thought; and (2) given the fact that deaf mutes are deprived of a phonetic language, their abstract and generalized thoughts are founded on images of perception and representation. Panfilov disagrees with Stalin's contention that sign language is not, properly speaking, a language.61

In the recent Soviet Manual of Political Economy, Stalin's Economic Problems of Socialism in the U. S. S. R. (1952) is referred to approximately twice, the second time in order to point out not only the important problems it raises but also its errors. We are told that:

. . . in his last work, Economic Problems of Socialism in the U. S. S. R., Stalin expounded some important problems of Marxist-Leninist theory: of the objective character of the economic laws of socialism, of the law of planned and proportional development, and others. It must be pointed out, nevertheless, that in this work and in certain others by Stalin are contained erroneous theses, such as, for example, that the mercantile traffic already represents, in actuality, a curb for the development of productive forces and that the time already has come for the necessity of a gradual passage to direct change of products between industry and agriculture; an insufficient appreciation of the force of the law of value in the sphere of production, in particular that touching on the means of production, etc.62

The singularly most valuable essay in English on some of the developments in Soviet philosophy since the XXth Party Congress is an article of that same title translated from the Russian original. It informs us that:

During the years that have elapsed since the 20th Party Congress, changes of great importance have occurred .. . in ideological developments. . . . All this has produced a creative environment in our country and has stimulated activity in the field of philosophy. It may be stated without exaggeration that the 20th Congress of the Party, by creatively solving pressing problems of the present epoch, marked the beginning of a new stage in the development of social sciences generally in our country.63

It is said that ". . . research in the field of philosophy has increased in variety and deepened in content, that its ties with life and with those great tasks which the Party is fulfilling in organizing extensive communist construction [Khrushchev had called the post XXth Party Congress period a time of "taking apart and cleaning up"] have been strengthened."64 The greatest evil of the Stalinist cult was that "works of commentary were elevated to first place." This meant that "only one person had the right to create anything new or original." That "one" person was, of course, Stalin.

Philosophic writings degenerated into "gray" works "in which elementary declarations and philosophical definitions are repeated ad nauseam in place of profound study and analysis of. . . [current] reality."65 This "citationism," as Okulov refers to it, resulted in separation of theory from practice, for "many workers in philosophy ceased to deal with pressing problems of the day in terms of historical philosophical subject matter," and dogmatism, for which the "dictation of theory" and "a subjective evaluation of certain writings among the classics of Marxism-Leninism" prevented an accurate understanding of these same classics.66

Okulov maintains that the Soviet philosophers, unshackled by the cult of the personality of Stalin, are remedying this situation. He reminds us that the finest philosophical works of the past speak of their own epoch; and this "contemporaneity," the very "soul of progressive philosophy and a major source of its development," is what Soviet philosophy must exhibit and is exhibiting once more. In his words: "Today, more than at any previous time, the problem is that of rendering philosophy a moral weapon in the struggle of the Soviet people for the construction of communism."67

In summary, it might be pointed out that the so-called de-Stalinization has affected Soviet philosophy mainly by freeing it from the dictatorship of any one individual and subordinating it to the dictatorship of the proletariat.68 The renewed emphasis on cooperative writing of philosophical texts (most textbooks had been so written even during the Stalin epoch) aims to eliminate, through criticism and self-criticism, a recurrence of the cult of the individual. Stalin still is recognized as having contributed to the development of Marxism-Leninism but is rarely quoted,69 and is not considered the "classic" he once was thought to be. Gone is any reference to Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism. His main theoretical work, On Dialectical and Historical Materialism, has been omitted from the latest edition of the singularly most important book in the Soviet Union, namely, the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; and his method of the presentation of theory has been abandoned in favor of a return to Lenin.70 In spite of all this, Stalin still remains the most "realistic" of all the contributors to the "treasury" of Marxism, and this by his ability to bring theory (by "developing" it) in line with practice (his own political activities).71


1 Gustav A. Wetter, Dialectical Materialism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958), p. 209. The "Stalinist period" coincides with the years during which Stalin held totalitarian powers, from approximately 1930 onward, rather than from the death of Lenin in 1924. The 'twenties' were years in which Stalin had to combat the ambitions of the other powerful Bolsheviks. He did not succeed in consolidating his power until at least December, 1929. Wetter's book is not without its limitations and shortcomings. For a critical review of the work, see John Somerville, "Approaches to the Critique of Soviet Philosophy," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 23 (1962), 269-73. For an example of Soviet criticism of Wetter, see F. T. Tarjiptsev, La Materia como Categoría Filosofíca (Mexico, D. F.: Grijalbo, 1962), pp. 18, 138, 151-53, 168-69, 178, 190, 204, 227-28, 235. Also, see A. F. Okulov, "Some Developments in Soviet Philosophy since the 20th Party Congress" Soviet Studies in Philosophy, 1 (1962), 5, where both Wetter and Bochenski (see n. 12, below), are referred to as "well-known falsifiers of Marxism."

2The Teaching of Karl Marx, as quoted in the "Introduction" by Andrew Rothstein of his English translation of Plekhanov's On the Development of the Monist View of History (London, 1947), p. 25. The other two important works of Plekhanov on historical materialism are The Materialist Conception of History and The Role of the Individual in History.

3 Ibid., p. 21. There is a five-volume Selected Philosophical Works of Plekhanov in Russian (Moscow, 1956) that is being translated into English. Each volume contains an introductory essay. At present only the first volume has been completed; it contains an informative essay by V. Fomina. Also in Russian is the study by V. Fomina, The Philosophic Ideas of G. Plekhanov (Moscow, 1955). Besides the English translations of Plekhanov mentioned above, see his Unaddressed Letters and Art and Social Life (Moscow, 1957) and The Bourgeois Revolution, a pamphlet issued by the American Socialist Labor Party (New York, 1955). His Fundamental Questions of Marxism exists in French translation (Paris, 1947). Studies on Plekhanov have been made by S. H. Baron. See his "Plekhanov and the Origins of Russian Marxism," The Russian Review, 14 (1955) 315-30; "Plekhanov's Russia: The Impact of the West Upon an Oriental Society,'" Journal of the History of Ideas, 19 (1958), 388-404. A truly major contribution is his Plekhanov, The Father of Russian Marxism (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1963), especially pp. 286-95 for the treatment of his philosophy.

4 Unsigned "Editor's Preface" in G. Plekhanov, Essays in Historical Materialism: "The Materialist Conception of History" and "The Role of the Individual in History" (New York: International Publishers, 1940), p. 9.

5 M. A. Dynnik y Otros, eds. Historia de la filosofía, Tomo V, "Desde finales del siglo XIX hasta la revolución socialista de octubre de 1917" (Mexico, D. F.: Grijablo, 1963), pp. 155-56. The Russian edition was published in 1957.

6 For a recent critique of contemporary positivism by a Soviet philosopher, see B. M. Kedrov, "Philosophy as a General Science," The Soviet Review, 4 (1963), 49-70. The article, of which this is an English translation, is an attack prompted by A. J. Ayer's article on "Philosophy and Science" that appeared in Voprosy filosofa, 1962, No. 1. Kedrov's own reply originally appeared in Voprosy filosofii, 1962, Nos. 5 and 6.

7 R. H. McNeal, The Bolshevik Tradition (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963), p. 78.

8 Dynnik, op. cit., V, pp. 319-20.

9 McNeal, op. cit., p. 79. See also n. 54.

10 Fourteen volumes of Stalin's official Works were planned. Only thirteen have appeared. It required eleven volumes to contain his works prior to 1934. After January 1934, when Stalin's political supremacy was assured, his public speeches and published writings dwindled greatly. According to McNeal, op. cit., p. 107, "the rarity of his addresses or writings made it easier to build up gigantic campaigns of acclaim for these 'classics.'" More will be said about Stalin's "genius" on matters of theory in the concluding portion of this paper.

11 Josef Stalin, Foundations of Leninism (New York: International Publishers, 1939), pp. 10-11.

12 One other contribution during these years (1926) by Stalin to Marxism should be mentioned. This is the weighty essay entitled "On Questions of Leninism," published as a discourse on theory after his victory against various oppositions in the ruling circles of Leningrad. Later the essay was printed as part of a larger anthology of didactic works, Problems of Leninism. "The book, from that time until Stalin's death, served as the basic reference work on Stalinism." McNeal, op. cit., 95. The Stalinism mentioned is a reference to matters more political than philosophic. This is probably the reason why J. M. Bochenski considers it a "misinterpretation" to cite Problems of Leninism as a philosophical work. According to him, the book does not deal with philosophy except in a few marginal comments. See Soviet Russian Dialectical Materialism (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1963), p. 34. The philosophic nature of the work is due to the inclusion of Foundations of Leninism, which is said to form the nucleus of the celebrated collection. See Wetter, op. cit., p. 210.

13 Wetter, op. cit., p. 175.

14 M. B. Mitin, Dialektichesky materialiszm (Dialectical Materialism) (Moscow, 1933), p. 347. English translation in Wetter, op. cit., p. 177. Earlier Stalin had been praised as a loyal disciple of Marxism-Leninism, especially after December 1929 when he successfully crushed the last serious attempt against Bolshevik unity and his power. On December 21 Stalin was honored with the following birthday message by Pravda: "To the true continuator of the cause of Marx and Lenin, to the staunch fighter for the purity of Marxism-Leninism, for the steel-like unity of ranks of the All-Union Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) and the Communist International, for international proletarian revolution; to the organizer and leader of socialist industrialization and collectivization of the Soviet land; to the old Pravada-ist; to Comrade Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin from Pravda—militant Bolshevik greetings." Cited by McNeal, op. cit., p. 102.

15 B. N. Ponomaryov et Al., History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1960), p. 629 (hereafter referred to as H.C.P.S.U., 1960).

16 The Russian title of this work has been translated also as History of the All-Union Communist Party. In the first ten years of its appearance at least thirty-six million copies were printed. The essay on "Dialectical and Historical Materialism" was reprinted in periodicals, as a brochure, and later as part of Stalin's anthology, Problems of Leninism, to increase its printing to many more millions. It was mainly upon this essay that Stalin's claim to theoretical omniscience was based.

17 J. Stalin, A Short Biography (London, 1943), p. 56.

18 From a low of 1.9 million in 1938, due to expulsion and terrorism, Party membership increased by 1946 to approximately 6 million, of whom half had joined during the war. HC.P.S.U. (1960), pp. 629-30, 632, tells us that since "a sizeable section of the Party membership had not had time to receive the necessary theoretical training," it was decided not to press for further growth but to organize education on a large scale. "Between 1946 and 1952 the bulk of Party and government workers went through refresher training" in an effort to destroy "the survivals of bourgeois views and ideas." "On the initiative of the Central Committee, discussions were held on philosophy (1947), biology (1948), physiology (1950), linguistics (1950), and political economy (1951). Serious shortcomings in the elaboration of Marxist-Leninist philosophy were revealed and criticized during the discussion of philosophical problems. These shortcomings were disregard of Party principles, attempts to gloss over the contradictions between Marxism-Leninism and philosophical trends alien to it, isolation from urgent problems of the day, and manifestations of scholasticism.

The discussion mapped out ways of reorganizing the front of philosophical science."

19 A "free discussion" is an open debate on those matters or points upon which the Party has not pronounced definitively.

20 N. Y. Marr, Izbrannye raboty (Selected Works), III, p. 118; English translation in Wetter, op. cit., p. 196.

21 On June 20, 1950 he sent a letter to Pravda, followed by four others published on July 4 and August 2. That same month the letters appeared for the first time in booklet form, under the title of Marxism and Linguistics.

22 Of the discussions initiated by the Central Committee, that on political economy began in 1951. According to H.C.P.S.U. (1960), pp. 632-33: "The economic discussion dealt with the features distinguishing the economic development of modern capitalism, the basic laws governing the socialist reorganization of society, and the ways of effecting the gradual transition from Socialism to Communism. Subjective and voluntarist views were condemned. The advocates of these views denied the objective character of economic laws; they could be made, transformed or abolished at will. This point of view led to an arbitrary approach to economic management and to adventurism in politics. The discussion revealed the serious consequences of the prolonged isolation of the economic sciences from the actual development of socialist society."

23 The XIXth Party Congress was held in October 1952. It was the first such meeting in thirteen years. By then the membership of the Party was 6,013,259, with 868,886 candidate members. For a résumé of what occurred see H.C.P.S.U. (1960), pp. 633-36. It will be seen that it was at this congress that the name "Bolshevik" was dropped from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

24 Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, p. 29. While Lenin lived Stalin played a most limited role in the high-level discussions of theory within the Party. "But after the demise of the chief dogmatist, Stalin began to promote himself as the prime interpreter of Leninist theory. His effectiveness was all the greater among the masses of new and less sophisticated party members because he presented himself as a simple apostle of Lenin, too modest to be an original theoretician in his own right, as were Trotsky, Zinoviev and Bukharin, among others. In this spirit Stalin delivered a series of lectures at the Sverdlov University in Moscow. . . . In this didactic work he presented what came to be the official Bolshevik apologia for the coming of a 'proletarian' revolution in a country which had not achieved the high level of capitalism that Marx had predicted as the basis for the dialectical upheaval. Stressing Lenin's theory that the most advanced stage of capitalism was the worldwide development of imperialism, Stalin argued that Russia, although not very advanced economically, was the country in which all of the 'contradictions' of world capitalism were most highly concentrated. This justified the Bolshevik revolution and moved toward the dogma of 'socialism in one country.' set forth in December, 1924 It might be quite a while, he argued, before revolution would come in the West, owing to Lenin's 'law of uneven development of capitalism,' which Stalin interpreted to mean that revolution comes in successive waves rather than all at once." McNeal, op. cit., pp. 91-92.

25 Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism, p. 126. With this definition Stalin places Bolshevik revolutionary practice firmly upon a theoretical foundation. Marxism-Leninism cannot deemphasize theory in favor of practice only. Contemporary Soviet Marxists continue to stress the union of theory and practice. Note the following, from a paper given at the recent XIIIth World Congress of Philosophy: ". . . Although at times people may achieve practical successes before they are aware of the inner workings of the phenomena and things they are using, in the long run knowledge and ability to act tend to merge. The boundless possibilities of action and cognition merge in the infinite progress of mankind." Y. K. Melvil, "Man in the Space Age" (Moscow, 1963), p. 14.

26 Wetter, op. cit., p. 212 and n. 2. It is with this essay that Stalin laid aside his role of mere continuator and loyal disciple of Marx and Lenin and took up the task of elaborating the science of Marxism-Leninism. His contribution entitled him to be listed among the "classics" of Dialectical Materialism. Henceforth began the practice of referring to Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism. "The veneration of Stalin especially emphasized the versatility of the leader's genius. Stalin's program for Soviet Russia was comprehensive in scope, omitting no department of life and culture, and it is natural that an all-embracing program should be directed by an all-round genius." McNeal, op. cit., p. 107.

27 Wetter, op. cit., p. 215.

28 Note the following: "In the conditions of transition from Socialism to Communism, when the importance of the subjective factor, the conscious guidance of society, increases, the Party, equipped with the theory of Marxism-Leninism, is called upon to direct the creation of new economic and political relations on the basis of the principles of Communism." H.C.P.S.U. (1960), p. 684.

29 Reviewing the results of the Party's activity at the head of the Soviet People for forty years, the 1960 edition of the H.C.P.S.U. reminds us, with no reference to Stalin, that: "the Party ensured the all-round development of culture that is national in form and Socialist in content. The culture of each people influences that of other peoples, and shares in the common process of creating a Soviet socialist culture (p. 691)."

30 This innovation seems to have eluded most students of Soviet Marxism. In my opinion it provides an opportunity to examine critically the possibility that many more social phenomena, hitherto considered a reflection of class struggle, may be the result of the development of society as a whole. The revolution within Marxism that such a reevaluation could bring about cannot be overstated.

31 These are the words of Professor Margaret Schlauch, one-time professor of New York University and then (1951) of the University of Warsaw. Her article on Stalin's contribution to linguistics is reprinted as Appendix III of Joseph Stalin, Marxism and Linguistics (New York: International Publishers, 1951), pp. 57-58. She reminds us that the implication ". . . that Stalin's statement came as a fiat unexpectedly imposed on linguistics from without; that they [the linguists] had no voice in the matter at all, and no choice but to accept an unwelcome decree issued from above by a non-specialist; in fact, by an unqualified interloper"—this implication is all quite the opposite of the truth. According to her: "Stalin is actually a student and specialist in those fields of sociology which border immediately on linguistics (nationalities, minorities, and so on). . . . Moreover, he did not suddenly descend upon the body of Soviet linguists with an unsolicited decree concerning their special subjects. A lively debate on the matter had been going on for some weeks, chiefly in the columns of Pravda. Stalin entered it upon invitation, in response to questions posed to him directly by several young students."

Concerning Stalin's qualifications, these are his own words, in the opening paragraph (p. 9) of the booklet under discussion: "A group of comrades of the younger generation have asked me to give my opinion in the press on questions relating to the science of language, particularly in reference to Marxism in linguistics. I am not a linguist and cannot of course satisfy these comrades fully. But as to Marxism in linguistics, as well as in other social sciences, this is a subject with which I have a direct connection."

32 For a critique of American pragmatism and relativism, see the following: Harry K. Wells, Pragmatism, Philosophy of Imperialism (New York: International Publishers, 1954); and Maurice Cornforth, Science versus Idealism (London: Lawrence & Wishart, Ltd., 1955), Chap. 18.

33 Stalin, Marxism and Linguistics, p. 47.

34 McNeal, op. cit., p. 97.

35 Joseph Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. (New York: International Publishers, 1952), p. 63. Soviet philosophers took the hint from this warning to the economists and resolved to pay greater attention themselves to the objective laws of social development, and especially to avoid subjective conceptions of these laws—all of which set off another series of criticisms and self-criticism in philosophic circles.

36 Various solutions have been proposed, examples of which range from the affirmation that the contradictions existing in a socialist society are not of the type ("antagonistic" economic exploitation) that find their resolution in revolution to the assertion that socialism as a society does not exist and hence is not a violation of the law of dialectics. This latter view stems from an interpretation of history as the development of socialism. Once socialism is reached, history as revolutionary transitions has ended. Still others would have it that the socialist society is the beginning of history and that all "presocieties" leading to it are part of "pre-history." The presence of economic contradictions is characteristic of prehistory only.

See: V. Pirozhkova, "Problems of Historical Materialism," Bulletin, Institute for the Study of the U. S. S. R. (1958), pp. 31-37; I. V. Malyshev, "The Motivating Forces of the Development of Socialist Society," Voprosy filosofii, (1953) No. 5; V. I. Gazenko and M. N. Rutkevich, "A Profound Study of the Problems of Dialectical Materialism," Ibid. (1954), No. 2; T. A. Stepanyan, "Contradictions in the Development of a Socialist Society and Ways of Overcoming Them," Ibid. (1955), No. 2; D. F. Krivoruchko, "On the Basic and Chief Contradictions of a Communist Structure," Ibid. (1957), No. 4; and O. G. Yurovitsky, "The Basic Economic Law and the Basic Economic Contradiction of Socialism," Ibid. (1957), No. 6.

37H.C.P.S.U. (1960), p. 636.

38 McNeal, op. cit., p. 150.

39 This was the same man who had exclaimed in 1939: "Hail the greatest genius of mankind, teacher and leader, who leads us victoriously to Communism, our own Stalin!" N. Krushchev, 18th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party (Russian edition, Moscow, 1939), p. 174. Translation in Soviet World Outlook (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1959), p. 43.

40H.C.P.S.U. (1960), pp. 669-70. Herein the reasons for the rise of Stalin's personality cult are given in such a manner that it is made to appear to have been historically inevitable.

41 N. Khrushchev, "For a Close Tie of Literature and Art with the Life of the People," Kommunist (1958), No. 12, p. 17. Translation in Soviet World Outlook, p. 44. Also, see N. Khrushchev, "Speech at Reception in Chinese Peoples' Republic Embassy," Pravda, January 19, 1957; English translation in Soviet World Outlook, p. 47. Finally, see H.C.P.S.U. (1960), p. 671, for a quote from Khrushchev that appeared in Pravda, August 28, 1957. What stands out in all this is Krushchev's "prayer" that "God grant that every Communist will be able to fight as Stalin fought."

42H.C.P.S.U. (1960), p. 670.

43 In The Fundamentals of Marxist Philosophy the only reference made to Stalin's works is to his Questions of Leninism, in connection with an attempt to show the indissoluble unity of Marxism-Leninism. "As J. V. Stalin has shown, Leninism is the direct continuation of Marxism in the new historical conditions, in the epoch of imperialism and the proletarian revolution." F. V. Konstantinov, ed., Los Fundamentos de la Filosofía Marxista (Mexico: D. F.:Grijalbo, 1960), p. 107.

44 Wetter, op. cit., p. 237. See Bochenski, op. cit., pp. 60-61.

45Voprosy filosofa (1954), No. 5, p. 199; English translation in Wetter op. cit., p. 237.

46 See "Prologo," M. M. Rosental y G. M. Straks, ed., Categorías del Materialismo Dialectico (Mexico, D. F.: Grijalbo, 1960). This work is the Spanish translation of a 1957 Russian edition. The text was written by members of the Chair of Philosophy of the State Pedagogical Institute, "K. D. Ushinski" of Yaroslavsk, U. S. S. R., in collaboration with other investigators from other scientific institutions. The basis of the text was an elaboration of an article entitled "Categories of Dialectical Materialism" published in 1954 in Scientific Sketches by the aforementioned Institute. We are told that the book does not pretend to be a complete exposition of all the categories of the Marxist dialectic. In particular, there is not included a study of the categories that express the fundamental laws of the dialectic (quality, quantity, contradiction, negation, etc.), for these had been the object of a more lengthy examination. Chapter headings are: the categories of dialectical materialism; phenomenon and essence; cause and effect; necessity and causality; laws; content and form; possibility and reality; the singular, the particular and the universal; the abstract and the concrete; and the historical and the logical.

A more recent book, M. M. Rosental, Principios de Lógica Dialéctica (Montevideo: Pueblos Unidos, 1962), devotes the last section of Chap. III (p. 171) to the law of the negation of negation. In his "Prólogo" the author tells us that this book is, "in a certain sense," the continuation of an earlier work by himself, namely, Los Problemas de la Dialéctica en "El Capital" de Marx (Montevideo: Pueblos Unidos, 1961). An entire chapter (7) is devoted to this law in A. D. Makarov, A. V. Vostrikov, y E. N. Chesnokov, eds., Manual de Materialismo Dialéctico (Montevideo: Pueblos Unidos, n. d.). Finally, for a recent treatment of the dialectic of the development (evolution) of inorganic matter, see: S. Meliujin, Dialéctica del Desarrollo en la Naturaleza Inorganica (Mexico, D. F.: Grijalbo, 1963). The references are to Engels and Lenin, with no mention of Stalin.

47 Rosental and Straks, op. cit., pp. 151-52, in which Stalin's cult of the personality and the errors resulting therefrom are said to have been inevitable once Stalin stopped taking into account the role of the popular masses in history ". . . Isolating himself from the masses, believing in his own infallibility, he began to fall into arbitrariness and committed a series of grave faults. . . . "

48 For a recent treatment of philosophical materialism, see F. T. Arjiptsev, La Materia como Categoría Filosófica (Mexico, D. F.: Grijalbo, 1962). Stalin is not listed in the lengthy bibliography nor is he quoted. Lenin's Materialism and Empirlo-Criticism is referred to constantly.

49 F. V. Konstantinov, ed., Los Fundamentos de la Filosofía Marxista (Mexico, D. F.: Grijalbo, 1960), p. 107. This text was published first in Russian in July 1959 and is authored by a board of thirteen. Its "Prologue" tells us that "the manuscript of the book was read by many scientific workers and professors of Marxist philosophy, and discussed in a full session of the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the U. S. S. R. with participation by the most active philosophic sector, by the professors of the establishments of higher learning. It also was submitted to a discussion in the chairs of philosophy of the higher schools of Moscow and Leningrad." Ibid., p. 11. This shows the care taken to avoid doctrinal error and the Soviet principle of criticism and self-criticism in cooperative endeavors.

See Okulov, op. cit., pp. 5a and 8a. Herein we are told that: "Textbooks on dialectical materialism have been published in a number of the constituent republics. In these texts, the authors have overcome many of the short-comings of previous years when works differed from each other only in the number of examples or quotations cited. In the past, these books were largely monotonous both in theoretical content and in style of presentation. The new textbooks are much more varied, lively, and stocked with factual materials." We are told what care went into the authoring of Fundamentals of Marxist Philosophy. Note the following: "A very important step in the stimulation of work in philosophy has been the holding of competitions for the writing of textbooks on philosophy. These contests have received active support from our scholars. It is well known, for example, that about 100 groups of authors entered into the competition to take part in the writing of the popular book entitled Fundamentals of Marxist Philosophy. More than 100 applications were submitted for participation in the contest for the preparation of a popular book devoted to the fundamentals of communist morality. It may be assumed that in the years immediately ahead competitions will become one of the most important means of bringing out interesting and creative works in philosophy."

50 Konstantinov, ed., op. cit., p. 110. The only reference to Stalin is to be found on pages 593-94 in connection with the cult of the personality. The attack is substantially the same as that found in all books in the post-Stalin (post-XXth Party Congress) period.

51 F. V. Konstantinov, El Materialismo Histórico (Mexico, D. F.: Grijalbo, 1960), p. 296. This work is the Spanish translation of the second Russian edition dated in the "Prologue" March 1954 but published in October 1956. The first edition appeared in 1951. For a Soviet critique of bourgeois (idealistic?) philosophy of history, see the extremely interesting I. S. Kon, El Idealismo Filosófico y la Crisis en el Pensamiento Histórico (Buenos Aires: Platina, 1962).

52 O. V. Kuusinen, ed., Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1961), p. 14. This manual is indeed a summarization of the entire position of Marxism-Leninism. It is divided into five parts: I. The Philosophical Foundations of the Marxist-Leninist World Outlook; II. The Materialist Conception of History; III. Political Economy of Capitalism; IV. Theory and Tactics of the International Communist Movement; and V. Socialism and Communism. The Spanish edition appeared the previous year as Manual de Marxismo-Leninismo (Mexico: D. F.: Grijalbo, 1960).

53 This is reminiscent of the portion of Stalin's Dialectical and Historical Materialism dealing with the third feature of production and the fact that the new productive forces and relations arising from old ones do not do so as a result of the deliberate and conscious activity of man, but spontaneously, unconsciously, independently of the will of man. That is, "when improving one instrument of production or another, one element of the productive forces or another, men do not realize, do not understand or stop to reflect what social results these improvements will lead to, but only think of their everyday interests, of lightening their labour and of securing some direct and tangible advantage for themselves." Stalin, Dialectical and Historical Materialism, p. 41.

54 Stalin's definition of "nation," given as early as 1913 in "Marxism and the National Question," is still considered a classic. It is interesting to note that when referring to this work, contemporary Soviet historians of philosophy emphasize the fact that it was written "with the advice of Lenin." This, by implication, accounts for its orthodoxy and accuracy. See: Dynnik, op. cit., V, 185-86.

55 B. N. Ponomaryov, et Al., History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1960). For Lenin's development of Marxist philosophy and his theory of the Party, see Chap. 4, sect. 3, p. 147. For his theory of socialist revolution, see Chap. 6, sect. 3, p. 199.

56 For an observation of Soviet participation at this Congress, see Carl Cohen, "The Poverty of a Dialogue," Problems of Communism 13 (1964), 11-20. Also, see George L. Kline, "Soviet Philosophers at the Thirteenth International Philosophy Congress," Journal of Philosophy, 40 (1963), 738-43. Professor John Somerville took exception to some of Professor Kline's observations and sought to make these known through the same Journal of Philosophy. His "Comment" was declined publication. Consequently, he sent it in mimeographed form to various of his fellow philosophers. For a published account of this Congress, with its meeting between American philosophers and the Soviet "delegation," see Professor Somerville's "The American-Soviet Philosophic Conference in Mexico," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 25 (1964), 122-30. For the Soviet account of this much publicized American-Soviet meeting, see M. B. Mitin and M. E. Omel'ianovskii, "Soviet-American Philosophic Discussions," Soviet Studies in Philosophy 3 (1964), 1-4 in its reprint form. However, the article, translated from the original Russian that appeared in Voprosifilosofii (1964), No. 5, deals mainly with Soviet participation in the meetings of the Society for the Philosophical Study of Dialectical Materialism. This is an American society, founded largely through the efforts of Professor Somerville at the Detroit meeting of the American Philosophical Association (Mid-Western Division) in the Spring of 1962. At the symposia organized by the Society, held in connection with the meetings of the American Philosophical Association, philosopher-guests are invited from the U.S.S.R. for a most interesting and frank exchange of ideas with their American colleagues.

57 See N. Khrushchev, El Marxismo-Leninismo Es Nuestra Bandera, Nuestra Arma Combativa (Marxism-Leninism Is Our Banner, Our Fighting Arm) (Mexico, D. F.: Embassy of the U. S. S. R., n.d.), especially pp. 11-12, 14-15. This is a speech delivered on January 21, 1963 by the then Premier before the Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U.

H.C.P.S.U. (1960), p. 630.

59 N. Khrushchev, Control Figures for the Development of the U.S.S.R. for 1959-1965. English edition, pp. 49-50, cited in H.C.P.S.U. (1960), p. 724. Note the following: "Distortions of the Leninist policy on nationalities, committed during the Great Patriotic War [certainly referring to Stalin's policies], were eradicated. The national autonomy of the Balkars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingushes and Karachais was re-established and they were thus enabled to develop unhampered in the fraternal family of peoples of the U. S. S. R. The friendship of the Soviet peoples benefited thereby." H.C.P.S.U. (1960), p. 657; italics added. No mention is made of Stalin in connection with what is the State in the recent Soviet text on the topic, namely, N. C. Alexandrov y Otros, Tería del Estado y del Derecho (Mexico, D. F.: Grijalbo, 1962).

60 D. P. Gorski y Otros, Pensamiento y Lenguaje (Mexico, D. F.: Grijalbo, 1962), p. 7. This is the second edition in Spanish, the first having appeared in 1958, Ediciones Pueblos Unidos, Montevideo (Uruguay). The work consists of six essays: A. G. Spirking, 'The Origin of Language and Its Role in the Formation of Thought"; D. P. Gorski, "Language and Knowledge"; V. Z. Panfilov, "On the Correlation Existing between Language and Thought"; A. S. Ajmanov, "Logical Forms and Their Expression in Language;" V. M. Boguslavski, "The Word and the Concept"; P. V. Kopnin, "The Naturalness of the Judgment and Its Forms of Expression in Language"; and E. M. Galkina-Fedoruk, "Form and Content in Language." Not only do the authors invite criticism from their readers but they include the address at the Institute of Philosophy to which it may be sent.

61 For the reference by Gorski, see ibid., p. 70; and for that by Panfilov, see ibid., pp. 138-39.

62 K. V. Ostrovitianer y Otros, Manual de Economía Política (Mexico, D. F.: Grijalbo, 1960), p. 706. Translated from the corrected and enlarged third Russian edition, according to the "Prologo," it incorporates the decisions of the XXth and XXIst Congresses of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as well as of the Central Committee meetings. There are approximately eight references to Stalin in this gigantic manual. The only one of significance is an earlier reference made to the contributions and erroneous theses of Stalin, as part of the chapter on "The Economic Doctrines of the Epoch of Capitalism." Herein, pp. 328-29, Stalin is credited with "clarifying" certain issues, as well as with expounding certain errors.

63 Okulov, op. cit., p. 3b. This work appeared originally in Woprosy filosofa (1962), No. 1.

64Ibid., p. 4a. For an interesting article on how philosophy is taught in the Soviet Union, see S. Kaltakhchyan and Y. Petrov, "The Teaching of the Philosophical Sciences," University of Toronto Quarterly 28 (1958), 37-46. For a syllabus of the courses on Dialectical and Historical Materialism that are taught in the Soviet Union, see Administration of Teaching in Social Sciences in the U. S. S. R., "Syllabi for Three Required Courses: Dialectical and Historical Materialism, Political Economy, and History of the C. P. S. U," (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1960). It will be of interest to non-Soviets that up to 140 hours in the study of philosophy is required in Institutions of Higher Learning. See pp. 7-35.

65 Even in 1962 there were said to be not a few of these "stereo-type" books "which contain nothing but description and in which the essence of phenomena and their causes and fundamental principles and tendencies of development are not revealed." Okulov, op. cit., p, 13a.

66ibid., p. 14a.

67Ibid., p. 13a.

68 Both the XXth and XXIst Party Congresses have emphasized that the role of ideology is to further the cause of socialism and that the task of the Party is to guard the purity of Marxist-Leninist theory by combating the survival of bourgeois ideology. Ideological work still is criticized, as in the days of Stalin, primarily for its lack of connection with the practical tasks of Communism, as well as for dogmatism (not changing according to new historical situations) and for "quotation-mongering" (lacking creativity or being too scholastic). For reference to the XXth Congress and ideology, see H.C.P.S.U. (1960), pp. 672-75, 700, 706-07; for such references in connection with the XXIst Congress, consult pp. 719, 731-32, 741-44.

69 See Bochenski, op. cit., p. 53.

70 See C. Olgin, "Lenin's Philosophical Legacy: The Reconstruction of Dialectical Materialism," Bulletin, Institute for the Study of the U. S. S. R. (1959), pp. 3-15; also, Okulov, op. cit., p. 10a.

71 As a final word, I wish to refer to the existence of Volume VI of the History of Philosophy, edited by M. A. Dynnik and others, which treats of philosophy after the October Revolution of 1917. Thus, it treats of the four main works by Stalin that I considered in my essay. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate a copy before this essay had to go to press, either in Spanish translation from Editorial Grijalbo of Mexico City (who implied that they had not even begun their translation) or in the original Russian from Moscow (my booksellers having been unable to locate it and my inquiries directed to the Institute of Philosophy, Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., having brought no reply). Frankly, I have no way of knowing if it has been published. Professor Okulov, op. cit., p. 10b, tells us that "the sixth volume, which went to the printers early in 1962, is devoted chiefly to the history of the development of Marxist-Leninist thought in the present epoch." Even if it returned from the printers, it may have been in a "trial" form to be circulated for criticism until the corrected final copy was approved. If this was the case, the "trial" copy may still be circulating. (This would not be surprising because the volume is the most pertinent in the series, dealing as it does with issues still not quite settled.) If it has appeared (or when it will appear), it is the singularly most valuable volume in determining current Soviet appraisal of the philosophic contribution of Stalin to Marxism. Compared with this volume, the current Soviet textbooks I have examined can only be regarded as "secondary" means to determine this appraisal. Likewise, I have no way of knowing if the planned multi-volume history of philosophy in the Soviet Union has been written. (The six-volume work deals with the history of philosophy throughout the whole world.) Professor Okulov also tells us (p. 10a) that: "In the years immediately ahead, a multi-volume history of the philosophy of our own country will be written." When this work appears (or, if it has appeared), it will be even more valuable than the Dynnik-edited series.

Thomas B. Larson (essay date 1968)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3978

SOURCE: "Dismantling the Cults of Stalin and Khrushchev," in The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. XXI, No. 3, September, 1968, pp. 383-90.

[In the following essay, Larson examines the differences in retrospective opinion of the leadership of Stalin and his successor, Nikita Khrushchev.]

Whatever else Communist power brought to Russia, it did not guarantee rule by "good" leaders. The toppling from their pedestals of Stalin and then Khrushchev forced the introduction of a very sobering note into the treatment of the past history of the Soviet regime. The present top leaders can point to no honorable predecessors in the chief party and government posts for the entire period between Lenin's death in 1924 and the ouster of Khrushchev forty years later. The list of fallen chiefs included every single chairman of the Council of Ministers (formerly Peoples Commissars) of the period.

These government chiefs were not much celebrated during their tenure of office, however, so the only serious problems of iconoclasm related to Stalin and Khrushchev, the principal party secretaries during the four decades. It is now admitted even by party ideologists that Stalin amassed and retained almost absolute power despite a long catalogue of costly mistakes and serious abuses. Despite this experience, the system allowed his successor Khrushchev to impose his impulsive ideas and "hare-brained" schemes on Soviet society without even having to resort to the terror that stilled opposition to Stalin.

In their effort to lighten the great shadow cast on the "heroic" past of the Soviet regime, the spokesmen have focused attention on the peerless father of the Soviet order, Lenin, while doggedly insisting that Soviet institutions remained basically sound even in the period when errant successors ruled. Nevertheless, it has not been easy to combine a repudiation of past leaders with glorification of the Soviet past, and the tension between these seemingly irreconcilable tendencies has continued to trouble Soviet ideological policy.

These past leaders left; of course, rather different legacies. Stalin could take years to nourish his "cult of personality." Although it took major form by 1929, in the succeeding decades it went to lengths far beyond anything achieved (or perhaps contemplated) under Khrushchev, who attained a lofty eminence at a much later age and could not have expected to occupy the top post for a period comparable to Stalin's. Stalin died in honor and only later lost his good standing, in a gradual shift punctuated by outbursts of accusations at the 1956 and 1961 Party Congresses. Khrushchev was removed from office in silent disgrace as he was consigned to virtual oblivion. Stalin was always credited with some virtues and some good deeds, but recognition of these from 1961 became infrequent. In October 1964, there was an abrupt and complete halt to acknowledgement of Khrushchev's virtues and an almost complete ban on mention of his name, whether in a negative or positive context.

These differences in handling the two ex-leaders were due not only to the fact that one was safely buried and the other still living. Stalin's faults were on a grand scale, as were the virtues formerly attributed to him. Tragedy did not become farce with Khrushchev, but certainly the faults laid on Khrushchev were pedestrian compared to those of Stalin. To successor-leaders concerned about morale the major difference between the Stalin problem and the Khrushchev problem lay in the impact of Stalin as the source of practices and policies deeply imbedded in Soviet life, of formulas woven into the orthodox ideology, and of habits of veneration going far beyond anything fostered under Khrushchev. Dislodging Stalin from the gallery of great heroes, pinning errors and crimes on him, and reducing his good deeds to humdrum proportions proved difficult. Furthermore, the toppling of Stalin had traumatic effects on Soviet Communists and citizens, not to speak of foreign comrades, which had no parallels after Khrushchev's downfall, despite its suddenness and lack of precedent.

Differences in these leaders' cults of personality must be noted, because they dictated differences in the tactics of deflation. Stalin and Khrushchev were alike in being presented as overarching leaders who left all their colleagues in the background. Though attention was occasionally directed (more under Khrushchev than under Stalin) to the principle of collectivity of leadership at the top echelon, i.e., the principle that the Soviet party and government were headed by groups and not by individuals, the role of the individual top leader came to dominate the symbolism of the regime. Each of these spotlighted leaders was not only accorded a matchless current role but was also endowed, through a rewriting of history, with a past full of good deeds and free of errors. Khrushchev's past was, of course, on a modest scale compared to that attributed to Stalin.

One striking difference between the Stalin and Khrushchev "cults" was that Stalin—particularly in his later years—was identified with the "permanent" institutions of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev only with current policies of the Soviet regime. The latter-day Stalin image was that of a remote and somewhat mystical being, present everywhere as an immanent but ordinarily invisible force. Khrushchev's image was that of an active, earthily human leader who traveled widely inside the country and to other countries, who voiced ideas and policies on a wide range of questions, who served as the spokesman of the regime.

To take an example, a comparison of Pravda's treatment of Stalin in a fairly typical month of his last year (September 1952) with the same paper's treatment of Khrushchev twelve years later (September 1964) illustrates some of the differences of cult practice. Only one photograph of Stalin appeared in Pravda during the month, but more than two-thirds of the issues in September 1964 contained at least one photograph of Khrushchev. In September 1952, Pravda published very little material specifically tied to Stalin: two messages to leaders of ruling Communist parties (Mao Tse-tung and Chervenkov), a brief account of a visit to Stalin in the Kremlin on the part of Mongolian leader Tsedenbal, and an account of the signing in the presence of Stalin of a Soviet-Chinese agreement. The only other item directly connected with Stalin was an article on the twenty-fifth anniversary of a 1927 Stalin interview with an "American workers' delegation." All of these materials concerned Soviet relations with foreign Communists.

In contrast, Khrushchev material abounded in Pravda of September 1964. There were numerous lengthy messages to such foreign political leaders as President de Gaulle and the Communist chiefs of North Vietnam, North Korea, and Bulgaria. Khrushchev's signature was on messages of some length to four international meetings. Full texts were printed of seven Khrushchev addresses to various audiences in the U.S.S.R. and of one interview with a Japanese delegation. The range of interests, audiences, and countries represented was thus far wider than in the comparable month involving Stalin.

While this comparison illustrates Khrushchev's far greater involvement in current affairs, it would be misleading if taken alone. Even in Pravda the name Stalin appeared repeatedly, usually in adjectival form, to associate the leader with the country, the U.S.S.R. Constitution, the ideology, and, above all, the Communist party. This linkage was almost obligatory in Soviet communications of the period, and was designed to place Stalin among the permanent features of the political and physical landscape. It was obviously a conscious decision of propaganda strategy not to associate Stalin closely with domestic and foreign policy moves of transient significance.

In the postwar years Stalin tended to expound in public basic principles rather than current policy, or to focus on long-range rather than day-by-day affairs. Examples of major Stalin statements include his well-known speech of February 9, 1946, as a candidate for election to the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet, his contributions to the linguistics discussion of 1950, and the papers on economic problems made public shortly before the XIX Party Congress in the fall of 1952. At the Congress itself Stalin spoke only briefly and couched his statements on a very broad plane. In contrast to this style, Khrushchev as party chief was much more oriented to programs or campaigns, and published no works devoted to general theoretical problems.

The difference of style is also illustrated in the handling of foreign policy questions. Sometimes Stalin did express himself on issues in this field, usually in interviews, but he was somewhat detached from the specific policy pronouncements which occupied such a large place in Khrushchev's output. The difference can be seen in the Soviet handling of the Berlin crises of the Stalin and Khrushchev periods. Stalin personally never identified himself publicly with the effort to force, through a land blockade on communications between Berlin and West Germany, a change in Western policy toward Germany. In the second Berlin crisis Khrushchev tied his prestige to the Soviet effort to bring about a change in the status of West Berlin. When the U.S.S.R. acceded to pressure in 1946 to remove its troops from Iran, nothing in the affair touched any public stance taken by Stalin. When the U.S.S.R. was forced to remove its IRBM's from Cuba in 1962, the affair clearly redounded to the discredit of Khrushchev, who publicly involved himself in the negotiations. Stalin took no prominent role either in the successful effort to dissuade the Bulgarian leader Dmitrov and other Eastern Europeans from plans for an Eastern European federation, or in the unsuccessful effort to overthrow Tito by expelling the Yugoslavs from the Communist camp. In contrast, Khrushchev engaged himself deeply at one time against the Yugoslavs and later against the Albanians and Chinese.

Both Stalin and Khrushchev saw to it that their pronouncements were widely disseminated in propaganda media, but only Stalin's writings dominated the formal indoctrination system. There was much writing about Stalin, including a highly flattering biography, while writings about Khrushchev were relatively unimportant, as compared especially to utterances of Khrushchev. If it seems surprising that Khrushchev looked out from the pages of the newspaper so often, it must be remembered that Stalin did not need to have his photograph in the newspapers every day, because representations of him were everywhere in the Soviet Union. Stalin loomed up outdoors and indoors, in statues, paintings and photographs, in ceramics, in flower-beds, in carpets. Beginning with Stalingrad in 1925, hundreds of places from villages to cities bore Stalin's name as did the highest mountain of the U.S.S.R., an important canal, and literally thousands of institutions. There was little comparable to this in regard to Khrushchev. He dominated the Soviet scene by seizing opportunities to make news and to appear as the spokesman of the Communist party and—from 1958—the Soviet government.

A comparison of the treatment given to each leader's seventieth birthday is illustrative. The celebration of Stalin's in December 1949 began a month earlier, rose to a tremendous peak on December 21, the anniversary, and only slowly tapered off. To take Pravda again for illustration, the "birthday party" lasted a full month in significant volume, and well over a year later the press was still publishing lists of those sending birthday greetings. Although Khrushchev's seventieth birthday celebration in April 1964 was elaborate enough to indicate how far the Soviet Union had gone toward establishing a new cult around a new leader, it was a much briefer affair than Stalin's. Pravda gave it coverage for only four or five days before cutting it off completely, and never gave it exclusive attention.

These differences in cult-styles were due in part to the rather different personalities of the two leaders, one preferring night-work, the other a day shift; one disposed to shield himself from the public, the other to find or create crowds and action; one leader perhaps suspecting his colleagues too much, the other certainly suspecting them too little. The cult-style reflected differences in degree of power and methods of rule of leaders whose general policy orientations had different emphases.

Because of the differences in the extent and kind of personality cults developed under Stalin and Khrushchev the problems for successor regimes in their dismantling were not at all the same. However awkward the operation, Khrushchev's associates decided simultaneously to oust him from power and consign him to oblivion. None of the major published attacks from October 1964 to the present has mentioned Khrushchev's name. As with Stalin, a major element of de-Khrushchevization was the reversal of policies instituted under Khrushchev's influence. These changes, in economic policy, especially regarding agriculture, in the reorganization of party and government institutions, and in other domestic and foreign areas, were usually accompanied by references to "subjectivism" or another phrase designating Khrushchev; the target was made crystal clear by favorable allusion to the October 1954 plenum of the CPSU Central Committee, whose only known subject was the change of leadership.1 On a more personal level the ouster brought to an end the glorification of Khrushchev's past in accounts of his prewar party activities in Moscow and the Ukraine, in his wartime service on various military councils, and in his postwar assignments in the Ukraine and on the national level. His pre-1953 activities have now been shrunk to modest proportions, where mentioned at all. They have not so far been criticized often, though Khrushchev's wartime role has been denigrated in some writings, for example, the war diaries of the prominent Soviet novelist Konstantin Simonov.2

The very occasional positive or negative references to a named Khrushchev are among the few exceptions to the rule that Khrushchev's name is not to be mentioned. He is still listed occasionally and inconspicuously among other party figures playing a role in the war, and documentary collections permit references to the fact that he gave the Central Committee reports at the XX and XXII Party Congresses.3 On the negative side, critical references to Khrushchev by name occurred at the December 1964 session of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet (though excised from the published records) and at the March 1965 plenum of the Central Committee, as recorded in the stenographic report.4 No stenographic reports have been published—or are likely to be published—for the plenums occurring in October and November, 1964, and in September 1965. Certainly the first two of these must have heard a good deal about Khrushchev's faults. There are some borderline cases in which specific acts of Khrushchev, such as speeches to creative artists, appearances at meetings, and visits to agricultural or other enterprises were subjected to criticism which stopped just short of mentioning his name.

In view of the role of Khrushchev as the spokesman for the party and regime in the years before October 1964, the virtual ban on use of his name and writings makes the task of propagandists and historians difficult. They have to resort often to party documents, such as the Program of the CPSU adopted in October 1961, or to statements of an unnamed chairman of the U.S.S.R. Council of Ministers, in order to cite an untainted source from the period of the ex-leader's hegemony.5 They still confront the task of writing the history of the Khrushchev decade in such a way as to endorse many of the reforms introduced into Soviet society while simultaneously criticizing the leader who sparked the changes.6

While specific references to Stalin have also become infrequent, there has never been as complete a blackout on mention of him, either in a positive or negative context, as that imposed regarding Khrushchev. Deficiencies of specific writings or speeches of Stalin have been discussed, and some credit allowed to individual works or positions taken by Stalin. In the post-Khrushchev period there has been a shift toward favorable mention of Stalin.

Even today the over-all treatment, however, continues to be negative, whether in references explicitly naming him or in those condemning the "cult of personality" with only indirect reference to Stalin.

The demolition of the Stalin "cult," a process which began in 1953 and underwent a basic change in 1956 with open attacks on Stalin, gave rise to one problem which recurred in the disposal of the Khrushchev "cult" after 1964. The leaders who managed to oust Khrushchev did not want to suggest a general abandonment of the policies characteristic of the Khrushchev era. Though the Soviet citizenry in general reacted with equanimity to the fall of the former chief, there was some apprehension abroad, both inside and outside Communist circles, that the shift in Soviet leadership meant a resurgence of "Stalinism." The post-Khrushchev leaders took care to stress the continuity of the policy lines adopted at the three Party Congresses from 1956, and reaffirmed the general thrust of criticism of the Stalin leadership. On the topic of de-Stalinization, the authoritative journal Party Life in its issue No. 2 of 1965 asserted that the general line worked out at the XX and XXII Party Congresses and the criticism of Stalin's personality cult were irreversible, whatever "fables" might be circulated by "some people" abroad. These post-Khrushchev reaffirmations of continuity followed the pattern set earlier in regard to Stalin of distinguishing between praiseworthy developments under the former regime, for which the exleader would no longer receive much credit, and the errors of the past, which were blamed explicitly (in the case of Stalin) or implicitly (as with Khrushchev) on the leader then in power.

In the past, when individual leaders within the top echelon have lost their standing and come under criticism, the dominant party leaders have invested great effort in securing endorsement of the criticism by the victims. Nothing appeared to illustrate better the monolithism of the party than the endorsement by victors and vanquished alike of the wisdom of the former and the deficiencies of the latter. Such self-criticism marked the settling of accounts after leadership disputes not only in the 1920's and 1930's, but also in the postwar period with Premiers Malenkov and Bulganin. Although an admission of fault was secured from Molotov in 1955 regarding his underestimation of the advancement achieved by the U.S.S.R. in establishing socialism, Molotov stubbornly refused in 1957 to add his vote and his voice to the condemnation of the "anti-Party group." Subsequently, taking advantage of the improved conditions for "factionalism" which existed in the post-Stalin period, Molotov made at least two moves to circulate his dissenting views on post-1957 developments.7 The example of Molotov's recalcitrance was apparently good enough for Khrushchev, who has not been quoted as endorsing the low evaluation of his leadership expressed by his successors. Probably the anti-Khrushchev forces employed heavy persuasion to secure an admission of fault. In fact, it seems likely that the awkward solution adopted (retiring Khrushchev on honorable grounds of health and age while avoiding mention of his name in the strong criticism of his leadership) resulted from Khrushchev's resistance to a solution in which he would have been shunted from the top job to the accompaniment of criticism made unanimous by Khrushchev's participation.

In the criticism first of Stalin and then of Khrushchev the successors have had to confront the embarrassing question: Where were you? In each case the successors had been the intimate collaborators of the erring leader. The question was brought more into the open in regard to Stalin than in regard to Khrushchev. The answer on Stalin was compounded of references to his standing in the party and country and of discreet allusions to his use of strong-arm methods. Khrushchev's collaborators could not even point to the terror as an explanation of their acquiescence in his erroneous policies. To the limited extent that they faced up to this question of their responsibility for errors committed before October 1964, the answer stressed the seductiveness of some of the innovations which Khrushchev promoted.8 In any event, the de-personalization of the criticism subsequently leveled against the former leadership was probably calculated to blunt the effect of questions embarrassing to those who had been supporters of Khrushchev, his associates if not his protégés.

Brezhnev has paid modest public tribute to Joseph Stalin on occasion since assuming the leadership. In May 1965, before a Moscow audience he recalled Stalin's role in the war, and in November 1966, speaking in Georgia, he mentioned Stalin among early Bolshevik revolutionaries. Neither Brezhnev nor any of the other leaders has alluded since 1964 to Stalin's errors and crimes. Clearly, however, Stalin is not to be restored to the gallery of Communist saints, but is to be accorded a minor role in Soviet history. In this and other areas involving past and present leaders of the country, de-personalization is the order of the day. This de-personalization lies behind the almost faceless image presented by the current group of leaders; it dictates the strategy of criticism directed to the Khrushchev era; and it guides the present efforts to eliminate Stalin—the "good" Stalin and the "bad" Stalin—as an issue in Soviet political life.


1 The communiqué announcing Khrushchev's relief was published in Pravda and other newspapers on October 16, 1964. A Central Committee plenum on October 14 was said to have elected L. I. Brezhnev to Khrushchev's job as Party First Secretary, and a meeting of the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet on October 15 to have substituted A. N. Kozygin for Khrushchev as chairman of the Council of Ministers. The announcement was followed by editorials in Pravda (October 17) and Party Life (No. 21, 1964) which spelled out the criticism of Khrushchev without mentioning his name. While these editorials were clearly anti-Khrushchev, the phraseology was routine. Thus, the principal Soviet public law journal included the following statement: "A business-like Leninist style of work and of vital initiatives does not have anything in common with groundless, hare-brained schemes, with window-dressing and empty talk." Although this sounds like an attack on Khrushchev, in fact it appeared in April 1963. The author, P. T. Vasilenko, writing in Sovetskoe Gosudarstvo i Pravo (No. 4, 1963, pp. 29-39), followed the sentence cited with another quoting Khrushchev in support of the author's position.

2New Times, No. 8, February 24, 1965.

3 In the one-volume history of the "Great Patriotic War," which appeared in July 1965, Khrushchev was pictured once and mentioned several times. This history was compressed from the five-volume edition, which celebrated Khrushchev's war record in such a fulsome manner that the first volume had to be toned down and re-issued after Khrushchev's ouster. The five-volume history gave about equal prominence to Khrushchev and Stalin.

4 Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, March 24-26, 1965, Stenograficheskii Otchet (Moscow 1965), speeches by Novosibirsk Obkom First Secretary F. S. Goriachev, p. 83, by Georgian Party First Secretary V. P. Mzhavanadze, p. 89, and by Kazakh Party First Secretary D. A. Kunaev, p. 104.

5 Although the 1961 Program is still cited with approval, it is obvious that the current leaders are dubious about some of the doctrinal innovations, particularly references to "the Party of the whole people." This formula appears to have been dropped, though the leaders continue to refer to "the state of the whole people."

6 One attempt to do this is represented in Ocherki Istorii KPSS (Moscow, 1966), pp. 372-428. This textbook of party history discreetly acknowledges the leading role played by Stalin and Khrushchev, but is more severely critical of the former than of the latter. Endorsing the steps to eliminate the personality cult of Stalin, it criticizes the way this was done as too much of a "campaign," in a one-sided way. The criticism of Stalin's "mistakes" was presented in a fashion, the book argues, to minimize Soviet successes in building socialism and in winning World War II.

7 According to L. F. Ilichev at the XXII Party Congress in 1961, Molotov on April 18, 1960, submitted an article on Lenin to Kommunist (apparently for publication in the April issue commemorating Lenin's birthday). P. A. Satiukov, then-editor of Pravda, told the Congress that Molotov in October 1961 circulated a letter to the Central Committee, just before the Congress assembled on October 17, criticizing as "anti-revolutionary" the new Program which the Congress was to adopt. See XXII Congress CPSU, Stenograficheskii Otchet (Moscow 1962), II, 186, 353.

8 This note was sounded in a Party Life editorial (No. 23, 1964, pp. 3-8), explaining why the party had adopted in 1962 the proposal to divide party (and government) organizations into industrial and agricultural components.

Edith Rogovin Frankel (essay date 1976)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7069

SOURCE: "Literary Policy in Stalin's Last Year," in Soviet Studies, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, July, 1976, pp. 391-405.

[In the following essay, Frankel discusses the period of "liberalization" regarding literary activity during Stalin's last year in power.]

In recent years Western scholars have been deeply interested in determining the nature and degree of change which has taken place in the Soviet Union since Stalin's death. Numerous works have analysed and assessed the transformation of post-Stalin Russia: changes in economic policy, in the effectiveness of group pressures on policy-making, in the use and role of terror, and in the area of public discourse, debate, and cultural creativity. But relatively little effort has been made to establish a reliable gauge with which to measure change. Studies of what was happening in specific areas of interest during the late Stalin years—studies in detail—have been few and far between, so that comparisons have often been based on well-documented research covering recent years but on generalizations about the Stalin era. One exception has been Marshall Shulman's study of Stalin's foreign policy,1 which emphasized its complexity and broad range of options. It is the purpose of this brief study to investigate another specific field—literature—within a highly limited time span (the last year of Stalin's life) in order to examine the degree of uniformity prevailing at that time. Was the totalitarian regime as monochromatic as is often assumed? Or was the literary field, too, of a complex nature?

The general view of internal Soviet politics in the early 1950s is that the increasing repression and pre-purge tension were irreconcilable with a loosening of literary bonds. And yet an examination of the period shows that both trends—a policy of mounting intimidation by the state and an officially sanctioned 'liberalization' in the literary sphere—co-existed in 1952.

Soviet internal policy at this time was characterized by the renewed attack on bourgeois nationalism, the instigation of the Doctors' Plot and the proliferation of the vigilance campaign. On the other hand, foreign policy provided a contrast—the broad alliance policy and the development of the peace movement after 1949 represented a 'rightist' approach.2 A similar absence of consistent correlation between all phases of Soviet policy had been seen at other times: in the mid-1930s, for example, the beginning of the Great Purge was coupled with an official veneration of law and order, with propaganda for the new Constitution and, in foreign affairs, with the pursuit of the Popular Front.

In 1952 the contrast was not limited to an emphasis 'on "peaceful co-existence" in foreign policy and strict ideological conformity at home'.3 A moderated policy was also to be seen in the field of literature. For approximately ten months an atmosphere of relaxation, albeit strictly limited, was felt in the literary world.

This modification in the firm attitude of the party to literature was first felt as early as February 1952.4 Although prose was the object of some of the reforming criticism, the main brunt of the campaign was felt by drama. There ensued a series of articles condemning the so-called no-conflict theory which had dominated postwar Soviet drama. The single most famous—and most outspoken—statement on the subject was made by the playwright Nikolai Virta in March of that year.5 In it he tried to explain his own role in the development of the 'theory'.

. . . It arose as a consequence of 'cold observations of the mind' on the manner in which those of our plays which contain sharp life conflicts passed through the barbed-wire obstacles of the agencies in charge of the repertoire . . . everything living, true to life, sharp, fresh and unstereotyped was combed out and smoothed over to the point where it was no longer recognizable. Every bold, unstereotyped word in a play had to be defended at the cost of the playwright's nerves and the play's quality . . . each of us [has] accumulated a great deal of bitter experience in ten years about which, for some reason, it has been the custom to keep quiet. . . .

Virta placed much of the blame on those people who killed plays and who were guided 'not by the interests of Soviet art but by a wild rabbit fear of the hypothetical possibility of a mistake, mortal fear of taking any risk or responsibility for risk'. His own initial adherence to the no-cdnflict theory had been the result of his search for 'a creative way out'. Perhaps, he had thought, the period of sharp conflicts in drama really had passed. But,

no, this stupid and spurious theory did not arise because 'everything was fine'! It is not because 'everything is fine' that Pogodin writes a play about the beginning of the century, while Virta, who spent two years in a Russian village, wrote a play about peasants of the people's democracies!

Although, of course, the atmosphere of suppression which Virta here described does not surprise us, what is notable is that he expressed his views publicly—and in the way that he did. His candid remarks during what was assuredly an extraordinarily repressive period, his attack on problems of censorship and publication policy, and the fact that his statement was not a unique utterance but part of a concerted campaign in the press to revise established literary doctrine, all make this a most noteworthy article. What is interesting is not that a writer in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s should have felt bitterness and helplessness at his plight, nor necessarily that he should have committed these thoughts to paper, but that a publication such as Sovetskoe iskusstvo, of conservative leanings and quite orthodox editorial policy, should have taken it upon itself to publish them. One can only assume that the editors—and there had been no recent significant changes of the board—deemed the article appropriate to the current literary mood.

Although Virta's article, and others, were subsequently attacked in the Soviet press,6 the crusade against the no-conflict theory continued throughout the summer and into the autumn, with the concomitant demands for the portrayal of more well-delineated negative characters and for more and better comedies. It proceeded with varying degrees of fervour beyond the XIX Party Congress and extended to include not only drama but other prose forms as well. Malenkov's speech at the XIX Party Congress in October did little to clarify the literary situation.7 Nothing really new was said in the few paragraphs devoted to the subject. One thing that his speech did not do, however, was to put any further brake on the dim process of innovation which had been emergent since the spring. Literary events were apparently to proceed along their course without a strong directive from the top at this point.

In January 1953—on the same day that the Doctors' Plot was announced in the press—I. Pitlyar published an article demanding that more attention be paid to the material details of life: 'What enormous artistic and editorial possibilities open up before the writer who is not afraid to be truthful in portraying the material conditions of people's existence. . . . Those writers who wave aside the socalled "details of life" are sinning against the truth of life.'8 This sentiment, uttered here at the beginning of a repressive swing in Soviet literature, would later be a central theme in the literary criticism of the early 'thaw'.

A situation in which articles calling for conflict, for innovation, for a description of negative characteristics of Soviet life appeared simultaneously with attacks on nationalism in literature, with Great-Russian chauvinism, with virulent anti-semitism and a campaign to induce mass paranoia, was clearly anomalous. There was a buildup of fear and distrust, but there existed the other side of the coin which cannot be ignored. Explaining it is by no means simple.

There are a number of possible explanations and there is probably some truth in each. First was the state of drama itself. It is certainly plausible that the attack on the no-conflict technique was nothing more than an attempt to cure the ills which had beset the theatre for some time. Evidence of the low level of dramatic endeavour (half-empty theatres and the popularity of the classics in contrast to contemporary plays) is overwhelming and it is not unlikely that a main goal was to raise the theatre to the point where it could at least be a meaningful instrument of education or propaganda. Demands for more constructive criticism, for a re-organization of responsible committees, and attacks on dull insipid plays all point in this direction.

If, however, one considers the period preceding Stalin's death as a whole, and not just in terms of literary development, one perceives other possibilities. Seeing the build-up of insecurity and tension throughout the year 1952, reaching a frenzy early in 1953, one is struck by a certain similarity between the vigilance campaign and the attack on the 'no-conflict' theory. The vigilance campaign, in essence, warned that no one was to be trusted, that all sorts of subversive elements lurked in the background of Soviet society, that one should be on guard against every conceivable danger, whether from doctors, embezzlers, bourgeois nationalists or petty criminals. Implied in the campaign against the doctrine of no-conflict was the assertion that it was wrong to assume that Soviet society had reached that point of development where there was no socio-political danger left. Drama could not yet be written so that the only opposition present in a play was that between good and better. Evil remained in society and ought to be presented in the theatre, with the aim of rooting it out. In other words, in order to expose enemies the Soviet citizen had to know how to recognize them.

There is, finally, the possibility which we cannot entirely discount, that this 'liberal' swing was simply to be used as a bait to draw out what Anatolii Surov had referred to as the 'keepers of silence'9 from their lairs, with the ultimate intention of repression. It is widely held that a major purge was in the offing on the eve of Stalin's death; perhaps this campaign was simply to be used as a mouse trap.

Whatever the ulterior motives may have been, the fact is that in 1952 writers and editors did find that they had somewhat more scope, more 'elbow room', limited though it still was. This became evident not only in the remarkable candour of some writers, but also in the demands made on the writers as a whole. The attack on the no-conflict theory permitted a less stereotyped publication policy. In order to demonstrate this point, let us look at the output of the literary journal Novyi mir, the most experimental journal in the fifties and the one quickest to reflect a change of policy.

Two major works appeared in its pages in the summer and early autumn of 1952—as well as some lesser items—which distinguished that literary season and differentiated it from the Stalinist model. Almost predictably, Novyi mir was to be the object of a severe concerted attack launched against it by the party press and the Writers' Union several months later.

In the July 1952 issue of Novyi mir the first instalment of Vasilii Grossman's Za pravoe delo (For the Just Cause) appeared.10 This was a lengthy novel which centred on the Battle of Stalingrad and followed the thread of a number of individuals and families whose lives were caught up in the war and whose fates were interrelated. Long sections of the book were devoted to discussions of a philosophical nature among the participants—soldiers, professors, students—on the causes of the war.

It is indicative of the indecisive official attitude—and the amount of permissiveness—that the novel received some excellent, or at worst mixed, reviews at the end of 1952. Indeed, Za pravoe delo was virtually ignored in the beginning. Ilya Ehrenburg noted this fact in his memoirs, recalling that he considered this a positive development. 'I have been looking through the files of Literaturnaya gazeta [for 1952],' he wrote. 'Everything appeared most satisfactory. The paper noted that Grossman's novel Za pravoe delo . . . had appeared in Novyi mir, but the reviewers ignored it.'11

In fact—as Ehrenburg clearly understood—the novel did contain sections which could well have been alarming to the Soviet reviewer. The following two excerpts are from a passage in which an academic, Chepyzhin—one of the central characters—propounded his views in a conversation with Professor Shtrum.12

Look, imagine that in some little town there are people known for their learning, honour, humanity, goodness. And they were well known to every old person and child there. They enriched the town life, enlarged it—they taught in the schools, in the universities, wrote books and wrote in the workers' newspapers and in scientific journals; they worked and struggled for the freedom of labour. . . . But when night fell, out onto the streets came other people whom few in the town knew, whose life and affairs were dirty and secret. They feared the light, walked stealthily in the darkness, in the shadow of buildings. But there came a time when the coarse dark power of Hitler burst into life, with the intention of changing its most fundamental law. They started to throw cultured people, who had illuminated life into camps, into prisons. Others fell in the struggle, others went into hiding. They were no longer to be seen during the day on the streets, at factories, at schools, at workers' meetings. The books they had written blazed. But those who had been hidden by the night came out noisily into the light and filled the world with themselves and their terrible deeds. And it seemed that wisdom, science, humanity, honour had died, disappeared, had been destroyed. It seemed that the people had been transformed, had become a people of evil and dishonour. But look here, it isn't so! Understand that it isn't so! The energy contained in a people's wisdom, in a people's moral sense, in a people's goodness is eternal, whatever fascism might do to destroy it. [It continues to live, temporarily dispersed. It accumulates in nodes. It gathers around itself indestructible microscopic diamond crystals which can cut both steel and glass. And those popular champions who were killed transmitted their spiritual strength, their energy to others, teaching them how to live and how to die. And their strength was not destroyed together with the corpses of the dead, but continues to live in the living. I am convinced that the Nazi evil is powerless to kill the energy of the people. It only disappeared from view, but its quantity in the people has not diminished. Do you understand me? Do you follow my line of thought?]

Chepyzhin then went on to discuss the psychology of social change:

You see, all sorts of things are mixed in man, many of which are unconscious, hidden, secret, false.

Often, a man, living under normal social conditions, doesn't himself know of the vaults and cellars of his soul. But a social catastrophe occurred, and out of the cellar came every evil spirit, they rustled and ran out through the clean, light rooms. [The flour fell and the chaff rose outside. It wasn't the relationship of things that changed, but the position of the parts of the moral, spiritual structure of man which was altered.]

It is not at all surprising that, when the attack finally came, the critics singled out these passages. Chepyzhin, wrote one, taught an 'idealist philosophy', which the author himself obviously espoused.13

It does not require great imagination to see Grossman-Chepyzhin's description of the coming of Hitlerism as a commentary on Stalinist Russia. Especially in the light of his later work Vse techet (Everything Flows),14 it is clear that Grossman was highly sensitive to, and understandably obsessed with, the evils which had been committed in Soviet Russia during his lifetime. His concentration in this section on the intelligentsia and their difficult fate was at least as applicable to the Soviet as to the German situation. This is a striking example of the not infrequent practice of political criticism by analogy in which the dissenting writer attacks a feature of his own contemporary society through reference to tsarist times or to foreign and hostile countries. Of course, the official critics could not directly expose this type of invidious comparison, for to do so would be to admit that they themselves had recognized the forbidden parallel.

The critics in general—and the February article in Literaturnaya gazeta was in this typical—had therefore to confine their criticism within safe ideological bounds. Specifically, in the case of Grossman, they concentrated most of their fire on his universalistic moralism, his apparent indifference to Marxist dialectics and his preference for a class-free, science-based philosophy. 'It adds up,' said Literaturnaya gazeta,

to the idea that there is an eternal struggle of good and evil, and good is the personification of perpetual energy—whether the cosmic energy of the stars or the spiritual energy of the people. It is completely clear that these ideological, unhistoric fumblings of reasoning can in no way explain the existence of social phenomena.15

Chepyzhin, the article went on, talks abstractly, and unhistorically, about fascism and the idea of war. He measures everything according to his 'unhistoric categories' of the struggle of light and darkness, of good and evil. Shtrum, it continued, nods his agreement, and not one of the main characters replies to this argument with a Marxist-Leninist explanation of the war and the nature of things. So one may assume that Grossman did not want Chepyzhin's reactionary philosophy refuted. Grossman, through Chepyzhin, seemed to follow the idea of the Pythagoreans that there is an eternal rotation of events, that '. . . there is an eternal circulation of the very same beginnings, conditions, events'.16

It should be noted here that when the novel was published in book form, as it was after Stalin's death and again in the 1960s, the two passages quoted above had been considerably altered. Moreover, the entire dialogue between Chepyzhin and Shtrum had been transformed. Although Chepyzhin's views had not been essentially changed—only toned down and attenuated—Shtrum now emerged as an advocate of Soviet Marxist orthodoxy. For example, he now objected vigorously to the idea that Nazism was to be explained as the work of 'a handful of evil men with Hitler at their head', arguing instead that it was the result 'of the specific peculiarities of German imperialism. . . . '17 Again, Shtrum now pointed out that Chepyzhin's theory of science and history if applied 'not to fascism . . . but to progressive phenomena, to liberating revolutions, . . . [implies that] the revolutionary struggle of the working class also cannot change society, also cannot raise man to a higher level. . . . '18

Besides the criticism of the excerpts quoted here, many general features of Grossman's novel were attacked. Grossman had not 'succeeded in creating a single, major, vivid, typical portrait of a hero of the battle of Stalingrad, a hero in a grey greatcoat, weapons in hand'.19 He 'had not shown the Communist Party as the true organizer of victory. . . . '20 A feeling of doom pervaded the work.21

The campaign continued unabated until a month after Stalin's death.22 In fact, pressure became so great that several members of Novyi mir's editorial board—Tvardovsky, Tarasenkov, Kataev, Fedin and Smirnov—publicly apologized for their 'error' in publishing Grossman's novel.23 It was a vain attempt to stem the tide of criticism directed at the journal. The climax of the letter was the admission by the editors that the fault lay with the editorial board—that is, with themselves—for not having gone into the work more thoroughly, for having failed to ferret out its ideological-artistic faults. They asked the Secretariat of the Writers' Union as soon as possible to 'take measures towards strengthening the composition of the editorial board of Novyi mir' As for Grossman, he never made any kind of apology.24

The last major attack on Grossman's novel—and on the journal which had published it—was made by Fadeev at the end of March.25 The focus of his criticism did not differ sharply from that which had preceded it, except for a rather pointedly anti-semitic undertone, but what is especially significant in terms of history is his account of the publication process through which the novel had passed.

According to Fadeev,26 the novel had been discussed for a number of years before its appearance in print, and there had been numerous objections to it. But the discussion did not reach the broad public. 'It was conducted in the narrow circle of the editorial board and the Secretariat [of the Writers' Union], and only after the novel was printed did it creep into the Presidium of the Union of Soviet Writers—the body which should have decided these matters of principle.'

Evidently, when the novel first came to the editorial offices of Novyi mir it had been strongly criticized by B. Agapov, then a member of the board.27 As we know that Agapov left the editorial board of Novyi mir in February 1950, it is clear that the novel must have been under discussion for a minimum of two-and-a-half years, and probably for much longer. It was when the new editorial board was appointed that discussion of the novel flared up again. The new editorial board, which brought out its first issue in March 1950, had been significantly changed. Tvardovsky took the place of Simonov as editor-in-chief. Agapov and Aleksandr Krivitsky were replaced by three new members: M. S. Bubennov (an abject conformist under Stalin—and afterwards), S. S. Smirnov, and A. K. Tarasenkov.28

When the manuscript of Za pravoe delo was submitted for examination to the new board, Bubennov brought the issue to the Secretariat of the Union of Writers. Fadeev reported: 'The novel was changed many times. Discussion once more developed in the Secretariat and the above-mentioned comrades29 held to their point of view.' Fadeev then asked why the novel had been published despite all the adverse criticism.

Because a situation has risen in the Union of Soviet Writers and in editorial boards in which the solution of many ideological questions—the evaluation of works, the formulation of one or another serious problem—very often depends on the opinion of a few leaders. We rarely apply the normal collegium principle in our work.

It must be assumed that, in the face of a good deal of opposition, someone on the Novyi mir board was keen on seeing Za pravoe delo published. The likelihood is—in view of his reputation and courage—that that man was Tvardovsky. Had he, as editor-in-chief, been unfavourably inclined towards the novel there would never have been a struggle to have it printed.

One cannot ignore the basic facts of the Grossman affair. First, the author was not an unknown. On the contrary, he had a reputation and, by the official standards, a dubious one. Born in Berdichev in 1904, Grossman had been a war correspondent during World War II for both Krasnaya zvezda and for Einekeit, the Yiddish-language journal of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. His story 'Narod bessmerten' (The People are Immortal), which appeared in Krasnaya zvezda in 1942, was one of the earlier, more powerful works on the war. However, his play Esli verit' pifagoreitsam (If We Believe the Pythagoreans)—written before the war, but not published until 1946—had been severely criticized by the press. After the war he had collected materials on heroic and tragic facts concerning Jewish victims of the Nazis. They were to have been published in what was to be called the Black Book, as a tribute to the Jews who had suffered during the war. The book, although set in type, was never published in the Soviet Union, and the plates were destroyed in 1949, when the Soviet Jewish cultural community was closed down.30 Grossman was hamstrung by Soviet criticism during the postwar Stalin years. Disliked by Stalin31 and dogged by hack critics, Grossman never won the acclaim he deserved.

Second is the undeniable fact that, as the novel had been under consideration for so long, the Novyi mir editorial board, members of the Writers' Union and of the literary—and censoring—community must have been well aware of the objections to it. It was thus a deliberate and not a random, decision to publish that particular novel by that particular author during the summer of 1952. It is quite clear that Tvardovsky took the step of publishing the novel then because he felt—correctly—that this was an opportune time, that the literary atmosphere warranted it.

Indeed, another remarkable aspect of this case is that Za pravoe delo, published during a period of mounting fear, under the unyielding influence of the Zhdanov tradition, was never republished in its original form in Russia. As has been noted above, passages published under Stalin were considered unfit to print in later years.32 Nor did Part II of the book ever appear at all, even in the 'best' of literary periods to follow. Grossman died in 1964, some six months after the manuscript of the second part had been confiscated by the secret police.33

All this indicates that the literary situation during 1952 was in a state of flux. The Virta statement provided one example of the subtle change which was evident and Novyi mir's publication of Za pravoe delo another. Whatever the motivation behind the anti-'no-conflict' campaign, the end result had been a different publishing policy.

One of the outstanding literary events of the whole decade was the publication in 1952 of Valentin Ovechkin's 'Raionnye budni', the first of a series of sketches on contemporary kolkhoz life.34 It was concerned primarily with party work in a rural area and specifically attacked the complacent attitude of the district secretary, Borzov, whose sole aim was to see that the plan was fulfilled. Ovechkin contrasted him with the second-in-command, who was interested in the long-term goal of achieving communism and in treating fairly those kolkhozniki who did manage to fulfil their quota. He supported the principle of incentive, if this would encourage the kolkhozniki to work harder and more effectively.35 Ovechkin emphasized the fact that these characters were not products of his imagination, but real people. The implication was that the Borzov approach was not uncommon and that the political direction of rural work was a real problem which the party must solve.

It is significant that the sketch, far from being passively accepted, was warmly received in spite of the fact that it incisively censured the work of party officials in the rural areas.36

Tvardovsky would later note the innovative nature of Ovechkin's sketch. In his article on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Novyi' mir he called the appearance of 'Raionnye budni' a literary turning point.37 Noting that it had been published before the September Plenum of the Central Committee in 1953 (which had dealt with problems of agriculture), Tvardovsky said that its truthfulness and ideological orientation were only fully appreciated afterwards. He pointed out that until then criticism had tenaciously attacked the slightest deviations of prose writers from 'conventional and legitimized norms, as it were, of interpreting rural life in literature. It seemed that maintaining these norms of well-being in the reflected picture was more important than reality'.38 The fact is that 'Raionnye budni' was to serve as a model for works on the rural scene throughout the mid-fifties and became symbolic of the 'new approach' of thaw writing. Tvardovsky's other mention of 'Raionnye budni' was in a letter to Fedin about Cancer Ward.39 The letter, written in January 1968, came after the refusal to publish Solzhenitsyn's novel. Tvardovsky wrote: 'Solzhenitsyn, incidentally, outstanding as he is, is not unique or unprecedented in our literature. We should not forget the courage of Ovechkin's ['Raionnye budni'], which appeared in Novyi mir as early as 1952 and marked a turning point.'40

All indications—Tvardovsky's remarks, Malenkov's discussion of agriculture at the XIX Party Congress, the very fact of the publication of Ovechkin's sketch, and an assertion that Stalin himself had called for it41—point to the fact that the ruling group had recognized the serious weaknesses of the agricultural situation and was seeking remedies. The coincidence of Ovechkin's first sketch and Malenkov's speech in the autumn of 1952 indicate a coordinated introduction of forthcoming changes in agricultural policy. (In fact, however, agricultural problems and a corrective programme were to be dealt with only six months after Stalin's death, in September 1953.)

There were other items published in Novyi mir during the last year of Stalin's life which contributed to the general atmosphere of moderation in publishing policy.42 Thus, the combination of the Virta statement, along with the concerted attack on the no-conflict theory, the publication of Vasilii Grossman's novel and of Ovechkin's first sketch in the series, as well as the appearance of some lesser articles in Novyi mir, establishes a view of the Soviet literary scene clearly redolent of variety, limited experimentation, and of chance-taking on the part of the editors. Whatever was in the offing—and, by January 1953 attacks on Novyi mir had already begun—the fact remains that an atmosphere of some give-and-take had existed in 1952.43 In literature (as well as in the field of foreign affairs) official policy did not on the surface proceed in consonance with the obviously repressive environment.

We are thus confronted by some curious but, I submit, not random, facts. The events described do present a cumulative image of literary life in 1952 which is far more variegated than is usually recognized. The year selected for examination was one that is generally assessed as oppressive to a degree at least typical of Stalin's postwar years. And there is no reason to doubt this overall judgement. On the contrary, indications do point to a vicious situation in the internal life of the Soviet Union, one headed towards a new phase of mass terror. But our recognition of this fact should not lead us to the conclusion that there was complete uniformity in all aspects of Soviet life. Comparative studies which cover both the Stalinist and post-Stalinist years—Ploss's work on agriculture, for instance, or Conquest's on politics44—have shown in specific cases the intricacies and contrasts present within the monolithic Stalinist system, thus providing a realistic basis on which to assess the actual changes which subsequently took place. Certainly, the literary life in the one year examined here suggests that there, too, complexity was the norm.

There is often an assumption in Western writing, encouraged by the image of the totalitarian model, that the Stalin period must have been monochromatic. Thus, whenever one meets a clash of opinion, or an indication of variety or innovation in the post-Stalin period, the natural tendency is to assume that it is 'new'. But the presence of terror did not necessarily mean an absence of variety. People willing to take a chance—and the risks were far greater then—could still manage, as Tvardovsky did with Grossman's novel, to find the means of publishing a particular work. And men like Grossman could still refuse to bow to official criticism, though his bravery could well have been suicidal had Stalin not died when he did. The examples provided were from the last year of Stalin's life, but detailed studies of other years would probably yield similar 'anachronisms'.

It is generally accepted that the 'thaw' began in the late autumn of 1953—after the September Plenum and after the Fourteenth Plenary Session of the Board of the Writers' Union in October—and that the period was marked by a sharp break with previous literary life. In fact, signs of the post-Stalin relaxation were already evident earlier. Ovechkin's third sketch in the series was published in Pravda in July 1953;45 Tvardovsky's attack on literary restrictions in his poem 'Za dal'yu dal' ' (Horizon beyond Horizon) came out in Novyi mir the month before.46 In September Mikhail Lifshits published an outspoken book review in Novyi mir.47 The truth is that, while the atmosphere of the 'thaw' period was markedly different from the Stalinist era, many of its roots can be traced—despite the hiatus produced by the attacks on Novyi mir during the first months of 1953—directly to the preceding era.

Let there be no misunderstanding. The absence of arbitrary terror in the post-Stalin years made an enormous difference in the lives of people in all spheres—the difference between night and day, between madness and a measure of normality. But the absence of terror no more signals the existence of a 'pluralistic' society than the fact of a 'totalitarian' regime implies complete uniformity. Certain people in certain fields were able on occasion to publish or say what was important to them even at the worst of times. The abandonment of the mass purge as a method of attaining compliance has not put an end to the coercive pressure enforcing conformity on the writer (or scientist, or lawyer). He is not at an opposite pole from his colleague of Stalinist times; he must still toe the line if he wishes to be published and paid. The writer who 'sticks his neck out' is still taking a grave chance, even if this is not usually a chance of life or death. In the literary sphere, as in many other areas of Soviet life, the dichotomy between the Stalinist and post-Stalinist periods should not be taken for granted, but analysed and measured.


1 Marshall Shulman, Stalin's Foreign Policy Reappraised (Cambridge, Mass., 1963).

2 This is a theme to which Shulman devoted his book. He points out that, in order to find means of dividing its foreign adversaries and maximizing its own influence, 'the Soviet Union reintroduced tactical and ideological formulations that had been associated with earlier periods identified as "Right" in Soviet terminology' (ibid., p. 7).

3Ibid., p. 6.

4 A literary review criticized an author who 'writes in only two colours—black and white. Her positive characters are good unto holiness, while from the bad character's very first appearance in the story he is completely unmotivated and a scoundrel' (G. Kalinin, 'Zhurnal i sovremennost' ',Pravda, 4 February 1952, p. 2).

5Sovetskoe iskusstvo, 29 March 1952, p. 2, translated in The Current Digest of the Soviet Press (CDSP), vol. IV, no. II, pp. 6-7.

6 The first significant attack came in a Pravda editorial. It discussed the crisis in drama, but cautioned against overcorrecting the situation, and then went on to criticize Sovetskoe iskusstvo for not taking a solid stand on the issue; see 'Preodolet' otstavanie dramaturgii', Pravda, 7 April 1952, pp. 2-3.

7Ibid., 6 October 1952.

8 I. Pitlyar, 'About the "Details" of Life as Handled in Literature—Let Us Discuss Questions of Craftsmanship', Literaturnaya gazeta, 13 January 1953, p. 3, translated in CDSP, vol. V, no. 14, pp. 13-14.

9Sovetskoe iskusstvo, 12 March, 1952, p. 12.

10 Part I of the novel was published in four instalments from July to October 1952.

11 Ilya Ehrenburg, Post-War Years: 1945-54 (Cleveland and New York, 1967), p. 293.

12Novyi mir, 1952, no. 7, p. 102. The lines within square brackets were omitted in later editions.

13 'Na lozhnom puti—O romane V. Grossmana, "Za pravoe delo" ', Literaturnaya gazeta, 21 February 1953, pp. 3-4. See also A. Lektorsky, 'Roman, iskazhayushchii obrazy sovetskikh lyudei', Kommunist, 1953, no. 3, pp. 106-15. Lektorsky wrote: 'He sees the whole history of culture, all social phenomena, the history of peoples, through the anti-scientific understanding of the idealistic-mechanistic philosophy of "energetics" and the Freudian theory of the dark, subconscious instincts. . . . '

14Vasilii Grossman, Everything Flows (New York, 1972).

15Literaturnaya gazeta, 21 February 1953, p. 3.


17 V. Grossman, Za pravoe delo (M., 1955), p. 137.

18Ibid., pp. 139-40.

19 Mikhail Bubennov, 'O romane V. Grossmana "Za pravoe delo" ', Pravda, 13 February 1953, pp. 3-4.

20Ibid. This criticism echoed the notorious attack on Fadeev's novel The Young Guard. The fact is that during the early fifties Fadeev was rewriting the entire novel in order to give credit to the party leadership which, according to official doctrine, had been responsible for the war effort in the Krasnodon area. Grossman does not appear to have heeded the warning issued to his colleague.

21 A. Fadeev, 'Nekotorye voprosy raboty Soyuza pisatelei', Literaturnaya gazeta, 28 March 1953, pp. 2-4.

22 See also Marietta Shaginyan, 'Korni oshibok', Izvestiya, 26 March 1953, pp. 2-3.

23 'O romane V. Grossmana "Za pravoe delo" ', Literaturnaya gazeta, 3 March 1953, p. 3. In this letter the editors were also apologizing for other articles the journal had published which had been severely criticized.

24 Grossman was criticized at least twice for having failed to own up to his errors. See, for example, Literaturnaya gazeta, 21 February 1953, p. 3, which reported that at a meeting held at the Novyi mir offices on 2 February 1953 Grossman had responded 'scornfully' to the 'completely justified' criticism made by various literary representatives. See also 'V Soyuze sovetskikh pisatelei', Literaturnaya gazeta, 28 March 1953, p. 3, in which A. Perventsev expressed 'general indignation' that Grossman had not replied to criticism.

25 The end of the campaign against Novyi mir—and against Za pravoe delo—was not simultaneous with the death of Stalin. Indeed, it is interesting to note that the literary campaign extended longer than other facets of the repressive onslaught characteristic of the last months of Stalin's life. Even after the official halt of the Doctors' Plot, articles criticizing Novyi mir works continued to appear. Ehrenburg discussed Fadeev's role in the publication of, and later in the attack on, Grossman's novel:

In March 1953, soon after"Stalin's death, I came across an article in Literaturnaya gazeta in which Fadeev sharply attacked Grossman's Za pravoe delo. This puzzled me because I had several times heard him speak well of this novel which he had managed to get published. It had aroused Stalin's displeasure and there had been some scathing reviews of it. But Fadeev had continued to defend it. . . . And now suddenly Fadeev had come out with his article.

Only by mid-April had the attacks on Novyi mir finally stopped. Ehrenburg mentioned the continuation of the literary campaign in his memoirs:

The announcement about the rehabilitation of the doctors appeared; changes were obviously in the air. Fadeev came to me without ringing the bell, sat down on my bed and said: 'Don't be too hard on me .. . I was frightened.' 'But why after his death?' I asked. 'I thought the worst was still to come', he replied (Ehrenburg, op. cit., p. 166, emphasis added).

26Literaturnaya gazeta, 28 March 1953, pp. 2-4.

27Agapov was a Simonov associate who followed him on and off a number of editorial boards—including a return to Novyi mir in the mid-fifties.

28 The only members remaining from the old board were the well-known writers Valentin Kataev, Konstantin Fedin, and Mikhail Sholokhov. But these three members were figure-heads (or, as Soviet critics chose to call them, 'wedding generals'), and did not perform active roles on the journal.

29 Bubennov and Kataev objected to the novel, and Kozhevnikov joined them.

30 See Yehoshua A. Gilboa, The Black Years of Soviet Jewry 1939-1955 (Boston, 1971).

31See Ehrenburg, op. cit., p. 165.

32 See footnote 12 above.

33See, for example, Svetlana Alliluyeva, Only One Year (London, 1969), p. 44: 'In the U.S.S.R. one could expect anything: the search of one's home by warrant, the confiscation of books from one's shelves, of manuscripts from one's desk. In this way the government had confiscated the second part of Vasily Grossman's novel. . . . ' Other sources report that the KGB confiscated the manuscripts after the author's death. One copy at least was preserved by friends. Although Part II has never been published in Russia, excerpts of the novel have begun to appear in the West. See, for example, Posev, no. 7, 1975, pp. 53-55, Grani, no. 97, 1975, pp. 3-31, and Kontinent, nos. 4, 5.

34Novyi mir, 1952, no. 9, pp. 204-21. (Amongst possible translations are 'District Routine' and 'The Daily Round in a Rural District'.) Ovechkin's series continued, in Novyi mir and Pravda, until 1956.

35Ovechkin's sketches have been described frequently in Western studies. See, for example, Harold Swayze, Political Control of Literature in the U.S.S.R. (Cambridge, Mass.), pp. 95-97. Ovechkin's sketch was partially translated in Soviet Studies, vol. IV, no. 4 (April 1953), pp. 448-66. The subsequent instalments in the series were also translated or summarized in Soviet Studies.

36 See, for example, Marietta Shaginyan, 'Kritika i bibliografiya—"Raionnye budni" ', Izvestiya, 26 October 1952, p. 2; 'Shirit' front boevoi publitsistiki!—V sektsii publitsistiki i nauchno-khudozhestvennoi literatury Soyuza sovetskikh pisatelei', Literaturnaya gazeta, 17 January 1953, p. 2; 'Chitatel'skaya konferentsiya ob ocherkakh V. Ovechkina', ibid,, 19 February 1953, p. 3.

37A. Tvardovsky, 'Po sluchayu yubileya', Novyi mir, 1965, no. 1, pp. 3-18.

38Ibid., p. 6.

39Survey, vol. LXIX (October 1968), pp. 112-21.

40Ibid., p. 113. For further discussion of the innovativeness of Ovechkin's 'District Routine' see B. Platonov, 'Novoe v nashei zhizni i literature', Zvezda, 1954, no. 5, pp. 160-74 and Gennadii Fish, 'Na perednem krae', Novyi mir, 1957, no. 4, pp. 203-4. Fish wrote: 'Already in 1952, in the days preceding the XIX Congress, when the adverse situation in agriculture, the disastrous condition of many kolkhozy and kolkhozniki was hidden under the froth of official reports of "unprecedented" successes—the writer bravely, with precise, spare lines, showed the true picture of life of one artistically generalized agricultural region of Central Russia' (p. 203).

41 See Arkadii Belinkov's statement in 'The Soviet Censorship', Studies on the Soviet Union (Munich), vol. XI (new series), no. 2, 1971, p. 17.

42 See, for example, V. Komissarzhevsky, 'Chelovek na stsene', Novyi mir, 1952, no. 10, pp. 210-24, in which the author was relatively outspoken in extending the general lines of the attack on the no-conflict theory; N. K. Gudzy and V. A. Zhdanov, 'Voprosy tekstologii', Novyi mir, 1953, no. 3, pp. 232-42, which discussed the censor's arbitrary destruction of texts in nineteenth-century Russia—a veiled comparison between that censor and his Soviet counterpart; V. Ognev, 'Yasnosti!', ibid., 1953, no. 1, pp. 263-7; E. Kazakevich, 'Serdtse druga', ibid., 1953, no. 1, pp. 3-125. Much of the criticism launched against Grossman was applied to Kazakevich as well, although the works were distinctly different and the Kazakevich story was far less ideologically interesting.

43 See, for example, reports of a conference on Mayakovsky in 'Osnovnye voprosy izucheniya tvorchestva V. V. Mayakovskogo (Soveshchanie v Soyuze sovetskikh pisatelei SSSR)', Literaturnaya gazeta, 22, 24, 27, 29 January 1953 (p. 3 in all cases). What is striking about the record of the meeting is the atmosphere of pro-and-con discussion which seems to have prevailed there. Ognev, for example, who was criticized there a number of times for his Novyi mir article and for oral statements he had made, was quoted in Literaturnaya gazeta—both his own statements and his attacks on others present.

44 Sidney Ploss, Conflict and Decision-Making in Soviet Russia (Princeton, N.J., 1965); Robert Conquest, Power and Policy in the U.S.S.R. (London, 1962).

45 Valentin Ovechkin, 'Na perednem krae', Pravda, 20, 23 July 1953, pp. 2-3.

46 Aleksandr Tvardovsky, 'Za dal'yu dal' ', Novyi mir, 1953, no. 6, pp. 59-83.

47 M. Lifshits, 'Krepostnye mastera', ibid., 1953, no. 9, pp. 220-6.

Albert Parry (essay date 1976)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7490

SOURCE: "Stalin's Archipelago," in Terrorism: From Robespierre to Arafat, by Albert Parry, The Vanguard Press, Inc., 1976, pp. 187-202.

[In the following essay, Parry discusses changes in the policy of terror instituted by Stalin, most notably the policy of arresting and executing loyal followers of Stalinism in addition to those openly against it.]

From Lenin and Trotsky the path of terror led to Stalin and Stalin's heirs. Over these decades the character and organization of Soviet terror underwent certain changes. The transformation can be traced through the vast literature by survivors and scholars, available not in Russian alone but also in other languages, especially by such writers as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Roy Medvedev, and Robert Conquest.1

In the reminiscence of one little-known survivor of the Lenin-Stalin camps, Nikolai Otradin, now residing in the United States, we find a concise analysis of the Red terror from Lenin on up to the end of Stalin's rule as consisting of essentially three periods.2

During the first period, that of the civil war of 1918-21, the arrests, executions, and other repressions were the combined result of both the spontaneous anger of the lower classes against the middle and upper ones and the calculated action of the revolutionary government. Many shootings were done by men of the masses, on the spur of the moment, with neither trials nor formal sentences. Yet there is no doubt that Lenin and Trotsky deliberately fanned such mob outbursts so as to create and intensify the revolutionary atmosphere.

As in Robespierre's terror, so in this first Lenin-Trotsky period, all classes were represented in prisons and on execution rolls. Otradin recalls: "We were rounded up both selectively and nonselectively." And so numerous were the arrested that during the civil war there were not enough old Tsarist jails to hold these new Soviet captives. So, in addition, barges moored on the rivers, monasteries lost in the forests or on northern islands, and other makeshift detention sites were used.

Amid the cruelty of it all there was still a chance and thus a hope. If a victim escaped the firing squad by drawing a 10- or 20-year sentence, and if somehow he did not succumb to starvation or epidemic in those cells, barge-holds, or barracks, he could perhaps gain freedom in just a few months—thanks mainly to the energetic pleas, influence, or bribes by their kin or friends still at large. In many cases, Cheka commissars accepted (or even demanded and received) bed-services of the female relatives of the political convicts as payment for the latter's release.

The terror's second period lasted from the end of the civil war in 1921 to the First Five Year Plan of 1928. Early in this period, with the Red victory won over the Whites and foreign foes, voices were raised by the more humane Communist leaders that perhaps the Cheka should be abolished and the Red terror at last terminated.

These would-be humanists were overruled. Yet through the 1920s and their New Economic Policy until 1928-29, there were in the Soviet Union but two large concentration camps: in the sequestered monasteries of Solovki, the island in the White Sea north of Arkhangelsk with branch barracks on the nearby mainland; and on the Vishera River shores on the continent, in the Perm region of the European slope of the Urals. From these two camps thousands of men were sent to various railroad- and canal-building or other work areas throughout the north. The total of all such convicts up to 1919 was no more than some 20,000, although outside the camps, all over Russia, the numbers of those shot by the Cheka were by that time in the hundreds of thousands.

Compare this with the estimated millions of victims in Stalin's time, most of whom were killed during the third or main period of the Soviet terror, lasting from 1928-29 to the dictator's death in March 1953. Otradin states that the mass terror of this third phase was no sudden development. It had been carefully prepared during those comparatively mild 1920s when the New Economic Policy gave the Communist leadership an opportunity to pretest and organize the terror of the succeeding decades quietly. Thus the gigantic Archipelago of Solzhenitsyn's description—of thousands of concentration camps, of millions destined to die of slave work and malnutrition if not by firing squad—would become the awful reality of the third period.

To these three periods we should add the fourth, from 1953 well into these mid-1970s, the time of Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, which Otradin does not discuss and which stands quite distinctly separate from the first three phases. At a later point of this narrative it will be discussed.


Born on December 21, 1879, as Iosif Dzhugashvili, the son of a hard-drinking Georgian shoemaker in the small Caucasian town of Gori, Stalin3 in his boyhood was sent by his pious mother to a theological seminary in Tiflis (now Tbilisi). He later claimed he was expelled for his early revolutionary activity, but his mother denied this, saying she removed him from the seminary because of his weak health.

Becoming a clerk in the Tiflis observatory, he devoted most of his effort to underground work for the Russian Social Democratic Party, which he joined in 1898, when he was not yet 19. The Tsarist police soon knew him as an agitator and strike organizer; his first arrest came in 1902. It was in Siberia, to which he was exiled in 1903, that he learned of the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, and chose the former as the more militant. Escaping from Siberia in early 1904, he returned to the Caucasus to resume his revolutionary activity. He adopted the name Stalin, meaning Man of Steel.

He first met Lenin in 1905 at the Party conference in Finland. Two years later, with Lenin's secret approval, Stalin organized the first major Bolshevik terrorist act: on June 25, 1907, in Tiflis, his men attacked and robbed a State Bank carriage, causing bloodshed and getting away with 340,000 rubles ($170,000). Arrested in April 1908 in Baku, he was exiled again. Altogether, the years 1902-17 meant for Stalin six arrests, repeated imprisonments and exiles, and several escapes. The revolution and fall of Tsarism in March 1917 freed him from his last Siberian exile. He came to Petrograd to take charge of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda and to join Lenin on his return from Switzerland in April.

In years to come, from his position of power, as he rewrote history, Stalin asserted that from the spring of 1917 he was Lenin's closest aide. In fact it was Trotsky, not Stalin, who shared Lenin's fame as his second-in-command and often as his equal. Stalin was obscure throughout the civil war, as Commissar of Nationalities; he also collected food supplies for the Red Army and played a role in the defense of Tsaritsyn on the Volga against the White offensive. (On becoming the Soviet dictator, Stalin renamed Tsaritsyn Stalingrad. After his death in 1953 and denigration by Khrushchev in 1956, Stalingrad became Volgograd.)

Stalin's gradual rise to power began in 1922, when Lenin made him secretary general of the Communist Party, with the task of bringing it out of its post-civil war disarray. Stalin shrewdly used the job to pull his aides—mostly nonintellectuals—up the bureaucratic ladder, thus creating his own political machine. This alarmed Lenin but, already on his deathbed, he could do little except to urge, in his last will, Stalin's removal. Lenin wrote: "He is too rude . . . insufferable." Stalin, now in command, suppressed the document.

Lenin died on January 21, 1924. From then on, for nearly 30 years, until his own death at the age of 73 on March 5, 1953, Stalin wielded his untrammeled and terrible tyranny over the vast empire. Sending multitudes to slavery and death, he was quoted as saying: "One death may be a tragedy, but millions of deaths are only statistics." He was frank about his sadism, on one occasion remarking that he derived the greatest pleasure from planning in detail precisely how he would do away with an intended victim and then going off to bed for his sweet and sound sleep, knowing that in the morning he would put the death sentence into effect.

At a whim, Stalin reclassified comrades as enemies to be executed. He turned upon his aides and staunchest supporters, either on what Khrushchev was later to call "distrustful" and "sickly" suspicion or on the cold-blooded premise that intimidation works best when terror is highly indiscriminate. Not a single one of Stalin's favorites was ever sure of his continued favor, nor of his own liberty or even life. These favorites were in mortal fright, trembling each time they were called into Stalin's presence. When thus summoned, they said their grim farewells to their families, not knowing whether they would return. Some, in fact, did not. Aware of their fear, Stalin played on it with relish, asking a henchman: "Why do you turn around so much today and avoid looking at me directly in the eye?"

Increasingly in his three decades of dictatorship, as he ordered a mass chorus of praise from the people high and low, he at the same time formalized on a grand scale the insanely cruel terror initiated in Russia by Lenin and Trotsky. Through the swirling madness of mass murder, he displayed for all the world to see the irrational purposes of this terror that, in a much more flagrant way than any other Soviet leader before or after him, Stalin used as the main basis of his power.

Not that the two leaders before him, Lenin and Trotsky, should be absolved to any degree. Nor should we concede that in their terror Lenin and Trotsky were more rational than Stalin. All three should be judged as one phenomenon. And far from being a late or sudden development, their rule of mass-scale murders from 1918 to 1953 had been largely predetermined by the trio's psyches (at the root of their politics), inherent and unfolding long before their coming to power.

And yet, in modern literature, very little has been done to show the necessary connections between the mentalities of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. Thus, in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness by Erich Fromm, we find that Stalin is classed with Hitler and Himmler in the chapters on "Malignant Aggression." Stalin and the two Nazis are described as sadists; in addition, Stalin is defined as possibly suffering "from paranoid tendencies in the last years of his life." With all that, Fromm's analysis of Stalin's aberration is quite inadequate—surely not so full or original as are his depictions of Hitler's necrophilia and Himmler's sadomasochism. Lenin is not even included in this company. Astonishingly, all that Fromm has to say about Lenin is that, like Marx, Engels, and Mao Tse-tung, Lenin had "a sense of responsibility." As for Trotsky, there is not a single mention of him in all the 526 pages of Fromm's book.

While we wait for a truly expert study of the dementia of the founders of the Soviet state and terror, we see that at least on the surface the aims of the Soviet secret police over their nearly six decades have been soberly practical. They have been threefold: First, to remove actual and potential enemies of the Communist dictatorship. Second, through this to intimidate the rest of the population. Third, to secure manpower for the work projects run by the secret police.

The "show trials" of the 1930s, where terrorized and often innocent defendants vied with one another to heap slander and malice upon themselves while confessing the most fantastic "crimes" invented by the secret police, did intimidate most of the populace. But they also convinced some gullible citizens that wholesale arrests and harsh punishment were truly deserved—until that time, of course, when these naive men and women were in their turn themselves arrested, starved, beaten, tortured, and sent to slave camps or shot dead.

An explanation of that terror was once given by a perceptive victim. A Russian engineer sentenced to a long term in a Stalinist concentration camp (we do not know whether he survived it) said to a fellow inmate (who did survive and brought his reminiscences to the West): "We are accused of wrecking. Wrecking there is, in fact, but it is the regime's own wrecking, not ours. Those power-hungry amateurs, those incompetents, have made such a mess of the nation's political body and above all of the nation's economy that they need scapegoats. We are the scapegoats for the years and years of their mistakes. Hence this terror."

At the same time we must remember that this terror, this slavery, was more than a purely political tool. It was and still is an important economic resource of the Soviet regime, or at least an attempt to make it such a resource.

The Red regime's need for labor was at certain times a predominant reason for terror. From a secret 750-page book of Soviet economics, published in Moscow in 1941, that fell into Nazi hands during the initial Soviet retreat in the Second World War and was eventually found in Germany by the American victors, we glean the following:

On the eve of that war, slave labor cut and finished 12.5 per cent of all Soviet timber, built 22.5 per cent of the country's railroads, and mined 75 per cent of its gold, 40.5 per cent of its chrome, and 2.8 per cent of its coal. The secret police were also in charge of all capital construction.

From other reliable sources we know that it was common for the headquarters of the secret police in Moscow to apportion in periodic instructions to its provincial offices the arrest of so many engineers of a certain specialty, so many lumberjacks or tailors or railroad men, so many skilled hands for whatever the secret police enterprises needed in the coming months of their own Five Year Plans.

Special slave laboratories, established for captive scientists and engineers, were meant to contribute toward the Soviet Union's technological progress. Thus, in the 1930s, one of the most valued Soviet sites of radioactive ore mining and processing was made into a property of the secret police, with large numbers of professors, engineers, and other experts arrested for the express purpose of this particular production. The extraction and processing of radium by highly qualified slaves was done in the extreme Arctic north of European Russia, in the Pechora region near the White Sea. The concentration camp contained radium mines, eight chemical plants, and three laboratories—chemical, radiometrical, and physiological—among other units.

The slaves manning this huge compound included Professors F. A. Toropov and G. A. Razuvayev, both celebrated chemists; engineers A. N. Kazakov, G. S. Davydov, S. A. Savelyev, and M. D. Tilicheyev; and many others, almost all eventually perishing in their cages. Kazakov was a renowned flyer and specialist in aeronautics; Davydov was a metallurgist, sentenced to ten years of hard labor on his return from a mission to the United States; Savelyev had pioneered in radio; Tilicheyev was well known in oil mining. Together with nonexperts, the number of prisoners here reached 1,000. Yet their total production was ridiculously low: by the testimony of a surviving slave of this camp who later reached the West, the annual output of radium totaled 4.7 grams in 1936 and 6 grams in 1937.

In 1938 the world-renowned Soviet aircraft builder, Andrei Tupolev, was arrested. On trumped-up charges he was sentenced to five years in jail—first in Moscow, then at Omsk in western Siberia where a sharashka, or a special design and test laboratory-prison, was established by the secret police for him and more than 100 other scientists and engineers to help Tupolev create his efficient airplanes for both war and civilian purposes. Mikhail Gurevich, one of the two inventors of the celebrated MiG plane, was among these slaves. So was Sergei Korolyov, the famous pioneer of Soviet rocketry.4

Solzhenitsyn's great novel The First Circle is about one of these prison-laboratories for Soviet slave-scientists and engineers of Stalin's era. It is based on the novelist's own experience as a mathematician-physicist incarcerated in a slave pen and forced to do research.


Today, side by side with such regular Soviet law agencies as the court system, the network of state attorneys known as procurators, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of the Interior, but in actuality overshadowing all of them, there reigns the Soviet institution called KGB, which is the current embodiment of the secret police and which, as an organization, though under other names, realized its greatest power under Stalin.5

The initials stand for Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti, or Committee for State Security; it is nominally attached to the federal Council of Ministers, but in reality subject to the Politbureau, which is the supreme organ of the Communist Party, and to its Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev. The head of the KGB is Yury Andropov, a personal friend of Brezhnev and a neighbor of his: Andropov's apartment is one floor below that of Brezhnev in one of Moscow's best sectors, on Kutuzov Prospect (Number 24). The two and a few of their intimates often get together in one or the other of the pair's apartments for supper parties, at which Brezhnev likes to cook.

Let us look back at the list of the predecessors of the KGB and Andropov. The first such security force with arbitrary powers of life and death was established by Lenin on December 20, 1917, six weeks after his seizure of power. It was usually referred to as the Cheka, or Ch. K., after the Russian initials of the first two words of its long name, the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage. Dzerzhinsky, its first chief, was soon widely dreaded as a cold-blooded, ruthless exterminator. No regular trials were held by the Cheka; death sentences were decreed either by a three-man tribunal (troika) or by a provincial or regional head of the agency, each such powerful individual acting on his own. One report estimated the total of those executed in the four years of the Cheka's existence at more than 1,760,000. Sentences were usually carried out by shooting, in prison basements. (Executioners on the White side during the civil war sometimes used firing squads but, quite often, gallows as well.)

The adjective "Extraordinary" in the Cheka's official name was a near-ironic Red promise that terror was a temporary tool, to be discarded when the civil war ended and the new Soviet republic was certain of its survival. Indeed, on February 6, 1922, the Cheka was disbanded, but, as it turned out, only nominally. Now it was the GPU, later called OGPU, for the name Ob'yedinennoye Gosudarstvennoye Politicheskoye Upravleniye, or the United State Political Administration. In fact, it was the same Cheka merely rechristened in the direction of greater permanency, with the same deadly staff and under the same Feliks Dzerzhinsky.

After Dzerzhinsky's death in 1926, the OGPU was headed by another Russian-Polish Communist, Vyacheslav Menzhinsky. This man, a devotee of mathematics and Persian art, was once called by Lenin "the decadent neurotic." Between executions he read pornographic novels and wrote erotic poetry. His own death, in 1934, was reportedly arranged by his assistant and successor, Genrikh Yagoda.

On July 10, 1934, the OGPU was made part of the People's Commissariat of the Interior, at once feared as the sinister NKVD, the initials of the Commissariat's Russian name (Narodny Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del). Under Dzerzhinsky and Menzhinsky the old Cheka and the OGPU had already added to the terror at home an elaborate system of espionage in foreign lands. Now, under Yagoda, the new NKVD expanded its activities abroad at the same time extended enormously the use of slave labor in concentration camps in the country's northern and eastern provinces. [In addition, in 1934 a Main Administration of State Security was formed (within the NKVD) that, in time—February 1941—was made into the NKVD's twin—the NKGB, which after March 1946 became MGB, now KGB. At the same time the name Gulag emerged, for Glavnoye Upravleniye Lagerei, or the Main Administration of Camps; hence the title of Solzhenitsyn's book, The Gulag Archipelago.]

The son of an artisan, Yagoda first joined the Bolsheviks in 1907 at 16, was arrested by the Tsarist police at 20, and was drafted into the army during the First World War. In the civil war he held a noncombatant post in the Red forces and shifted to the secret police in 1920. Rising to the very summit, he became known and feared for his ingenious cruelty. It was he who prepared the first two major trials of such fellow Communists incurring Stalin's displeasure as Zinovyev, Kamenev, and others. Under Stalin's own guidance, Yagoda succeeded in exacting from these high-rank defendants astonishingly abject confessions of crimes they had not committed against Stalin and the Party—so starkly depicted in Arthur Koestler's novel, Darkness at Noon. Yagoda picked his staff shrewdly; one of his assistants was known to boast that with his methods of interrogation he could force Karl Marx himself to admit his guilt as Bismarck's agent.

Yagoda was removed by Stalin in September 1936, in Stalin's usual pattern of demonstrating his power by demoting and killing his most loyal aides. In March 1938, Yagoda was tried, along with some of the top-level Communist leaders he himself had earlier arrested and harassed. Among other charges of Stalin against Yagoda was that he had poisoned the writer Maxim Gorky. Soon afterward Yagoda was shot, along with those other fallen Old Bolsheviks.

His post at the NKVD pinnacle was assumed by Nikolai Yezhov, whom Stalin had discovered at a provincial post and brought to Moscow. A native of St. Petersburg, of humble origins, Yezhov joined the Bolsheviks in March 1917 at 23, later served as a Red Army political commissar, and moved into the secret police in the mid-1930s. Because of his phenomenal sadism and his short stature (only five feet), Yezhov was called—in frightened whispers—"the bloodthirsty dwarf." Among his practices was that of personally killing his victims in his office.

Always the secret police had the right, introduced by Lenin and continued by Stalin, to kill people at will. But in the great campaign of terror launched by Yezhov on Stalin's orders in 1936-38, death or jail sentences were formalized in a show of legality, which, however, was limited in its pretense. Even before the Yezhov period, Stalin gave the NKVD's Special Board the authority to mete out "administrative" terms of up to five years in exile or forced-labor camps, in the defendants' absence and with no counsel present to plead the victims' cases. In the purge period of '36-'38, the Board increased such sentences to 25 years. Death sentences were numerous. The entire mind-boggling span of these years became known colloquially as yezhovshchina: "the horrible time of Yezhov."

Then came Yezhov's own doom. In 1938 he was transferred by Stalin from his NKVD post to head the Soviet Union's water transport, and in 1939 he disappeared. Soon he was executed by his successors, although Stalin had the rumor spread that Yezhov had died in an insane asylum. This was clearly Stalin's clumsy attempt to disassociate himself from the terror he was in fact responsible for and to explain Yezhov's mass tortures and murders by Yezhov's sheer madness.

In 1938 the secret police chieftancy devolved upon Stalin's fellow Georgian, Lavrenty Beria.6 He remained at this job until a few months after Stalin's death in March 1953.

A peasant's son, Beria had some minor technical education and became a Bolshevik in 1917 at 18. In secret police work since 1921, within ten years he was Stalin's merciless satrap for all of Transcaucasia. Like Yezhov, he particularly enjoyed having important victims—Communists and others—shot in his presence in his own office. In 1935 he ingratiated himself with Stalin by writing a fraudulent history of the Caucasian revolutionary movement with outrageous flattery for Stalin's role. This proved to be the main factor in his transfer to Moscow and his replacement of Yezhov.

Thin-faced, wearing a pince-nez, Beria seemed an austere figure, but even before the promotion he had been notorious for hard drinking and lechery. Now, in Moscow, he gave full vent to his proclivities. Among other pastimes he would on afternoons cruise the streets of the Red capital, spot a pretty girl of a good family in her early teens hurrying from school or to her music lesson, and order his guards to seize and bring her to his bedroom. He would violate the captive, at times—in case of desperate resistance—first drugging her or making her drunk. After several days of his pleasure he would sometimes release the girl, upon warning her and her family to be quiet about it, but sometimes he would kill her and the family so as not to leave any possible complainants.

Prominent in Beria's activity was his organization of Trotsky's murder in Mexico in 1940. In time he received in his Moscow office and personally thanked on their return from Mexico his two chief aides in the assassination, one of them the Spanish Communist Caridad Mercader, the murderer's mother. He then presented her to Stalin, who bestowed a decoration upon her.

When, in March 1946, all the Soviet commissariats were renamed ministries (after the old Imperial and general Western custom), the NKVD became the MVD, or the Ministry of the Interior. By the MVD's side, the MGB, or the Ministry of State Security, grew into a mighty organ, the distribution of the police functions between the two never entirely clear, but both under Beria until just before his death in 1953.

On Stalin's death there was a distinct possibility that Beria, with the help of his plentiful special secret police troops, would seize all power in the land. But somehow he lacked the nerve to do this.7

In June 1953, Beria was grabbed by Khrushchev and his associates, charged with treason (including an accusation that he had spied for the British!), and condemned to death, his execution taking place in December 1953, according to an official communiqué, or several months earlier—in the summer of that year, immediately upon his arrest—according to other, informal accounts.

Heartbreaking reminiscences by survivors and by relatives of victims exist now for every phase of the Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin terror. But the greatest sufferings appear to have been experienced when, under Stalin's guidance, Yezhov was in charge. In his The Great Terror, Robert Conquest states that at the peak of the Stalin-Yezhov purges in 1937-38 some 8,500,000 people, or 5 per cent of the nation's population, were arrested, and that most of these were sent to slave camps where the annual death rate was 20 per cent. Nor was Yezhov's successor Beria much milder. At the height of the Beria period, the concentration camps held as many as 20 million people—according to the statement made on April 4, 1955, by John H. Noble, an American released from a Soviet slave camp after more than four years of imprisonment. This is more than three times the figure given later, for the same time, by Solzhenitsyn. As his source, Noble cited a statement he had heard from a Russian prisoner with access to such statistics because of his employment as a bookkeeper at the central Gulag headquarters.

Other Stalin-era reports estimate that about 10 per cent of this human mass of misery were women (most of them sentenced for being wives, daughters, and other kin of the imprisoned or executed men); and that 90 per cent of the captives were men of working age, representing 15 to 30 per cent of the country's total male working population. From his experience as a long-time American diplomat in the Soviet Union, George F. Kennan declares that in the purges of the 1930s there were destroyed "a full 75 per cent of the governing class of the country, a similar proportion of the leading intelligentsia, and over half of the higher officers' corps of the Red Army."8

A distinguishing characteristic of the Stalin reign was its mass slaughter of Communists by Communists, which had not been so common in the years of Lenin and Trotsky. So all-embracing, in the mid-1930s, were the arrests and executions of Communists in the Soviet Union that a French magazine printed a cartoon showing a demented man in a desert chasing himself with an ax, the caption below reading: "The Last Communist."

Torture of prisoners by the Soviet secret police, interrogators, and guards had already been known in the Lenin-Trotsky period, but under Stalin it was refined and expanded into regular, incessant practice. The methods of torture were many:

Placing a prisoner on the so-called "conveyor"—keeping him or her sleepless for days and nights at a stretch while being questioned by a series of interrogators taking their turns, until the victim signed a false confession.

Tearing off the prisoner's nails. Crushing his fingers between doors. Holding him and other prisoners in a tightly packed cell, with standing room only, for several days and nights, with neither food nor water, until the few survivors were taken out to sign whatever was demanded of them. Or putting the prisoner against a wall with arms raised, the guards beating him each time he dared to move, until the man's legs swelled and after several fainting spells he collapsed completely.

Urinating into the prisoner's mouth during his interrogation.

Administering brutal beatings to the children of prisoners in the parents' presence until "confessions" were signed.

Raping the prisoners' wives and daughters in the prisoners' full view, with similar results.

In the camps, allowing and even encouraging nonpolitical criminals to beat, rob, and rape political prisoners. One method of abusing a woman prisoner was poslat' yeyo pod tramvai, or "send her under a trolley car"—subject her to mass rape by 20 or 30 nonpolitical criminals and sometimes by guards.


Following Stalin's death in 1953, arrests decreased greatly, a limited amnesty was announced, and, after Beria's downfall, measures were taken to treat prisoners more humanely. Gradually there came reviews of sentences and numerous "rehabilitations" of victims, in many cases—alas—posthumous. The reasons for the new Khrushchevian policy of mitigation and even apology were several:

Concessions to the people were essential, for hardly a family in the land had by 1953 remained unaffected by the state-decreed and -maintained terror. The many years of Soviet repression had had its calculated effect of intimidating the populace—but it had also rendered them so terrorized as to make them listless. People did their work poorly and ineffectively. Particularly in the slave camps productivity was low. Stalin's heirs in the Kremlin now knew that, economically, slavery did not really pay. Besides, the hardest job of pioneering in the north and east had already been accomplished—by the millions of slaves, so many of whom were by then dead. Free labor could now be induced by wages and bonuses, not by armed guards and vicious dogs, to migrate to those remote, poor-climate areas, to live in relative comfort in barracks built by slaves and to work in mines dug and improved by those who had perished.

The slaves' strikes and rebellions in Vorkuta in the northeast and in Karaganda in Central Asia in 1953, although bloodily quelled, were one more reason for Stalin's heirs to relax the repressions. For in those slaves' insurrections they saw a specter of nationwide uprisings.9

And there was the world's opinion, too. Stalin had not worried about it; so powerful he had deemed himself to be, and had indeed been. But the new leaders were not so sure. And by then, unlike Stalin's time (and the earlier Lenin-Trotsky years), the world knew and at last believed the stories brought West by the escaped survivors of the unprecedented terror.

Nor were only the people living in fear. The leaders were also afraid. Stalin's high-placed aides too, as it now became known, had not felt safe in the face of the terror machine they themselves were managing. Respite and assurance were needed by everybody in the nation, of all classes and stations. Beria's downfall was brought about by his Kremlin colleagues' apprehension that, unless eliminated, he would become another Stalin. And Khrushchev and his group also needed a scapegoat to offer to the now restless Soviet masses and classes for Stalin's crimes—and their own. What handier scapegoat than this hated chief of the dreaded secret police?

Thus in 1953 a new, milder policy was introduced, reaching its height in February 1956, when Khrushchev delivered his famous "secret" anti-Stalin speech to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party.

The danger of new arrests was diminished, first of all, for Communist Party members who, from the initial post-Stalin time on, could no longer be seized by the secret police without the knowledge and clearance on the part of their Communist superiors. The ill-famed troika, the three-man MVD tribunal with arbitrary powers to sentence Soviet citizens in secrecy and in the victims' absence, was abolished. As numerous surviving prisoners were released and fewer new slaves were brought in, certain forced-labor camps were closed. In some of the remaining ones, army guards took over from the MVD slave drivers, and the prisoners' treatment became noticeably more bearable.

From the mid-1950s, the KGB, or the Committee for State Security, as the successor of the MVD and MGB (and of the earlier Cheka, OGPU, and NKVD), has been the top organ of the Soviet secret police, in implacable charge of the continuing arrests and their victims as well as the never-ceasing espionage and sabotage in foreign countries the world over.

A watershed in the renewal of terror was the Hungarian revolt and its suppression by Soviet tanks in late 1956. Soon after the Budapest events, arrests of suspect or restless Russians and non-Russians were resumed in the Soviet empire. By 1958 such arrests, although not publicized, were occurring en masse. The new wave included not only "first offenders," but also rearrests of many of those freed only a short time before. Western researchers of the phenomenon estimated that in 1961 there were some three to four million prisoners in Soviet concentration camps. This figure was in time judged to remain constant for the next 14 years, except that by 1976 it also included the growing numbers of those political dissenters who were kept in the KGB's special insane asylums, even when such prisoners were entirely sane. Nor should we forget the additional contingents of prisoners in the jails and camps of Czechoslovakia (particularly numerous after the suppression of that country in August 1968 by Soviet tanks), Poland, East Germany, and other so-called "people's democracies," where the native secret police usually act with the guidance or at least cooperation of the Moscow KGB.

It is true that, although the prisoners' beatings, tortures, and killings in the prisons and concentration camps of the Soviet empire have not stopped completely, these now occur less frequently and in most cases are not perhaps as brutally sadistic as they commonly were in Stalin's era. On the other hand, the number of fresh arrests is higher, and the treatment of prisoners is harsher than in Khrushchev's time. Instances of inmates' suicide are on the increase.

The dominant role of the KGB over the nation's regular courts is once more quite definite. It is the KGB that decides which of the political trials in these mid-1970s are to be conducted behind closed doors, even if held in regular courts. Sentences by such courts in the defendants' absence are on the increase, sternly reminding the population of Stalinist times. A regular court sometimes swiftly turns over a prisoner to the KGB's keeping. Often there is not even a formal charge and any legal condemnation—only the court's finding that the prisoner must be demented since he does not like the Soviet regime. Such was, for instance, the case of the poetess Nataliya Gorbanveskaya when, in July 1970, the Moscow city court committed her to the infamous Serbsky Insane Asylum, which is within the KGB network, staffed by "psychiatrists" officially employed by the KGB, and even wearing their KGB uniforms and insignia as colonels and majors of the secret police beneath their unbuttoned white coats. Since 1970 such commitments of political dissidents to mental hospitals have been common. Treatment of these perfectly normal prisoners include forcible injections of drugs, in the KGB's hope that this will soon make the unfortunates truly insane.

The maximum term in present-day concentration camps appears to be 15 years, but cases are known where prisoners are being held well beyond this limit. The death penalty is still on the Soviet law books, for treason to the state (such as caused Colonel Oleg V. Penkovsky's execution in May 1963), and for major economic crimes (the law of May 5, 1961), as well as for murder and banditry. While a high court of the Ministry of Justice may be the agency that passes a sentence of capital punishment, the penalty is carried out by a firing squad of the secret police, as in the Stalinist era.

By the middle 1970s the protesting voices of Amnesty International and other Western organizations on behalf of Soviet dissidents became a strong chorus. The Soviet dictatorship has responded to it reluctantly and sparingly. Often it has disregarded the protests of Western intellectuals completely, though at times it has yielded by allowing a few dissidents to leave the Soviet Union for good. Sometimes it has deported them against their will. Thus, in February 1974, the KGB arrested Alexander Solzhenitsyn and at first threatened him with execution. Then, realizing the furor this would arouse abroad, the KGB expelled him to Western Germany.

Some Soviet and Western intellectuals attempted to use the détente, then being negotiated by the United States President Richard M. Nixon and the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, toward the lessening of the Soviet terror in its latest phase. In late June and early July 1974, as Nixon and Brezhnev met in Moscow and Yalta, the Soviet nuclear physicist Andrei D. Sakharov appealed to them:

Do what you can, at least for some of the prisoners—the women, the old people, those who are ill, those who have been tried more than once (the courts punish them with special perversity). Bring about the immediate release of all who have been incarcerated for more than 15 years, the maximum term fixed by law. Encourage international supervision of places of confinement in all countries—in these places human rights and humanitarian principles are violated most often.10

To strengthen his plea, Professor Sakharov went on a hunger strike that he kept up for almost a week. The only response from Brezhnev was his order to the Soviet television technicians to cut off at its very beginning the interview with Sakharov that American broadcasters tried to relay from Moscow to the world at large.

As for President Nixon, there is no evidence that he interceded with Brezhnev in any way on behalf of Soviet prisoners and other dissidents. On the contrary, in a public speech prior to his flight to meet with Brezhnev, the President warned that there should be no interference with the domestic affairs of any nation, no matter how much we may sympathize with the victims of such a nation's terror.

From August 1974 on, the new President Gerald R. Ford, having inherited Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, has on the whole continued this Nixon-Kissinger policy of noninterference with the severe repressive course of the Soviet government within that country.

But a welcome contrast came in October 1975, when a special committee of the Norwegian parliament awarded Sakharov the year's Nobel Peace Prize, citing the Russian scientist for his fearless advocacy of human rights, particularly the right to dissent and the right to freedom from oppression and terror: "His basic principle is that universal peace cannot have a lasting value if not based on respect for every individual in society."


There remains for humanitarians and demographers as well as for historians the grave problem of the exact or even approximate total toll of Soviet terror from Lenin's seizure of power in November 1917 to Stalin's death in March 1953.

On the eve of the revolution of 1917, political prisoners in Tsarist jails totaled fewer than 800. In the first volume of his Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn estimates that as many as six million political convicts were held in Soviet prisons and concentration camps at any one time (while another six million were nonpolitical inmates and slaves). This high figure, according to Solzhenitsyn, was reached just before Stalin's death. In his second volume, Solzhenitsyn writes that from late 1917 to early 1953 between 40 and 50 million humans passed through Soviet jails and slave camps, including men, women, and children who never came out alive. Those dead totaled between 15 and 25 million.

Hitler's victims of gassing, gallows, firing squads, and other means of extermination (not counting those lost in battles and bombings) totaled between 10 and 12 million, of whom six million were Jews. But then, the Nazis had only 12 years to establish their grisly record, whereas the Lenin-through-Stalin period lasted more than 35 years.

In early 1974, Western intelligence sources put the Soviet prison population under the Brezhnev-Kosygin regime as anywhere between one million and 2,500,000, of whom only 10,000 were considered political convicts. But defectors and émigrés from the Soviet Union in 1974-76 ridiculed this figure as entirely too low.

The number of those politicals who are unjustly confined to Soviet insane asylums is unknown.

Thus the grand promise of Russia's terrorists, from the Narodniki through the Terror Brigade of the Socialist Revolutionaries to Lenin's launching of mass murders, which sought to justify their bloodshed by their aim of making mankind happy, was never even close to realization. In the Soviet Union and other Socialist-Communist countries there may have been economic gains, but even these could have been achieved by peaceful means. The human rights of the original dream and promise—equality, justice, personal liberty—have not been enhanced. Far from it; whatever such rights did exist in pre-terror times have by now been trampled into the bloody mire by the hobnailed boots of torturers and firing squads.


1 On the Stalinist period in Soviet terror, in addition to the pertinent parts of the already cited Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, see:

Roy A. Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, transl. by Colleen Taylor and edited by David Joravsky and Georges Haupt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971). Unfortunately, while blaming Stalin for terror, the author tends to exonerate Lenin.

Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties, revised edition (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1973). One of the best accounts and analyses of the Stalinist terror.

An earlier, thorough, and well-documented study is David J. Dallin and Boris I. Nicolaevsky, Forced Labor in Soviet Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947). More embracive geographically is Alexander Dallin and George W. Breslauer, Political Terror in Communist Systems (Stanford University Press, 1970).

Among the innumerable individual memoirs by survivors of the Stalinist terror, three of the latest and most impressive are:

Alexander Vardy, Das Eisloch [The Icehole], transl, from the Russian by Josef Hahn (Stuttgart: Henry Goverts Verlag, 1966).

Joseph Berger, Nothing But the Truth (New York: The John Day Company, 1971).

Alexander Dolgun with Patrick Watson, Alexander Dolgun's Story: An American in the Gulag (New York: Knopf, 1975).

Much of my knowledge and understanding of the Stalinist terror came from my acquaintance and long talks, over the years, with numerous survivors of the Soviet concentration camps. Among others, I am indebted to Alexander Vardy for the recollections he so readily and fully shared with me during our many get-togethers in his Munich home.

2 N. Otradin, "Po ostrovam 'Arkhipelaga'" [On the islands of the 'Archipelago'], Novoye Russkove Slovo, March 3, 1974.

3 For biographies of Stalin, besides the already cited Trotsky, Stalin, and the relevant parts of Wolfe, Three Who Made a Revolution, see:

Boris Souvarine, Stalin: A Critical Survey of Bolshevism, translated by C. L. R. James (New York: Alliance Book Corporation, Longmans, Green & Co., 1939).

Adam B. Ulam, Stalin: The Man and His Era (New York: The Viking Press, 1973).

Robert C. Tucker, Stalin As Revolutionary, 1879-1929: A Study in History and Personality (paperback, New York: Norton 1974).

4 A. Sharagin (pseudonym of Georgi A. Ozerov, one of the victims), Tupolevskaya sharaga [Tupolev's secret camp-laboratory], (Frankfurt, West Germany: Published by the Posey House, [1971]), passim.

5 John Barron, KGB (paperback, New York: Bantam Books, 1974).

6 Despite the historical importance of Beria's life and activity, there is not a single comprehensive biography of him in any language. The book by Thaddeus Wittlin, Commissar: The Life and Death of Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria (New York: Macmillan, 1972), notwithstanding its size—566 pages—is a complete failure.

7 How close in those March days of 1953 Beria came to seize all power in the Soviet Union, may be seen from Harrison E. Salisbury, American in Russia (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955), Chapter X, "The Seventy-five Hours," particularly pp. 170-72.

8 George F. Kennan, Memoirs: 1925-1950 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967), pp. 503-04.

9 The fullest story of the slaves' uprising at Vorkuta is Joseph Scholmer, Vorkuta, translated from the German by Robert Kee (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1954).

10The New York Times, July 5, 1974, the Op-Ed Page, accompanied by Arthur Miller's short essay, "Sakharov, Détente and Liberty." For the role of Soviet courts as instruments of terror in the current Brezhnev period, see Telford Taylor, Courts of Terror: Soviet Criminal Justice and Jewish Emigration (New York: Knopf, 1976).

Robert C. Tucker (essay date 1979)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9883

SOURCE: 'The Rise of Stalin's Personality Cult," in The American Historical Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, April, 1979, pp. 347-66.

[In the following essay, Tucker discusses the reasons behind Stalin's rise to the status of cult figure despite the objections of earlier Soviet leaders, particularly Lenin, to public adulation.]

The cult of Lenin, which Lenin himself opposed and managed to keep in check until incapacitated by a stroke in March 1923, subsequently became a pervasive part of Soviet public life. No single cause explains its rise. Undoubtedly, the Bolsheviks genuinely venerated their vozhd' as the man whose personal leadership had been critically important for the movement from its origin to its assumption of power and for the creation and consolidation of the Soviet regime in the ensuing years. But it is also true that after Lenin's death that regime had a pragmatic need for a prestigious unifying symbol. The Lenin cult, whose obvious religious overtones were at variance with the Communist Party's professed secularism, is likewise an example of how Soviet culture came to incorporate certain elements of the Russian past, in this case the ruler cult. For centuries the Russian people, overwhelmingly composed of peasants, had been monarchist in outlook. The Revolution had opened the door for many peasant sons to have careers in the new society. Industrialization and collectivization resulted in the recruitment of millions of people of peasant stock into the working class. They brought with them, along with their Soviet schooling and experience, residues of the traditional peasant mentality, including respect for personal authority, whether it emanated from the immediate boss or from the head of the party and state. The social condition of Russia at the time of the "great turn" (1929-33) was, therefore, receptive to the cult of a deceased leader—or a living one.

Lenin refused to tolerate public adulation—save, with extreme reluctance, on his fiftieth birthday in 1920—and even then he showed dry disapproval of the eulogizing to which his comrades subjected him. Thus, as the public adulation of a living leader, the Stalin cult deviated from previous Bolshevik practice. How and why, then, did the Stalin cult arise?

Realpolitik fused with psychological needs. Politically, a Stalin cult alongside of and integrated into the Lenin cult promised to make Stalin's position more impregnable than it was at the start of the 1930s. Although he had won considerable support and even popularity inside party circles during the early post-Lenin years, Stalin never enjoyed a prestige even remotely comparable to Lenin's. His popularity, moreover, plummeted in the early 1930s as a result of forced collectivization and the concomitant famine of 1932-33. No evidence suggests that he was then in danger of being overthrown; still, his power was not yet absolute, the argumentative-critical tradition lived on (at least in higher party circles), and he had no guarantee against the rise of new opposition in response to new tribulation. So Stalin was undoubtedly concerned to forestall future trouble by making his political supremacy more unassailable. He was shrewd enough to realize that his elevation to a Lenin-like eminence in the regime's publicity would be useful for this purpose. But, important as it was, the political motive does not provide a sufficient explanation. Not only did the cult continue to grow after Stalin's power became increasingly absolute later in the 1930s, but both direct and indirect evidence indicates that it was a prop for his psyche as well as for his power. Boundlessly ambitious, yet inwardly insecure, he had an imperative need for the hero worship that Lenin found repugnant.

That the name "Stalin" symbolized a lofty idealized self to its seemingly earthy bearer was not widely known in Russia. In part, this reflected Stalin's studied effort to emulate in public Lenin's example of modestly unassuming deportment. In private, moreover, Stalin repeatedly affected disdain for adulation. For example, he concluded a letter to an Old Bolshevik, Ia. M. Shatunovskii, in August 1930 by saying, "You speak of your 'devotion' to me. Perhaps that phrase slipped out accidentally. Perhaps. But if it isn't an accidental phrase, I'd advise you to thrust aside the 'principle' of devotion to persons. It isn't the Bolshevik way. Have devotion to the working class, its party, its state. That's needed and good. But don't mix it with devotion to persons, that empty and needless bauble of intellectuals."1

But the man behind the mask of modesty was hungry for the devotion he professed to scorn. He showed it by his own actions and by those of functionaries representing him—and by his acceptance of the officially inspired adulation as it rose in intensity during the 1930s. Indeed, in the very month in which he wrote the letter to Shatunovskii, Stalin, also in private, gave lie to that same advice. In June-July 1930 the Sixteenth Party Congress witnessed an outpouring of public tributes to him. Louis Fischer, who covered that event for The Nation, concluded his post-Congress dispatch by saying,

A good friend might also advise Stalin to put a stop to the orgy of personal glorification of Stalin which has been permitted to sweep the country. . . . Daily, hundreds of telegrams pour in on him brimming over with Oriental supercompliments: "Thou art the greatest leader . . . , the most devoted disciple of Lenin," and the like. Three cities, innumerable villages, collectives, schools, factories, and institutions have been named after him, and now somebody has started a movement to christen the Turksib the "Stalin Railway." I have gone back over the newspapers from 1919 to 1922: Lenin never permitted such antics and he was more popular than Stalin can ever hope to be. It exposes a weak side of Stalin's character which his enemies, who are numerous, are sure to exploit, for it is as un-Bolshevik as it is politically unwise. If Stalin is not responsible for this performance he at least tolerates it. He could stop it by pressing a button.2

A press section officer of the Foreign Commissariat, whose duties included the briefing of Stalin on foreign press coverage of Soviet affairs, later confided to Fischer that, when he translated the passage just quoted, Stalin responded with an expletive: "the bastard!" (svoloch'!).3 Evidently, he was stung by the truth of Fischer's observation that he himself bore responsibility for the emerging Stalin cult.

Precisely when this cult took on a life and momentum of its own is not easy to pinpoint. If the official celebration of Stalin's fiftieth birthday in 1929 is taken as the opening episode, there is no immediate sequel. The marking of Lenin's fiftieth birthday had been a one-time affair, and many in high positions may have assumed that Stalin's fiftieth would be similarly observed. Six months later came the acclaim at the Sixteenth Congress. But again the wave subsided. Although his name appeared often in the Soviet press, no steady stream of Stalin idolatry appeared in Soviet publicity in 1930 and most of 1931. Shortly afterwards, however, the cult began to grow. A.nd Stalin himself took certain steps to make it happen.

One such step was in philosophy, one of the numerous fields in which different schools of thought contended for primacy in the relatively pluralistic atmosphere of the period of the New Economic Policy (NEP). In the mid-1920B the so-called mechanistic materialists lost their previously influential position, and a school of devotees of Hegelian dialectics, led by A. M. Deborin, won dominance. Theirs was a positive response to Lenin's invitation to Soviet philosophers in 1922 to constitute themselves a society of "materialist friends of Hegelian dialectics."

Although Lenin had some philosophical writings to his credit, it was not uncommon in the 1920s to place him below Georgii Plekhanov as a Marxist philosopher. Deborin's disciples, moreover, tended to rate Deborin as the Engels of his own time in the field of philosophy.4 Stalin, by contrast, was widely regarded in Communist Party circles as a praktik, save for his theoretical work on the nationalities problem and his codification of Leninist doctrine in The Foundations of Leninism; thus, his standing in Marxist philosophy was virtually nil. Interesting evidence on this point exists in the form of a list, published in 1929, of writings with which students entering graduate work in the Communist Academy's Institute of Philosophy were supposed to be familiar in advance. Thirty-three works were listed under dialectical and historical materialism—that is, philosophy. Six works by Marx and Engels came first, followed by six works by Lenin, then four by Plekhanov, and then seven by Deborin. Then came entry number 23, Stalin's Problems of Leninism, which even at that low ranking was very probably included for diplomatic reasons. The list ended (Western philosophers will be interested to note) with Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, and Berkeley.5

For both political and personal reasons, Stalin could not be content with this situation. As the party's vozha" in succession to Lenin, he was duty-bound, in terms of Bolshevik culture, to be a creative Marxist theoretical mind of the first rank—in the political if not in the technical philosophical sense. But beyond those political expectations imposed by the vozdh'-role, Stalin had a personal craving for renown as a Marxist theoretician. Nikolai Bukharin, who knew him well, saw this and stressed it in his clandestine conversation with Lev Kamenev in 1928. For many years Stalin had harbored pretensions in Marxist philosophy. He had set forth what he saw as the fundamentals of dialectical materialism in his treatise of 1906-07, Anarchism or Socialism? In correspondence in 1908 that vexed Lenin, Stalin had characterized Lenin's philosophical polemics with the Bogdanov group over Machism as a "tempest in a teacup" and commended A. A. Bogdanov for pointing out some "individual faults of Ilyich."6

Stalin quietly continued, in the midst of intense political activities of later years, to try to enhance his command of Marxism as philosophy. He called upon Jan Sten, a leading philosopher of the Deborin school, to guide him in the study of Hegelian dialectics. Sten's teaching method, the one then used in the Institute of Red Professors, involved the parallel study of Marx's Capital and Hegel's The Phenomenology of the Mind. Stalin continued to have twice-weekly sessions with Sten from 1925 until some time in 1928, after which Stalin called a halt. Sten reportedly was depressed by the difficulty Stalin had in mastering Hegelian dialectics.7

Stalin sounded the characteristic note of the future Stalin school when he told a conference of agrarian Marxists on December 27, 1929 that Marxist theory always needed to keep in step with current practice. Not long afterwards, two young, clever, opportunist-minded philosophers from the Institute of Red Professors, Pavel F. Iudin and Mark B. Mitin, took up the same theme. Along with a third professor, V. Ral'tsevich, they published in Pravda on June 7, 1930 a long article that championed the notion that philosophy should apply itself in a new way to the theoretical problems of practice in building socialism. They lauded Stalin for showing an example of "deepened understanding of Marxist-Leninist dialectics" in his theoretical formulation of the idea of a struggle on two fronts—that is, against deviations of both Left and Right—and called for a corresponding philosophical struggle on two fronts. Although the authors did not openly attack Deborin, the article pointed to his school as the enemy on the philosophical second front. The authors came forward, in effect, as the nucleus of a new, Stalin school in Soviet philosophy. Stalin's approbation—if not inspiration as well—was reflected in the unusual note, published along with the article, that claimed that "the editors associate[d] themselves with the main propositions of the present article."

Soon Stalin personally intervened on the philosophical front. On December 9, 1930 he spoke out on philosophical matters in an interview with a group of philosophers from the Institute of Red Professors. Mitin later quoted him as saying that it was necessary to "rake and dig up all of the manure that has accumulated in questions of philosophy and natural science." In particular, it was necessary to "rake up everything written by the Deborinite group—all that is erroneous on the philosophical sector." Deborin's school was a philosophical form of revisionism that according to Stalin, who had a special talent for coining caustic neologisms, could be called "Menshevizing idealism." It was necessary, he continued, to expose a number of erroneous philosophical positions of Plekhanov, who had always looked down upon Lenin. Stalin kept emphasizing in the interview that Lenin had raised dialectical materialism to a new plane. Before Lenin, he said, materialism had been atomistic. On the basis of new scientific advances, Lenin produced a Marxist analysis of the electronic theory of matter. But, although he created much that was new in all spheres of Marxism, Lenin was very modest and did not like to talk about his contributions. It was incumbent upon his disciples, however, to clarify all aspects of his innovative role.8

Stalin was assuming the role of the premier living Marxist philosopher. Albeit coarsely, he spoke as one philosopher, and the authoritative one, to other philosophers. He was clearing the way for self-elevation by mobilizing the subservient, young, would-be disciples to dethrone Deborin and Plekhanov from their positions of eminence in the minds of Soviet Marxist philosophers. "Deborinism" along with "Menshevizing idealism" now became polemical by-words for philosophical heresy in the philosophical journal, Under the Banner of Marxism, and other publications. Future lists of mandatory advance reading for graduate students in philosophy no longer put Stalin in twenty-third place, and Deborin's learned treatises did not figure in them at all.

In the interview Stalin did not directly refer to his own philosophical credentials, although he implied them by his pronouncements. But he employed an indirect strategy of cult-building by the way in which he dealt with Lenin. Since he did not actually harbor much enthusiasm for Lenin's philosophical merits, why did he studiously praise Lenin as a philosopher and warn the audience not to be put off by Lenin's modest forbearance to speak about his contributions in this field? For one thing, there was the subtle Aesopian message, which could not have escaped the minds of the alert Iudin and Mitin, that they should not be put off by Stalin's own modesty on the same count. But, more importantly, Stalin was promoting Lenin's primacy in philosophy as a vehicle for his own claim to similar primacy. The party's erstwhile politico-ideological chief was presented as its philosophical chief as well—in place of Plekhanov, the acknowledged father of Russian Marxism, who had later become a Menshevik. By thus putting supreme philosophical authority into Lenin's vozhd'-role, Stalin helped the philosophers to grasp this broadened conception of that role as applicable to Lenin's successor.

They were quick to do so. In 1931 the organ of the Central Committee, Bolshevik, carried a bitter criticism of "Menshevizing idealism" as found in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Deborin's Encyclopedia article on Hegel was the first object of attack. In castigating Deborin and others of his school as carriers of Menshevizing idealism, the Bolshevik author stated, "Materialist dialectics really must be elaborated. But this elaboration must be carried out on the basis of the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. . . . "9 Here appeared the holy quartet—Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin—who together became the symbolic centerpiece of Stalinist thought and culture, replete with the four huge, equal-sized portraits on the facade of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater for May Day, November 7, and other special occasions.

The cult of Stalin as Communism's first philosopher in succession to Marx, Engels, and Lenin had now been founded. But this was not all. Embryonic in this development was the monolithism that became a hallmark of Stalinist intellectual culture in all fields and that distinguished it from pre-Stalinist Bolshevism. To treat, for example, Lenin's philosophical writings, much less Stalin's, as sacrosanct dogma had never before been mandatory.10 Stalin himself became not only the first philosopher but also the authority figure in some other fields, and in still others a Stalin-surrogate—Andrei Vyshinskii, for example, in jurisprudence—was, so to speak, subenthroned as the authority figure. Part of the role of such Stalin-surrogates was to glorify Stalin's thought in the process of hunting for heresy and establishing Stalinist truth for their own disciplines. Consequently, those chosen as Stalin-surrogates were scholars who combined intellectual acumen, in most cases, with absolutely reliable servility. Anyone with any independence of mind, no matter how zealous a servitor of Communism, was unacceptable.

If Marxist philosophy was the first area Stalin selected for building the stately edifice of the Stalin cult, party history was the second. Here he moved into a field of great political sensitivity, for the annals of the Bolshevik past were the movement's inner sanctum. But he also trod on ground of intense personal concern, namely his own revolutionary biography. Nothing was of more importance to a man who felt driven to view himself as Bolshevism's second Lenin, in the past as well as the present. He made his move in the familiar manner that so many have chosen in their effort to set the record straight: he wrote a letter to the editors.

At the outset of the 1930s, research on the history of the Marxist movement was still pursued with a certain freedom, contentious issues were seriously debated, and work of genuine scholarly character was still produced in Soviet Russia. One set of questions, those concerning the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the pre-1914 Second International, was deemed of sufficient interest that in 1929 the Communist Academy's Institute of History established a special group to study them; the group's academic secretary was A. G. Slutskii. Various articles by members of the group were published, one of which appeared in the journal Proletarian Revolution in 1930. Slutskii's main topic was Lenin's position in connection with the internal divisions in the pre-1914 SPD. The revisionist wing of that party, led by Eduard Bernstein, was opposed by a dominant centrist group, whose leaders were Karl Kautsky and August Bebel and whose viewpoint was taken by many—Lenin included—to be genuine revolutionary Marxism. On the extreme Left was a group of radicals led by Rosa Luxemburg. Slutskii claimed that as early as 1911 she had grasped and openly discussed the basically "opportunist" nature of Kautskyan centrism, whereas Lenin, though he had shown a certain critical caution toward the Kautsky-Bebel leadership ever since 1907, had continued to base his hopes on it. Lenin himself admitted in a letter of October 1914 that "Rosa Luxemburg was right"; he had not seen through Kautsky's pseudorevolutionism as early as had the German left radicals. Slutskii concluded that Lenin had displayed "a certain underestimation of the centrist danger in the German party before the war."11

The publication of this article demonstrates that, although a Soviet Lenin cult existed in the early 1930s, it was still possible to publish an article that did not treat Lenin as an icon—infallible, preternaturally foresightful, beyond human limitations. True, the editors of Proletarian Revolution—the Old Bolsheviks M. Saveliev, V. V. Adoratskii, M. S. Ol'minskii, D. Baevskii, and P. Gorin—seemed to sense the potential danger, for they inserted an introductory footnote disclaiming any agreement with Slutskii's interpretation of Lenin and announcing the printing of his essay "for purposes of discussion" only. But they clearly were unprepared for the thunderbolt that its appearance provoked from on high. Stalin was infuriated. He wrote a letter of article length, entitled "On Some Questions of the History of Bolshevism," which was simultaneously printed in Proletarian Revolution and Bolshevik at the end of October 1931.

First, Stalin mauled Slutskii's position beyond recognition, contending that to accuse Lenin of underestimating the danger of "veiled opportunism" was to accuse him of not having been a "real Bolshevik" before 1914: a real Bolshevik could never underestimate the danger of veiled opportunism. It was simply axiomatic that Bolshevism arose and grew strong in its ruthless struggle against all shades of centrism. Thus, the editors should never have accepted Slutskii's "balderdash" and "crooked pettifogging" even as a piece for discussion; the genuineness of Lenin's Bolshevism was not discussable. Second, Stalin protested Slutskii's favorable treatment of Rosa Luxemburg and the left radicals in the pre-1914 SPD. He was profoundly irked by the very idea that Lenin might have had something to learn from these people.

The strong Russian-nationalist tinge of Stalin's Bolshevism was also evident in his letter. He presented a Russocentric view of the history of the European Marxist movement: "Russian Bolsheviks" had a right to treat their own positions as the test of the Marxist revolutionary validity of those of left Social Democrats abroad. Lenin's forecast of 1902 in What Is To Be Done?—that the Russian proletariat might yet become "the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat"—had been brilliantly confirmed by subsequent events. "But does it not follow from this that the Russian Revolution was (and remains) the key point of the world revolution, that the fundamental questions of the Russian Revolution were at the same time (as they are now) the fundamental questions of the world revolution? Is it not clear that only on these basic questions could one really test the revolutionism of the left Social Democrats in the West?" Neither before nor after the war were Western Marxists to give lessons to their Russian brethren, but vice versa.

To say or imply otherwise, as Slutskii did, was "Trotskyist contraband." To give weight to this ugly charge, Stalin asserted that Slutskii's thesis about Lenin's pre-1914 underestimation of centrism was a cunning way of suggesting to the "unsophisticated reader" that Lenin had only become a real revolutionary after the war started and after he had "re-armed" himself with the help of Trotsky's theory that bourgeois-democratic revolutions grow into socialist ones (the theory of permanent revolution); Lenin himself, Stalin recalled had written in 1905 that "we stand for uninterrupted revolution" and "we will not stop half way." But "contrabandists" like Slutskii were not interested in such facts, which were verifiable from Lenin's writings. Slutskii, Stalin noted elsewhere in the letter, had spoken in his article of the unavailability of some Lenin documents pertaining to the period in question. "But who except hopeless bureaucrats can rely on paper documents alone? Who but archive rats fail to realize that parties and leaders must be tested by their deeds primarily and not simply by their declarations?"

Toward the end of the letter, Stalin's language shifted from the rude to the sinister. In giving Slutskii a forum for his contraband, the editors were guilty of that "rotten liberalism" toward Trotskyist tendencies that was current among a segment of Bolsheviks who failed to understand that Trotskyism had long since ceased to be a faction of Communism but had turned into a forward detachment of the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie, making war on Communism, the Soviet regime, and the building of socialism in the USSR. Such, for example, was the purpose of the Trotskyist theses on the impossibility of building socialism in Russia and the inevitability of Bolshevism's degeneration.

Here Stalin repeated in public the argument of a memorandum he had written in 1929.12 Its purport had been to transfer Trotskyist affiliation or sympathies from the category of political error to that of crime against the Soviet state and, hence, to justify repressive action against persons accused of being Trotskyist. As Stalin now spelled out the conclusion to his argument, "Liberalism toward Trotskyism, even though defeated and masked, is thus a form of bungling that borders on crime, treason to the working class." Hence, the editors' task, Stalin continued (mixing his metaphors), was "to put the study of party history onto scientific Bolshevik rails and to sharpen vigilance against Trotskyist and all other falsifiers of the history of our party, systematically ripping off their masks." This task was all the more necessary in that certain genuinely Bolshevik party historians were themselves guilty of errors that poured water on the mills of the Slutskiis. Unfortunately, said Stalin at the end, one such person was Comrade Emelian Iaroslavskii (the dean of Bolshevik party historians as well as the secretary of the Central Party Control Commission), whose books on party history, in spite of their merits, contained a number of errors in principle and of historical character.13

Considering what Stalin had said earlier about centrism, it is easy to see why he was outraged by Slutskii's argument that Lenin had underestimated the centrist danger in the German Social Democratic Party. To fight against deviations of the Left and Right was not to be a centrist, Stalin had contended in 1928, any more than it had been centrist of Lenin to combat both Menshevism on the Right and the sectarianism condemned in Left-Wing Communism on the Left. Centrism meant "adaptation" and on14 that account was "alien and repulsive to Leninism." How then—no matter what documents the archive rats might turn up—could a real revolutionary (that is, a Bolshevik), ever, even briefly, underestimate the centrist danger? To a mind that so reasoned, people like Slutskii fully deserved the merciless bawling out that the letter gave them and severe punishment as well. Slutskii was arrested in the later Stalin terror and spent many years in a concentration camp.15

But Stalin's letter, in addition to expressing his rage, pursued a tripartite purpose in cult-building. Though it did not mention his own name (how could it?), the letter solicited a Stalin cult in party history just because Stalin wrote it and by the tone and content. First, in writing it (or, conceivably, having it written to his specifications and issued in his name), he arrogated to himself the position of premier party historian and arbiter of contentious issues in that sensitive area. For this the letter did not have to mention Stalin's name, but only to be the thoroughly dogmatic document that it was and to bear his signature. Merely by publishing the letter Stalin asserted his place as the supreme authority on the very subject that formed the core of the personality cult as it mushroomed in the 1930s: Bolshevism's past and the parts that he and others had played in it.16

Second, in the letter just as in the earlier interview with the Mitin-Iudin group of philosophers, Stalin followed the strategy of cult-building via the assertion of Lenin's infallibility. By making the party's previous vozhd' an iconographie figure, beyond limitation and beyond criticism, Stalin's letter implicitly nominated the successor-vozhd' for similar treatment. Since Stalin was the man whom the party had saluted in 1929 as its acknowledged chief in succession to Lenin, it behooved party historians to be as careful not to find lapses or blemishes in his political past as the letter in effect ordered scholars to be where Lenin's past was concerned/People as experienced in reading delphic utterances as were Bolshevik party intellectuals were bound to draw this inference as they pondered or discussed with one another the implications of the letter. Stalin even gave them a broad hint with a phrase used twice in the letter: "Lenin (the Bolsheviks)." Lenin, by Stalin's fiat, stood for true Bolshevik revolutionism as distinct from any and all false varieties—left, right, or center. The words in parentheses pluralized his revolutionary rectitude; they made it more inclusive without giving names. But anyone with intelligence enough to be a party historian could guess whose name ought to come next on the list of "Bolsheviks" in Stalin's normative sense of the term.

Third, the letter demanded quite explicitly that the party pasts of real revolutionaries be evaluated not on the basis of documents that archive rats might turn up or fail to uncover but on the basis of their "deeds." Naturally, such deeds would have to be documented insofar as possible. Stalin was to become the arch-archive rat of the Soviet Union or, more precisely, the leader of a whole pack, although he often hungered as much for the destruction or concealment of documents as for their discovery or publication. To those capable of discerning his letter's implications, they were that a party historian should not be guided, as had Slutskii, by what he could document, but by what he knew a priori must be true—that Lenin, being a "real Bolshevik," could never have underestimated centrism or that Stalin, also a "real Bolshevik," could never have taken an un-Bolshevik position at any juncture. The function of documentary materials, or of their concealment, was to help establish such higher truths. To use them otherwise was to slander and to falsify. Consequently, the message of Stalin's tirade against falsifiers was that scholars had to be ready to falsify (in the normal meaning of the word) whenever a priori party-historical truth—as revealed by word from Stalin or his spokesmen—should so dictate.

The cult-building purport of Stalin's letter may be shown further by reference to one work—namely that of Iaroslavskii—that it criticized. Stalin did not clearly specify the nature of the errors to which he was alluding, and Iaroslavskii himself seems to have been somewhat baffled. He wrote Stalin several letters requesting clarification but received no answer.17 In various party discussions prior to the appearance of Stalin's letter, Iaroslavskii had defended every Leninist's right to voice his view on "any controversial question" without fear of being branded a "revisionist."18 From Stalin's standpoint, such a position was certainly "rotten liberalism" and, hence, an error in principle. As for historical errors, a quick glance through volume four of the party history, covering the period 1917 to 1921 and published under Iaroslavskii's editorship, could have indicated to Iaroslavskii at least one area of difficulty: while poisonously anti-Trotsky in its account, for instance, of Trotsky's position in the Soviet trade-union controversy of 1920, the book treated Trotskyism as the (wrongheaded) faction of Communism that Stalin now said it had "long since" ceased to be; the book did not show Trotskyism to be, even incipiently, the forward detachment of the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie that Stalin declared it had become. Even the reprinted photographs seemed ill chosen in some cases. Here, for example, was Lenin's original fifteen-man Council of People's Commissars; Trotsky appeared to the left of Lenin (and Alexei Rykov, appropriately, flanked Lenin on the right), while Stalin appeared in the bottom row, next to the Kremlin wall. And here, too, on another page, was an old photograph of the Soviet delegation to the Brest talks, with Trotsky, its leader, looking handsome and impressive in the top row.19 What Iaroslavskii may have been a little slow in grasping was that affirmation of Stalin necessitated the retrospective denigration of many others who had played more prominent roles in the Revolution than had Stalin.

Further, this volume of the party history made brief reference to the well-known fact, acknowledged by Stalin himself in a speech in 1924, that in March 1917, prior to Lenin's return to Russia and the issuance of his "April Theses," Stalin had shared with Kamenev and M. K. Muranov "an erroneous position" on policy toward the Provisional Government (they had advocated that the party merely put pressure on the government to leave the war). This easily documentable truth of party history as written before 1929 was one of the Iaroslavskii "mistakes" to which Stalin's letter alluded. It became an "unfact" in party history as rewritten in the 1930s by Iaroslavskii and others. The system of falsification extended to retrospective censorship by or for Stalin of his own earlier writings—the deletion, for example, from later printings of Problems of Leninism of Stalin's reference in 1924 to the position he took in March 1917. Subservient writers falsified actual party history in conformity with an idealized image of the "real Bolshevik" for whom straying from the path of revolutionary rectitude was clearly impossible—an image representing Stalin's self-concept. The logical groundwork of this system of falsification was laid in Stalin's letter to Proletarian Revolution.20

Hell broke loose on the party history and theory fronts as soon as Stalin's letter appeared. The Communist Academy's institutes hastily called meetings to discuss the document's implications for their work. Many editors and scholars were dismissed from their jobs and expelled from the party. Proletarian Revolution, after putting out the issue containing the letter, suspended publication in 1932. On reappearing in early 1933, it had a wholly new editorial board, one of whose members was Ivan Tovstukha, Stalin's one-time personal secretary.

Soviet archival sources reveal that all of the Soviet historical journals received instructions to print the text of Stalin's letter and to carry appropriate editorials on its meaning for their respective areas. In a confidential letter of November 26, 1931 to the editorial board of one such journal, The Class Struggle, Stalin's erstwhile personal assistant—by then secretary of Pravda's editorial board—L. Z. Mekhlis said that materials in preparation should be written through the prism of Stalin's propositions. The Communist Academy's presidium met on November 31 to review its affiliates' responses to the Stalin letter. K. G. Lur'e, academic secretary of the Society of Marxist Historians, reported that all of the society's sections had been instructed to review the whole literature on the party's history critically in the light of Stalin's "article."21 Trotskyist contraband had already been brought to light in numerous works. Many writers, for example, had failed to show the earlier leading role of the Russian Bolsheviks on the international Marxist arena. And Lur'e combined the unmasking of contrabandists with criticism of three well-known party figures—Iaroslavskii, Karl Radek, and I. I. Mints.

Proceedings and reports from other academic groups show that not only historians and their histories but all members and sectors of the theoretical front were being brought into line with higher-level, authoritative interpretation of Stalin's letter. A representative of literary criticism denounced the "Menshevik-Trotskyist view" of Maxim Gorky's writings, without indicating what that view was, and said that Stalin's letter necessitated criticism of the literary policy—also not identified—of the Second International. A writer named Butaev reported that the Institute of Economics had set up a special brigade to re-examine economic theory in light of Stalin's letter and to "bring to light Trotskyist contraband in the literature on economics." Examples of such contraband were the still-prevalent petty-bourgeois and Trotskyist ideas that equated socialism with equal remuneration and the view, voiced in a book published in 1931, that Henry Ford's factories and assembly lines were a model for Soviet rationalization of labor processes. The legal theorist E. B. Pashukanis, speaking for the Institute of Soviet Construction and Law, criticized a textbook by two authors (one of them Butaev) that contained no account of what Stalin had said in 1927 about the proletarian state. K. V. Ostrovitianov, an economist, objected to the hitherto-accepted notion that the writings of Lenin and Stalin belonged to "politics" as distinct from "economics," whereas in fact they presented the basic laws of socialism's construction and Soviet economic life. Not surprisingly, Ostrovitianov in later years became the Stalin-surrogate for economics.22

A speaker from the Institute of Technology assailed the "narrow technicism" that he said was characteristic of Trotskyism, condemned the "technological policy of social-fascism," and asserted that a review of "literally the entire technological literature" was now needed. A representative of the Institute of Philosophy, in addition to discussing its new tasks, remarked that the Institute of Technology should produce in short order "a work systematizing all of the basic theses of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin on technology." The representative of the Association of Natural Science wondered why the basic methodological postulates about physics provided by Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism were not being taken as a guide in an attempt "to create a conception of physics, to produce our Marxist-Leninist conception of the structure of matter."23 Nadezhda Mandelstam, then working in the editorial offices of the journal For a Communist Education, recalled later how "all of the manuscripts were rechecked in great panic and we went through huge piles of them, cutting mercilessly. This was called 'reorganization in the light of Comrade Stalin's remarks."'24

The pell-mell rush to ferret out "Trotskyist contraband" and "rotten liberalism" was deeply troubling to many in responsible posts, in part, no doubt—but only in part—because of the pressure and embarrassment they themselves were in some cases experiencing. Stalin was not yet an absolute dictator; some in high places failed to realize that he was on the way to becoming one or to understand what was driving him to it. Several prominent Old Bolsheviks—including Ol'minskii, Iaroslavskii, V. Knorin, and N. Lukin—sought to restrain those "glorifiers" (as Iaroslavskii called them in a handwritten note found decades later in the party archives) who were taking Stalin's letter as a new gospel. Knorin suggested to a meeting of the party group of the Society of Marxist Historians on November 11, 1931 that the letter should simply be seen as a restatement of some basic Leninist tenets. Lur'e, on the other hand, said that party history had lacked all methodology before Stalin's letter appeared and that historians did not grasp the relation between theory and practice. I. I. Mints, who was present at the meeting, wrote a letter to Iaroslavskii, who was out of town, saying that Lur'e, in her "nasty and unsound" speech, had put things less charitably: "Before Stalin's letter there was nothing, and only now does she understand the relation between theory and practice." Yet three weeks later Lur'e reported to the Communist Academy's presidium on the situation in the Society of Marxist Historians. At about the same time, Iaroslavskii warned against certain unprincipled people who wanted "to make capital on this question" of the Stalin letter. But this statement, along with his handwritten note recalling "how the glorifiers 'worked me over' in 1931," did not see publication until 1966.25

One month after Stalin's letter appeared, his headquarters began to take action against those who pleaded for restraint. Lazar Kaganovich gave a long speech at the Institute of Red Professors on December 1, 1931—the occasion of its tenth anniversary. When the text appeared in Pravda some days later, it became clear that the address was meant to reach the whole Soviet intelligentsia. But "address" is a misnomer. The document is best described as a several-thousand-word, peremptory command by drill sergeant Kaganovich ordering the army of the intelligentsia to snap to attention in the light of General Stalin's letter.

Kaganovich introduced his discussion of the letter by stressing the great importance of Marxist-Leninist indoctrination at a time when individuals who had only been members of the party for three to five years comprised one and a half to two million out of a total of two and a half million party members and when the Komsomol numbered five and a half million Young Communists. No one in the party would have disputed the statistics and their general implications, but Kaganovich quickly made it clear that what was at issue was the specific content of party indoctrination. The millions of new members must learn that, if the country once thought the most backward in the world was now the land of socialism, "We owe this to the selfless struggle waged for decades by the best people, headed by Lenin, against the narodniki, legal Marxists, economists, Mensheviks, Trotskyists, rightists, and conciliatory elements in the party." Clearly, Stalin was the best of "the best people." Kaganovich then spoke of the "criminality" of slanderer-falsifiers like Slutskii. Radek, Kaganovich continued, had acknowledged his own errors to the party group of the Society of Marxist Historians: he had recognized, furthermore, that Rosa Luxemburg did not always take "a correct Bolshevik position" but had argued that Rosa was a "bridge" to Bolshevism for the best Social Democratic workers. In fact, Kaganovich charged, Radek himself had been a bridge between Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky.

The importance of Stalin's letter, Kaganovich said, did not lie in its attack on the insignificant ex-Menshevik Slutskii, whom Stalin had pulverized in passing, but in exposing the rotten liberalism shown by the editors of Proletarian Revolution toward deviations from Bolshevism and distortions of party history. And this journal was not the only weak spot. A still weaker one was Comrade Iaroslavskii's four-volume history, criticism of the errors of which would "undoubtedly develop further." Among his illustrations of the history's grave errors, Kaganovich mentioned its "erroneous and harmful assessment of the role of the Bolsheviks in the first period of 1917, [its] foul slander of the Bolsheviks." Kaganovich delivered this veiled rebuke to Iaroslavskii for his reference to Stalin's "erroneous position" in March 1917. Then came a methodological pointer: the key to a comprehensive party history was the "flexibility of Lenin's tactics," not passages in which Lenin said, in so many words, "Kautsky is a bastard." What, in short, a "real Bolshevik" said or failed to say at a particular time was not the touchstone of party-historical truth; the documents must be interpreted according to the canons of the real-Bolshevik-revolutionary-can-do-no-wrong school.

Kaganovich ended with an implicit call for an intensification of the ongoing hunt for heresy. Difficulties were rife, the fight was not over, the class struggle was continuing. "Opportunism is now trying to creep into our ranks, covering itself up, embellishing itself, crawling on its belly, trying to penetrate into crannies, and trying, in particular, to crawl through the gates of the history of our party." In his recent speech Radek was wrong to describe the Comintern as a channel through which many different currents and brooklets flowed into the Bolshevik party. The party was no meeting place of turbid brooklets but a "monolithic stream" capable of smashing all obstacles in its path. The meaning was as clear as the metaphor was mixed: fall in line or be destroyed.26

The pleaders for restraint—and others—fell into line. Within the twelve days following Kaganovich's speech of December 1, Pravda carried letters of recantation from Radek, Iaroslavskii, and the party historian Konstantin Popov. Radek pleaded guilty to all of Kaganovich's charges and joined the attack on "Luxemburgianism." Iaroslavskii acknowledged a whole series of "the grossest mistakes" in the four-volume history, including "an objective, essentially Trotskyist treatment of the Bolsheviks' position in the February-March period of the Revolution of 1917" (Trotskyist, presumably, because Trotsky was one of those who had called attention to the generally known facts about Stalin's position at that time). He also disavowed the view, reportedly expressed by Mints in a recent speech, that the authors of the four-volume history had erred in their objectivity and that what was now being asked of party historians was "not so much objectivity as political expediency." No, lied Iaroslavskii, the party had not and could not demand that historians surrender their objectivity; the problem was that the authors of the four-volume work had sinned against objectivity.27 Resigning himself to the situation, Iaroslavskii started work on the glorifying biography of Stalin that was published in 1939.

Plainly, to confess to heresy was not enough; the heretic had to join the inquisition. Only by entering the ranks of the accusers could he expect to have his recantation taken seriously. To denounce Trotskyist contraband on the part of others demonstrated the genuineness of one's own "real" Bolshevism—that is, Stalinism. Recantation followed by denunciation was becoming a ritual of Soviet political culture. Iaroslavskii's public disavowal of his friend Mints was but one of many examples.

Still, Stalin did not yet wield absolute power. Those higher in the hierarchy of power than Iaroslavskii could suggest the need for restraint. Among them was P. P. Postyshev, then a full member of the party Central Committee, a member of its Orgburo, and one of four Central Committee secretaries serving under General Secretary Stalin. As a secretary, Postyshev was in charge of the Central Committee's Organizational Department and its Department of Agitation and Propaganda, whose functions included oversight of the press. In a speech at a district party conference in Moscow, he stressed the great significance of Stalin's letter and then took various party cells to task for their failure to distinguish between an individual's particular mistakes and a "system of views." Of course, there were concealed Trotskyists in the party's ranks, who must be exposed and expelled. But there were also comrades who had simply erred. Instead of denouncing them as deviationists and kicking them out of the party—as did some who had been asleep but now wanted to "show themselves" (and then go back to sleep)—errant comrades should be criticized in a comradely way. Postyshev's fate after trying to curb the excesses of the heresy hunt was instructive: arrested in 1938, he was killed in 1940 in one of Stalin's concentration camps.28

The master-builder of the Stalin cult was the cult-object himself. But many others, ranging from men in Stalin's entourage like Kaganovich and Mekhlis to obscure ideological workers like Lur'e, assisted. Who, we may now ask, were the glorifiers? Some, without doubt, were persons devoted to Stalin or to the man they idealistically perceived him to be; others were simply careerists who may have lacked strong qualification in intellectual work but who were shrewd or, perhaps, cynical enough to grasp the opportunities for self-advancement inherent in the Stalin-glorifying enterprise. One climber who made his way to the top by this route was the head of the Georgian secret police, Lavrentii Beria, who with Stalin's backing became party chief of the Transcaucasus in 1932. The one indispensable quality shared by all of the glorifiers, high and low, was pliability. In very many ways the aggrandizement of Stalin required the twisting of truth and the falsification of historical fact. As Iaroslavskii himself expressed it, the glorifiers had to be "unprincipled," pliable enough to ignore their scruples and still their consciences insofar as the cult-building enterprise required.

The letter to Proletarian Revolution was a turning point in the cult's evolution. From the time of its appearance forward, idolatry of Stalin became one of Russia's major growth industries. No field of Soviet culture was exempted from finding inspiration for its activities in Stalin's letter. The journal For Proletarian Music, for example, devoted its editorial in January 1932 to "Our Tasks on the Musical Front" in light of the letter, and the corresponding editorial in the February 1932 issue of For a Socialist Accounting bore the title, "For Bolshevik Vigilance on the Book-Keeping Theory Front." But revolutionary history and Stalin's place in it remained the central concern. A small example, typical of many, was an article published in Pravda shortly after Stalin's letter appeared. It denounced a book on Comintern history on the grounds that Stalin's name was only mentioned twice and said, "Without showing Comrade Stalin's leading role in the history of the Comintern, there can be no Bolshevik textbook on the history of the Comintern."29

Having asserted himself as premier party historian, Stalin delivered another lecture in reply to two party members, Olekhnovich and Aristov, who had written separately to him in response to the letter; and his answers, dated January 15 and 25, 1932, were published in Bolshevik (and then in other publications) the following August. Olekhnovich, apparently, had tried to show himself more Stalinist than Stalin and suggested that "Trotskyism never was a faction of Communism" but "was all the time a faction of Menshevism," although for a certain period of time the Communist Party had wrongly regarded Trotsky and the Trotskyists as real Bolsheviks. In knocking this construction down, Stalin showed the hair-splitting quality of his mind. Undeniably, he said, Trotskyism was once a faction of Communism but oscillated continually between Bolshevism and Menshevism; even when the Trotskyists did belong to the Bolshevik party, they "were not real Bolsheviks." Thus, "in actual fact, Trotskyism was a faction of Menshevism before the Trotskyists joined our party, temporarily became a faction of Communism after the Trotskyists entered our party, and again became a faction of Menshevism after the Trotskyists were banished from our party. The dog went back to its puke.'"30

These further pronouncements only confirmed to professionals that they should look to Stalin's writings and sayings as scripture. As if to meet their need, party publications in 1932 started printing early Staliniana, such as Stalin's virtually unknown letter of 1910 to Lenin from Sol'vychegodsk exile and his little-known "Letters from the Caucasus" of that same year. Meanwhile, the glorifiers set about rewriting history in accordance with Stalin's canons and in a manner calculated to accentuate his role and merits in the party's revolutionary past, while discrediting those of his enemies. The skewed Stalinist version of Bolshevism's biography began to emerge. Grosser falsification still lay ahead.

The rise of the Stalin cult did not bring the eclipse of the Lenin cult, only its far-reaching modification. Instead of two cults in juxtaposition, there emerged a hyphenate cult of an infallible Lenin-Stalin. In some respects, Lenin now "grew" in stature: he became the original "real Bolshevik" who could not have erred. But by being tied like a Siamese twin to his successor, he was inescapably diminished in certain ways. Only those facets of his life and work that could be connected with Stalin's were available for full-scale idealization, and whatever did not in some way include Stalin had to be kept in the background. In effect, some parts of Lenin's life had to be de-emphasized and others rearranged, modified, or touched up to put Stalin in the idealized picture.

Thus, Stalin was now portrayed as sharing in Lenin's exploits, was declared to be from an early time Lenin's right-hand man, on whom the leader leaned for counsel and support at key points in the development of the Revolution and after. The marking on May 5, 1932 of the twentieth anniversary of Pravda's founding may be taken as an illustration. At the beginning, said Pravda's anniversary editorial, Lenin "wrote articles for the paper nearly every day—with the closest participation and guidance of Comrade Stalin, particularly when Lenin was hiding underground." So in the dual cult the younger figure emerged as Lenin's alter ego, who naturally took over when Lenin himself was away from the immediate scene of action. Symptomatically, the article was accompanied by a large portrait not of Lenin but of Stalin and contained a lengthy quotation from Stalin's recollection of 1922 on the paper's early days.

By now Iaroslavskii had not simply fallen in line but had joined the vanguard of the glorifiers. Invited to contribute an article in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Prague Conference of January 1912, he found a shrewd way of enthroning Stalin in retrospect practically as a founder of the Bolshevik party. As Lenin had testified, Bolshevism had existed as a political current from 1903, when the Bolshevik-Menshevik schism occurred at the Russian Marxist party's Second Congress. But the Bolshevik Party's formal existence dated only from the all-Bolshevik Prague Conference of 1912, at which Lenin converted what had been a faction into a separate party no longer organizationally tied to the Mensheviks. In the aftermath of the Prague Conference Stalin was elevated (by co-optation, not election) for the first time to membership in the party's Central Committee. Iaroslavskii obscured the embarrassing fact of Stalin's co-optation by saying, "At the conference a Bolshevik Central Committee was elected in the persons of Lenin, Stalin, Zinoviev, Ordzhonikidze, Belostotskii, Shvartsman, Goloshchekin, Spandarian, and Ia. M. Sverdlov (some of these comrades were co-opted into the Central Committee subsequently)." And by writing with heavy emphasis—"The Prague Conference was a turning point in the history of the Bolshevik Party"—he contrived to portray Stalin by indirection as having been present at the party's creation.31

Even clever party theorists were in some cases slow in comprehending the transformed personality cult and in applying its special canons. One person who illustrates the early confusion was S. E. Sef, a zealous glorifier, who was managing secretary of the journal Marxist Historian. He gave the provisional title "Marx, Engels, Stalin" to the lead article of a planned special issue commemorating the upcoming fiftieth anniversary, in March 1933, of the death of Marx. His omission of Lenin was corrected before the issue appeared.32 Sef had failed to grasp that Lenin qua co-leader remained a cult-object. In the dual cult, however, the figure of the successor in some ways now began to tower over that of the predecessor. For example, a foreign correspondent's count of "political icons" (portraits and busts of leaders) in display windows along several blocks of Moscow's Gorky Street on November 7, 1933 showed Stalin leading Lenin by 103 to 58.33

Stalin was now being sung, especially by poets from the Orient, where versified flattery of rulers is a centuries-old art. "To the Vozhd', to Comrade Stalin" was the title of a long poem by A. A. Lakhuti, translated from Persian into Russian. A typical stanza reads,

Wise master, Marxist gardener!
Thou art tending the vine of communism.
Thou art cultivating it to perfection.
After Lenin, vozhd' of Leninists.34

Meanwhile, scholars in Oriental studies were enjoined to apply the works of Stalin as well as those of Lenin to problems of the national-colonial revolution in the East. A pamphlet on the history of the Georgian Communist Party was attacked for treating the period from 1917 to 1927 in a spirit of "national deviationism" (that is, Georgian nationalism) contrary to Stalin's orientation; and among those who were later reported from Tbilisi to have condemned the offensive pamphlet was Lavrentii Beria.35 Stalin's early revolutionary years in Transcaucasia now began to attract reverent attention. A pamphlet published in Georgia portrayed the young Stalin as a heroic leader directing underground revolutionary activities in Batum in 1901-02.36

The cult kept growing in official publicity during 1933. Pravda marked the fiftieth anniversary of Marx's death on March 14 by lauding Stalin's theoretical contributions to materialist dialectics and concluded, "Stalin's name ranks with the great names of the theoreticians and leaders of the world proletariat—Marx, Engels, and Lenin." The phrase "classical worka of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin" was now commonplace. Partizdat, the party publishing house, was savagely criticized for its failure to eliminate a series of minor misprints in the latest printing of the fastest selling of the classics, Stalin's Problems of Leninism. "As if 'minor' misprints are allowable in a book by Comrade Stalin!" the critic parenthetically exclaimed.37 Overall figures released in early 1934 show that the classics had been published in 1932-33 in the following numbers: seven million copies of the works of Marx and Engels, fourteen million of those of Lenin, and sixteen and a half million of those of Stalin, including two million copies of Problems of Leninism.38 That collection of Stalin's articles and speeches was by then well on the way to becoming probably the world's best seller of the second quarter of the twentieth century.39

From that time forward, to the end of Stalin's life, his aggrandizement through the personality cult continued incessantly.


1 I. V. Stalin, Sochineniia, 13 vols. (Moscow, 1946-52), 13: 19. The letter was first published in Stalin's collected works after the Second World War.

2The Nation, August 13, 1930, p. 176.

3 Louis Fischer gave me this information in a personal conversation in 1965.

4 David Joravsky, Soviet Marxism and Natural Science, 1917-1932 (New York, 1961), 170.

5Vestnik kommunisticheskoi akademii, 1929, Kn. 35-36, p. 390. For note of this list, see Joravsky, Soviet Marxism and Natural Science, 221.

6 I. Dubinskii-Mukhadze, Ordzhonikidze (Moscow, 1963), 93. For Bukharin's comment, see the Bukharin-Kamenev Conversations of July 11-12, 1928, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., Trotsky Archives, T 1897.

7 Roy A. Medvedev, K sudu istorii: Genezis i posledstviia Stalinizma (New York, 1974), 433. The information on the Stalin-Sten sessions came to Roy Medvedev from Sten's friend, E. P. Frolov.

8 Mark B. Mitin, Boevye voprosy materialisticheskoi dialektiki (Moscow, 1936), 43-44, and "Nekotorye itogi i zadachi raboty na filosofskom fronte," Pod znamenem Marksizma, 1 (1936): 25-26. For the date of the interview, see the chronology in Stalin, Sochineniia, 13: 401. The full text of his remarks to the philosophers remains unpublished.

9 P. Cheremnykh, "Men'shevistvuiushchii idealizm v rabotakh BSE," Bol'shevik, no. 17, September 15, 1931, p. 85.

10 For a discussion by a former Soviet economist of this aspect of Stalinism and the use of "monolithism" to describe it, see Aron Katsenelinboigen, "Conflicting Trends in Soviet Economics in the Post-Stalin Era," Russian Review, October 1976, pp. 374-76.

11 A. Slutskii, "Bol'sheviki o germanskoi s.-d. v period ee predvoennogo krizisa," Proletarskaia revoliutsiia, 6 (1930): 37-72.

12 Stalin, "Dokatilis'," in Sochineniia, 11: 313-17. This document has the appearance of an internal Politburo memorandum.

13 Stalin, Sochineniia, 13: 84-102.

14 Stalin, Sochineniia, 11: 281-82, 284.

15 I am indebted to Roy A. Medvedev and Stephen F. Cohen for the information on Slutskii's subsequent arrest and imprisonment.

16 On the effect of the letter's rude style and tone, see, for example, V. A. Dunaevskii, "Bol'sheviki i germanskie levye na mezhdunarodnoi arene," in Evropa í novoe i noveishee vremia: Sbornik statei pamiati Akademika N. M. Lukina (Moscow, 1966). A modern Soviet historian, Dunaevskii has claimed that "the form of Stalin's pronouncement—sharp expressions against the authors he mentioned and politically characterizing them as 'rotten liberals,' 'Trotskyist contrabandists,' and the like—led to the impossibility of creative discussions on matters of principle and subsequently to repressions against individuals whom he had subjected to criticism"; ibid., 508.

17Vsesoiuznoe soveshchanie o merakh uluchsheniia podgotovki nauchno-pedagogicheskikh kadrov po istoricheskim naukam. 18-21 dekabria 1962 g. (Moscow, 1964), 363.

18 Paul H. Aron, "M. N. Pokrovskii and the Impact of the First Five-Year Plan," in John Shelton Curtiss, ed., Essays in Russian and Soviet History in Honor of Geroid Tanguary Robins̀on (New York, 1962), 301.

19 E. M. Iaroslavskii, gen. ed., Istorila VKP(b), 4 (Moscow-Leningrad, 1929): pt. 1, 230, pt. 2, 291. Iaroslavskii explained in his editorial foreword that the volume had been in preparation for the tenth anniversary of the Revolution (1927) "but for a whole series of reasons was delayed for a year." He did not explain what those reasons were.

20 For a different interpretation of the key purpose of Stalin's letter, see John Barber, "Stalin's Letter to the Editors of Proletarskaya Revolyutsiya" Soviet Studies, 28 (1976): 21-41. Ignoring the cult question, Barber has suggested that the letter was chiefly occasioned by the "falling quality of party recruits" and an insecure regime's "concern over the tendency of its Marxist intellectuals to engage in too much controversy and speculation," and he has questioned whether the letter was intended to have the effect it did or was conceived as the vital turning point it proved to be. To me Barber's position is unpersuasive.

21Vsesoiuznoe soveshchanie, 19, 362, 457, 75. Also see Dunaevskii, "Bol'sheviki i germanskie levye na mezhdunarodnoi arene," 508-09.

22 ccording to Katsenelinboigen, "In the forties, K. V. Ostrovitianov was appointed as the curator of economics. All he did was provide commentaries for Stalin's work; he had no opinions of his own, and made no practical recommendations." "Conflicting Trends in Soviet Economics in the Post-Stalin Era," 375.

23Vestnik kommunisticheskoi akademii, nos. 1-2 (1932): 40-66.

24 Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope against Hope: A Memoir, trans. Max Hay ward (New York, 1970), 259. Although she spoke of it as a letter of 1930 in Bolshevik, it is clear from the context that Mandelstam was referring to the 1931 letter to Proletarian Revolution, also printed in Bolshevik.

25 Dunaevskii, "Bol'sheviki i germanskie levye na mezhdunarodnoi arene," 509-12. The Russian word here translated as "glorifiers" is alliluishchiki.

26Pravda, December 12, 1931. Dunaevskii has observed that "Kaganovich's speech, filled with shouted threats, was designed to pin the label of Trotskyist on all from now on who would dare to deviate from Stalin's propositions"; "Bol'sheviki i germanskie levye na mezhdunarodnoi arene," 511.

27 Iaroslavskii's letter appeared in Pravda on December 10, 1932; Radek's on December 12; Popov's on December 8.

28 T. Mariagin, Postyshev (Moscow, 1965), 299-300. The speech in question was reported in Pravda on January 11, 1932.

29Pravda, December 29, 1931.

30 Stalin, Sochineniia, 13: 126-30.

31Pravda, January 22, 1932.

32 Dunaevskii, "Bol'sheviki i germanskie levye na mezhdunarodnoi arene," 511-12.

33 Eugene Lyons, Moscow Carrousel (New York, 1935), 140-41.

34Pravda, November 29, 1932. Iranian by origin, Lakhuti had emigrated to the USSR and become a Soviet citizen.

35Pravda, March 21 and 25, 1932.

36 Stalin i Khashim (1901-1902 gody): Nekotorye epizody iz batumskogo podpol'ia (Sukhum, 1934).

37Pravda, February 22, 1933.

38XVII s"ezd vsesoiuznoi kommunisticheskoi partii (b) 26 ianvaria-10 fevralia 1934 g. Stenograficheskii otchet (Moscow, 1934), 620.

39 By 1949 almost seventeen million copies in fifty-two languages were in print. See Bol'shevik, no. 23, December 1949, p. 48.

Susan Layton (essay date 1979)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5490

SOURCE: "The Mind of the Tyrant: Tolstoj's Nicholas and Solzenicyn's Stalin," in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 23, No. 4, Winter, 1979, pp. 479-90.

[In the following essay, Layton finds parallels between Leo Tolstoy's portrayal of Czar Nicholas I in Xadzi-Murat (1912) and Aleksandr Solzenicyn's depiction of Stalin in The First Circle (1968).]

Repeatedly Solzenicyn has paid tribute to Tolstoj as the grand master of Realism in the nineteenth century and as a philosopher concerned with the moral service of art. The concept of the artist as teacher and conscience of the nation has acquired major importance for Solzenicyn and has given particular coloring to his assessment of Tolstoj.1 As a writer determined to bear witness to the history of injustice in the Soviet Union, Solzenicyn perceives a heritage in the role Tolstoj assumed in tsarist Russia in the latter part of his career.

The First Circle (1968) pursues the moral task of the writer in a manner strongly reminiscent of Tolstoj's Xadzi-Murat (1896-1904; pub. 1912). In the novella Tolstoj presents imperial Russia of the 1850s as a ruthless power bent on assimilating or exterminating the relatively primitive culture of the Chechens, and he gives a central place to the condemnatory portrait of Nicholas I in order to show the essence of the state. As represented in The First Circle, Stalin displays a psychology akin to Nicholas' mentality (Feuer, 134), but the similarity between the works of Solzenicyn and Tolstoj does not end here. In conveying the nature of Stalin, Solzenicyn relies on stylistic techniques used by Tolstoj as well, and in the structure of The First Circle the portrait of the dictator serves a function equivalent to the function of the portrait of Nicholas in Xadzi-Murat, In thought and language each tyrant appears as the guiding spirit of a rationalistic political system and stands in opposition to shapes of mind which resist the characteristic mode of the state. By placing the mind of the tyrant at the center of attention, Tolstoj and Solzenicyn both explore an ultimate, shared concern with the relationship between politics and language.

Xadzi-Murat focuses on the conflict between the savage and the Russian state. The story stands as recollection within a frame which establishes identification between Xadzi-Murat and the crushed but tenacious thistle plant. Within the main body of the text, however, Tolstoj operates against this somewhat sentimental metaphor of a mutilated creature of nature and gives remarkable insight into a process which Max Weber analyzed as the shift from traditional to bureaucratic forms of authority.2 Rather than express a pastoral vision,3 Tolstoj recreates the complex psychic being of Xadzi-Murat as a charismatic figure, shaped by a pre-scientific, proto-state society. As the diametrical opposite, Nicholas appears as the rationalistic, bureaucratic leader who bears ultimate responsibility for the death of the savage. On the basis of extensive research into Chechen culture and the reign of Nicholas I,4 Tolstoj makes the Tsar and Xad i-Murat stand forth as the representatives of two cultures or cultural "languages." In an expanded sense of the term, the language of the Russian state is comprised of distinctive codes, procedures, modes of thought and communication. Tolstoj shows this language as the embodiment of cruelty, mendacity, and artificiality. The contrasting language of Xadzi-Murat is personal, authentically engaged with human realities and expressive of an aesthetic sensibility.

In the opening chapters Xadzi-Murat (in flight from Šamil') emerges as a charismatic figure within the context of his distinctive culture. The power of Xadzi-Murat is conveyed largely through the quality of relationships that obtain between him and those loyal followers who risk danger by helping him in the house of a village and on the journey to the Russians' fort. Tolstoj also penetrates the mind of Xadzi-Murat to reveal a confidence in the mysterious working of benevolent fate: the savage feels great faith in his fortune and dreams of triumph over Šamil'. By showing Xadzi-Murat in interaction with the other Chechens and by touching the deepest level of his mind, Tolstoj immediately conveys a powerful impression of authority as a God-given attribute.

In subsequent episodes, when Xadzi-Murat places himself in the hands of the Russians in hope of receiving assistance against his enemy Šamil', the charismatic fugitive leaves the context of primitive society and enters a bureaucratic system in which power derives from office. In contrast to rejected variants, which gave a detailed chronological treatment of Xadzi-Murat's entire life, the final text allots most space to the critical period spent among the Russians; and through a so-called "peep-show method" Tolstoj projects a multi-faceted picture of the savage in an alien realm.5 Xadzi-Murat's inability to speak Russian helps to define his distance from the characteristic mode of the state. The illiterate savage cannot understand most of the words spoken in officialdom (French as well as Russian); instead of communicating verbally, he often conveys the truth with his eyes and gestures. Xadzi-Murat's longest utterance is the autobiography which the Russian interpreter transcribes for the Tsar (chapters XI and XIII). In telling his story in his own words, Xadzi-Murat employs diction which is concrete and forthright (occasionally even vulgar), he does not follow complex syntactical patterns typical of standard literary Russian, and he makes effective use of colorful aphoristic phrases characteristic of a folk idiom ("in body he was strong as a bull and brave as a lion, but in spirit he was weak as water"). Tolstoj strove to fashion an effective, distinctive idiom for Xadzi-Murat (Sergeenko, 604-5) and pointedly contrasts the autobiography with the actual official document written (originally in French) in the chancellary style by Voroncov (chapter XIV).

As an alien within Russian culture, Xadzi-Murat cannot comprehend the split between "public" as opposed to "private" dimensions of being, and accordingly he is snubbed by officials on social occasions when he tries to discuss his strategy for rescuing his family from Samil'. Ultimately the charismatic savage is thwarted by the efforts of the Russians to channel his complex, fully human project into the prescribed legalistic procedures and forms. As defined by Tolstoj, Xadzi-Murat's cultural language conveys a noble, humane spirit at odds with corrupt civilized men: Xadzi-Murat's speech itself, his manner of dress, his love for his family, his religious faith, the barbaric grandeur of his traditions of war, his appreciation of the beauty of nature, and his response to the Chechen songs all combine to project an integrity and authenticity which clash absolutely with the rationale of the Russian state.

As Tolstoj explores the character of the various Russians, he constructs a hierarchy of moral corruption. In this hierarchy the old parents of the soldier Avdeev stand closest to Xadzi-Murat and farthest from the pinnacle of bureaucratic power. In chapter VIII Tolstoj represents the existence of the peasant not only by giving attention to details of dress and by describing at length the collective work of threshing grain, but also by capturing the distinctive idiom of the village. In Xadzi-Murat the peasants' speech and their illiteracy isolate them from the characteristic modes of discourse of aristocrats (who speak French as well as standard Russian) and bureaucrats (the official notification of the beloved son's death is couched in the hackneyed rhetoric of the state and must be relayed orally by a clerk who can read). Within the Russian army, Tolstoj focuses upon Butler, a congenial, morally weak cadet who finds romance in the "poetry of warfare" (voinnstvennaja poèzija) in the Caucasus. In contrast to the traditions of the Chechens, which Tolstoj represents in chapter XXIII, this false "poetry" consists of drunkenness, gambling, vulgar sexual escapades, and impersonation of the natives (chapter XXIV). Butler operates fully in accord with this code of the typical Russian soldier and eventually finds himself gazing with morbid fascination at Xadzi-Murat's severed head, which a fellow officer has brought back to the fort as proof that the savage is dead. Although Butler had developed a friendship with Xadzi-Murat during his stay among the Russians, he now shows blind acceptance of the notion that "war is war" and acquiesces in the state's policy of subjugating or exterminating the native tribes of the Caucasus.

At the top of the hierarchy stands Nicholas as the embodiment of cruel, self-aggrandizing bureaucratic power. In chapter XV Tolstoj first shows the Tsar's quarters at the palace, where everything has been arranged to create an impression of imperial grandeur. As an actor on this stage, Nicholas appears as a repulsive, dissipated figure whose "senile sensuality" emerges as the truth behind a mask of religious rectitude and the dignity of a statesman. Since Nicholas himself can no longer see behind the public facade, he is enveloped completely by an aura of inauthenticity. He exists by performing appropriate roles (brilliant general, devout sovereign, family man) and by surrounding himself with subordinates who will play to his deluded self-image. (Between the two extremes of Nicholas and Xadzi-Murat, Tolstoj in chapter XIX represents Samil' as a traditional leader of a proto-state society who is losing authenticity and learning to operate by the duplicitous practices of modern statecraft.) Nicholas' courtiers are skilled in reading the exterior signs which indicate the mood of the tyrant, and they are quick to tell him what he wants to hear. In particular, they play to his vanity about being a military leader of genius. All in all, Nicholas regards himself (in the mirror and in his mind's eye) as the savior of Russia: "Yes, what would Russia be without me?" he asks himself; and with an air of martyrdom he recognizes the need to terrorize people who dare to think that they "could govern themselves better than he, Nicholas, governed them!"

The true inner dimension of Nicholas emerges tellingly as a matter of language: in writing a cruel, hypocritical order which will result in a man's execution, the Tsar makes orthographic mistakes which signify total corruption of thought and moral fiber. Xadzi-Murat displays keen insight into the relationship between corrupt language and corrupt politics, but Tolstoj's conception cannot be extracted from the representation of Nicholas alone. Xadzi-Murat is a perfectly realized structure in which the architectonics and the stylistic nuances draw a complex pattern of linkages. The chapter on Nicholas stands almost exactly in the middle of the text—as a center of the rationalistic power of the state. The Tsar's mental dynamics radiate outward and are made evident everywhere. His spiteful orders to continue attacks against the Chechen villages are translated into murder and destruction in the next chapter; the old General Voroncov appears as a little Nicholas who also will not call things by their real names; the official communiques about the death of the soldier Avdeev hide human suffering; the impersonal document written by Voroncov cannot convey the unique, full truth of Xadzi-Murat's project to save his family. Through juxtapositions and particulars of style, Tolstoj explores a central antithesis between the rationalistic, bureaucratic mode of the state and the personal, concrete mode of consciousness embodied most fully in Xadzi-Murat. The language of the Russian state (bureaucratic idiom, legalistic procedures, policy of military aggression) stands forth as a complex structure which is used to dominate or exterminate an alien shape of mind (the savage, the peasant).

In form and function the three chapters on Stalin in The First Circle closely approximate the model of Xadzi-Murat. The data come from the Soviet period and corroborate information contained in Xrušcev's secret speech and memoirs, Djilas' Conversations with Stalin, and Medvedev's Let History Judge,6 but Solzenicyn selects and assembles details in much the way that Tolstoj does in treating Nicholas. At the beginning of the first chapter ("The Birthday-Hero") he makes Stalin's quarters speak of his personality and his reign of terror. Initially the tyrant appears in the inner sanctum, which embodies his paranoia. Later he moves into the large daytime office that has been stage-designed as a setting for public contacts. After describing the small, sparsely decorated night office, Solzenicyn focuses upon the physical appearance of Stalin himself. Whereas Nicholas is dissipated, Stalin is decrepit, and this important difference in psychology7 lends distinctive coloring to each of the portraits of the tyrants. In Tolstoj's representation, the Tsar tries to fill the void of his existence with sexual escapades, while Solzenicyn's Stalin has senile longings for immortality. Despite this difference in conception, the means of characterization are identical: description of the exterior moves toward revealing an inner dimension which is at variance with an official image. As in the case of Nicholas, Stalin can no longer distinguish the truth behind his public image, and in particular he cherishes the notion of himself as a military leader of genius. Subordinates display the behavior of the courtiers of Nicholas: Abakumov reads exterior signs to ascertain Stalin's mood, and his thoughts and words take shape through a mechanism that tries to register the desires of the dictator. Stalin duplicates the Tsar's habit of contemplating his greatness in the mirror, and he also conducts a similar kind of dialogue about himself within his head. In the same spirit of martyrdom that Tolstoj attributes to Nicholas, Stalin believes that he simply must "suffer another twenty years for the sake of humanity" and is outraged by independent thinking ("Better socialism? In some other way than Stalin's?").

In Solzenicyn's portrait the idiom of the tyrant announces the total inner corruption. Nicholas' lie about capital punishment calls attention to itself through sub-standard orthography, while Stalin's Georgian accent is approximated through incorrect, phonetic spelling. On a superficial level of the text this device signifies the more fundamental distortions in the thought, language, and moral character of the tyrant. In a distinctive manner Solzenicyn examines the process whereby politics mutilates language in the chapter entitled "Language is a Tool of Production."8 Here he parodies the turgid style of Stalin's writing (cataloguing, repetition which adds no new semantic content) and shows how his muddled mind does violence to words. The very concept of language has little real importance in the mind of Stalin. He merely wants to aggrandize himself by making "his indelible contribution to a science other than philosophy or history." In deciding to end the Cikobava-Marr debate about the relationship between language and superstructure, Stalin proceeds in a purely mechanical way. He views "philology" as "grammar," which in turn is perceived as a quasimathematical set of relations that can be manipulated and used to generate formulas. Within such a conceptual framework he brings various clichés into alignment as a structure which is internally coherent and makes no appeal beyond itself in order to substantiate its "message." In parodying the efforts of Stalin as a writer, Solzenicyn thus seeks to reveal a quite terrifying mode of abstraction which operates in isolation from human concerns and transforms language into an instrument of political control.

In a way that is analogous to Tolstoj's representation of Nicholas, Solzenicyn defines Stalin as the embodiment of the totalitarian state and poses relationships to other types of consciousness which are more or less distant from the dictator's. Within Stalin's realm of thought stand all the members of the establishment who serve him. These creatures include the apparatciki as well as the slick literary critic Lanskij, who uses the computertechnician's language ("increment of victims") to speak of the inequities in the Soviet system of justice. With the exception of Galaxov, the members of the establishment are short-sighted and seek no philosophical grounding for their existence. They appear almost as emanations, as puppets who take their cues and make Stalin's words their own in a relatively mechanical way.

In contrast to these types of characters, the high-minded Communist Rubin more complexly displays Stalin's cast of mind. Rubin's background, scholarly pursuits, and moral dilemma differentiate him from his Mavrino comrades and from Stalin himself, but he has made the tyrant's language his own. Both Rubin and Stalin are grounded in the thorough rationalism which allows abstract structures to keep moral questions and existential despair at a distance. In an argument about the laws of dialectics, Rubin becomes befuddled and leaves the impression that he is committed to a self-referential structure that has virtually no meaning for human experience. As a dogmatic Communist who defends his jailer, he shows Stalin's tendency to downgrade other human beings into objects governed by the laws of history. The individual personality (Volodin, or a cousin against who Rubin informed) is lost in a process of objectification whereby concepts such as the "proletariat," "enemy of the people," and "progressive forces" are elevated into substantially existing realities.

Through such a process of abstraction and obfuscation Rubin arrives at his project for "civic temples." Without recognizing his self-deception, he seeks to find some home in a realm of spirit—in churches called by another name. Solzenicyn attributes the same yearnings to Stalin, who longs for spiritual comfort and notes in himself an undying predisposition toward Orthodoxy. But whereas the plan for "civic temples" appears as a prisoner's futile exercise, the tyrant transforms the traditions and the idiom of religion into instruments of political control! By calling attention to the state's appropriation of an entire system of religious signs, Solzenicyn clearly seeks to present Communism as a false, secular faith. In contrast to the false faith of Stalinism, a genuine spirituality emanates from the secondary character Aginja. Through association with her in his youth, the police agent Jakonov felt the power of religion at a service in a beautiful church. But in opposition to his religious girl friend, Jakonov ultimately sided with the Bolsheviks' "realm of reason," and his complete abnegation of the soul was signaled by willingness to sign an article full of clichés about Communism's struggle with the decadent West. In The First Circle Solzenicyn does not give an elaborate projection of traditional religious faith, but a consideration of the power and the abuse of the language of the church (religious idiom, architecture, ritual, mythology) helps define affinity or hostility to the characteristic mode of Stalin.

Art, the realm of Solzenicyn's own endeavors, also comes under direct discussion as a mode of expression alien to the characteristic language of the state. As in the treatment of religion, The First Circle affirms the value of genuine art by contrast to a sham product. The inauthentic writers of Russia are represented by Galaxov, an acclaimed winner of Stalin Prizes who has learned to rationalize his servility and moral cowardice. In opposition stands the painter Kondrasev-Ivanov, who serves the same function that an authentic novelist could as a character in Solenicyn's book. In discussion with other prisoners, Kondrasev-Ivanov voices the idea that art provides a way of knowing the most significant human realities. Ner in concurs, and praises Anna Karenina as an unsurpassed work of literature. By contrast, he notes, the technological innovations of the 1870s now seem primitive. The remarks of Nerzin, which are directed against Rubin, convey Solznicyn's own view of the power of art and underline the limitations of the "objective," scientific mode of cognition promoted by the ideology of the Soviet state. Throughout The First Circle Solzenicyn upholds art as an eternal way of knowing moral truths and voices his condemnation of Socialist Realism as an artistic code which cannot embody the actuality of life in Stalinist Russia as he sees it. The mode, not merely the message, is at issue. As for Solzenicyn himself, for the inauthentic writer Galaxov the art of Tolstoj stands as a compelling, challenging model which the winners of Stalin Prizes seem only to parody, as they continue to fashion a literature which lends support to an unjust political system.

In contrast to the loyal Communist Rubin, Nerzin and Solzenicyn's other major characters exhibit a personal, existential type of consciousness which stands diametrically opposed to Stalin's mode of thought and language.9 Nerzin, Volodin, Sologdin, and Spiridon have an individualized psychology, but their minds diverge in the same direction away from the laws of abstraction and obfuscation which govern the mentality of the tyrant. In an argument with Rubin, Nerzin explicitly protests against the obtuse, pretentious style of Stalin which seeks to disguise monstrous stupidity. Nerzin's mistrust of rationalistic structures as a source of values is elaborated in counterpoint with the experience of Volodin, who recognizes the inadequacy and irrelevance of the philosophical system of Epicurus only as he confronts the existential horror of being a prisoner. At the end of the novel, Volodin has suffered a drastic reorientation and entered the school of the Gulag. As the actuality of imprisonment supplants book-learning, he begins to recapitulate the experience of Nerzin, who claims that fellow zeks and intense introspection have revealed to him the knowledge he considers most meaningful.

In charting the development of Volodin, Solzenicyn makes significant reference to conflicting modes of discourse. The attempt to find some grounding for his existence leads Volodin not only to the thought of the ancient Greeks but also to the predominant sensibility of the era of Russian Symbolism. His mother's diary and her journals from the fin de siècle period arrest his attention through language itself:

The very words in which his mother and her women friends had expressed themselves were oldfashioned. They wrote in all seriousness with capital letters: Truth, Good, Beauty; Good and Evil, the ethical imperative. In the language Innokentij and his friends used, words were more concrete, and therefore more comprehensible: ideological substance (idejnost'), humaneness, loyalty, purposefulness.10

In this episode Solzenicyn shows Volodin's confused attraction to a new language. The very concern with ethical imperatives appears alien in Stalinist Russia and helps prompt Volodin to search for a code of justice. But the Symbolist mode of discourse, which promoted its own form of "poetic" abstraction and obfuscation, cannot give him firm guidelines. As they stand in abstract shape, the capitalized words seem available as categories, as containers to be filled with meanings that match Volodin's illdefined personal longings. By contrast to the Symbolist mode, the words in the second series in the quotation only seem more "concrete" to Volodin because in Stalinist Russia they have been transformed into unambiguous signs.11 Through a process of appropriation by the state, words have been locked onto their referents; as signs, they are weighed down with specific meanings so that they can no longer signify in different ways. As in the treatment of Communism as a false religion and Socialist Realism as false art, in dealing with Volodin Solzenicyn suggests that the state can pervert words such as "humane," "just," "loyal," and effectively impair a citizen's capacity to define true meaning.

In connection with the chapters on Stalin, the contemplation of language by Nerzin and Volodin acquires special force and furthers Solzenicyn's major concern with the salvaging of words as instruments of genuine communication—particularly as means of giving shape to the inner life of the individual. In contrast, Sologdin's "Language of Maximum Clarity" actually confuses the main issue of the relationship between corrupt politics and corrupt language. The refusal to use words of foreign origin leads Sologdin to expunge from his vocabulary "poet" as well as references to science, technology, and Soviet Communist ideology. In speech he (or Solzenicyn) sometimes completely forgets his linguistic program, and his most successful "Russianizations" consist largely of Church Slavonic forms.12 Despite the resulting incoherence, Sologdin's protest against political jargon helps to further Solzenicyn's concern with the debasement of language in Stalinist Russia.

As a projection of the consciousness which diametrically opposes the state's language of abstraction and obfuscation, the peasant Spiridon stands as one of Solzenicyn's most effective creations. The mentality of the peasant is conveyed in his own words and from the perspective of Nerzin, who is reexamining the whole tradition of Russian intellectuals' looking to the people for moral edification. Again the recoiling from abstract structures characterizes Nerzin. In their own way, the Populists elevated a concept of the People into the substantially existing reality. By dealing with various representatives of the peasantry during his imprisonment and by seeking out Spiridon in particular, Nerzin looks for those who get lost in the intellectual process of formulating categories. In distinction from Nerzin as well as Sologdin and Volodin, Spiridon himself recognizes no need to speculate on matters of philosophy. But in elaborate detail Solzenicyn represents his existence as a series of life-threatening confrontations in which the peasant made decisions on the basis of his family ties and some obscure sense of relation to a scheme of natural law. This personal, existential mode of thought finds expression in the idiom of Spiridon, who speaks of the concrete, misuses "learned words," and finds meaning in the pithy language of proverbs. Rubin, the dialectical materialist, rages against this whole shape of mind which resists rationalistic abstraction. In debate with Sologdin, who self-consciously opposes the language of the state, Rubin shouts that discussion with him is as boring "as trying to pound the fact that the sun doesn't circle the earth into the head of some dottering old fool (starik-pesocnik). He'll never learn no matter how long he lives." (227.) As in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovic and "Matrena's Home,"13 in The First Circle the particulars of the peasant's language best show Solzenicyn's ability to explore Russian as a living, whole system which endures as the most significant, cherished element of continuity in the history of his country.

Both Solzenicyn in The First Circle and Tolstoj in Xadzi-Murat project the mind of the tyrant as the very source of the corruption, impersonality, and cruelty writ large in society. With the tyrant defined as the central point of reference, other characters in The First Circle and Xadzi-Murat take shape within artistic structures which establish linkages (between Stalin and Rubin, between Nerzin and Spiridon; between Nicholas and General Voroncov, between Xadzi-Murat and the peasants) and oppositions (between Stalin and Agnija, Stalin and Kondrasev-Ivanov, Stalin and Spiridon; between Nicholas and Xadzi-Murat).

While Solzenicyn's treatment of Stalin does display notable stylistic and structural parallels with Tolstoj's treatment of Nicholas, The First Circle and Xadzi-Murat provide different perspectives on the issue of politics and language. Solzenicyn attacks the issue with an intensity born of his experience in Soviet Russia. While all significant Russian writers have prized the unique resources of their native tongue, Solzenicyn felt compelled to formulate a set of guidelines14 which authors could follow in order to salvage a linguistic edifice undermined by Stalinist Russia. His concern about the debasement of language finds various forms of expression in The First Circle. Within the scope of this loosely structured novel, Solzenicyn shows that tyranny involves the appropriation of words as state commodities and the transformation of language into a set of sign-systems (official historiography, controlled journalism, Socialist Realism). Full of righteous indignation against such power, he urges his readers to learn to decode the language of the state. Volodin, the man who attempts to communicate a sympathetic message by telephone in chapter one, will be defined as an "enemy of the progressive forces of history"; the parody of Stalin's language seeks to unmask the utter mediocrity of the mind and spirit of the dictator; "civic temples" speak of a false religion; the story "Buddha's Smile" figures as a literary amusement which illustrates the novel's central concern with decoding; the final chapter ("Meat") underlines the effectiveness with which the state uses mendacious language. In The First Circle Solzenicyn aspires to bear witness to history, and frequently his own impassioned voice rings out in commentaries (on the value of valenki, on Dostoevskij's Notes from the House of the Dead) which are reminiscent of passages in The Gulag Archipelago.

By contrast, Tolstoj does not take such a tendentious approach to the question of the relationship between corrupt politics and corrupt language. In Xadzi-Murat the life of the state and the making of history under Nicholas I provide Tolstoj with the occasion for giving his final artistic depiction of death. In this tightly structured novella which moves through a series of scenes full of significant visual detail, he draws the reader toward that final moment of death, when Xadzi-Murat's integrity and harmony of being blaze forth against the background of the whole morally corrupt culture that has destroyed him. Unlike Solzenicyn, Tolstoj does not raise his own voice to condemn history in the main body of Xadzi-Murat. He strived for the objectivity achieved in the final text and rejected variants which did include authorial commentary (on the nature of imperialism).

With the facts of history before him and with an understandable sense of urgency, Solzenicyn shows the corruption of language in an advanced stage not attained in Tsarist Russia. In Xadzi-Murat the subordinates of Nicholas worry about being dismissed or demoted, whereas The First Circle documents Stalin's casual murders, full-scale purges, and the total collapse of a legal system in Russia. At the dinner party in Xadzi-Murat the guest's insistence on describing a military campaign as the disaster that it really was produces annoyance and embarrassment in General Voroncov, while in Stalin's time calling things by their right names might result in exile or death. When Stalin proceeded to build Socialism in Russia, the "increment of victims" escalated drastically, and the state's control over language also reached an unprecedented degree: as massive social transformation was effected, the state fashioned language into an instrument for defining truth and justifying policy.

In Tsarist Russia, Tolstoj did not confront the totalitarian state and the brand of Newspeak which became its distinctive idiom. Given his place in history, his artistic insight into the relation between socio-political change and the debasement of language appears all the more remarkable: Xadzi-Murat uses words as a means of authentic communication, Samil' as leader of a proto-state society has begun to play roles and use language to manipulate his subjects, while Nicholas as the head of a vast bureaucratic empire quite cynically employs language to rationalize acts of murder. Without witnessing the terror of Stalinism or the perfecting of the Stalinist mode of discourse, Tolstoj in Xadzi-Murat brilliantly represented the earlier phases of that process whereby language becomes another institutionalized structure wielded by the state to control the defining of truth and to exercise absolute authority over the individual.


1 See for example Kathryn B. Feuer, "Solzhenitsyn and the Legacy of Tolstoy," and Richard Haugh, "The Philosophical Foundations of Solzhenitsyn's Vision of Art," in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials, ed. John Dunlop, Richard Haugh and Alexis Klimoff (Belmont, MA: Norland Publishing, 1973), 129-46; 168-84. See also A. Obolensky, "Solzhenitsyn in the Mainstream of Russian Literatures," Canadian Slavonic Papers, 13 (1971), 131-38; and Deming Brown, "Cancer Ward and The First Circle" Slavic Review, 28 (1969), 304-13.

2 See especially Max Weber on Charisma and Institution Building. Selected Papers, ed. S. N. Eisenstadt (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1968).

3 For an analysis of the distinction between the pastoral and the primitive in Tolstoj's writings, see my essay, "Concepts of the Primitive in Russian Literature: from Tolstoy to Pasternak," in Concepts of the Primitive in Western Civilization, ed. Stanley Diamond (New York: Pergamon Press, forthcoming).

4 A. P. Sergeenko, "Kommentarii," in L. N. Tolstoj, Polnoe sobrante socinenii (90 vols.; M.: GIXL, 1935-58), XXXV, 583-633; see also L. Semenov, ed., "Material k istorii sozdanija povesti 'Xadzi-Murata,'" Literaturnoe nasledstvo, 37-38 (1939), 633-50. For an assessment of the historical accuracy of the work, see V. A. D'jakov, "Istoriceskie realii 'Xadzi-Murata,'" Voprosy istorii (1973), no. 5, 135-48.

5 For the variants, see Tolstoj, XXXV, 284-556. On the peep-show method, see the entry of 21 March 1898 in Tolstoj's diary, LIII, 188.

6 Gary Kern, "Solzhenitsyn's Portrait of Stalin," Slavic Review, 33 (1974), 1-22.

7 See Feuer, 134, who draws no distinctions between the psychology of Stalin and the psychology of Nicholas.

8 See Edward J. Brown, "Solzenicyn's Cast of Characters," SEEJ, 15 (1971), 162-63.

9 By using this term, I mean to characterize a mode of thought and language which recoils from abstract structures. For discussion of the characters' philosophies of life, see John Dunlop, "The Odyssey of a Skeptic: Gleb Nerzhin," in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 241-59; Natalia Rea, "Nerzhin: A Sartrean Existential Man," Canadian Slavonic Papers, 13 (1971), 209-16; and Helen Muchnic, "Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle/Russian Review, 29 (1970), 154-66.

10 Solzenicyn, V kruge pervom (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), 306.

11 On the distinction between "signs" and "signifiers," see Roland Barthes, Mythologies, tr. Annette Lavers (London: Cape, 1972), 113. Compare Nadezda Mandel'stam's remark on her husband's famous portrait of Stalin: the authorities said that the poem was a "usurpation of the right words and thoughts that the ruling powers reserved exclusively for themselves." Hope against Hope: A Memoir, tr. Max Hayward (New York: Atheneum, 1976), 83.

12 Boris O. Unbegaun, "The 'Language of Ultimate Clarity,'" in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 196-98.

13 L. R evskij, "Obraz rasskazcika v povesti Solzenicyna 'Odin den' Ivana Denisovica,'" Studies in Slavic Linguistics and Poetics in Honor of B. O. Unbegaun (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1968) 165-78; "Tvorceskoe slovo u Solzenicyna," Novyj zumal, 96 (1969), 76-90; T. G. Vinokur, "O jazyke i stile povesti A. I. Solzenicyna Odin den 'Ivana Denisovica," ' Voprosy kul'tury reci, 1965, no. 6, 16-32; Roman B. Gul', "A. Solzenicyn, socrealizm i skola Remizova," Novyj zumal, 71 (1963), 68-74; and Ludmila Koehler, "Solzhenitsyn and Russian Literary Tradition," Russian Review, 26 (1967), 176-84.

14 Solzenicyn, "Ne obycaj degtem sci belit', na to smetana," Literaturnaja gazeta, 4 November 1965.

George Urban with W. Averell Harriman (interview date 1981)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 16583

SOURCE: "Was Stalin (the Terrible) Really a 'Great Man'?: A Conversation with W. Averell Harriman," in Encounter, Vol. LVII, No. 5, November, 1981, pp. 20-38.

[In the following interview, Urban discusses with Harriman, who was Franklin Roosevelt's special ambassador to Churchill and Stalin from 1941 to 1946, Stalin's behavior and activities during World War II, particularly his wartime leadership abilities.]

W. Averell Harriman was born in November 1891 and, after the usual "Eastern Establishment stations" (Groton, Yale), made a career first in the railroad business which his father, the pioneer of the Illinois Central and the Union Pacific, had established, and then as a prominent Wall Street banker. He was, during the liberal New Deal days, a close adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt, later becoming the President's Wartime Ambassadorat-large. He served after the War in various high governmental posts (including a period as Ambassador to Britain), taking time out only to be elected Governor of New York State (1955-58). Ten years later he was the US representative at the Viet Nam Peace Talks in Paris. He is the author of a number of books and has recently published his memoirs.


[George Urban:] What were President Roosevelt's reasons for believing that he knew how to handle Stalin whereas Churchill, as he thought, did not? On 18 March 1942 Roosevelt wrote to Churchill:

I know you will not mind my being brutally frank with you when I tell you that I think I can personally handle Stalin better than either your Foreign Office or my State Department. Stalin hates the guts of all your top people. He thinks he likes me better and 1 hope he will continue to do so. . . .

There is evidence of Stalin's dislike of the "top" British in your own memoirs (Special Envoy, with Elie Abel). Stalin took an unenthusiastic view of Britain's first wartime ambassador, Sir Stafford Cripps (a socialist, a teetotaller, and a bit of an ascetic), and refused to accept Lt-General M. B. Burrows on the tripartite military committee on the grounds that Burrows had no respect for the Soviet military and regarded them as "savages. "

Roosevelt's letter to Churchill has given rise to much speculation. Historians have asked: What was it in Roosevelt's policies and personal attitude that might have appealed to Stalin? Was it Roosevelt's generosity, goodwill, and perhaps naivety? his dislike of Churchill's unabashed view of Empire? his apparent disinclination to get too deeply involved in the post-war European settlement? the scale of American economic power?

Did personal observation during your many Wartime meetings with Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin give you reason to think that Roosevelt did indeed have better access to Stalin's mind than Churchill?

[W. Averell Harriman:] Oh yes! One could, for example, see at the Teheran Conference that when Roosevelt talked, Stalin listened very carefully and with what one might call a certain deference. His rapport with Churchill was different. In 1942, when Churchill and I visited Moscow to tell Stalin that the "Second Front" could not be launched in 1942, Stalin was furious and gave Churchill a rough time. He accused the British of being too much afraid of fighting the Germans. On one occasion, speaking to me out of Churchill's hearing, Stalin complained that the Arctic convoys had been stopped because the British Navy had lost the initiative and that the British Army was not fighting either (mentioning the British defeat at Singapore). He made a similar accusation direct to Churchill's face, questioning whether the British Navy had any sense of glory—to which Churchill responded in no uncertain terms but with great dignity.

These were, of course, unjustified accusations. The postponement of the "Second Front" was a joint Anglo-American decision, as were in fact all the other things Stalin took exception to; and my presence in Moscow on behalf of Roosevelt was the President's way of saying that there was complete solidarity between the Western Allies. But as Churchill was the one to break the news, Stalin's anger was concentrated on him.

For all that, Stalin did admire Churchill's qualities as a Wartime leader. He once toasted Churchill as a comradein-arms and a man of indefatigable fighting spirit; and the two men cooperated closely in the pursuit of the War. But that exhausted Churchill's usefulness for Stalin. He did not think that Churchill would be of any value after the War. He suspected his motives.

There was (to come back to Roosevelt) nothing personal about Stalin's deference to Roosevelt—although, for some reason, Roosevelt appeared to think that there was. Stalin simply realised that the USA possessed the greatest productive machinery the world had yet seen in a single country. He needed the help of this machinery to keep the Red Army fighting and therefore had great respect for it. This was the real reason why Roosevelt was given more consideration than Churchill when the three leaders met. American supplies were vital to the survival of the Soviet Union.

How do you react to the view that Roosevelt as President of a country which had itself been a colony had a certain tacit emotional affinity with Moscow's long-term anti-colonial objectives? Or, to put it another way, that he and Stalin were both uncomfortable with Churchill's (unreconstructed, as they thought) concept of Empire? If so, might this have accounted for Roosevelt's feeling that he could handle Stalin better than Churchill, to say nothing of the fact that in 1919 Churchill had tried to thwart the Bolshevik Revolution, whereas Roosevelt suffered from no such handicap in dealing with Stalin?

Stalin was no sentimentalist. He would not be led by considerations of this kind even if Roosevelt would. It was the practical things in life that affected Stalin—American trucks, tanks, aircraft, and other supplies.

Roosevelt did feel, to my mind rather optimistically, that he could influence Stalin; but the fact was that he could only influence Stalin when Stalin had something at risk that Roosevelt was in a position to deny him. Every now and then Stalin felt that if he did not do what Roosevelt wanted, his relationship with the President would be adversely affected and his American war-supplies might dry up. In such cases he would give way; but this is the only sense in which we can speak of Roosevelt's special influence over Stalin.

Did Stalin's esteem for Roosevelt rub off on yourself as the President's personal representative?

Stalin was always courteous to me. In October 1946 I called on him while he was on vacation at Gagra in the Crimea to discuss with him serious differences which had arisen between our governments on the question of calling a peace conference with Hitler's former satellites and settling Allied control in Japan. Although our talks had been controversial and inconclusive, Stalin remained extremely cordial. As I was getting up to leave after our last discussion, Stalin said: "I have received you not only as an Ambassador of the United States but as a friend. It will always be so."

This was the expression of something more than cordiality extended to Roosevelt's representative as US Ambassador. It went back to the circumstance that in the 1920s I had, together with other American businessmen, taken manganese concessions in the Caucasus.

When I returned to the Soviet Union as Roosevelt's representative, some of my friends feared that Stalin would resent my earlier role as "a capitalist" who had come to "exploit" the new Soviet state at a time when it was undergoing grave difficulties. But this was not at all Stalin's attitude. On the contrary, he observed to me on one occasion: "You came to our country at a time of need and ready to help us. . . . " What I am saying is that Stalin had a fine appreciation of people who were prepared to work with him, as distinct from those who were strictly antagonistic. He was astute. He had a good understanding of the other man's point of view.

You say: "He had a good understanding of the other man's point of view." Were you conscious, in negotiating with Stalin, that you were talking to the greatest tyrant of modern times with a fearful record of savagery to his name?

I was not concerned about what sort of a man Stalin was or how he had dealt with his rivals. My concern was to achieve my objective which was to be able to show Stalin that we could give him enough help to keep the Red Army in the War. I was interested in him as the leader of a country which was vital to the security of my own. I did not go to Russia as a sightseer or as an historian. It was not my job to assess Stalin's character or to ascertain where he stood historically. I looked upon him as the head of the Soviet Union and therefore had to deal with him as I found him.

Nowadays everybody thinks I went to the Soviet Union concerned to see who this great man was. That sort of consideration never entered my head. Roosevelt's hope was—and I fully agreed with it—that the Red Army would destroy enough of Hitler's forces so that our men would not have the ghastly job of doing it themselves. Roosevelt knew that the US would get into the War sooner or later. He was mindful of the terrible losses we had suffered at the hands of Germany in World War I and was anxious that our troops should never again be exposed to that sort of blood-letting. So my job was to supply Stalin with whatever he needed and keep the Red Army fighting Hitler's troops. . . .

in which you succeeded only too well

Yes—but the point I want to stress is that I didn't give a damn about Stalin's character or the 1936-38 "Show Trials" or the collectivisation campaign. I was concerned to get him to do the things we wanted him to do. For me he was simply the leader of a country we had some very important business with.

Obviously I knew about Stalin's past deeds, the brutalities of the 1930s and so on, but I had a mission to perform, and it wasn't that of a tourist or a student of Communist history.

But could the job of understanding, supporting and influencing the Soviet War-effort be completely divorced from an historical assessment of Stalin 's character and his record as a dictator? Two points immediately come to mind.

First, historians of the Second World War tell us that the Red Army would have performed a great deal better in 1941-42 if in 1937 Stalin had not exterminated many of its most senior generals and the cream of its officer corps. Stalin's war on Finland foundered for precisely that reason.

Second, Stalin's post-War expansionismwhich you foresaw even before the European War ended and reported to the President in a number of warningswas the expansionism of the same man who had incorporated the Baltic states, some of the Eastern territories of Poland and Rumania, and made an unsuccessful bid to grab Finland. Didn 't these aspects of Stalin's record have some bearing on your estimate of his post-War policies? Weren't they an early warning of what could be expected of him if and when his forces reached deep into Europe?

In 1941-43 we were not interested in what Stalin's peace policies might turn out to be. We were at war with Hitler. We were interested in Stalin's war policies, and that was enough to keep us busy. Later on, I was much concerned about Stalin's plans for a post-War European settlement and was able to give some advice to President Roosevelt which proved to be correct—

absolutely prophetic. I read your despatches with great admiration. For example, commenting on Stalin's policy vis-à-vis the 1944 Warsaw Uprising you told Roosevelt that there was every indication that the Soviet Union would "become a world bully" wherever their interests were involved.

I appreciate your comments. It was not that I was particularly eagle-eyed or brilliant. I only happened to have an opportunity which few people had: a chance to see Stalin in action at close quarters. He would talk bluntly to me, and I was able to talk bluntly to him. I could get to the heart of the matter and report my thoughts frankly to the President.

But, as you report in your memoirs, even after a personal talk with Roosevelt later in the year in Washington, you did not think you convinced the President "to be firm and vigilant" in dealing with the Soviets in Eastern Europe . . . although you do say that the State Department was fully alive to the necessity and did not want to see Eastern Europe surrendered to Soviet domination.

The President did not have as sure a grasp of the realities in Central and Eastern Europe as he did in the Far East. For example, he still thought that he could personally arbitrate the Soviet-Polish and the Soviet-Finnish boundary, which was to my mind quite out of the question. When I told the President that Stalin was hoping to split the Japanese armies in China by driving a wedge direct to Peking, he responded with the question: "If the Russians go in, will they ever go out?" He did not, however, bother to ask a parallel question about the Soviet penetration of Central and Eastern Europe because, I think, he felt that he was powerless to affect the issue.

I was always hopeful that when I got to see the President I could persuade him that my reading of Soviet intentions was right. I was unhappy that he did not see them as I saw them; but I knew Roosevelt well and realised that he made up his mind sometimes without full information—but then, he was always ready to discuss his decisions. Roosevelt was unduly optimistic. He failed to understand that Stalin, with the terrible damage that had been done to the Soviet Union, would not be as anxious to have our help in the post-War period as he had been during the War. He did not realise how tough-minded the Russians would be and with what determination they would stick to the long-term goals of world revolution.

One adjective often used by historians to describe Roosevelt, and especially his attitude to Stalin, is "naive. " you knew Roosevelt from your common childhood. Was he naive?

This is a complex question. Roosevelt was hopeful that his personal relationship with Stalin could carry on after the War, but Stalin had no regard whatever for personal relationships. He was thinking in a framework of ideology and power which was alien to the President. Roosevelt was confident in his ability to get other people to do things for him, and he was not entirely wrong in that—his ability to persuade people to change their minds was very considerable. But he was over-confident.

Naive? I do not like using the word to describe the character of a great man, but he was certainly over-optimistic about what he could achieve personally, as distinct from what he could as head of a powerful government.

Was Roosevelt's "over-confidence" vis-à-vis Stalin due to his lack of any profound knowledge of Bolshevik history and the world Communist movement generally?

I don't know—I have never bothered to find out.

You talk in your book of Roosevelt's inclination to "romance"to engage in flights of the imagination which you personally tended to ignore.

He would "romance" when you went to see him and he did not want to tell you what was on his mind because his mind was not made up. He would talk all round the subject but would not give you an answer. He never said "I refuse to give you an answer", but you could sense very quickly that he had no intention of telling you. He had a strong belief that the President had the right, and in many cases the obligation, of not making up his mind until the last minute, because if he made a decision too soon, information might come in that would invalidate it.

This was in a sense highly frustrating for one who had to work with him, because it meant the lack of precise instructions. In another sense, however, it was very stimulating, because Roosevelt would give you the general line of his thinking, leaving it to you to use your own judgment in turning it into practical policy. This was an exciting thing to do. The responsibility was yours. If you made a mistake, you were out on a limb; but as I did not need a job to support myself, I did not mind running the risk of being fired!

When I mentioned Roosevelt's inclination to day-dream I had one example especially in mindhis thoughts about the future of Lvov. He observed to you in 1944 that the Soviet-American-British controversy over the future of Lvov could be resolved by the simple expedient of appointing Lvov as a "Polish capitalist island" within the Soviet Union. He thought Stalin might agree to have the city governed by an international committee, leaving it to a future plebiscite to decide whether Lvov should finally belong to Poland or the Soviet Union.

This strikes me as a good example of Roosevelt's naivety. Anyone who could believe this after the Warsaw Uprising would have no difficulty with another and even less likely ideathat Stalin would permit parliamentary democracy to flourish in Eastern Europe after the War.

As you know, I tried to tell Roosevelt that Stalin would never permit a Polish capitalistic enclave within a Soviet-Ukrainian environment. But Roosevelt thought this would present no problem: the Ukrainian peasants would come to Lvov and sell their produce to the Poles for roubles. . . .

Without question, Roosevelt did not fully understand Soviet thinking, and I do not know if any of us did when it came to talking to the Soviet side directly. Roosevelt, to be fair to him, knew how to handle Stalin, as one could see at both Teheran and Yalta. Nevertheless, he was, as I say, more optimistic about being able to deal with Stalin than the facts justified. In the Spring of 1945 it was a great shock for him to find that Stalin was turning his back on the "Declaration on Liberated Europe" signed at Yalta, first, by installing a minority government of his own choosing in Rumania, and then trying to do the same in Poland—a case we regarded as being much more serious, and one which brought the Alliance close to breaking point. Roosevelt's telegrams to Stalin and Churchill, and his instructions to myself as his representative on the Anglo-American-Soviet commission dealing with the problem of the Polish government, show the depth of his concern. But even then, he did not allow his disappointment to run away with him. He was very firm with Stalin, but not angry to the point of wanting to slash back.

Roosevelt is on record as having said: "There is no doubt in my mind that after the War American and Soviet societies are going to converge. " Was this not a gross misjudgment?

Of course it was—it was nonsense. Roosevelt said this, and I think he believed it. He never understood the ideological vigour (as it then was) of the Communist faith. He never grasped the fact that Communism in Russia was not merely a political and economic system but an ideological faith.

Did you point this out to him at the time?

No, it was not for me to correct the President. From time to time I did remark to Roosevelt that I did not share his judgment of the Soviet system and Soviet intentions; but one had to accept Roosevelt as he was.

I knew Roosevelt pretty well. His brother was in my class at school, and I used to have meals with the Roosevelts in the first decade of the century. So I knew Roosevelt before he acquired the great qualities he did in fighting off the effects of polio; for there is no doubt that his victory over polio strengthened his character. I knew him before he had become as vigorous a man as he was when he was President. I was, therefore, not surprised by these lapses of his judgment. People expected the great man to be perfect in every way. But, of course, he was not—nobody is perfect.


So much has been written about Stalin's "cult of the personality" that I'd be curious to know a little more about Stalin's character as he appeared to you at the time.

Some historians, Isaac Deutscher for example, have stressed Stalin's coolness and "impersonality." He is described as a pragmatista doer rather than a thinker.

Stalin was very impersonal when you first met him. He did not go around shaking hands. But when he got interested he warmed up and shed his impersonality. But I agree that to the casual observer, and those who only saw him in public, he was cool.

But, then, there was also a warmer side to Stalin which I saw displayed in his attitude to Harry Hopkins. Hopkins, as you know, was a sick man. Nevertheless he made the long and hazardous trip to the Teheran Conference. When Stalin saw him enter the conference room, he got up, walked across the room and shook hands with him. I never saw him do that to anybody, not even Roosevelt. He was the only man that I ever saw Stalin show personal emotion for. Hopkins had won Stalin's admiration earlier in the War. He was one of the first Western envoys to go to Moscow shortly after the Russians had been attacked by Hitler. He made the difficult trip all the way around the North Sea to Archangel and down to Moscow. He had lost his pills and was not very well. Stalin saw all this and showed personal respect for Hopkins's courage.

But was it not also that Hopkins brought Stalin, extremely hard-pressed as he was at the time, the vital news that Roosevelt "regarded Hitler as the enemy of mankind and that he therefore wished to aid the Soviet Union in its fight against Germany"? Whereupon Stalin asked for 20,000 anti-aircraft guns, thousands of fighter planes and bombers and a long list of other war materials?

No—he respected Hopkins's courage as a human being, not as a representative of the American President. I am only telling this story to show that Stalin did have a softer side to him which, I agree, did not come out very often, for we know well enough that he could be callous and brutal.

Joseph E. Davies, US Ambassador to Moscow in 1936-38, saw a different Stalin from the one Isaac Deutscher describes.

His brown eye is exceedingly kind and gentle. A child would like to sit in his lap and a dog would sidle up to him . . .

he wrote in Mission to Moscow. Stalin was "cleanliving, modest and retiring. " Even Lord Beaverbrook commented after your joint meetings with Stalin in 1941 that Stalin was "a kindly man" who "practically never shows any impatience at all. " And H. G. Wells: "I have never met a man more candid, fair and honest, and to these qualities it is, and to nothing occult or sinister, that he owes his tremendous undisputed ascendancy in Russia. . . . No one is afraid of him and everybody trusts him. "

The reverse side of this coin is best represented by Djilas. Stalin, for him, was

the greatest criminal of all time, for in him was joined the criminal senselessness of Caligula with the refinement of a Borgia and the brutality of Czar Ivan the Terrible.

Davies's view is utter nonsense, as indeed is his whole book. He never understood what was going on.

Beaverbrook was an enthusiast and a backer of the Soviet Union at almost any price—so much so that his "Russia-First" attitude worried Churchill. He wanted our joint mission to Moscow to sound like a great success and used it to build up his reputation with his Cabinet colleagues in London. In one of his cables from Moscow he boasted to the British War Cabinet that "the campaign laid down by Harriman and me" had been carried out without "any hitch." None of this was quite true. I took a much more sober view of what had been transacted and said so in a personal note to Roosevelt. Beaverbrook's exuberance sometimes carried him way beyond the facts. Hence his somewhat overdrawn characterisation of Stalin.

What about Djilas's lapidary words?

For me, Djilas's witness carries much more importance. He was a dedicated leading Communist, but his disappointment with Stalin and the Stalinist system caused him to reject Communism and his own past with particular bitterness. So I would discount his judgment, too, or at least I would express my disenchantment with Stalin (if I were in Djilas's shoes) in a different way. Stalin was, to be sure, cold and highly suspicious, and when he acted on his suspicions he could be cruel and brutal; but I would have thought that comparing him with the sanguinary madman Caligula was not quite justified. I am more inclined to think that Khrushchev's account of Stalin's way of dealing with his associates was accurate and struck the right note.

You may not agree with Djilas's reference to Caligula, but I should imagine you would not quarrel with his reference to Ivan the Terrible, seeing that in Peace with Russia? (1960) you quote with apparent approval an observation which Alexey Tolstoy once made to you:

If you want to understand the Kremlin of today . . . you must first understand the Kremlin of Ivan the Terrible.

This is, incidentally, also a view strongly held by Professor Robert C. Tucker, one of Stalin's best-known American biographers.

Yet little in your memoirs reminds the reader that the man with whom you had so many crucial discussions in the Kremlin and elsewhere was a latter-day Ivan the Terrible who, in fact, cast himself in that role quite consciously. You portray a shrewd, well-informed, determined and somewhat home-spun politician with his eye on the main chance; but there is nothing terrifying or repulsive about him.1Your book, if I may say so, did not leave me with the impression that its author was a privileged eyewitness at the court of a fearsome dictator and loathsome individual, no admirable though I found your memoirs in all other respects.

You must understand that my business in Moscow was not to look at Stalin with the curiosity of an historian or the questioning eye of a political philosopher. I was sent there by the President to keep Russia in the War and save American lives. And as ideology had nothing to do with Roosevelt's decision to help Russia, I was not concerned with Soviet Party history, Stalin's record as Party leader, and the like.

People studying Stalin now are looking for evidence of blood and murder. I was looking for vigorous action in Stalin's war with Nazi Germany, and I did find in him a man of action and a man of leadership. I expected him to be tough, and he was tough, although (as I have said) he was also very polite. But his blunt words did not bother me nearly as much as they did Beaverbrook, for example. I went to see him as an equal. I had met so many important men in my time that I was not going to be awed by Stalin.

Now, Alexey Tolstoy did not say that Stalin was like Ivan the Terrible. He merely observed that "If you want to understand the Kremlin of today . . . you must first understand the Kremlin of Ivan the Terrible." This simply means that one could not understand Stalin's Russia without understanding Russian history and appreciating some of the, for us, appalling things which the Russian people were brought up with and were prepared to put up with. It wasn't that the Kremlin I saw somehow bore traces of the court of Ivan the Terrible, for (if I am not mistaken) Ivan was the monarch who murdered his son in a fit of anger. Stalin was not like that.

On the other hand, Stalin knew well enough that the Russian people's tremendous War effort had little to do with their support of the Communist system. Stalin—this is a point I want to stress—was a realist. He said to me in September 1941:

We are under no illusion that they [the Russian people] are fighting for us. They are fighting for Mother Russia.

Stalin was aware that the Party was unpopular and he himself hated in his capacity as Party leader. That is why he thought he had to protect himself against the germ of counter-revolution. He had himself been a revolutionary, so he knew how underground movements began and developed. He was not going to let one come into being directed against himself. In this respect, then, there was something in Stalin's political behaviour that runs parallel with Ivan the Terrible's campaign against the boyars.

Stalin the War Leader, however, was popular, and there can be no doubt that he was the one who held the Soviet Union together after it had been smashed by Hitler's invasion. I do not think anyone else could have done it, and nothing that has happened since Stalin's death induces me to change that opinion.

It is quite true that Stalin made a desperate blunder in not preparing for Hitler's invasion. He evidently could not believe that Hitler would attack without talking to him again, because he was ready to make further concessions. The British had sent him several warnings, all of which he disregarded. He thought these were a provocation, the British trying to get him to mobilise and thus to bring on Hitler's attack (he was conscious of 1914, when the Czar's mobilisation caused the Kaiser to mobilise and made war inevitable). All this showed a serious lack of judgment. Both the British and we knew through our intelligence networks that Hitler was preparing to attack Russia; and we repeatedly communicated this information to Stalin in precise detail, including the actual date of the attack. But then, Stalin refused to believe his own agents too, some of whose warnings (Richard Sorge's above all others) had been just as categorical.

But once Stalin had overcome the shock of invasion (I was not there, but I accept the story that he had fallen into a mental collapse and cut himself off from his closest associates), he moved fast and vigorously to assert his leadership. It was amazing that after the great losses he had taken he was able to redevelop his armed forces, move his industrial production to the East, restore morale and eventually defeat the Germans.

I must also give credit to Stalin as military leader. He attacked only when he had accumulated the necessary reserves to break through the German lines, but then he was prepared to take enormous losses in order to achieve a decisive victory. My military friends tell me that although these losses were quite shocking, they were smaller than they would have been if Stalin had repeatedly attacked with smaller forces and less resolution. So I'd like to emphasise my great admiration for Stalin the national leader in an emergency—one of the historic occasions where one man made so much difference. This in no sense minimises my revulsion against his cruelties; but I have to give you the constructive side as well as the other.

Let's be fair to Stalin and add in parenthesis that when the War was over he acknowledged his early blunders. On 24 May 1945, at a victory celebration in the Kremlin, Stalin said:

Our government made not a few errors, we experienced at moments a desperate situation in 1941-1942, when our army was retreating, because there was no other way out. A different people could have said to the government: "You have failed to justify our expectations. Go away. We shall install another government which will conclude peace with Germany. . . ." The Russian people, however did not take this path. . . .

These were not the words of a man whose head had been turned by victory.

One should perhaps add for the record that Stalin's unpreparedness for the German attack may well have had its roots in his ambivalent psychological attitude to Germany and the Nazi system.

If there is one nation to which we are attractedto the whole people or at least to a majoritythey are the Germans.

Stalin said this to Emil Ludwig. And, responding to Ribbentrop's congratulatory wire on his 60th birthday in December 1939, Stalin said: "The friendship of the peoples of Germany and the Soviet Union, cemented in blood, has every reason to be lasting and firm"words that will be quoted against him as long as history is written.

This may have been no more than a rhetorical flourish to cover a holding operation and gain time, as Soviet historians would like us to believe; but, equally, it may have expressed Stalin's genuine conviction that he could (to put it no higher) stay out of the War. Indeed, we have it on the authority of Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, that "even after the War he was in the habit of repeating, 'Ech, together with the Germans we would have been invincible. ' . . . "2

I was not there—your comment is as good as mine.

Our most famous character portrait of Stalin comes from Trotsky. This is the image of Stalin as a bureaucrat: not a man who fought his way to power through revolutionary activity of his own, as Mussolini and Hitler did, but one who manipulated his way to power using the post-revolutionary bureaucratisation of Soviet life as his escalatora creature of the machine and symbol of Thermidor.

Did this "bureaucratic " side of Stalin come across in your talks with him (and, of course, "bureaucratic" for Trotsky meant the betrayal of the revolution)?

It is a travesty of the facts to call Stalin a mere bureaucrat. He had an enormous ability to absorb detail and act on detail. He was very much alert to the needs of his whole war machine. He had his finger on the pulse of the country. He was not just sitting in the Kremlin glorying in his power.

In our negotiations with him we usually found him extremely well informed. He had a masterly knowledge of the sort of equipment that was important for him. He knew the calibre of the guns he wanted, the weight of the tanks his roads and bridges would take, and the details of the type of metal he needed to build aircraft. These were not characteristics of a bureaucrat, but rather those of an extremely able and vigorous war leader. Trotsky's prejudice against Stalin was as strong as Stalin's against Trotsky.

Wasn't your confidence in Stalin's competence as a War Leader a little shattered when you heard Stalin remark to you: "In the Soviet Army it takes more courage to retreat than to advance"? Was this not a clear pointer that the Russian people's willingness to fight was not self-evident and that terrible things must have been going on behind the Soviet lines?

Or did Stalin's toughness and realism perhaps give you additional reasons for trusting his leadership?

This remark of Stalin's shows that he was fully conscious of the realities prevailing in the Red Army. We knew that Stalin had his security agents behind the lines ready to shoot down their own troops if they turned and retreated. We were appalled by this, but we realised that it did make the Red Army fight. That was the thing that mattered.

But wasn't Stalin's remark a Very damaging confession about the morale of his forces?

It was not a question of morale—he wanted them to do the impossible; he was determined to give his attack that extra punch which could be done with no other means. Our military people, who consulted the Germans after the War, told me: the devastating thing about a Russian offensive was its mass character. The Russians came in wave after wave. They would all be mown down by the Germans until, by the force of sheer attrition, one wave would eventually break through and achieve the Russian objectives. Now, there is a theory in military tactics which says that you should take your big losses right away, this being, in the last analysis, a better way of economising on your manpower than any other method. I am not qualified to judge it; but this is the theory on which the Russians worked. It was not for us to question it or the manner in which Stalin enforced it.

Did you find Stalin a man of keen intelligence?

Oh, very. He was a man of simple purposes ready to use devious means to attain them, but these he would use doggedly and intelligently.

Boris Bazhanov, Stalin's secretary in the mid-1920s, described Stalin as a man of poor education, incapable of producing "an orderly train of thought in speech or writing" and with a very short attention-span. Would you agree with his judgment?

No—Stalin was certainly not like that in the 1940s. I would, however, not put him down as deeply intellectual. I do not think he spent much time in trying to figure out things philosophically. He was not the creative genius that Lenin was. He was an operator. He accepted Communist ideology as he had received it from Lenin and built on that. He inherited a situation and took control of it. He was a practical man who knew how to use the levers of power, but he was no innovator or ideologue.

Did you find Stalin a "silent" man? Bazhanov stresses Stalin's inclination to listen, wait for the consensus of his colleagues to emerge, and then come up with their conclusions as though they were his own. Emil Ludwig says:

He is the most silent man I ever saw, silent until he suddenly rises to attack you. This silence, this slowness, show him an Asiatic.

Stalin was no chatterbox. He was "Asiatic" perhaps in the sense that he was inscrutable, even enigmatic. He would not often look you in the eye. The contradiction between his personal courtesy and his wholesale liquidations always puzzled me.

Practically everyone who had to deal with Stalin agrees that he was extremely suspicious, even paranoid. Khrushchev quotes Stalin as saying: "I trust no one, not even myself. "

I have no reason to doubt that Stalin did say that to Khrushchev. He never made a similar statement in my presence, but there is nothing that I know about Stalin which would have made it impossible for him to say it. He would say almost anything to make a point, even indulge in a bit of self-mockery. He was not at all pompous. He was in no sense holding himself up as someone hard to approach. He was very blunt, and he did not resent bluntness in return—which he certainly got from me when the situation so required.

Professor Robert C. Tucker, in his penetrating analysis of Stalin's character, sums up Khrushchev's indictment of Stalin as abuse of power, and Stalin's mental state as one of paranoia. You were at the receiving end of Stalin's mistrust of his friends and allies, as for example his refusal to grant landing rights to US planes to supply the Poles in the Warsaw Uprising; his reluctance to allow the American military to locate US prisoners in the liberated areas; and countless other displays of Stalin's suspicious nature. Would you agree that he suffered from some form of persecution mania?

He was certainly very suspicious. One of Roosevelt's instructions to me was to "talk him out of his shell", away from his aloofness and secretiveness, which takes us back to September 1941 when Beaverbrook and I, representing Churchill and Roosevelt, went to Moscow to ascertain Stalin's needs and offer whatever help we could. On the second day of our talks, on 29 September 1941, we ran into rough weather. Stalin was most dissatisfied with what we had to offer and questioned our good faith, which upset Beaverbrook more than it upset me. Stalin expressed the view that we wanted to see his regime destroyed—otherwise we would have offered more assistance. 'The paucity of your offers clearly shows", he said, "that you want to see the Soviet Union defeated." Whether this was just a tactical move to smoke us out and make us increase our offer, I do not know; but the fact that he said what he did reflected his deep distrust.

There was an even graver display of Stalin's misgivings later in the war when General Karl Wolff, a senior SS-commander in Italy, attempted to make contact with the Anglo-American Command to negotiate the surrender of German forces in Italy.

Yes, known as the "Berne Incident", this really showed Stalin's mistrust of his allies in an ugly light. To cut a long story short: Stalin was gripped by the bitter suspicion that the US and Britain were negotiating to accept without Soviet participation the surrender, not only of German forces facing them on the Italian front, but of Germany as a whole. Despite Roosevelt's repeated and painstaking assurances to the contrary, Stalin in fact accused the Western Allies of betraying the Alliance. In his note of 3 April 1945, he told Roosevelt that he, Stalin, had reliable information that Marshal Kesselring had agreed to open the Western front and permit the Anglo-American troops to advance to the heart of Germany and then to the East.3

There was, of course, absolutely no truth in this. In any case, nothing ever came of General Wolff's suggested negotiations; but the incident did show up Stalin's morbidly suspicious nature.

Roosevelt was furious. Having trusted Stalin, he expected Stalin's trust in return. He now saw himself accused as a traitor to the Alliance, a liar and a dupe. He gave Stalin as good as he got, telling him of his "bitter resentment" for the "vile misrepresentations" of his [Roosevelt's] actions.4

Didn't Roosevelt's hope to have his "trust returned" betray a less than adequate knowledge of what constitutes "morality" for a Marxist-Leninist?

The incident was a rather devastating display of Stalin's suspicious nature and had little to do with the actual facts of the suggested negotiations, but it went a lot deeper than that. Stalin, like other Soviet leaders, believed in the ultimate inevitability of a confrontation between the Soviet system and "capitalist imperialism." He did not trust us, and he could not believe that we would deal with him fairly.

Stalin's cable to Roosevelt was the most insulting I had seen. The President was deeply offended. It made him suddenly realise what the post-War world was going to be like. Yet, as always in dealing with Stalin, he left the door open.

Was Stalin's mistrust reciprocated? Did you feel at any time that Stalin might come to terms with Hitler, or accept a German surrender from other German leaders behind the backs of Britain and the US?

No, I never had any basis for suspicion that Stalin would not fight it out to the end. I do not think that was possible. Too much bitterness had accumulated between the Russians and Nazi Germany—too many terrible things had happened. Some Pentagon generals, however, feared that if America got too tough with the Russians, Stalin might break up the Alliance and make a separate peace with Hitler. But, as I say, I was convinced that a second Stalin-Hitler pact was not on the cards.

Hitler himself, in his final months in the Berlin bunker, certainly thought that he could come to terms with Stalin more easily than with the Western Allies. His argument was—and this was not unreasonable—that Stalin could turn the tide by the stroke of a pen, whereas Roosevelt and Churchill were prisoners of democratic public opinion and could therefore not change course as swiftly.

If Hitler thought that Stalin could be turned, he was certainly wrong.

He was; but doesn't his reasoning tell us something about the kinship of dictators—even when they find themselves in mortal combat with each other? We have quite a bit of evidence that Roosevelt, and Churchill too, felt, at least in 1942, that the affinity between the two totalitarian systems, and Stalin's terrible losses in 1941-42, might persuade Stalin to seek a separate understanding with Hitler, as he had done in 1939.

This is a matter for speculation.

Our most telling evidence of Stalin's morbid mistrust of his Allies comes from Charles Bohlen, Roosevelt's wartime interpreter (and later US Ambassador to Moscow). He recalls "a rather acrimonious accusation by Stalin, at one of the dinners, that Churchill had secret sympathies with the Germans. . . . "

Bohlen ascribes Stalin's outburst to his irritation at the postponement of the Second Front and Churchill's refusal to set a definite date for the invasion. If so, doesn't this show Stalin at his most arrogant (or purposely provocative)? For it was Britain that fought Germany single-handed after the fall of France, while Stalin was enjoying the benefits of his Pact with Hitler. Indeed, as you show in your memoirs, when, in the late summer of 1941, Churchill received Stalin's first demand for a Second Front, he was moved to tell the Soviet Ambassador in London:

Remember that only four months ago we in this Island did not know whether you were not coming in against us on the German side. Indeed we thought it quite likely that you would. You of all people have no right to make reproaches to us.

I was in Moscow with Churchill when the words Bohlen cites must have been spoken. I have no recollection of them, but it is quite possible that Stalin made the remark on some occasion when I was not present. Stalin would use shock-tactics as well as flattery if he felt that either could further his purpose.

Professor Tucker, to return to him for a moment, quotes in corroboration of his view of Stalin's paranoia the testimony of such friendly witnesses as Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, who uses the words "persecution mania" to describe her father's condition. Did you see any sign of this in Stalin's behaviour?

No, I don't think Stalin was paranoid—nothing, at least, that I could observe during our negotiations and personal talks led me to believe that he was.

The remarks he made to Churchill were probably intended to annoy the British leader, to draw him out and get him to come up with a better offer. Stalin made a habit of being somewhat rude to Churchill in front of Roosevelt too, as for example at the Yalta conference. He never took liberties with Roosevelt. Of course, Churchill was a master of the pen and the word, and knew how to fend for himself. Stalin's accusations of British disloyalty on the second night of our 1942 Moscow talks induced Churchill (as I have already said) to make one of the most extraordinary speeches I have ever heard. With great composure, very quietly, and without losing his temper, Churchill told Stalin what Britain had done during the War and completely refuted Stalin's accusations. I was really surprised that Churchill preserved his calm so well, seeing the criticism Stalin had hurled at him. It was a masterly performance by a great statesman and orator.

Much has been written about Stalin's behaviour at dinner and after dinner, both on formal occasions with foreign statesmen such as yourself Roosevelt and Churchill, and among his Communist cronies. Were these enjoyable occasions?

"Enjoyable" is not quite the word that would come to my mind. I would say they were fascinating experiences. Stalin took tremendous interest in these formal banquets. He was very conscious of protocol. He showed concern for everybody. He went round the room at different times, toasting everyone involved in any kind of official activity. No one was ignored. He made these dinners very lively—he brought everybody in.

Stalin's parties were known for their inordinate length, the amount of alcohol consumed, and their rather earthy baiting and bantering. Did you ever see Stalin not fully in control of himself? Khrushchev in his The Last Testament speaks of one such occasion: ". . . soon he [Stalin] was so drunk that he didn 't even know who this Petru Groza was any more. " Svetlana, too, records: "One day . . . my father did have too much to drink and sang folksongs with Smirnov, the Minister of Health. "

No, I never saw Stalin out of control; but, then, the accounts you are hinting at refer to Stalin's rather more intimate sessions with his comrades and foreign Communists. It was there that Khrushchev was made to dance a Ukrainian dance, and Beria disgraced himself on a variety of occasions. Molotov, too, was rather fond of taking a little more than was good for him. I never saw Stalin less than fully in control of himself. When I sat next to him at dinner I noticed that he would drink one glass of pepper vodka; but the rest of the toasts were drunk in white wine in very small glasses so that during the course of a long evening he consumed very little. Stalin was very careful in his relations with other people. He kept a watchful eye on them. I can well imagine that if he was suspicious of someone he would try to get him drunk to see how he behaved. But, as I say, he would never put himself in a position where he was not master of the situation.

Milovan Djilas feels that the desperate indulgence of the cabal around Stalin in drink and bravado was an expression of the conspiratorial nature of the Soviet Leadership. They drank and talked to excess because they were unsure of their legitimacy. Would you agree with that?

I was not there, hence it is not my business to say whether he is right or wrong. I always found Stalin controlled and self-confident.

You spoke of Stalin's great sense of realism. I wonder how this accords with Djilas's account of an after-dinner film-show he attended in Stalin's company. "Throughout the performance", Djilas reports, "Stalin made comments—reactions to what was going on, in the manner of uneducated men who mistake artistic reality for actuality. " Did Stalin behave in a like manner during the film-shows you attended?

No, I never saw him behave like that. Stalin had a great liking for the Viennese type of operettas and waltzes and certain American musicals written in that style. I saw him enjoying those. But I never saw him egg on a film's hero or berate the villain. I take Djilas's account with a grain of salt. I find it hard to reconcile with Stalin's realism.

Would you say that Stalin was a formative influence in your political career? Would your life-experience be poorer and thinner if you had not met Stalin and not worked with him?

I never thought of Stalin in that framework. I have had so many fascinating experiences in my life that I would only say that my dealings with Stalin were among many other fascinating ones.

Not the outstanding experience in the sense of adding some new dimension to your knowledge of human affairs?

No, I would not say so. My relationship with Roosevelt was much more important and more interesting.

"History does not know a despot as brutal and as cynical as Stalin was", Djilas writes in Conversations with Stalin. "He was all-embracing, and total as a criminal. He was one of those rare and terrible dogmatists capable of destroying nine-tenths of the human race to 'make happy' the remaining tenth."

I would have thought that working with a man like that would be a memorable and rather mind-expanding occasion even though the "monster" in Stalin (to use Djilas's word) was carefully hidden from the eyes of foreign visitors.

It was, of course, memorable to work with Stalin, but it was not an experience I would hold up as unique and put way above the others. I had to deal with Stalin as head of the Russian government. He was important to us and we were important to him. I was not interested in the psychology of his character, the secret of his rule, or any of the other philosophical matters that exercise your curiosity. I would summarise my relationship with Stalin in a single phrase: a contest of wills. That was all.

Have you ever puzzled over Stalin's doodlings? Beaverbrook reports that Stalin was in the habit of drawing pictures of wolves and filling in the background in red pencil. Emil Ludwig also saw him draw images in red pencil but never using the blue end.5 Would you have an explanation for his doodlings?

Stalin was a doodler—that's all. He did it all the time. I did not pay as much attention to this as Beaverbrook did.

He was more curious about that sort of thing than I was. I don't know why people doodle. Psychologists claim to have explanations. I don't. Have you?

I would hazard that Stalin's wolves were the "enemy" about to be consumed by the red fire of Soviet power and revolution.

It is too much of a guess. I would not want to speculate.


Hindsight, as you rightly say, is a treacherous perspective, yet I find it difficult to resist asking you: If Churchill and Roosevelt had known in 1942 or 1943 what they were to know in 1945, would they not have done well to pick up Stalin 's urgent appeals for a Second Front and launch the invasion of Europe in 1943 rather than 1944? This would have changed the entire post-War map of Europe, admittedly at some cost to the Western allies, but also to their immense advantage in terms of the post-War world balance of power. One can say with as much certainty as anything is certain in history that an invasion in 1943 would have seen the whole of Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia liberated by the Anglo-American forces.

My question, then, is: Was the postponement of the Second Front, first from 1942 to 1943 and then to 1944, really inevitable, and did Roosevelt and Churchill have a realistic appreciation of the price they would have to pay for the delays?

The story of this harassed chapter of Anglo-American-Soviet relations is well known; so I will restrict myself to saying that in 1942 we were militarily unprepared to go in. The Russians had some legitimate grounds for complaint because a statement approved by President Roosevelt at the time of Molotov's visit to Washington in June 1942 did speak of the "urgent tasks of creating a Second Front in Europe in 1942", even though Churchill was more cautious and refused on his part to promise that a Second Front would, in fact, be launched that year.

Plans were being made for major action in Europe in 1943, but this would have meant building up large US forces in Britain over a long period of time and keeping them inactive until all was ready for the actual invasion. Moreover, Churchill and the British generals were unenthusiastic. Their troops and equipment were inadequate, and Churchill had a predilection for not striking at the heart of Europe at that particular time, but rather going round it via North Africa, Italy and the Balkans. Roosevelt's great worry was that if large American forces remained idle in the United Kingdom he would find it impossible to fend off demands inside the US for a Pacific-First strategy. That was the reason why Churchill's plan for a North African operation as a substitute had a great appeal for Roosevelt and was eventually accepted, even though our Chiefs of Staff were unenthusiastic about it.

For all these reasons, and in the tenth of Stalin's bitter charges that the Western Allies were not pulling their weight and were too cowardly to tangle with the Germans, the Second Front could not be launched until June 1944. Even then, Churchill and his generals were worried and diffident. I saw Churchill a month before the invasion and found him, even at that late hour, torn by doubt. He was deeply worried about the disaster that might flow from the operation if the landings should fail. He told me that if the Anglo-American forces were pushed back into the sea, the Americans would have lost a battle but the British would have incurred the loss of their whole military capability.

I don't like to indulge in the might-have-beens of history. Roosevelt was convinced that it was in our national interests to defeat Hitler first and not to enter into premature speculation as to whether the Soviets might outflank us in a post-War settlement, or we them. People who now tell us that we ought to have had more foresight and preempted this or that Soviet move are wise after the event. They don't realise the political pressures of the time.

Nevertheless, looking back from the comfortable position we are now in and permitting ourselves the luxury of some speculation, would you not agree that if Roosevelt had been strong enough to fend off the Pacific-Firsters, the invasion might have been successfully launched in 1943 despite British military weakness and British hesitation? In which case the Russians would never have reached Berlin or perhaps even got as far West as Warsaw?

General Marshall put all the heat he possibly could on the British, but he did not realise just how weak the British were. They had some 28 divisions, none of them fully equipped, some of them only 25% up to strength. They were paper divisions. It would have been a disaster to go ashore with them. We had difficulty enough achieving what we did in 1944—remember the Germans' Ardennes offensive. In 1943 it was militarily just not possible to launch the Second Front with any prospect of success.

Macmillan made a speech the other day in which he, too, said that we should have gone into Germany from the South much earlier in the War, taken Vienna and advanced from there to the heart of Germany. All sorts of people are now telling us how we should have fought the War. I'm not going to indulge in any second-guessing. My obligation to history is to record what happened and why, and not to speculate what might have been a better course of action seen with the wisdom of hindsight.

Isn't it rather ironic, though, that Stalin was pressing so hard and with such bitterness for the Second Front from 1941 all the way to 1944! If Britain and the US had been able and willing to do what he was asking, an early Second Front would have boomeranged back on his own expansionist ambitions. I do, of course, realise, that Stalin was under extreme military pressure and had no choice but to ask for military assistance from any quarter he could get it.

Precisely. After Hitler's attack had taken him by complete surprise, Stalin lost a large part of his armies, many of his best generals and officers. He was facing disaster, hence he was most anxious to have some of the pressure taken off his forces. That is why he was so doggedly pleading for a Second Front. The prospect of victory was very distant, and any post-War jockeying for advantage in Europe was more distant still. The first priority was to avoid defeat. That explains Stalin's insistence.

When General Eisenhower reached some 120 miles into what was to become the Soviet Zone of Occupation, Churchill urged President Truman that the Western Allies should make the withdrawal of Eisenhower's forces conditional on correct Soviet behaviour in Central and Eastern Europe. He wanted the Americans to stand pat on the Elbe and thus force Stalin to live up to his Yalta obligations. On the advice of the US State and War Departments, however, Churchill's suggestion was turned down by President Truman. Do you feel that this was the right decision?

I had nothing to do with that decision. I was always for maximum pressure on the Soviets. I thought, however, that Churchill's suggestion was not very practical because agreements made under duress generally do not hold. It is hard enough to get an agreement with the Soviets that is freely entered into and make it stick! Also, acceptance of Churchill's idea would have landed us with clear responsibility for the Cold War without ultimately changing things much in Eastern Europe; for in the last analysis there was nothing we could have done to prevent unilateral Soviet action in Eastern Europe short of going to war with the Russians. Some American officers and some of the French were talking of doing just that, but I do not think that American public opinion would have stood for it. The mood in America was one of solidarity with the Soviet Union, and there was a war to be won with Japan.

But would it not have been in line with your own thinking for the Anglo-American forces to penetrate as far to the East as they could and force Stalin's hand from a position of strength—force him, that is, to respect the Yalta agreement? We learn from your memoirs that in April 1945, in your talks with the Pentagon and State Department, you expounded the view that

Stalin's insistence upon a belt of weak, easily dominated neighbouring states was not limited to Eastern Europe. Once the Soviet Union had control of the bordering areas . .. it would probably attempt to penetrate the next layer of adjacent countries. [I] saw no virtue in waiting; the issue was best fought out as far to the East as possible.

I felt at the time that we ought to have taken Berlin, which was well within our grasp. Hanging on to 120 miles of German territory, however, did not seem to me anything as exciting. Berlin would have been something tangible and well worth holding, and I do regret that we did not take it. But remember that we were bound by the agreement we had made with the Russians about the division of Germany into national zones of occupation, and the rationale of that agreement was not so much to parcel out German territory as to avoid any fighting between the Soviet and Western Allied forces. For all these reasons, and also because he overestimated the strength of German resistance further south, Eisenhower held back and then withdrew to the zonal boundary. There was, furthermore, another important factor. If we had refused to evacuate the Soviet zone of occupation, the Soviets would most probably have retaliated in Austria by refusing to withdraw from our zone of occupation there, in which case Austria today would be a Soviet satellite.

More generally: you must remember that we were not looking for a fight with the Russians. We were looking for the defeat of Hitler with the minimum cost in American lives. That was what Roosevelt was trying to do, and I think history will say that he did it very well. I am, of course, interested in how we could have done better; I am interested in listening to it, but not in joining the discussion.

But wouldn't you agree that Churchill's sombre forecast, soon to be borne out by events, could have been turned to good account if American government thinking had been informed by a more sophisticated sense of history? On 12 May 1945 Churchill wrote to Truman:

An iron curtain is drawn upon their [the Russians'] front. There seems little doubt that the whole of the regions east of the line Lübeck-Trieste-Corfu will soon be completely in their hands. To this must be added the further enormous area conquered by the American armies between Eisenach and the Elbe, which will, I suppose, in a few weeks be occupied, when the Americans retreat, by the Russian power. . . .

Both the State Department and the Pentagon were against using the presence of American troops in the Soviet zone as a bargaining counter. Harry Hopkins advised the President that an American failure to withdraw would be violating an agreement made in good faith only a short time earlier. There was also the consideration that the Russians would not permit the Allied Control Council to function in Berlin until we evacuated the Soviet zone. On 11 June 1945, therefore, Truman told Churchill that he was "unable to delay the withdrawal of US troops from the Soviet zone in order to use pressure in the settlement of other problems."

Even in retrospect, I don't think we could have forced the Russians to allow freely elected governments to function in Eastern Europe if we had done what Churchill suggested. Churchill's gloomy vision was borne out by events, but the factors I have listed militated against accepting his counsel.

Just how strongly did you feel about the suggestion you had made to the Pentagon and the State Department that the Western Allies' quarrel with the Russians should be "fought out as far to the East as possible"?

Another distinguished observer of the Soviet scene, Mr George Kennan, felt (as he tells us in his Memoirs) that the US did not have the power to affect Soviet behaviour in Eastern Europe and that it would be a mistake for America to make a big fight over it. The US, he suggested, should not share any of the moral opprobrium for what the Russians were doing in Eastern Europe.

My own feeling was that unless we fought it out in Eastern Europe, the Russians would be moving to the next area further West. Having given up our first line of defence, we would then have to make a stand anyway, but under conditions far less favourable.

I remember meeting Stalin at Potsdam in 1945 and congratulating him on arriving in Berlin after all the trials his country had gone through. He looked at me meaningly and said: "Czar Alexander I got to Paris!"

What I suppose he intended to convey was not, as many people now think, that he wanted his armed forces to conquer the rest of Europe, but that he felt that the Communist Parties of France and Italy were strong enough to take control of the governments there, which would then open the way for Stalin to move in.

It was precisely to counter that threat and to work out a programme for European recovery that President Truman appointed a Committee under my chairmanship. We were very active trying to prevent the expansion of Soviet power to Western Europe and, as you know, our work was not unsuccessful. A second volume of my memoirs, which is now in preparation, will give the details of this story.

Was it not surprising in the light of the "Berne Incident", and the Nazis' justified (and one might say welldeserved) fear of the Russians that they did not open the Western front to the Anglo-American forces and permit a much larger part of Germany to be occupied than the Western Allies actually succeeded in doing?

I was, from the very beginning, not very happy about the division of Germany into zones of occupation, because I thought the Germans would fight the Russians every inch of the way but would let us in and enable us to occupy a much larger part of Germany or indeed the whole of it. They did, in fact, put up a tremendous fight against the Russians; but they fought us too.

Why did they mount the Ardennes offensive? Was it a last desperate attempt to raise morale in Germany, or was Hitler entertaining hopes on the lines I have suggested, i.e. that he might pull off a sudden cease fire with Stalin, in which case he would want to hold off the Americans as far to the West as he could?

I don't suppose anyone in Hitler's forces had the courage to let the enemy in, no matter which enemy. The Ardennes offensive? I cannot explain it, but as I keep telling my friends, I was never hired to be a prophet. It is an interesting question, and if you have a good answer, I'd be glad if you'd let me know. In any case, in the last few weeks of the War the Germans no longer put up a great fight against us, whereas they did fight the Russians.

Hitler hoped and to some extent believed to the very end of the War that the Allies would fall out with each other, in which case either Stalin or the Western Allies would want to enlist the Germans on their side; and, as we know, he was anxiously examining every scrap of information that appeared to support his hopes, as well as reading and re-reading the story of Frederick the Great, who in the Seven Years War snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat by the sudden disintegration of the unity of his enemies. This is the only theory I can come up with, and it is, of course, widely held by historians. Hitler, on this showing, ordered the Ardennes offensive to gain time and raise morale in the hinterland. There was always some straw in the wind a desperate man could clutch at. If he took a large enough view, he could, for example, take some general comfort from Senator (as he then was) Truman's words: "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many as possible. . . . "

Ah, but Truman also said that he would not want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstance! "Neither of them thinks anything of their pledged word. . . . "

On 14 December 1944 (as you tell us in your memoirs) you saw Stalin and discussed with him Eisenhower's difficulties in reaching the Rhine before the winter set in. You asked him to acquaint you with his plans for winter operations so that Eisenhower might make his own arrangements accordingly. Stalin explained the causes of delay on the Polish front (bad weather etc.) and made the "astonishing suggestion" (already, in fact, made to Churchill in October) that five to six Allied divisions, later to be increased to eight to ten, should be landed in Northern Yugoslavia, advance on Zagreb, and eventually join up with Soviet troops on Austrian soil. You replied that this was something Churchill had been advocating for a long time, warning that an amphibious operation of this kind would take very careful preparation.

Stalin's proposal was indeed astonishing, for at the 1943 Teheran conference he had fought off Churchill's plan for just that kind of an operation as an alternative to a Second Front in France. We can only speculate about its meaning. Does it suggest to you in retrospect that as late as December 1944 Stalin was not sure whether Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia would come within his sphere of influence, and that he was prepared to settle for far less than he got in 1945? Stalin must have known that if eight to ten Western divisions drove a wedge from Zagreb to Vienna, the future of the Communist régime in Yugoslavia, and of Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia as possible satellites, would be jeopardised.

You must remember that in October-December 1944 extremely bitter fighting was still going on on all fronts. My guess would be that Stalin was anxious to get German divisions diverted from the Eastern front. If we could be persuaded to land in Dalmatia at short notice, he would get large German forces off his neck. This might admittedly have limited his penetration in the South, but it would have made it easier for him to advance rapidly in the North and take a great deal more of German territory than he eventually did manage to occupy. I am as certain as anybody can be that Stalin at that stage did not have a master plan to turn Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia into Communist buffer states and satellites. He did so, or attempted to do so, once his forces were there. But in December 1944 he would have been just as glad to see his way made a little less arduous in the North. Germany was, after all, a greater prize than any other part of Europe.

There is also an alternative and rather Yugo-centric explanation which I put to Milovan Djilas in embryonic form in 1979. By the autumn of 1944 there were tensions and misunderstandings between Tito and Stalin. Stalin would not allow that a "Communist" revolution was taking place in Yugoslavia; he was gravely suspicious that Tito might puncture his monopoly. Moreover, Stalin went on recognising and maintaining diplomatic relations with the Yugoslav monarchy, which was anathema to Tito. Stalin's initiative for an Anglo-American landing in Yugoslavia was, according to this theory, a veiled threat to Tito: If you don't toe the Moscow line you will come under Anglo-American occupation and that will be the end of your régime. (Tito, we must remember, was extremely hostile to the Western Allies and especially apprehensive about a British landing in Dalmatia.)

Would this make sense to you?

What was Djilas's reaction?

"Possibly so ", he said rather laconically, but said no more.

I would not even go as far as that. It is, to my mind, unlikely that Stalin would have suggested so big an operation with such unforeseeable consequences just to threaten Tito. I am, of course, in no position to analyse fully the Yugoslav point of view, but my guess would be that Stalin was led by purely military considerations. He was anxious to reach the northern parts of Germany via Poland as rapidly as he could, and for that he needed some pressure to be taken off his central front. In any case, the landings were never made. Incidentally, I don't know Djilas. I always wanted to meet him because I'd like to see into the mind of a man who, having been an avid Communist, then decided that Communism was not for him. I once asked Tito (after Djilas's second imprisonment, if I remember correctly) whether I could meet Djilas, but he said "Better not. . . . "


You have pointed out repeatedly in this conversation that your job in Moscow was to keep the Russians fighting and save American lives. This may have been an entirely justified policy in terms of American national interest, but it did make the Soviet Union bear the brunt of the War both in material devastation and human sacrifice. Soviet losses in dead alone were about twenty times those of the US and the British Empire combined.

My impression is that some of the US indulgence shown towards Soviet expansionism in the final phases of the War and for a short time after the War was due to a tacit American recognition that the Russians had done most of the bleeding and taken most of the punishment. In other words: the American public was, perhaps only subconsciously, burdened with a feeling of a 'debt unpaid" which it was anxious to pay off in some form.

The Soviets, of course, have never stopped claiming in their propaganda that they won the War either singlehanded or with minimal assistance from the Allies. Indeed, during the War, it was already (in the words of Deutscher) Stalin's "stock argument that the place any nation was to be allowed to keep in peace should be proportionate to the strength it had shown and the sacrifices it had borne during the War. . . . " Accordingly, Stalin never permitted the Soviet public to be informed of Lend-Lease; and he kept it in the dark about the Anglo-American bombing of Germany and the magnitude of the American and British War effort.

I should imagine it was not difficult for you and your colleagues in Moscow to infer that every time Stalin launched one of his bitter recriminations against the Anglo-American side for being too slow and too much afraid to take on the Germans, he was building up credit for himself as head of a country which was bearing most of the sacrifices and thereby earning the right to present the bill at the appropriate time?

I was not conscious that American public opinion did show such indulgence towards the Russians. Apart from occasional visits to the States, I was in Europe throughout the War, so I cannot speak from experience; but I was not conscious of it at all.

Now, Stalin never reprimanded us for not pulling our weight in the War. I would have answered him if he had; I would have given him a very strong reply. The Soviets would not have survived if we had not helped them, and on at least one occasion Stalin himself acknowledged his debt. Speaking in Churchill's presence in the British Embassy in October 1944, Stalin said that there was a time when Great Britain and Russia between them could handle the affairs of Europe. Together they had fought the Germans in World War I; but in World War II, Britain and Russia could not have prevailed over Germany. He doubted, Stalin said, whether Germany could have been defeated without the full weight of the United States on the side of the Allies.

Stalin said Germany could not have been defeated without American help. Is this quite the same as saying that Russia could not have survived without American assistance?

If we had not sent them the massive supplies we did, the Russians could not have survived. When I say "survive", they would perhaps not have been thoroughly conquered, but they would have been pushed back to the Urals and probably beyond. We supplied them with an enormous amount of war materials—worth about twelve billion dollars at Wartime prices.

We have already spoken of your inability, in 1944, to convince Roosevelt of "the importance of a vigilant, firm policy in dealing with the political aspects in various Eastern European countries." Would it be too wild a conjecture that Roosevelt's attitude was at least coloured by the indulgence which (in my assumption) American public opinion and much of the American political class showed towards the Soviet Union at that particular time?

I think it would. America was suffering from no guilt complex vis-à-vis the Russians. President Roosevelt just did not have a very good understanding of the problems of Eastern Europe; and he realised, as the Russians were moving deeper and deeper into Eastern Europe, that he would be powerless to exert any real influence there.

What was the President's reaction to the division of Eastern Europe into spheres of influence on a by now extremely famous piece of paper on which Churchill wrote down the percentages? The story as told by Churchill is well known:

The moment was apt for business, so I said: "Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Bulgaria and Rumania. We have interests, missions and agents there. Don't let us get at cross purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety percent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety percent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?

While his words were being put into Russian, Churchill wrote down these percentages on a piece of paper, adding a 50-50 division for Hungary and giving the Kremlin a 75-25 predominance in Bulgaria.

I pushed this across to Stalin. . . . There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down. . . .

After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length I said, 'Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper.' 'No, you keep it,' said Stalin.

I never took this thing seriously, and I don't think it was important as it did not affect the future. Stalin, as we know, ignored it even though Churchill always claimed that Stalin respected the Greek side of the bargain in the sense that the Greek Communists received their aid from Yugoslavia, not Russia. This so-called agreement was one of those rather spectacular non-events that historians tend to pick up and make much of. The United States was not party to the bargain. Indeed Roosevelt dissociated himself in advance from any understanding Churchill might reach with Stalin during their Moscow talks in October 1944.

You see, Churchill was anxious to have a tête-à-tête with Stalin on two principal topics: Russian participation in the war against Japan and the future of Eastern Europe. He wanted to have full American participation, which Roosevelt, however, refused. Indeed he sent a message to Stalin through myself, making it absolutely clear that Churchill was not authorised to speak for the United States.

"I am firmly convinced", Roosevelt wrote, "that the three of us, and only the three of us, can find the solution of the questions still unresolved. In this sense, while appreciating Mr Churchill's desire for the meeting, I prefer to regard your forthcoming talks with the Prime Minister as preliminary to a meeting of the three of us. . . . Mr Harriman naturally will not be in a position to commit this Government in respect to the important matters which very naturally will be discussed by you and Mr Churchill." Churchill was, of course, disappointed that Roosevelt declined to authorise American participation, and Stalin, too, expressed his embarrassment. He expected that Churchill was coming to Moscow on the strength of agreements reached at the Quebec conference and thus fully authorised to speak for the US too. But this was not so. When Churchill put his spheres-of-influence ideas on the table I was not even present. I was informed about it by Churchill several days after the event, even though (quite mistakenly) Churchill in his book lists me as one of the participants.

But once the spheres-of-influence agreement (if that is what it was) had been reached, Roosevelt did not disown it.

He knew nothing about it and had nothing to do with it. He had (as I say) disowned everything Churchill said or agreed to before Churchill undertook his trip to Moscow. He made it very plain to Churchill and very plain to me that he didn't want Churchill to go and see Stalin in the first place, and then that he would not be bound in any way by anything Churchill told Stalin or agreed with Stalin. It never crossed Roosevelt's mind that Churchill would come up with a spheres-of-influence proposal.

In any case, I did not take this so-called agreement seriously, and if I did not take it seriously at the time it could not have been very serious, because I was there on the spot, quite able to judge what was important and what was not.

Did the spheres-of-influence agreement have any impact on your work in 1945 in Rumania as member of the Harriman-Clark Kerr-Vishinsky Commission?

None whatever. The Russians, of course, imposed their government on King Michael in any case, despite our repeated protests, but Churchill's agreement with Stalin never came up as a point of reference. We insisted on completely free elections as agreed at Yalta, under the Atlantic Charter and in the Rumanian Armistice Agreement, but the spheres-of-influence agreement just did not come into the picture. Even the Russians made no reference to it although they might have quoted it in their favour as Churchill had given them a 90% interest in Rumania. In a message to Churchill of 11 March 1945 Roosevelt said that he was determined not to let the Yalta decisions slip through his fingers in Rumania; and he commented with some bitterness that the Russians had installed a minority government of their own choosing. He refrained, however, from so much as mentioning the Churchill-Stalin understanding. So much for the importance of that famous piece of paper.

Historians are divided on the question whether Russian national interest or Communist ideology was the motor behind Stalin 's expansionism and indeed whether one or the other is the motor behind the expansionism of Stalin 's successors. Without necessarily assuming that the choice has to be "either/or", let me ask you whether you thought Stalin was exploiting the patriotism of the Russian people in order to advance world revolution, or whether, on the contrary, he was using Communist ideology to advance Russian national, not to say imperial, interests?

Stalin and the Soviet government had and have both objectives. The expansion of Russia as a national state promotes, in their eyes, the triumph of Communism, and the advance of Communism serves old-fashioned, Czarist, imperial ends. Whether the first or the second took precedence in the mind of Stalin I was not able to judge. He was certainly convinced that the Soviet type of system was the one which the whole of mankind was sooner or later destined to adopt and that it was his responsibility to put maximum pressure on whomever or whatever stood in the way. I doubt whether he or his colleagues ever stopped to ask themselves which of the two was their principal motivation, and I doubt whether anyone in the present Soviet leadership does.

Yet Stalin was a cautious revolutionary and a cautious imperialist. He believed in the inevitability of world revolution, but he was not prepared to endanger the Soviet state by pushing the revolution too far to the West. Poland, however, was a different matter for him. This was the traditional invasion route for both Napoleon and Hitler. He was determined to keep control of it.

Would you agree that Stalin and his successors have been able to use the message of Communism as an excellent tool for Russian expansionisma much more effective weapon than Orthodoxy and Panslavism with their necessarily limited appeal?

I would not disagree with that. My own view, however, is that Bolshevism has no appeal, or should have none, because it is a reactionary development. The dictatorship of the proletariat is an historically regressive idea for it makes the individual a servant of the state, robs him of his power of decision, and is thus at odds with the aspirations of mankind. This was my view after I had first visited Russia in 1926, and I have had no reason to change it.

How did Roosevelt see the relative importance of Russian national ambition and Communism in the mind of Stalin?

Roosevelt was a religious man. He did not think that the atheist Communist system could permanently suppress the Russian people's religious instincts and traditions. He thought that in time the Soviet system was bound to become more liberal.

He looked upon Stalin's international policies as a combination of traditional Russian imperialism and an ideological drive to advance world Communism. He felt that, after the War, Soviet revolutionary evangelism would slowly recede and self-interest would increasingly become the guide to Soviet policy.

But in your personal judgment this hope has clearly not been borne out by facts, because in your book Peace with Russia? (and the question-mark in that title already tells us something about your views) you observed in 1960 that the Soviet leaders' "plans for developing Russia for the Russians are subordinate to the main goal of world revolution. Though their methods have changed since Stalin's time, their aims remain the same. . . . "

Yes, Roosevelt would have been disappointed. He would have been disappointed on another score too. He believed that our intimate cooperation with the Russians during the War could and should serve as a basis for post-War collaboration. He was determined to establish a close personal relationship with Stalin so that after the War the Soviet leaders would have confidence in the West. He was aware that the devastation of vast areas of Russia would call for a great effort at reconstruction, and he was prepared to offer generous American help. He was anxious to help Russia establish itself as a leading and respected member of the family of nations.

I did not disagree with Roosevelt's approach, but I was convinced that it would be far more difficult to establish a basis of confidence with Stalin than Roosevelt thought. Churchill was even more cautious. He too wanted a post-War understanding with the Kremlin, but he despised Communism and all its works and had his eye on specific political problems. He foresaw much greater political difficulties with the Soviet leaders after the War than Roosevelt did.

What were your thoughts when you first discovered that several thousand American war-prisoners, whom the Soviet forces had found in Poland, weren't treated at all well by their Soviet liberatorsthat the Russians could not be moved to expedite their return to the US, that American food and medical supplies were not allowed to reach them, and that in many cases their belongings had been stolen by Russian troops and their lives threatened?

Well, of course the callousness of the Soviet attitude did not augur well for the prospects of post-War collaboration with the Russians. But I did not spend my time worrying about what would happen after the War. My job was to get our supplies to these men and to see them brought home, and I did just that. I was not really surprised that the Russians treated our men so badly. They knew no better. They treated their own people just as callously. There was a great deal of suffering on all sides.

Did you ask yourself: If this is the way they treat their allies who have supplied them with arms, raw materials and food in their hour of need, how are they going to treat their enemies and indeed their own war-prisoners in German hands?

I had no responsibility for the prisoners they took from enemy countries. My responsibility was for and to our own people, and I could not go beyond that. I should think you realise that I was extremely busy dealing with the War. I was not going to assume responsibility for people who were no concern of mine.

After a great deal of frustration, the Russians were eventually persuaded to sign an agreement with the US and British military representatives on the repatriation of Allied prisoners. General John R. Deane and his Soviet counterpart signed the relevant agreement shortly before Yalta. Your purpose was to get the 75,000 US servicemen located in territories overrun by the Russians back to America in the shortest possible time. But the agreement also provided for the repatriation of Soviet war-prisoners and other Soviet citizens found in territories occupied by the Western Allies. Were you aware of the implications of this agreement for millions of Russian soldiers and civilians found on German territory in May 1945?

The negotiations leading up to the agreement were exclusively the responsibility of General Deane and his British counterpart, General Burrows. They had been started some eight months before Yalta and were no part of the Yalta agreement.6 Roosevelt never saw the document, and I got to know about it much after the event. When I did get to know about it, however, I was concerned; but I knew that General Deane's primary business was to get food and medical supplies to our men and get them out. It would have been a little too much to expect us to worry about Russian prisoners-ofwar on German territory.

I don't think it ever occurred to anyone on our side that these Russians would refuse to return home because they had good reason to suspect that they would be sent to their deaths or to prison camps. In any case, if we claimed (as we did) the right to our prisoners in Russian hands, we could not very well deny the Russians their right to the repatriation of their own men in Germany. We could not have demanded something for us that we were not willing to grant them.

Did the United States Government have no information as to how Stalin was dealing with Soviet soldiers who had fallen into German captivity? With all due respect—Stalin's denunciation and the NKVD's treatment of these as "traitors" was public knowledge in Russia from the beginning of the German-Soviet war. So was the fact that when Stalin's son, Jacob, fell into German captivity and the Germans offered to exchange him, Stalin disowned his son as a traitor, and Jacob eventually died in a German war-prison.7

All that knowledge came later. At the time we could not be expected to prejudge the issue by assuming that the Russians would regard their prisoners-of-war as traitors and treat them as such. We could not guess that. The criticism is unjustified.

Nothing in the Soviet-Allied agreement required the US and British commanders to repatriate Soviet soldiers against their will. Unfortunately, the Russians insisted on this cruel interpretation of the agreement, and the Western Allies went along with it until about the spring of 1946, sending back hundreds of thousands of Russian men, women, and children. The US and British commanders were fearful that if these people were not forcibly repatriated, the Russians might refuse to repatriate our own men from Eastern Europe. It was a sorry business and easy to condemn in retrospect. But at the time our first concern was the fate of our own men.

Whatever one may think of the deeds and misdeeds of Joseph Stalin, the historian 's job is to acknowledge that he left his "footprints in the sands of time. " Was he liked? Was he feared? Was he worshipped? Was he hated?

My personal impression is that the ordinary Russian's attitude to Stalin in his life-time is well summed up by Ilya Ehrenburg (and I quote him with some reluctance because his integrity is not unimpeachable, but then, that may be the very thing that makes him so representative):

It would be too much to say that I liked Stalin, but for a long time I believed in him and I feared him. When I talked about him, I, like everybody else called him "The Boss. " In the same way Jews in the past never pronounced the name of God. . . .

How would you as a distinguished American who probably saw more of Stalin than any other Western statesman, sum up your mental image of Stalin?

Soon after the death of Stalin, Khrushchev and I discussed the self-same topic. Khrushchev said: "Like Peter the Great, Stalin fought barbarism with barbarism, but he was a great man."

That, I believe, is the truth about Stalin.


1 Svetlana Alliluyeva tells a different story of Stalin:

. . . the cruel tragedies of those years didn't spare our family. In 1937 the brother of my father's first wife, an old-time Georgian Bolshevik, A. S. Svanidze, and his wife Maria were arrested. His sister Mariko was arrested, too. After that the husband of my mother's sister was arrested—the Polish Communist Stanislav Redens. The three Svanidzes and Redens perished in prison. Mama's sister was forbidden to visit us children. Her brother Paul died of a heart attack, shaken by the arrests of his relations and numerous friends, for whom he had vainly pleaded with my father. . . .

My mother's sister, Anna, had gone mad in prison and had come home a sick woman. Yevgenia Alliluyeva, the widow of Mother's brother, bore it all, but she said she had signed all the accusations set before her: spying, poisoning her husband, contacts with foreigners. "You sign anything there", she would say, "just to be left alone and not tortured! At night no one could sleep for the shrieks of agony in the cells. Victims screamed in an unearthly way, begging to be killed, better be killed. . . . "

Only One Year (1969), pp. 148, 162

2 On 23 August 1940, as the Battle of Britain was beginning in earnest, Pravda reminded its readers that the day coincided with the first anniversary of the Soviet-German Pact:

The signing of the Pact put an end to the enmity between Germany and the USSR, an enmity which had been artificially worked up by the warmongers. . . . After the disintegration of the Polish state, Germany proposed to Britain and France the termination of the war—a proposal which was supported by the Soviet Government. But they would not listen, and the war continued, bringing hardships and suffering to all the nations whom the organisers of the war had dragged into the bloodbath. . . . We are neutral, and this Pact has made things easier for us; it has also been of great advantage to Germany, since she can be completely confident of peace on her Eastern borders.

3 You insist that there have been no negotiations yet. It may be assumed that you have not been fully informed.

As regards my military colleagues, they, on the basis of data which they have on hand, do not have any doubts that the negotiations Have taken place and that they have ended in an agreement with the Germans, on the basis of which the German commander on the Western front, Marshal Kesselring, has agreed to open the front and permit the Anglo-American troops to advance to the East and the Anglo-Americans have promised in return to ease for the Germans the peace terms. . . .

I understand that there are certain advantages for the Anglo-American troops as a result of these separate negotiations in Berne or in some other place, since the Anglo-American troops get the possibility to advance into the heart of Germany, almost without any resistance on the part of the Germans, but why was it necessary to conceal this from the Russians . . . ?

Stalin to Roosevelt, Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers (1945, vol. III, p. 742

4 . . . It would be one of the great tragedies of history if at the very moment of the victory, now within our grasp, such distrust, such lack of faith, should prejudice the entire undertaking after the colossal losses of life, material and treasure involved.

Frankly, I cannot avoid a feeling of bitter resentment towards your informers, whoever they are, for such vile misrepresentations of my actions or those of my trusted subordinates.

Foreign Relations, vol. III, p. 746

5 He seemed to use the red end of his pencil to give free rein to his imagination as a man of power, and did in fact use the blue end, for settling administrative detail—for example, in approving Churchill's 1944 "spheres of influence" paper.

6 The Yalta Agreement did in fact provide for the repatriation of all Soviet citizens, saying nothing, however, about the future of those who did not want to return. Ed. Note.

7 Svetlana Alliluyeva records: "To my father the fact that Jacob had become a prisoner of war was nothing but a 'disgrace' before the whole world. In the USSR the news was kept under cover both during the War and after, although the press in the rest of the world was writing about it. And when a foreign correspondent officially asked for information on the subject, my father said that '. . . in Hitler's camps there are no Russian prisoners-ofwar, only Russian traitors, and we shall do away with them when the War is over.' About Jacob he said, 'I have no son called Jacob.'" Only One Year, p. 370

Gregory Freidin (essay date 1982)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12661

SOURCE: "Mandel'shtam's 'Ode to Stalin': History and Myth," in The Russian Review, Vol. 41, No. 4, October, 1982, pp. 400-26.

[In the following essay, Freidin examines the mysterious circumstances surrounding the writing and publication of Osip Mandel'shtam's "Ode to Stalin."]

If manuscripts do not burn, as Mikhail Bulgakov once suggested, they at least get hot sitting in the fire, which is more or less what happened to the "Ode to Stalin" by Osip Mandel'shtam.1 The first indication that Mandel'shtam might have written something like the "Ode" came from Anna Akhmatova's recollections of Mandel'shtam and had the effect of a minor literary bombshell.2 Two years later, in 1967, the issue was taken up in print by Clarence Brown who had been working on Mandel'shtam for nearly a decade.3 In order to determine whether Mandel'shtam had actually written the "Ode," Brown analyzed some twenty-four poems composed during the Voronezh exile (1935-37), relating them to what he had been able to find out about the poet's life at that time. The conclusion of this first thorough and by no means outdated study of the later Mandel'shtam was largely negative. Hard as he tried, Mandel'shtam—it would seem—was unable to twist the arm of his muse even though he knew very well that a panegyric to Stalin might prolong his precarious existence. Yet, some pieces of the puzzle, such as Akhmatova's authoritative statement and the poem "Esli b menia nashi vragi vziali,"4 did not fit the otherwise satisfying picture of a poet incapable of violating the integrity of his talent, and Brown decided to defer his final judgement, hoping that more conclusive evidence might eventually turn up.

The uncertainty was resolved by Nadezhda Mandel'shtam. In the first book of her memoirs, published in 1970, the poet's widow acknowledged the fact of the composition of the "Ode," adding that she had preserved the complete text of it for fear it would otherwise have survived in the "wild versions circulating in 1937."5 However, it was not until 1975 that the poem itself, albeit seven lines short of complete, made its first appearance in print, published in the Slavic Review by an anonymous contributor.6 A few months later a fuller version was included in a brief essay by Bengt Jangfeldt. In one important respect, Jangfeldt's account complemented, if not contradicted, the account of the poet's widow. Contrary to her assertion, an unnamed friend of the Mandel'shtams whom Jangfeldt cites, maintained that the poet "was not at all ashamed of the 'Stalin verses' . . . and read them on several occasions after his return from the Voronezh exile."7

The complete version of the "Ode," coming, one assumes, from Nadezhda Mandel'shtam herself, had to await the publication of the fourth volume of Mandel'shtam's Collected Works issued in Paris in 1980. But the controversy that had accompanied the "Ode" at least since Akhmatova's off-hand remark continued. A reviewer writing for Russkaia mysl' found it objectionable that the editors included the "Ode" in the main part of the volume instead of placing it with the annotations and setting it in "small type as it is ordinarily done."8

To use Pushkin's locution from the "Table Talk," the story of the "Ode's" publication is not savory but it does provide a credible picture of the ideological habits shared by many readers of Osip Mandel'shtam. Indeed the "Ode" clashes with the readers' image of Mandel'shtam all too powerfully, and if this image is to remain intact, if it is to continue to serve as a prism through which Mandel'shtam's poetry is perceived, a poem like the "Ode" (and there are others) will have to be stowed away in some dark corner (or is it a furnace?) reserved for the least pleasant among Russian literary curiosities. Whatever the practical merits of such an approach to poetry, it is inadequate if one wishes to account, at least in principle, for all the known facts and to accommodate Mandel'shtam's legacy in its entirety. The aim of the present study is to contribute to such an enterprise by finding a place for the "Ode to Stalin" in the ideological and mythological framework of Mandel'shtam's writings.

What we know about the events surrounding the composition of the "Ode to Stalin" comes from the poet's correspondence and the memoirs of Nadezhda Mandel'shtam, who, alone among her husband's companions in Voronezh, has chosen to make her recollections public.9 The poem was composed some time in January 1937, which places it in the middle of the Second Voronezh Notebook,10 the period when the term of Mandel'shtam's exile was coming to an end. Increasingly apprehensive—indeed desperate—about his future, Mandel'shtam decided to buy his way out by paying Stalin in poetic kind, that is, by composing a paean in his honor. This was a realistic response to a situation that was growing grimmer by the day. Mandel'shtam's fellow-exiles whom he befriended in Voronezh were being re-arrested one by one.11 The Voronezh Theatre that had previously offered Mandel'shtam an opportunity to earn a meager income no longer wanted to have anything to do with him. Graver still, the Voronezh Section of the Writer's Union, supposed to supervise the poet's ideological reeducation, was beginning to accuse him in print of such literally mortal sins as Trotskyism.12 But perhaps worst of all for Mandel'shtam, the fear of dealing with a poet in disgrace was now threatening to sever the last links connecting him with the literary community on the "mainland."13 Reading Mandel'shtam's correspondence of those months, it is especially painful to realize that many of his pleas, and not just for financial assistance or intercession but merely for an acknowledgement of his existence, remained unanswered. This social isolation, intense to begin with, was made doubly unbearable by the state of Mandel'shtam's health, which was deteriorating rapidly under the stress of continuous harrassment. Even following his arrest in 1934, Mandel'shtam was still enjoying the stature of a major literary figure—recall Stalin's conversation with Pasternak14—but by 1937 the transformation of a poet of the first magnitude into a non-person was, for all intents and purposes, complete.

Any one of these factors might serve as a good excuse for bowing to the authorities and in combination they no doubt justify an outward display of contrition and awe before an almighty tyrant. Yet, the circumstances under which the "Ode" was composed appear to be more complex, and Nadezhda Mandel'shtam went further to suggest that her husband for awhile (but how long?) assumed the mentality of the contemporary crowd.15 In her own words, Mandel'shtam "tuned himself like a musical instrument." The "Ode's" tone of profound sincerity and the consummate skill that apparently went into its composition demonstrate that the poet's absolute pitch worked, even in this instance, without fail.

But perhaps the word "even" is inappropriate here, for there is hardly anything unusual in a poet's, or for that matter anybody's, fascination with an omnipotent leader enjoying a litany of praise for almost a decade. Poetry of the Napoleonic era abounds in such examples. Nor is it unusual for a victim to identify with his tormentor, especially if the tormentor happens to be exalted and the victim either physically or psychologically isolated. Bruno Bettelheim's analysis of the "Heil Hitler" salute and the effect of its adoption on anti-Nazi Germans is instructive in this regard,16 and so are the pleas of Ovid, the archetypal exile for poets and especially for Mandel'shtam. It may also be worth recalling that Dostoevskii's political conversion occurred under similar circumstances. The composition of the "Ode," then, as that of any significant work of art, appears overdetermined: the fear and the fascination must have combined with considerations of a more practical sort as Mandel'shtam was "tuning himself for the composition of this, in my opinion, magnificent paean. But there was even more to it than that.

For the "Ode" to come into being, the emotional state that the poet was experiencing had to be objectified, had to locate itself in that ideological space where contemporary consciousness overlapped with the frame of reference which the poet superimposed onto the world—that is, his poetics, his myths, and broadly, his ideology. Without such an objectification, Mandel'shtam's expressive resources would have remained untapped, and the "Ode," had it come into existence at all, would not have risen above the Stalin doggerels of the kind that Akhmatova produced after the Second World War when the noose around her neck once again was beginning to tighten.17 Was there anything in Mandel'shtam's frame of reference capable of accommodating such an enterprise?

A review of his writings shows that his attitude toward the October Revolution, indeed the entire Soviet project including Stalin's role in it, was far more complex than has often been assumed and cannot be reduced to a romantic notion of a poet as David continuously fighting his Goliath. After all, Mandel'shtam is known to have relegated the Wrangel Army to the Antechamber of the Inferno where the souls of the undistinguished fall like leaves from the Tree of Life;18 to have praised Lenin as "the people's leader assuming in tears the fateful burden" of state power;19 and finally to have ridiculed his own pre-revolutionary affinities in The Egyptian Stamp (1928).20 In 1929, wrongfully accused of plagiarism by a powerful faction of the literary establishment, he counterattacked in Izvestiia and Na literaturnom postu with a verbal barrage painfully reminiscent of the cannibalistic rhetoric of the First Five-Year Plan.21 In the wake of the Shakhty trial, to describe the literary hacks as "wreckers" (or "pests," vrediteli) and to demand criminal prosecution for those whose only sin was a slap-dash translation job22 amounted to more than an unimaginative use of invective. Even in his famous Jeremiad, The Fourth Prose (1930-31?), we see Mandel'shtam appealing to the pure revolutionary values that, in his view, were now being betrayed by the increasingly bourgeoisified and bureaucratized establishment.23 Similar sentiments, couched in the rhetoric of War Communism, were being exploited at the same time by the Stalin side in the industrialization debates, as we know now, all too effectively.24

Read against this background, many of Mandel'shtam's poems of 1931-32 display an ambiguous attitude to what historians have now come to define as the Stalin Revolution. While finding some of its aspects distasteful, not to say repulsive, Mandel'shtam was yet unwilling to declare himself squarely against it. In poem after poem, he projected the image of a man fatefully torn between a profound commitment to the cause of the "fourth estate"—which he identified with the continuing revolution—and the growing horror at the violent and distorted form this cause was now taking.25 The ideological frame of reference that he had previously developed left him with a limited choice: either to accept the "march of history" or to join those whom in a 1922 poem he himself presented as the "parasites trembling at the threshold of the new days."26 Mandel'shtam's inability to reject this Procrustean dilemma altogether helps to explain why he found it necessary in 1931 to reaffirm his pledge, indeed a spell (chur), of allegiance to the fourth estate,27 to insist on his alienation from the Imperial world that had reared him,28 and even to doubt—a rarity in Mandel'shtam—his own rectitude.29 The famous "wolf poem30 exemplifies, perhaps better than any other poem of the period, the state of mind Mandel'shtam wished to project at the beginning of the 1930s. In this regard, it merits closer consideration.

The bill of particulars that the poem presents to the epoch reads approximately as follows: the revolution that has sacrificed the present for bombastic future glory has deprived him of "the cup at the feast of the fathers, of merriment and honor," has wrongfully assaulted him ("The age-hound leaps on my shoulders"), and finally, has created such a violent, filthy and cowardly world that the sight of it has become unbearable for the poet. His only wish now is to be led away by some unnamed guide as far away as possible from this scene, even to Siberia. The poem concludes on a spell-like repetition, or incantation, in which the poet once again denies that he is "a wolf by blood," by implication an inappropriate target for the "age-hound," and insists that he can be killed only by one who is his equal. In the literature on Mandel'shtam, at least in the tradition established by his widow, this poem has been perceived as an indictment of the times.31 Yet, a closer scrutiny reveals a far more complex picture in which the poet's aversion to the brutality of the epoch is combined with an historical and moral justification of the very cause of his distress.

As many poems by Mandel'shtam, this one is constructed around an allusion to Dante, specifically Virgil's prophecy in Canto I of the Inferno, which helps to identify the prototypes of the protagonists in Mandel'shtam's poem. Thus, behind the "age-hound" of Mandel'shtam one discerns Dante's Veltro (the Hound) who, according to Virgil, will rid Italy of the covetous and corrupt lupa (the she-wolf). It was this she-wolf who terrified Dante's Pilgrim as he was trying to find his way out of the "dark wood." Virgil's prophecy also helps explain Mandel'shtam's metaphor "I am not a wolf by blood," since Virgil predicted that before the Hound's appearance many creatures would have mated with the she-wolf. Finally, the Hound himself embodied the ideals of social justice which in Mandel'shtam's time were associated with the revolutionary "messianic" class: "he shall not feed on land or pelf but on wisdom, and love, and valor." Against this background, the repulsive sights of Mandel'shtam's poem might constitute a good enough reason for the poet not to participate in the social life of his time and to prefer instead a Dante-like pilgrimage. But these "excesses," as the "cowardice, slushy filth and the bloodied bones in the wheel" might have been qualified at the time, do not justify for him a wholesale rejection of the Revolution, or so, at least, the allusion to Dante suggests.32

Only later did alternative viewpoints begin to appear in Mandel'shtam's poetry. The epigraph that he chose for his Conversation about Dante (1933) offers a concise definition of the poet's contemporary stand: "Cos gradai con la faccia levata." The words are taken from a telling passage in Canto XVI of the Inferno (the dialogue with Farinata) where the Pilgrim delivers one of his invectives against his native city: "'The new people and the sudden gains have begot in thee, Florence, arrogance and excess so that already thou weepest for it.' This I cried with lifted face." Any one familiar with Mandel'shtam's iconography will recognize the poet in this pose, and Mandel'shtam himself, actually, recorded it in one of his rare verbal self-portraits.33 The poet, it seems, was prepared now to pit himself against the whole world, very much in the manner of his Florentine mentor. Indeed, the voice one hears in a series of poems composed in 1933 is neither muted nor twisted by doubt. One poem composed contemporaneously with the Conversation speaks with a supreme clarity not often encountered in Mandel'shtam about the devastation of the countryside in the terror of forced collectivization. Another poem about a newly acquired Moscow apartment bursts with anger at the brave new world as Mandel'shtam refuses, among other things, "to teach executioners how to twitter."34 Finally, in November 1933, Mandel'shtam decides to point an accusing finger at Stalin himself, producing a searing epigram35—to my knowledge the only contemporary document of its kind—that a few months later would result in his arrest, with its profound psychological trauma, and subsequent exile.

It would be gratifying to think that Mandel'shtam, once he perceived the inexcusable brutality of the new state, would never give up his insight. The record speaks otherwise. The poems of 1933 that have just been mentioned from an exception rather than the rule and, at least judging by the poetry composed in Voronezh, Mandel'shtam once again was reaching for the rationalizations familiar from his writings of the 1920s and the early 1930s. What is more, the figure of Stalin, like the specter of Hamlet's father, now comes to haunt the poet, confronting him again and again with the transgression for which he had been so severely punished.

Mandel'shtam wrote a number of poems beginning in 1935 that deal with Stalin either directly or indirectly, expressing the poet's remorse and a desire to atone for his offense. In a 1935 poem, Mandel'shtam already calls himself a "non-party Bolshevik, like all [my] friends [and] like this foe."36 "I must live, breathing and bolshevizing myself [bol'sheveia]," are the words from another 1935 poem where he refers to the causes of his present predicament—his bourgeois social origins and the epigram—as "the damned seam, the clumsy prank" that had rendered him a pariah among people.37 He even accepts the "corrective" nature of his exile: "Measure me, land, repattern me—oh the miraculous heat of the attached earth!"38 The person of Stalin, or rather, his iconic features, begin to appear early in 1937, either simultaneously with or shortly after the "Ode" was finished. In "Sleep defends my Don drowsiness," one finds Stalin's metonyms pulled out of a propaganda poster: "The brow and the head of the militant armor are lovingly combined with the eyes."39 Another poem alludes directly to the plea for mercy represented by the "Ode" and to its addressee: "It is to him—into his very core—I came, entering the Kremlin without a pass, tearing the canvas of distance, bowing my head heavy with guilt."40 In another Voronezh poem, Mandel'shtam refers to Stalin by name: "Lenin will rustle like a ripe thunder storm, and on this earth that shall avoid decay, Stalin shall keep awakening life and reason."41 Stalin even enters a love poem, addressed to a singer, Elekonida Popova: "My black-browed glory, tie me up with your thick brow, you, who are ready for life and death, who utter lovingly the thunderous name of Stalin with the tenderness of a vow, with love." This and a companion poem, both addressed to the "black-browed" admirer of Stalin, are tucked away in the Addenda of volume four of Mandel'shtam's Collected Works.42

It is not my intention to represent the entire spectrum of the Voronezh poems in this brief survey, not even those that deal with the theme of exile. Many are politically neutral. Some have nothing to do with exile. Among those that do, several are free from official rationalization as are the "little demon" poems where the Pushkinian-Gogolian trickster is blamed for Mandel'shtam's misfortune (perhaps not without an echo from Dostoevskii's The Possessed).43 Nevertheless, the other poems do represent a coherent entity, demonstrating that Mandel'shtam was more of a contemporary of his times than either he44 or many of those who have written about him have been willing to admit. Even Nadezhda Mandel'shtam to whom we owe the canonical image of the poet has insisted: "All of us led a double existence, and no one could avoid that fate." The "Ode to Stalin" shows how intimately intertwined these two sides of existence actually were.

No other Stalin-related poem possesses the scope of the "Ode." Its size makes it the third longest poem ever composed by Mandel'shtam (after "Verses on the Unknown Soldier" and "He Who Found the Horseshoe"), and its thematic breadth offers a unique entry into the conceptual and mythic world of his later poetry. Mandel'shtam's idea of himself and his art, his view of his "crime" and approaching death, his vision of Stalin and the posthumous life of his poetry—are all contained in the "Ode" and are presented with the kind of skill that would have been appreciated in the Greece of the tyrants or Augustan Rome. Indeed, to judge by formal features alone, the poem belongs to one of the most difficult genres of panegyric poetry, the Pindaric ode. The exuberance of imagery framed in the rhetoric of praise, triadic divisions within stanzas which follow the pattern of strophe, antistrophe and epode,. and finally the lines of unequal length combining hexameter, pentameter and tetrameter conform to the basic scheme of the ancient genre of glorifying a supreme leader.45 Such a strict adherence to the Pindaric rules is unknown to the mainstream of the Russian odic tradition, which may in part explain why the editors published the poem under a provisional title, "Verses on Stalin." It is safe to assume that Mandel'shtam, who must have been aware of his priority in the genre, wished to produce something unique—a fitting tribute from a great master of verbal art to a great master of political power.

The "Ode" begins with a traditional poetic conceit for expressing the ineffable: if only the poet possessed the limitless power of representation, he would sketch with a charcoal across the firmament of heaven the portrait of the one "who had shifted the world's axis." The purpose of this conceit, needless to say, is to convert the poet's confessed inadequacy into an affirmation of his creative gift at a higher rate of exchange. In an unspoken competition, Mandel'shtam invites Aeschylus to watch him "weep as he is drawing"—now with the flaming coal of Prometheus. Transcending pain, the poet will offer a pictorial tribute to Stalin, as it were, in atonement for Prometheus's transgression that had once angered the Stalin of Mount Olympus. The second stanza, as it continues the theme of representation, introduces another conceit central to the "Ode," namely, a rapturous search for Stalin's likeness.

His aim shall be achieved, Mandel'shtam says enigmatically, after he produces a twin (bliznets) whose identity he pointedly refuses to disclose. Yet, in his features, one would be able to recognize the "father's" face:

.. . I v druzhbe mudrykh glaz naidu dlia bliznetsa, Kakogo ne skazhu, to vyrazhen'e, blizias'

K kotoromu, k nemu,—vdrug uznaesh' ottsa I zadykhaesh'sia, pochuiav mira blizost'. . . .

The third stanza exhorts artists not to misrepresent the leader, now named as the "warrior" (boets) and once again as the "father" (otets).

The main part of the poem begins with the fourth, yet another painterly stanza: Stalin is addressing the "hillocks of heads" from a mountain-like podium. Remarkably, this portrait seems to derive from a newsreel of Lenin addressing a crowd in Sverdlov Square on 5 May 1920—a prototype for many a Lenin poster. This is doubly significant: first because Stalin was not known for his oratorical skill and second because Lenin, who was a skillful speaker, is missing from the "Ode" (except as a modifier of the word "October" in the last stanza). In 1937 such an omission was rare and therefore meaningful even in the unabashedly worshipful Soviet folklore of those days.46

In the fifth stanza, Mandel'shtam returns to the subject of his craft and speaks about the technique he employs in drawing the portrait of Stalin. It is only in this section that Mandel'shtam discloses the nature of his relation to his subject whose portrait is once again composed out of bits and pieces of propaganda placards.

In the sixth stanza, Mandel'shtam goes on to describe the transformation of the earth under the power of Stalin's vision: a mountain comes apart to make way for a cultivated plain with furrows stretching into the sunset. The six-fold oath, referring to Stalin's funeral oration after Lenin's death, has been fulfilled.47 In order to emphasize the magical, or miraculous, nature of the transformation, Mandel'shtam suddenly shifts to trochee—Chudo narodnoe! ("People's miracle!")—creating a metrical equivalent of the Greek spondee which served as a mark of epiphany in sacred Greek poetry.48 Appropriately, this line also contains an element of the formula with which God brought forth the universe: Da budet zhizn' krupna ("Let life be large").

The seventh stanza, the poem's coda, has three distinct parts. In the first, the poet recalls Stalin's life six times, partly in reference to the six-fold oath and partly in allusion to the six days of Creation. He then expresses the hope that his own art will survive him and will benefit future generations, and, finally, he thanks fate for having allowed him to be a contemporary of the man who embodies honor and love, valor and steel-like firmness.

Obviously, Mandel'shtam constructed the "Ode," at least in part, out of contemporary official rhetoric in all of its maniacal verbosity.49 It is less obvious, although equally significant, that the poem forms a nexus—a lexicon and a grammar of sorts—for a cycle of poems composed in the Voronezh period.50 A cycle, or a group of poems in which the poet works through a set of key rhythms, images, and ideas, constitutes a basic unit of Mandel'shtam's poetry, especially in the middle and later periods of his career.51 Within such a cycle, the poems do not merely follow one another like beads on a string but interact as entities belonging to a single structure, contradicting, developing, and complementing one another like elements in a complex musical composition or, to use Mandel'shtam's simile, "like stones in a groined arch."

The "Ode to Stalin" functions as a keystone in such a cycle which consists of some twenty-four poems written between December and February 1936-37. Some of them, such as numbers 330 and 331 dealing with a statue of a Buddha-like deity residing inside a mountain, are barely comprehensible without the "Ode," while others acquire a new, fuller meaning which otherwise would have been lost. For example, one is tempted to see features of Stalin in the "cat" from the "Kashchei" poem.52 A particularly striking insight is produced when the "Ode" is juxtaposed with the "wasps" poem. Clarence Brown suspected a link between this poem and the "Ode,"53 and Nadezhda Mandel'shtam, who unlike him had access to both texts, pointed out that the two have a central image in common: the "axis," or os'.54 In the "Ode," Stalin is called the one who "had shifted the world's axis" (stanza 1), and the word appears once again in stanza 5 where Mandel'shtam develops the theme of his relation to Stalin. Attempting to "catch the likeness of his subject," the poet isolates the essence of Stalin's appearance, the core, to which he refers as the "axis of likeness" (skhodstva os'). The nature of this latter axis is broached in the second stanza (cited above) where Mandel'shtam introduces a mysterious "twin" of his subject in whose features one is bound to recognize the father.

The choice of the word "twin" for the poet's representation of Stalin is far from random,55 for, above all, it personifies the portrait or, to use the more appropriate Russian term, odushevliaet, animates it, that is, endows it with spirit or soul. That Mandel'shtam pointedly refuses to name the "twin" ("I won't say who he is," stanza 2, line 6) only emphasizes the animate nature of the created representation, and the fact that the "twin" here rhymes with "father" establishes a relationship of equivalence between the two key words (lines 5 and 7). The three main entities in the poem—the poet, the look-alike, and Stalin—emerges as a curious kind of triad, and as the "Ode" proceeds, we begin to get the sense of what Mandel'shtam had in mind.

In the third stanza, the father and the twin are presented in their martial aspect, emphasized by the rhyming scheme: otets-bliznets-boets. In the fourth stanza, where the first real portrait of Stalin appears—a poster-like image of Stalin addressing the crowd—Mandel'shtam refers to his subject as a "debtor more powerful than any debt" (dolzhnik sil'nee iska) and, once again, as father. This insistence on the paternity of Stalin generates, needless to say, some echoes of the Old Testament with its paternalistic symbolism, and one indeed encounters a similar "debtor" formula in the Psalms: "The Lord hath sworn and will not repent"56 or "My covenant will I not break . . . Once I have sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David."

But how does the poet define himself in relation to Stalin the father? The answer is contained in stanza V which becomes transparent when juxtaposed with the "wasps" poem:

Szhimaia ugolek, v kotorom vse soshlos',
50 Rukoiu zhadnoiu odno lish' skhodstvo klicha,
Rukoiu khishchnoiu—lovit' lish' shkodstva os'—
Iaugol' iskroshu, ishcha ego oblich'ia.
la u nego uchus', ne dlia sebia uchas',
Ia u nego uchus' k sebe ne znat' poshchady,
Neschast'ia skroiut li bol'shogo plana chast',
Ia razyshchu ego v sluchainostiakh ikh chada . . .
Pust' nedostoin ia eshche imet' druzei,
Pust' ne nasyshchen ia i zhelch'iu i slezami,
On vse mne chuditsia v shineli, v kartuze,
60 Na chudnoi ploshchadi s schastlivymi' glazami. .. .

Compare this with the way Mandel'shtam presented himself, or rather his persona, in the "wasps":

Vooruzhennyi zren'em uzkikh os,
Sosushchikh os' zemnuiu, os' zemnuiu,
Ia chuiu vse, s chem svidet'sia prishlos',
I yspominaniu naizust' i vsue. . . .57

Even though the choice of "wasps" may have been determined by Mandel'shtam's reading of Bergson, according to whom these insects were the paragons of intuitive perception,58 the poem's "poetics" are defined by Mandel'shtam's favored device, paronomasia,59 in this case a play on the phonetic similarity between the genetive plural of osa, os, the accusative singular of the word axis, os', the ending of the verb signifying an unpremeditated encounter, prishlos', and of course, the vocative form of his own first name Osip, Os', a contraction of Joseph, the name he happened to share with Stalin.60 "Solominka," a famous poetic declaration of the earlier Mandel'shtam, is constructed on such a play on first names,61 and in the "Ode" the poet exploited the potential of the remarkable coincidence, transforming it into a likeness. A careful reading of the fifth stanza demonstrates that Mandel'shtam made the coincidence work for him with supreme mastery.

The similitude, then, that Mandel'shtam was seeking with such fervor, as he was sketching in the air the portrait of Stalin, as he was creating the "twin," involved not only the morphological essence of Stalin's face (a portrait arranged around the axis of facial symmetry) but also, and indeed primarily, the identity between his famous tormentor and himself. This kind of an identification of the poet's persona with the subject of his poetic portrait is common in poetic iconography62 and is not unrelated to confessional literature, both mediaeval and modern.63 The identity Mandel'shtam establishes between himself and his subject in the "Ode" is that of the son and the father. To be more specific, it is the identity between the two and the father's personified, "inspired" likeness generated in the course of the representation—the twin whom the poet refuses to name. Needless to say, patriarchal terminology applied to Stalin permeated the panegyric literature of the 1930s,64 and it could have been dismissed in this instance as a locus communus had it not been woven by Mandel'shtam into a rather remarkable triad.

Stanza 5 contains a significant elaboration on the nature of these three. A subtle but unmistakable reference to the Crucifixion—"Granted, I have not been sated with either gall or tears" (line 10)—defines the artist with a burning coal in his hand (recall Prometheus, Pushkin's "The Prophet," and the calling of Isaiah) in terms of the One who accepted the bitter cup predestined for Him by His Father.65 To leave no doubt about the parallelism—a kenotic imitatio Christi—Mandel'shtam offers a prophecy concerning his own resurrection in the final stanza: ". . . in the tender books and in the children's games, I shall be resurrected to say that the sun is shining." More important, this imitatio does not end with Christ but is extended to include the other two members ofthe Trinity: the Father and the One "in whom one recognizes the father, choking and short of breath"—zadykhaias'—namely, Sviatoi dukh, the Holy Ghost. But what can the Trinity have to do with the pagan myth of Prometheus with which the poem commences?

The apparent incongruity dissolves if one turns for help to Mandel'shtam's earlier writings where he interpreted the Greek world-view (as it is expressed in myths, among them the myth of Prometheus) as a far more important and congenial component of Christianity than the Old Testament faith. Influenced in his thoughts on this subject by Tadeusz Zielinski,66 Mandel'shtam attempted to elaborate this concept of an Helleno-Christian conjecture in an essay, "Pushkin i Skriabin," that he drafted late in 1915.67 In subsequent years, even though he occasionally took a more favorable view of the Judaic heritage, his affinity with the ideas spelled out in this essay remained undiminished. Responding to Skriabin's death and in part reacting to Viacheslav Ivanov's thoughts concerning tragedy, Mandel'shtam produced the following telling formulation of the alignment of cultural "essences" at the origins of Christianity:

. . . Hellas has to be saved from Rome. [If Rome prevails in defining the meaning of the Crucifixion,] it will not even be Rome but Judaism. Judaism has always stood behind Rome's back, waiting for its appointed hour. [And if this hour strikes,] the terrifying, unnatural trend will triumph: history will turn backward the flow of time—the black sun of Phaedra.68

While the Judaic filiation of Christianity represented an incestuous act on a world-historical scale, the unblemished Hellenic lineage of Christianity constituted for Mandel'shtam a promise, indeed a fulfilled promise, of a blissful and carefree "communion of the Father with His children."69 Unlike the Hebrews, constrained in their "legalistic morality and countless rules,"70 the Greeks had enjoyed this blessed state, if only on those occasions when their gods were taking a rest from supplying material to the writers of tragedies. But Christianity, Mandel'shtam believed, had rendered this undesirable aspect of Greek life obsolete. By accepting the bitter cup, Christ focussed upon himself and redeemed the fatal flaw of mankind, thereby relieving once and for all the tension between the divine and the human that had hitherto made universal participation in tragedy an inevitable fact.71

It is this view of Christianity that defines the use of myth in the "Ode to Stalin." The story of Prometheus, recalled at the outset, passes almost imperceptibly into another mythic register where the guilty poet, his once misused creative gift, and the Zeus of the Soviet Olympus can be presented, respectively, as Christ, the Holy Ghost and God the Father. After all, Prometheus, like Christ, was a transgressor with respect to established authority. But while his offense, even though beneficial for mankind, served to set the tragic cycle in motion, Christ's much later violation of the Law and His subsequent Crucifixion put the tragic cycle to rest. Taking account of this transformation of one frame of reference into another, it becomes possible to see that Mandel'shtam was projecting his personal misfortune along the metaphoric and metonymic axes: horizontally, or by analogy, onto the stories of Prometheus and Christ; and vertically, or by contiguity, onto an historical continuum through which the Greek worldview culminated in Christianity, for him the essence of humanity's millenarian quest. To reverse the famous formula, in the case of the "Ode," ontogeny recapitulated filogeny in more ways than one.

Emphasizing the dynamic aspect in the development of the "Ode's" central myth, that is, by having the Christian view supersede its Greek counterpart, Mandel'shtam was pleading for a different interpretation of his predicament, integrating it into the framework of the universal Christian redemption, forgiveness. "Where is the bound and nailed-down groan, Where is Prometheus—the rock's support and likeness? . . . That is not to be—tragedies cannot be brought back . . . ," wrote Mandel'shtam shortly after completing the "Ode" as if to exorcise the tragic pattern from his own life.72 The "Ode to Stalin," too, seems to have been meant as an exorcism, and it does indeed appear to be modelled on a magic spell.73 The "magic" coincidence in the first name of the poet and his addressee and the talismanic "charcoal" point in the direction of such a pattern. Prior to Mandel'shtam, the burning coal of the archetypal rebel had touched the lips of the prophet Isaiah, replaced the heart of Pushkin's Prophet, and in more recent times, mined in fabulous quantities, earned a singular fame for Stakhanov (one can expect an acmeist Mandel'shtam to outline his paradigms with this kind of precision). Such a history is bound to confer transcendent powers on the mineral, transforming it, by contagion,74 not only into a magical tool with which to fashion a fitting image of Stalin, but also into a talisman that would grant the poet his wishes. Mandel'shtam, no doubt, remembered Pushkin's incantation: "Guard me, my talisman, Guard me in the days of persecution, In the days of remorse and agitation: You were given me on the day of sorrow."75 Finally, the structure of the poem provides an even stronger indication of a magical subtext, for the "Ode" follows the two-fold formula of a homoeopathic spell,76 that is, one based on analogy or comparison.77 The first part of such a spell recounts a phenomenon that has already taken place—here the development of tragedy into the Christ event—while the second contains a wish for a similar outcome with respect to an unrelated but in some ways comparable situation—Mandel'shtam's desire to have his predicament interpreted within the Christian, rather than Promethean framework. Thus the initial analogy with Prometheus yields to the desired imitatio Christi, the "stolen fire" to the divine gift, the Holy Ghost, and the angry Zeus-Stalin to God the Father.

Behind this wish projected in the "Ode," there stands an eclectic but a peculiarly Mandel'shtamian understanding of the imitation of Christ in relation to life and artistic creation. Some of the ideas that he committed to paper in "Pushkin i Skriabin" may have lost their validity by 1937, and this is not surprising, but some seem to have remained significnt for Mandel'shtam, and they help to interpret the phenomenon of the "Ode." Arguing against Skriabin's view of art as an act of self-sacrifice that would result in universal rebirth (Skriabin did actually intend such a pandemonium78), Mandel'shtam wrote:

. . . Consequently, not sacrifice, not redemption through art, but a free and joyous imitation of Christ—this is what constitutes the cornerstone of Christian aesthetics. Art cannot be a sacrifice because the sacrifice has already taken place, cannot be redemption because the world together with the artist have already been redeemed—what is left then? A joyous communion with God, a game of hide-and-seek, as it were, of the Father with his children, the hide-and-seek of the spirit. The divine illusion of redemption implied in Christian art can be explained precisely by this play of God with us, the Deity who allows us to wander along the paths of mystery so that we, as if on our own, suddenly find redemption, having experienced a catharsis—redemption in art. Christian artists are in a sense the freedmen of the idea of redemption, but not its slaves or preachers. The entire two millenia of our culture, thanks to the miraculous mercy of Christianity, is an act of releasing the world into freedom for the sake of play, for the sake of spiritual merriment, for the sake of the free "imitation of Christ."79

It is hard to imagine that as late as 1936, Mandel'shtam could believe that imitation of Christ was, in his case, a joyous affair or that he could consider the hide-and-seek with Stalin to be just a game. On the contrary, the scenario he outlined for himself in the "Ode" in such gruesome detail (stanza 5) did include, as in the case of Christ, humiliation, suffering, and death. And yet, whatever other reasons for the composition of the poem, he clearly sought in it a "catharsis, redemption," as he put it, not through but "in art": a justification of his fate in Christ's likeness and image. Indeed, while the "Ode," as an article of exchange, did not fetch a high premium on the political market, as a magic spell, it proved to be quite, if not excessively, effective. Of course, one hardly required any magical powers to have Stalin preside over one's final kenosis, but they may have helped to reaffirm the mythic framework of the "Ode" as a major pattern for interpreting Mandel'shtam's life and art during the remarkable literary resurrection that has returned the poet to his readers. One may recall in this connection another of Pushkin's incantations: "Dear friend! from crime, From new heart wounds, From treason, from oblivion Thou shall be guarded by my talisman."80

This Helleno-Christian myth, tragic and heroic as well as kenotic and redemptive in the specific way it was generated in the "Ode," became the foundation (a concealed one as myths require81) of a book which more than any other work contributed to Mandel'shtam's posthumous fame: the two volumes of Nadezhda Mandel'shtam's memoirs. There, of course, Stalin was revealed as a false god, but the "Ode's" trinity could persist without him and the "prodigal son" could practice his divine gift and even return to his Father.82 The very first paragraph of the memoirs defines the reader's frame of reference, tuning him to the right myth, once again imperceptibly as myths require, establishing a theme that will inform the entire narrative like a Wagnerian leit-motif:

. . . Having slapped Aleksei Tolstoi [the author of the famous Road to Calvary], O. M. without delay returned to Moscow and there telephoned Anna Andreevna [Akhmatova] every day, pleading with her to come to Moscow. She tarried; he was getting angry. With her ticket purchased and ready to go, she paused by the window and became pensive. "Praying that this cup may pass you?" asked Punin, an intelligent, bilious, and brilliant man. It was he who suddenly said to Akhmatova, as they were strolling through the Tretiakov Gallery: "And now let us look how you are going to be conveyed to the execution" [reference to Surikov's "Boiarynia Morozova"]. This prompted the poem "A posle na drogakh . . ." But she was not fated to make this journey: "They are saving you for the very end," Nikolai Nikolaevich Punin would say and his face would become distorted by a tic. But at the very end, they forgot about her and did not arrest her . . .

The scandalous slap cannot but be read in the Dostoevskian tradition of unmasking an antichrist in a sudden breakdown of social conventions (viz. scandals in The Possessed). Here, the slap exposes the "other" Tolstoi as a false prophet and, by implication, his famous trilogy Khozhdenie po mukam as a diabolical perversion of the Road to Calvary or the apocryphal story of the Virgin's Descent into Hell (the Russian title alludes to both) which will be set aright in Nadezhda Mandel'shtam's own narrative. As befits an imitator of the One who prayed at Gethsemane, Mandel'shtam pleads with his friend Akhmatova to come and keep vigil with him; and as befits one assigned the role of the poet's apostle, she delays. The third sentence contains an allusion to the prayer at Gethsemane, and Punin's biliousness once again reminds the reader of the "bitter cup" (zhelch is bile and/or gall). Punin's reference to Surikov's painting of the Archpriest Avvakum's disciple functions as another metonym of Christ's Passion and alludes directly to Russia's most famous autobiography of an imitator of Christ. Along the way and without any apparent motivation, the narrator finally focuses on Punin's nervous tic. In part a mimetic ploy, this singled out detail begins to generate its own associations in a densely allusive context. Punin, formerly a militant member of LEF, is represented by a feature that he shares with Mikhail Bulgakov's Pontius Pilate, as he is interrogating Ieshua, and with Dostoevskii's Tikhon, as he is listening to the most inspired portions of Stavrogin's confession.83 Punin, as most other "intelligent and brilliant" people that one encounters in the memoirs, is marked by a sign of possession, or so the context seems to suggest. The symbolism of Gethsemane would once again reappear in the chapter devoted to the "Ode" where the poem itself would be referred to as the "prayer of the cup."84

There is no way to determine to what extent the poet and his wife, whose writings are permeated with Mandel'shtam's conceptualizations, were conscious of their appeal to the Helleno-Christian myth as their ultimate referent, the cornerstone on which the narrative meaning of their art and life rests. But perhaps the question of awareness is beside the point here. What is more important is that the appeal to the myth informed the two works, each addressed to distinct and incompatible audiences: one to Stalin and his henchmen, the other to the public eager for an exposé of the brutalities of the Stalinist regime. This suggestion of compatibility between the mentalities of these two groups, of the common ideological ground (not in the political sense) that they shared should make us pause.

After all, Mandel'shtam was not the only poet of the Soviet period to use the Gospel narrative extensively as the ultimate referent. Beginning with Blok (The Twelve), other poets, including Maiakovskii and Pasternak, made similar appeals to the Scripture, though they did not necessarily imply the vision of Stalin as God the Father. Finally, Stalin himself demonstrated that he, too, was adept at using similar rhetoric, as he was making his famous "six vows" at Lenin's funeral—an oration reminiscent of the Lord's Covenant and one to which Mandel'shtam alluded in the "Ode" twice. The rhetoric of these vows and of the subsequent Stalin cult with all of its eschatology and patriarchal transcendence must have struck a responsive chord, not only in the hearts of the "simple people,"85 but also in the hearts of some of the best minds among the members of the intellectual elite. In this respect, the "Ode" helps to isolate a number of important elements in the nation's ideological vocabulary that originated in the years before 1917 and were shared by the society at large in the 1930s, during perhaps the most cataclysmic decade in Russia's history.

Of course, the "Ode" is offensive to our sense of Mandel'shtam—a victim of Stalinist terror and one of the great poets of this century. The careful mastery that went into its composition, its range, and its brilliance clash harshly with what one considers to be Stalin's due. But neither our sensibility nor the brutal pressures of Mandel'shtam's life in Voronezh, nor the blinders of our historical hindsight should prevent us from seeing the common root of the "sacred" and "profane" uses of religious belief in the mentality of contemporary Soviet society and state. While the workings of this belief may often be concealed, when detected in rhetoric, narrative structure or allusion, they begin to speak eloquently about a culture's unacknowledged needs that can rarely tolerate the light of reason. As the "Ode to Stalin" demonstrates, they are bound to turn up in the most unlikely, and therefore most likely, places.



Were I to take a charcoal for the sake of supreme praise—
For the sake of the eternal joy of drawing—
I would divide the air into clever angles
Both carefully and with alarm.
To make the present echo in his features
(My art bordering on audacity),
I would speak about him who has shifted the world's axis
Honoring the customs of one hundred and forty peoples.
I would lift a small corner of his brow
10 And lift it again, and redraw it differently:
Oh, it must be Prometheus blowing on his coal—
Look, Aeschylus, how I weep as I am drawing.


I would take a few thunderous lines,
His youthful millenium entire,
And would bind his courage with his smile,
And let it loose again, illuminated softly.
And in the friendship of his wise eyes, I shall find for the twin
(I won't say who he is) that expression, drawing close to
Which, to him—you suddenly recognize the father
20 And gasp, sensing the proximity of peace [world?].
And I want to thank the hills
That have shaped this bone and this hand:
He was born in the mountains and knew the bitterness of jail.
I want to call him, not Stalin,—Dzhugashvili!


Artist, cherish and guard the warrior:
Surround him entire with a damp blue forest
Of moist concern. Do not upset the father
With an unwholesome image or an inferior thought.
Artist, help him who is with you completely,

30 Who is thinking, feeling and building.
Not I, no, not another—his dear people—
The Homer-people will offer him a triple praise.
Artist, cherish and guard the warrior:
The forest of mankind growing ever denser is singing behind him,
The future itself is this wise man's retenue
And it needs him more often, with greater courage.


He is bending over a podium as if over a mountain
Into the hillocks of heads. A debtor—more powerful than any debt.
His mighty eyes are decisively kind,
40 His thick eyebrow is glaring at somebody,
And 1 would like to point out with an arrow
The firmness of his mouth—the father of stubborn speeches
Whose sculpted, complicated and abrupt eyelid
Is projecting itself, it must be, out of a million frames.
He is all sincerity, he is all brass of fame.
And his far-sighted hearing is intolerant to muffling.
His gloomy little wrinkles are playfully stretching
To reach out to all those who are ready to live and die.


Grasping the charcoal, the focus of everything,
50 Summoning with a greedy hand the likeness alone,
With a rapacious hand—to catch only the axis of likeness—
I shall make the coal crumble, searching for his features.
I am learning from him, but learning not for my own sake,
I am learning from him to be merciless to myself.
Shall misfortunes conceal even a part of his great plan,
I shall seek it out in the confusion of their fumes . . .
Granted, I am still unworthy of having friends,
Granted, I have not yet been sated with gall or tears,
Still, I sense his presence: in his military coat and cap
60 He is standing in the miraculous square, his eyes happy.


Stalin's eyes made the mountain come apart,
And the plain is squinting into the distance.
Like the sea without wrinkles, like tomorrow out of yesterday—
The furrows of a colossal plough reach to the sun.
He is smiling with the smile of a harvester
Of handshakes during the conversation
Which has begun and continues without end
On the expanse of his six oaths.
And each threshing-floor, and each sheaf
70 Is strong, fit and clever—live wealth—
People's miracle! Let life be large.
The core of happiness keeps forever turning.


And six times over I guard in my mind's eye—
The slow witness of labors, struggles, harvests—
The enormous distance he traversed across the taiga
And Lenin's October—to the fulfillment of his oaths.
The hills of people's heads are running into the distance,
In them I am growing smaller; soon I won't be noticed,
But in tender books and in children's games,
80 I shall be resurrected to say that the sun is shining.
There is no truer truth than the sincerity of a warrior:
For honor and love, for valor and steel.
There is a glorious name for the taut lips of a rhapsode—
We've heard it, and him [it] we have encountered.


1 An earlier version of this essay was delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Modern Languages Association in December 1981. While preparing this draft for publication I greatly benefited from discussion of its subject with Victoria E. Bonnell, Joseph Brodsky, Clarence Brown, Edward J. Brown, Boris Gasparov, Olga R. Hughes, Robert P. Hughes, Herbert Lindenberger, Robert A. Maguire, William Mills Todd III, and Reginald Zelnik. I am also indebted to the members of the Mellon Seminar on Interpretation, Stanford University, for many stimulating discussions concerning ideology and myth.

All references to Mandel'shtam, unless noted otherwise, are made to Osip Mandel'shtam, Sobranie sochinenii, ed. G. P. Struve et al., 4 vols. (1967-71, 1981) hereafter cited as SS. References to Mandel'shtam's prose are made to volume and page (e.g., SS, 2:315); poems, to volume and a poem's number (e.g., SS, 1:250). Translations from the Russian are mine.

2 Anna Akhmatova, Sochineniia, 2 vols. (1967-68), 2:181. Originally, these reminiscences appeared in Vozdushnye puti, 4 (1965).

3 Clarence Brown, "Into the Heart of Darkness," Slavic Review 26, no. 4 (1967): 584-604.

4 SS, 1:372.

5 Nadezhda Mandel'shtam, Vospominaniia (New York, 1971), pp. 216-20, or the chapter entitled "Oda."

6 Anonymous, "Mandelstam's Ode to Stalin,'" Slavic Review 34, no. 4 (1975): 683-91.

7 Bengt Jangfedt, "Osip Mandel'štam's 'Ode to Stalin,'" Scando-Slavica 22 (1976): 35-41.

8 Efim Etkind, "Razmyshleniia o poslednem tome O. Mandel'shtama i pervom tome M. Tsvetaevoi," Russkaia mysl', no. 3359 (7 May 1981).

9 N. Mandel'shtam, pp. 216-220. See also Osip Mandelstam: The Later Poetry (Cambridge, 1976), pp. 174-98, by Jennifer Baines whose account, although more detailed, follows closely that of Nadezhda Mandel'shtam.

10 For the list of poems constituting The Second Voronezh Notebook see Baines, pp. 242-43. The same list with only minor variations may be found in Osip Mandel'shtam, Voronezhskie tetradi, ed. annot. Viktoria Shveitser (Ann Arbor, MI, 1980), pp. 35-80.

11 N. Mandel'shtam, p. 212ff and elsewhere.

12 SS, 4: 143-45.

13 Most of Mandel'shtam's letters of this period end with an urgent plea for an answer by telegraph—a good indication of the sense of isolation Mandel'shtam was experiencing. See his letter to K. I. Chukovskii (SS, 3: 279-80) or a letter to Iurii Tynianov (SS, 3:280-81) which begins: "I want to see you. What can I do? A legitimate wish. Please do not consider me a shadow. I still cast a shadow. . . . "

14 N. Mandel'shtam, pp. 152-57.

15 Ibid., p. 220.

16 Bruno Bettelheim, "Remarks on the Psychological Appeal of Totalitarianism," Surviving and Other Essays (New York, 1979), p. 319ff.

17 Akhmatova, 2:147-54.

18 "Gde noch' brosaet iakoria" (SS, 2:458).

19 "Proslavim, brat'ia, sumerki svobody" (SS, 1:103). For an analysis of this poem see Steven Broyde, Osip Mandel'stam and His Age (Cambridge, MA, 1975), p. 47ff., and Aleksandr Morozov, "Mandel'shtam v zapiskakh dnevnika S. P. Kablukova," Vestnik russkogo khristianskogo dvizheniia 129, no. 3 (1979): 135-55, specifically p. 134.

20 Mandel'shtam's novella, in this respect, bears comparison with a whole series of prose works mocking the cultivated intellectual of Mandel'shtam's generation which were published almost simultaneously with The Egyptian Stamp. Among them are Olesha's Zavist', Vaginov's Kozlinnaia pesn', and Zoshchenko's Mishel' Siniagin, not to speak of the somewhat more popular novels by Il'f and Petrov. This subject is discussed in a yet unpublished essay by Irina Reyfman, "Mikhail Bulgakov and Osip Mandel'shtam."

21 SS, 2:425-41. "Potoki khaltury" was published in Izvesiia (7 April 1929); "O perevodakh," a much calmer and reasoned article, in Na literaturnom postu 13 (July 1929).

22 "Potoki khaltury" contained the following passage:

Poisoning of wells, wreckage and pollution of sewers and water mains, poor maintenance of cauldrons in communal kitchens are all crimes liable to prosecution by the courts. But the ugly, unbelievable to the point of indignation, state of the shops in which world literature is produced for our reader, the wreckage of the transmission belts which connect the mind of the mass Soviet reader with the aesthetic production of the West and the East, of Europe and America, indeed of the whole of mankind in its past and its present—all this unheard-of wreckage has so far gone unpunished, has been treated as something innocent, as a matter of course. (SS, 2:428)

23 Take, for example, this passage: "We mooch cigarettes from one another and continue our Chinese games, encoding into the formulae of animal cowardice the great, powerful, forbidden concept of class" (SS, 2:179). The "Chinese games" (kitaishchina) most likely represents an allusion to Dostoevskii's famous comparison of Russian bureaucracy with the Chinese Imperial state: "I would say that we are just like China only without her orderliness. We are only beginning what the Chinese have already accomplished. Doubtless, we will achieve the same accomplishment, but when? In order to accept a thousand volumes of ceremonies, in order to win the right never to think about anything once and for all, we will have to live for at least another thousand years of pensiveness. . . ." F. M. Dostoevski!, Polnoe sobrante sochinenii, 30 vols. (Leningrad, 1972-), 21:7. Given this subtext, to use the terminology of Kiril Taranovsky, Mandel'shtam's invective can hardly represent a wish for the return of the good old days before 1917. Rather, it has much in common with the mentality of War Communism when one did not have to "encode" into the formulae of "Chinese" servility the "great and powerful concept of class." Compare this with a 1922 essay, "The Furcoat": "This was a severe and beautiful winter of 1920-21, the last harvest-time winter of Soviet Russia; and I miss it, remember it with tenderness. .. . I feel oppressed by my heavy furcoat, just as the whole of Russia feels oppressed by the fortuitous satiety, fortuitous warmth, the ill-gotten second-hand wealth. . . . " SS, 4:95. This is about the first glimmers of economic recovery under NEP. On the "context-subtext" approach see Kiril Taranovsky, Essays on Mandel'štam (Cambridge, MA, 1976), pp. 1-20.

24 Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888-1938 (New York, 1973), pp. 313-15 and elsewhere.

25 "I ianvaria 1924" (SS, 1:140) is perhaps the most elaborate of the early representations of this dilemma. On this poem and, specifically, on the use of the "fourth estate" in Mandel'shtam see Omry Ronen, "An Introduction to Mandel'štam's Slate Ode and I January 1924: Similarity and Complementarity," Slavica Hierosolymitana 4 (1979): 146-58, and "Cetvertoe Soslovie: Vierte Stand or Fourth Estate? (A Rejoinder)," Slavica Hierosolymitana 5-6 ( 1981):319-24. Ronen's insistence on interpreting the term chetvertoe soslovie as the proletariat is supported, if indeed it needs any additional support, by the following instance of contemporary usage: ". . . Kuskova writes: 'the growing "fourth estate" cannot give up its hope for a distant paradise for labor, for the great promised land where there will be neither the rifles that shoot nor any inequality. . . . '" A. S. Izgoev, "Naperevale. Zhizn' i publitsistika," Russkaia mysl' 33, no. 27 (1912): 142 (2nd pagination).

26"Vek"(SS, 1:135).

27 "Polnoch' v Moskve" (SS, 1:260).

28"S mirom derzhavnym ia byl lish' rebiacheski sviazan" (SS, 1:222).

29"Ia s dymiashchei luchinoi vkhozhu" (SS, 1:231).

30 "Za gremuchuiu doblest' griadushchikh vekov" (SS, 1:227). A number of drafts of this poem may be found in the Mandel'shtam archive at Princeton University. They indicate that during the initial stages of composition, Mandel'shtam was working on a text that would later yield three separate poems: the one mentioned above, "Ia s dymiashchei luchinoi vkhozhu" (SS, 1:227), and "Net, ne spriatat'sia mne ot velikoi mury" (SS, 1:232). Other lines and whole stanzas belonging to these drafts, though not all, have been published in SS, 1:242-46. The "wolf poem is dated by Nikolai Khardzhiev "17-28 March 1932." Osip Mandel'shtam, Stikhotvoreniia (Leningrad, 1973), p. 153. The dates for the other two in SS 1 are 4 April 1932 and April 1932, respectively. Khardzhiev also cites four different versions of the concluding stanza of the "wolf poem (p. 288). For a discussion of the composition of the poem see N. Mandel'shtam (pp. 158, 197, 201-202, 204) and Baines (pp. 20-24).

31 "As to the wolf cycle, it did not bode any special hardship—a labor camp at worst." N. Mandel'shtam, p. 16. See also N. Mandel'shtam, Vtoraia kniga (Paris, 1972), p. 603ff., which refers the composition of the "wolf cycle" to the period when the Mandel'shtams "thought that the screws had been tightened to the limit and it was time to expect an improvement." This ambivalence is, of course, detectable in much of Mandel'shtam's poetry written after his return from Armenia in the fall of 1930.

32 The last stanza of the third version cited by N. Khardzhiev (see note 30) contains another allusion to Dante in the second line (Inferno 32:46-8). Mandel'shtam: Take me away into the night where the Enisei flows And a tear on the eyelashes is like ice, Because I am not a wolf by blood And a human being will not die in me." Cf. Dante: ". . . their eyes, which before were moist only within, gushed over at the lids, and the frost bound the tears between and locked them up again." The Divine Comedi of Dante Alighieri, tr. and comment. John D. Sinclair; Inferno (New York, 1961), p. 397. Dante's description refers to the traitors frozen in the ice of the Caina. Following the logic of the poem, it appears that Mandel'shtam was prepared to accept a possible damnation as a "traitor" of the Revolution (?) from the authorities but not their definition of himself as a man guilty of such treason. If this misfortune were to befall him, the lines suggest, he would interpret it in the same way as Dante—another poet accused of treason—interpreted his exile by transforming it into the pilgrimage of The Divine Comedy.

33 "Avtoportret" (SS, 1:164).

34 These poems are "Kholodnaia vesna. Golodnyi Staryi Krym" (SS, 1:271) and "Kvartira tikha, kak bumaga" (SS, 1:272) which was prompted by Pasternak's incautious congratulations when he visited the Mandel'shtams at their newly acquired apartment. See N. Mandel'shtam, Vospominaniia, p. 157, and Anonymous, "Zametki o peresechenii biografii Osipa Mandel'shtama i Borisa Pasternaka," Pamiat'. Istoricheskii sbornik 4 (Moscow, 1979, Paris, 1981): 314ff., which gives a fairer interpretation of the incident.

35 "My zhivem, pod soboiu ne chuia strany" (SS, 1:286).

36 "Ty dolzhen mnoi povelevat'" (SS, 4:515).

37 "Stansy" (SS, 1:312).

38 "Ot syroi prostyni govoriashchaia" (SS, 1:311).

39 "Oboroniaet son moiu donskuiu son'" (SS, 1:371).

40 "Sred' narodnogo shuma i spekha" (SS, 1:361).

41 "Esli b menia nashi vragi vziali" (SS, 1:372). The correct version of the poem's coda, cited here, appears in a draft copied by Nadezhda Mandel'shtam's hand (deposited at the Mandel'shtam archive at Princeton University). Baines (p. 202), however, follows the poet's widow in insisting that the poem ends instead in "Budet gubit' razum i zhizn' Stalin" (Stalin will keep destroying reason and life). But as previously noted by Brown (pp. 601-3) and Jangfeldt (pp. 39-41), this reading, or version, contradicts the logic of the rest of the poem. The edition of Mandel'shtam's Voronezhskie tetradi prepared by Shveitser follows Brown and Jangfeldt, attributing the other version to "the memory of Nadezhda Mandel'shtam" (p. 85).

42 SS, 4:147-48.

43 See Baines, pp. 174-78. The poems are SS, 1:346-48.

44 "Net, nikogda nichei ia ne byl sovremennik" (SS, 1:141).

45 The subtitle of another of Mandel'shtam's longer poems, "Pindaricheskii otryvok" (Pindaric fragment, "Nashedshii podkovu, SS, 1:140) identifies this most "irregular" of his poems as belonging to the Pindaric tradition, not via, but bypassing Russian classical poetry. On this poem see Broyde (note 19), pp. 169-99.

46 Frank J. Miller, "The Image of Stalin in Soviet Russian Folklore," The Russian Review 39, no. 1 (1980): 60ff.

47 Iosif Stalin, Sochineniia, 13 vols. (Moscow, 1949-52), 4:46-61. The speech containing these famous six vows was made the day before Lenin's entombment, on 26 January 1924. The formula Stalin used runs as follows: "We vow to thee, Comrade Lenin, that we shall with honor fulfill this thy testament" (My klianemsia, tovarishch Lenin, chto my s chest'iu vypolnim etot tvoi zavet) And so six times. The words klianemsia and zavet, needless to say, belong to the Scriptural vocabulary, the first to The Old Testament, the second to both The New and The Old Testament (Novyi i Vetkhii Zavet). They emphasize the sacred nature of the leadership transition, sanctify its legitimacy and correspond to Stalin's self-image that he would later so assiduously cultivate. As the "Ode" demonstrates, Mandel'shtam knew well how to "read" Stalin's speeches. Compare Stalin's vows to Genesis 26:3: ". . . for unto thee and thy seed I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath (kliatvu) which I swear (klialsia) unto Abraham thy father."

48 Viacheslav Ivanov, "Pindar, Pif. 1," Zhurnal Ministerstva narodnogo prosveshcheniia, no 7-8 (1899), Otdel klassicheskoi filologii, pp. 50-51.

49 To what extent Mandel'shtam followed the contemporary official rhetoric in composing the "Ode" may be judged from a greeting to Stalin "telephoned" to Moscow by the Congress of Iakutian Soviets which had just finished debating the project of the Stalin Constitution: ". . . and our first thought, our first word are addressed to you, our dear leader and teacher, father and friend Iosif Vissarionovich! We have no words to express our gratitude and love for you, the creator of the new Constitution—this charter [Magna Carta?] of the socialist peoples. . . . You have made a vow over Lenin's sepulcher to fulfill Lenin's commandment. . . . Have the Iakutian people ever dreamed that they would have in abundance, not only bread, meat, and butter, but vegetables whose growth on a massive scale has until recently been considered a miracle. . . . We vow a holy vow: to cherish, to preserve, .. . to broaden further the Stakhanovite movement that you have brought forth. . . . " Izvestiia, 2 October 1936. Mandel'shtam's incorporation into the "Ode" of the myth of Prometheus was also au courant. Compare "Prometheus Unbound" by Iakub Kolos which was published in the same issue of Izvestiia: ". . . Stretching his shoulders-wings, Prometheus is free. The days have become an epic poem, A fairy tale come true. Who and where from are these heroes—Demchenko, Stakhanov—That are marching in a triumphant formation At the pace of giants?" Stakhanov, it may be recalled was a miner, whence his association with the Titans imprisoned in the bowels of the earth (Kolos's velikany). Prometheus was the son of one of the Titans (Apollodorus 1, 2:2). There may be another, metonymic or contiguous, association of Stalin with the myth of Prometheus, which is focused on the Caucasus, the place of Stalin's birth and Prometheus's punishment.

50 Baines, pp. 174-98.

51 N. Mandel'shtam, Vospominaniia, pp. 198-212.

52 Cf. Omry Ronen, Mandel'stam's Kascej," Studies Presented to Professor Roman Jakobson by His Students (Cambridge, MA, 1968), pp. 252-64, and Baines, pp. 170-73. The poem is "Ottogo vse neudachi" (SS, 1:337).

53 Brown, 598-600. "Vooruzhennyi zren'em uzkikh os" (SS, 1:367).

54 N. Mandel'shtam, Vospominaniia, pp. 216-20, and Baines, pp. 174-98. Nadezhda Mandel'shtam, for example, insists that the words of the "wasps" poem "I neither draw, nor sing . . ." are in direct opposition to the persona assumed by the poet in the "Ode" where he indeed draws. This observation, although backed by the authority of, perhaps, the sharpest reader of Mandel'shtam's poetry, has the flaws of any literal interpretation. In the "wasps," Mandel'shtam neither "draws nor sings," but in the poem written on the same day, 8 February 1937, he "sings while the soul is moist and the throat dry . . ." (SS, 1:365). The same may be said about another poem (one among many) where a similar reversal takes place: "Do not compare, a living man cannot be compared" (SS, 1:352). But on 4 February, that is, seventeen days later, the poet breaks his own vow: Like the martyr of chiaroscuro Rembrandt, I have gone deep into the mute time, But the sharpness of my burning rib Is guarded neither by those guards Nor by this warrior who are asleep under the thunder storm . . . (SS, 1:364). Here the poet compares himself, not only with his brother artist, but also with the subject of the artist's painting: either the Crucifixion or Christ's resurrection from the tomb (viz., the "burning rib", the "sleeping warrior," the "guards"). Cf. Brown, p. 385. On this subject see also Kiril Taranovsky, p. 113ff.

55 Pasternak's "Stalin" poem provides a tantalizing example of contemporary poetic usage of the "twin" image and may help to account in part for Mandel'shtam's enigmatic trope "bliznets" (even though Pasternak resorted to a more colloquial synonym, "dvoinia"). This poem, "Ia ponial: vse zhivo," published in Izvestiia on 1 January 1936 together with Dem'ian Bednyi's variation on Stalin's "life has become better, life has become merrier" could not have been overlooked by Mandel'shtam, who all throughout his exile maintained contact with Pasternak. Like Mandel'shtam's, Pasternak's "twin" is a mysterious creature whose identity is nowhere explicitly established. Thanks to his "nightingale" attribute, he may be identified as a poet, perhaps an archetypal poet, Homer or, more appropriately, Virgil, the author of the prophetic Fourth Eclogue ("Ne on li, prorocha, nas s vami predrek?"). Further, his association with the "precursors" (predtechi) and "leaders" (vozhdi) as well as his birth in the vicinity of anno domini suggest a composite Christological image. The poem's potential for such an interpretation did not go unnoticed. In the version that appeared later in the year in Znamia, the "twin" stanzas were altogether missing while the transparent "two thousand years" (stanza 4) were increased to a vaguely folkloric "three thousand." It is tempting to think that the poetic idea generated by the author of Bliznets v tuchakh (A Twin in the Clouds) struck a responsive chord in Mandel'shtam who, in a true Acmeist fashion, responded to it with a learned and appropriately enigmatic elaboration (cf. Pasternak's "zagadannyi vprok"). In a letter to Pasternak written on 2 January 1937, when the "Ode" had been almost or entirely completed, Mandel'shtam may have even alluded to this borrowing: ". . . spasibo za vse i za to, chto eto 'vse'—eshche 'nevse'" (SS, 4:140). If this is so, then the "Ode" represents another instance in an intense dialogue between the two poets in the 1930s. After all, the "wolf cycle" was prompted by among other things Pasternak's "Krasavitsa moia, vsia stat'" while certain lines in Pasternak's "Vse naklonen'ia i zalogi" read like an admonition to Mandel'shtam put together from bits and pieces of Mandel'shtam's own poetry (The "Ariosto" cycle; SS, 1:267-70). The admonition may have actually had an effect on Mandel'shtam, since its echoes are audible in "Esli b menia nashi vragi vziali" (SS, 1:372). For the text of Pasternak's "Stalin" poem and its versions see his Stikhi 1936-1956. Stikhi dlia detei. Stikhi 1912-1957, ne sobrannye v knigi avtora. Stat'i i vystupleniia (Ann Arbor, MI, 1961), pp. 138-39 and 256. For a careful review of Mandel'shtam's relationship with Pasternak see Anonymous (note 34).

56 "Klialsia Gospod' i ne raskaetsia . . ." (Psalms 109:4); "Ne narushu zaveta Moego . . . Odnazhdy Ia poklialsia sviatostiiu Moeiu: solgu li Davidu?" (Psalms 88:35-36).

57 An English rendering of this stanza: "Armed with the eyesight of the slender wasps, Sucking the earth's axis, the earth's axis, I sense all that I have happened to encounter And recall by heart and for no reason. . . . "

58 Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (New York, 1944), pp. 153, 188-94.

59 On the function of paronomasia in Mandel'shtam see Omry Ronen "Leksicheskii povtor, podtekst i smysl v poetike Osipa Mandel'shtama," Slavic Poetics: Essays in Honor of Kiril Taranovsky (The Hague, 1973), pp. 367-87.

60 N. Mandel'shtam, Vospominaniia, p. 218, Baines, p. 175. Curiously, neither author mentions this coincidence of Mandel'shtam's and Stalin's first names.

61 SS, 1:86-87. For an analysis of this poem see Clarence Brown, Mandelstam (Cambridge, 1973), pp. 237-45, and Gregory Freidin, "Time, Identity and Myth in Osip Mandelstam," Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1979, pp. 164-68.

62 Cf Derzhavin's ode "Bog."

63 St. Augustin's Confessions and those by J. J. Rousseau.

64 Katerina Clark, "Utopian Anthropology as a Context for Stalinist Literature," Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, 1977).

65 Apart from the "prayer of the cup" at Gethsemane, compare line 10 of stanza V with Matthew 27:34: "Dali Emu pit' uksusa, smeshannogo s zhelch'iu i, otvedav, ne khotel pit'."

66 Tadeusz Zielinski (F. F. Zelinskii) was a classical scholar of great stature and one of the most successful popularizers of classical antiquity at the turn of the century. One of Mandel'shtam's professors at St. Petersburg University and a frequent visitor at Viacheslav Ivanov's "tower" where Mandel'shtam may have met him for the first time in 1909, Zielinski had a profound influence on the poet's "Hellenistic" philosophy. Disagreeing with Ivanov's strong emphasis on the Dionysian, orgiastic aspect of Hellenism, Mandel'shtam must have found Zielinski's more decorous and Catholic version of it far more appealing. There are a number of significant ideological and even textual coincidences between Mandel'shtam's "Pushkin i Skriabin" and Zielinski's treatise Drevne-grecheskaia religiia (Petrograd, 1918). Despite the apparent anachronism, Mandel'shtam's reliance on his professor's views should not be dismissed even in this instance. Zielinski was a prolific writer and often published the same text under different titles, feeling free to borrow from himself. Mandel'shtam's passage from the essay in SS, 4:100, follows, at times almost verbatim, Zielinski's words (p. 156): ". . . During the second and, especially, the first century before Christ, the ring of Hellenism around the country governed by Zion was growing tighter and tighter. . . . Its teaching was a protest against the Judaic legalism in the spirit of Hellenic freedom, Hellenic humaneness, Hellenic filial attitude towards a beloved god . . . whence the fateful Judaization of Christianity which has imparted to it that quality from which it has not been able to liberate itself—intolerance. . . . " On the subject of Zielinski's influence on Mandel'shtam see G. A. Levinton, "'Na kamennykh otrogakh Pierii' Mandel'shtama: materialy k analizu," Russian Literature 5, no. 2 (April 1977): 123-70 and no. 3 (July 1977): 201-38. See also Gregory Freidin, "Osip Mandelstam: The Poetry of Time (1908-1916)," California Slavic Studies 11 (1980): 168n.

67 SS, 2:313-19, 4:100.

68 SS, 4:100. Viacheslav Ivanov whom Mandel'shtam visited in Moscow early in 1916 (Morozov, note 19) had just finished his tragedy Prometei and given a lecture on Skriabin at the "concert-meetings of the Skriabin Society in Petrograd in December 1915 and in Moscow in January 1916." Viacheslav Ivanov, Sobrante sochinenii, vol. 3 (Brussels, 1979), p. 736. This lecture, "Vzgliad Skriabina na iskusstvo" (ibid., pp. 172-189), provides a necessary, if negative, context for Mandel'shtam's essay. Ivanov's essay "K ideologii eyreiskogo voprosa" (1915, ibid., pp. 308-10) in which he criticizes high-brow antisemitism may give another interesting clue to Mandel'shtam's engimatic formulations.

69 SS, 2:315.

70 Zielinski, p. 154.

71 "While there is death in the world, Hellenism will continue to exist, because Christianity Hellenizes death . . . Hellenism fertilized by death—this is what constitutes Christianity "SS, 2:318.

72 "Gde sviazannyi i prigvozhdennyi ston" (SS, 1:356).

73 It appears that Mandel'shtam's contemporaries were attuned to the poet's reliance on the attributes of verbal magic in his poetry even though it is not clear whether their descriptions of his poetry as "shamanistic," "exorcist," "prayer-like," or "spell-binding" (in the etymological sense) referred to his recitation style of his poetics. "Mandelstam presided as a shaman for two and a half hours . . . They [his poems] were such exorcisms that many people took fright. . . . " This is from a letter by Nikolai Khardzhiev to Boris Eikhenbaum written in November 1932 (Brown, Mandelstam, p. 129). "He sang like a shaman possessed by visions." This is about Mandel'shtam's reading at "Privai komediantov" in 1917. Elena Tager, "O Mandel'shtame," Novyi zhurnal 85 (1965): 184. ". . . Mandelshtam's nostalgic spells: 'Remain foam, Aphrodite,... '" Benedikt Livshits, Polutowglazyi strelets (New York, 1978). Similar statements may be found in Vladimir Piast, Vstrechi (Moscow, 1929), p. 157, and Georgii Ivanov, Peterburgskie zimy (New York, 1952), p. 120. Blok's well-known impression of Mandel'shtam's performance in 1918 belongs to the same genre and resembles closely a description of a shamanistic performance. Cf. E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley, 1951), p. 140ff. For a scholarly discussion of this aspect of Mandel'shtam's poetry see Omry Ronen, "An Introduction . . ." (note 25) and "K siuzhetu 'Stikhov o neizvestnom soldate' Mandel'shtama," Slavica Hierosolymitana 4 (1979):214-21. It may be appropriate to add here that there was nothing idiosyncratic in this aspect of Mandel'shtam's poetry. Among his contemporaries, Sologub, Bal'mont, Belyi, Blok, not to speak of Gumilev and Khlebnikov took a special interest in the "magic of words." Scholarly interest in the problem, too, was quite intense. For a review of contemporary scholarship on the folk uses of verbal magic see V. P. Petrov, "Zagovory," Iz istorii russkoi sovetskoi fol'kloristiki, ed. A. A. Gorelov (Leningrad, 1981), pp. 77-142.

74 Sir James Frazer, The New Golden Bough (an abridged edition), ed. Theodore H. Gaster (New York, 1959), p. 35 ("The Roots of Magic").

75 "Khrani menia, moi talisman."

76 Frazer, p. 35.

77 To cite A. A. Potebnia with whose theories Mandel'shtam was more than familiar (viz. "O prirode slova," SS, 2:255ff.), the "fundamental formula of a spell (zagovor) . . . constitutes a verbal representation in which a given or contrived phenomenon is compared to one that is desired, with the purpose of fulfilling the latter." Malorusskaia narodnaia pesnia (Voronezh, 1877), p. 21.

78 Igor' Glebov (B. V. Asaf'ev), Skriabin. Opyt kharakteristiki (Petersburg-Berlin, 1923), p. 15 and elsewhere. See also "Zapisi A. N. Skriabina," Russkie propilei 6, ed. M. O. Gershenzon (Moscow, 1919):202-47, which contains Skriabin's own text of the Preliminary Act that was to prepare humanity for the ultimate Mystery.

79 SS, 2:315.

80 "Talisman" ("Tarn, gde more vechno pleshchet").

81 I am relying here on Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York, 1972), especially pp. 117-21. Significantly for the history of myth in contemporary culture, Mandel'shtam praises myth in "Pushkin i Skriabin" in virtually the same words as Barthes uses to damn it:" It is this constant game of hide-and-seek between the meaning and the form which defines myth" (p. 118). Compare this with Mandel'shtam's idea of a poet "playing hide-and-seek with God." On the problem of this sort of concealment fundamental to texts in general see Jacques Derrida, "La pharmacie de Platon," La dissémination (Paris, 1972), where one finds the following definition of a text: ". . . un texte n'est un texte que s'il cache au premier regard, au premier venu, la loi de sa composition et la règle de son jeu . . ." (p. 71).

82 "Prodigal Son" is the title of a chapter in Nadezhda Mandel'shtam, Vtoraia kniga.

83 "The Procurator's cheek twitched and he said: 'Bring me the accused. . . . '" Mikhail Bulgakov, Belala gvardiia. Teatral'nyi roman. Master i Margarita (Moscow, 1973), p. 438. Dostoevskii, Polnoe sobrante sochinenii 11:28.

84 N. Mandel'shtam, Vospominaniia, p. 220.

85 Isaac Deutcher, Stalin: A Political Biography (New York, 1967), p. 270. See also Robert C. Tucker, Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879-1929 (New York, 1973).

Richard Nickson (essay date 1984)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5271

SOURCE: "The Lure of Stalinism: Bernard Shaw and Company," in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. XXV, No. 4, Summer, 1984, pp. 416-33.

[In the following essay, Nickson uses an examination of the adherence of George Bernard Shaw to Soviet-style communism under Stalin as an example of such adherence among many artists and intellectuals of the time.]

"I am not a fascist; I am, and have been all throughout my political life, a Communist." That was George Bernard Shaw in 1935. But ten years later he was still having to answer the question "Are you a Fascist, Mr. Shaw?" Patiently replying to a newspaper reporter, Shaw said: "No: I am a Communist. That is, I advocate national control and ownership of land, capital, and industry for the benefit of all of us. Fascists advocate it equally for the benefit of the landlords, capitalists, and industrialists." Finally, in the summer of 1950, the question got reshaped for one of his last press interviews: "Are you a Communist, Mr. Shaw?" The nonagenarian replied: "Yes, of course I am. A war on Communism is ignorant, blazing nonsense. . . . The future is to the country that carries Communism farthest and fastest."

Do we have here Tweedledum and Tweedledee? This popular viewpoint has been carried one curious step further by Susan Sontag, who recently declared, "Communism is fascism—successful fascism." In a much-publicized speech Sontag argued, "not only is fascism (and overt military rule) the probable destiny of all Communist societies . . . but Communism is in itself a variant, the most successful variant, of fascism." According to Shaw, such political labels as these are "understood by only a few specialists"—labels that get "continually misplaced by politicians and journalists who do not know what they are talking about." Because it pleases Soviet Russia to wear the label "Communism"—even as Germany opted for "National Socialism"—some politicians and journalists today are happy to fall in with Sontag's call to abandon what she terms old and corrupt rhetoric; the tug of disillusionment results in seeing the distinctions explained by Shaw as passé, meaningless. Ardor and cynicism in political attitudes may both be all too easily attained. As Issac Deutscher remarked about the ex-communist three decades ago, "As a communist he saw no difference between fascists and social democrats. As an anti-communist he sees no difference between nazism and communism." The German Thomas Mann, on the other hand, chose to agree with the Irish playwright that these labels are quite significantly distinguishable. Rejecting though he did any absolutist partisanship, Mann yet affirmed,

communism remains an idea—albeit a utopic one—with roots far longer than those of Marxism and Stalinism; its untarnished realization will never quite cease to present itself to humanity as a task and a demand. Fascism, however, is no idea at all; it is mere badness, and one can only hope that no nation will ever again succumb to it.

As a lifelong, passionate advocate of socialism, Shaw was decidedly a more partisan figure than Mann, just as he was a good deal less partisan than his Irish playwright friend Sean O'Casey. Furthermore his partisanship was flaunted at a time when the notion (or romance, as he would have it) was widely held that the direct cause of the extinction of freedom in many lands was the allegiance of some Western intellectuals to communism. To what degree was Bernard Shaw partisan? To what degree guilty?

Assessing his property for the National Trust the month after the playwright's death, Harold Nicolson found one picture of Mahatma Gandhi and two of Joseph Stalin hanging in a collection otherwise given over to one of Mrs. Shaw and many of her husband. Shaw had a brief visit with Gandhi in London; in Moscow he once spent several hours with Stalin. Since he extended so much praise for Stalin and the Soviet Union in the last two decades of his life, a summary of that praise alongside views of the same leader and government expressed by others—especially views contemporary with Shaw's—seems in order and perhaps helpful in throwing some light, three decades after his death, on his fixed bias. As an important, extraordinary man and writer, he merits close attention. The focus here, however, is on Shaw as a representative figure, as one of so many artists and intellectuals caught up in enthusiasm for the Soviet state as manipulated by Stalin.

With only a modicum of historical perspective, one can make out Shaw's polemical stance in offering favorable remarks, in varying degrees, about Mussolini and Hitler. Were the fascist leaders to be condemned? Not—Shaw was determined—by the self-righteous plutocrats who had made their rise possible, nor by the European statesmen who had inflated their reputations. In any event, he never made a pilgrimage to either Mussolini, Franco, or Hitler: a British gesture that became remarkably common. Shaw's equivocal commendations of certain qualities of the fascist leaders and governments were made for the sake of invidious comparison with the government he knew best, the British parliamentarian.

Writing in 1930 the Preface for the 1931 reprint of Essays in Fabian Socialism, Shaw expressed doubt about the "resolute constitutionalism" of the Fabians and, as usual, about parliamentarian government. His doubts had been amplified by the First World War and the tendency of many European countries to resort to either revolution or dictatorship, depending on whether they were led by what he called "the revolutionary Left" or "the Fascist Right." "But dictatorships, like proclamations of martial law, are emergency measures," he argued; "and they are subject to the standard objection to martial law that it is no law at all." On the other hand, citing the Russian Revolution, he declared it "a most beneficent event in spite of the incidental horrors which attend all too long delayed revolutions." Seven years later he was doggedly reminding us: 1. "There is no remedy in fascism, but there is in Communism, and Communism is precisely what fascism teaches to abhor." 2. "Russia is an example to all the world of the enormous superiority of Socialism to capitalism, economically, socially and politically." With these distinctions resolutely in mind, Shaw in his many references to twentieth-century dictators never included Stalin.

The Shavian pledge of allegiance was sounded early. In the very year of the Bolshevik Revolution, in the face of volleys of denunciation of the Bolshevists, especially from British socialists and labor leaders, Shaw rose at a public meeting of the Fabian Society to declare simply, "We are socialists. The Russian side is our side." All the same, Shavian allegiance being distinctly non-doctrinaire, Shaw throughout the decade following 1917 as often as not scoffed at the failure of socialism in the Soviet Union. Laudatory appraisals then followed, as did his nine-days visit to the Union of Federated Sensible Societies. Thus that land is referred to in Too True to Be Good, the play he completed in the summer of 1931 shortly before his departure on the trip he was persuaded to take by the Marquis of Lothian (Phillip Kerr) in the company of a few other friends, including Viscount and Lady Astor and their son.

In the Hall of Columns in Moscow (the scene, but a half dozen years later, of the infamous treason trials), a spectacular reception for Shaw was held on July 26 to celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday. The white-haired but ruddy Fabian responded by saying:

It is a real comfort to me, an old man, to be able to step into my grave with the knowledge that the civilization of the world will be saved. .. . It is here in Russia that I have actually been convinced that the new Communist system is capable of leading mankind out of the present crisis, and saving it from complete anarchy and ruin.

A letter to Shaw from Maxim Gorky was read aloud at the reception at Shaw's request, and three days later Shaw and Lady Astor paid a visit to Gorky.

Then at eight o'clock the night following that visit, they and Lord Astor (who had made all the arrangements), Lord Lothian, Maxim Litvinov (the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs), and a British Foreign Office interpreter visited for over two hours with Stalin, who paid a gracious tribute to Shaw as they parted. No mere visitors had been granted an interview with Stalin before. The next day Bernard Shaw and Nancy Astor, at their request, visited Lenin's widow. Finally, that evening Shaw wrote in the visitors' book in the Metropole Hotel, "Tomorrow I leave this land of hope and return to our Western countries of despair."

Before turning to Shaw's impressions of Stalin, readers may care to pause at these references to "crisis" and "despair"—at least long enough to recall that soon after Shaw returned home, Ramsay MacDonald, the Fabian Socialist, resigned as prime minister only to be immediately recommissioned by the king to deal with the great depression and the government crisis as prime minister of a "National Government" composed of Tories and a sprinkling of Laborites. The 1933 "Political Comedy" On the Rocks provides further reflections by the disillusioned Fabian on crisis and despair at home; and it is in part that disillusionment which impelled Shaw throughout his remaining years to pin his hopes on a socialist future elsewhere, on a country he knew precious little about, the U.S.S.R. "I expected to see a Russian working man," Shaw said of his visit with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, "and I found a Georgian gentleman. He was not only at ease himself, but he had the art of setting us at our ease. He was charmingly good humored. There was no malice in him; but also no credulity." He also said: "There is an odd mixture of the Pope and the field-marshal in him; you might guess him to be the illegitimate soldier son of a cardinal. I should call his manners perfect if only he had been able to conceal the fact that we amused him enormously." Shaw, who had listened to such fellow Irishmen as Wilde and Yeats, went so far as to say, "I never met a man who could talk so well." And he was pleased to observe of that man, "virtually the Lord Protector of Russia," that he lived with his family in three rooms.

Ten years later, in an interview, Shaw stated: "When I met Stalin in 1931 I knew I was face to face with the greatest statesman in Europe. And the personal impression he made on me did not change my opinion." Still later, in Everybody's Political What's What? he wrote of "Russia under the exceptionally clever, politically well read, and heroically public spirited Bolshevik statesmen, led by Lenin and Stalin, now recognized as beyond question the ablest rulers our age has produced." After commenting in that book on such "Great Men" as Cromwell, Peter the Great, Napoleon, Kemal, Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, he wrote: "Of these only Cromwell with his Bible and Covenants of Grace, and Stalin with his Marxist philosophy, held themselves within constitutional limits (as we say, had any principles); and they alone stand out as successful rulers." Two years after his enthusiastic address to the Fabian Summer School upon his return from Moscow, Shaw wrote the Preface to Too True to Be Good. It is there we come upon this astonishing passage:

Mr. Stalin is not in the least like an Emperor, nor an Archbishop, nor a Prime Minister, nor a Chancellor; but he would be strikingly like a Pope, claiming for form's sake an apostolic succession from Marx, were it not for his frank method of Trial and Error, his entirely human footing, and his liability to removal at a moment's notice if his eminence should upset his mental balance.

It is likely that Shaw's enthusiasm contributed in part to the decision of his longtime friends and Fabian associates Beatrice and Sidney Webb to conduct their researches in Sovietland. But their interest in the U.S.S.R. was of long standing; Lenin himself had translated their History of Trade Unionism; and for them as well as Shaw Fabian gradualism had been getting to seem all too gradual. They engaged a Russian-speaking secretary and were given the services of a Foreign Office interpreter during their stay in Moscow in July and August 1932. Then in September and October 1934 Sidney Webb was there again to check up on their findings. At about that time Stalin announced: "Life has grown better, life has grown merrier."

The Webb findings did not ring with such brevity. Their two-volume Soviet Communism, published in 1935, consists of 1,257 pages. It was pronounced by Shaw to be "the first really scientific analysis of the Soviet State." The Webbs succeeded in finding all the documents commendable; their research was restricted to reading. Beatrice Webb, in particular, became a Stalin enthusiast. In 1942, the year before her death, she wrote: "Stalin is not a dictator." That same year, in the course of writing about the Webbs, Shaw stated, "The history of Communist Russia for the past twenty years in the British and American press is a record in recklessly prejudiced mendacity."

Three summers after the Shaw visit, H. G. Wells, one-time Fabian, interviewed Stalin for nearly three hours in Moscow. The text of this interview as approved by Wells testifies to masterly political acumen and seemingly frank modesty on Stalin's part. Without agreeing with the General Secretary, Wells yet declared, "I never met a man more candid, fair, and honest, and to these qualities it is, and to nothing occult and sinister, that he owes his tremendous undisputed ascendancy. .. . No one is afraid of him and everybody trusts him." As Boris Pasternak's wife used to say (according to Nadezhda Mandelstam in Hope Against Hope), "My children love Stalin most of all, and me only second."

In the recently published notebooks and diaries of Edmund Wilson one can read about a 1935 sports parade in Moscow in which 115,000 people stood up and shouted greetings to Stalin—a parade that struck Wilson at the time as more inspiring than any parade he had seen at home. Early in that decade in France, André Gide began affirming his sympathy for communism and admiration for Soviet Russia. A trip through that country in 1936 led, however, to his deploring in his Retour de l'U.R.S.S. and Retouches à mon Retour de l'U.R.S.S the poverty he found there, the intellectual regimentation, and the lack of personal liberty. Gide's vehement criticism of the "adoration" of Stalin prompted Lion Feuchtwanger to venture an explanation, or justification. "It is obvious," he wrote, "that this excessive veneration is bestowed upon Stalin not as an individual but simply as the representative of Socialism. . . . When the people say, 'We love Stalin,' that is the most natural and naive human expression of their approval of Socialism and of the government." Feuchtwanger's 1937 book Moscow also proved to be the best explanation of the treason trials—in the eyes, anyway, of Bertolt Brecht: the Brecht whose anti-Stalin poems are only now coming to light. These poems, written in 1956 shortly before his death (and three years after Stalin's), were discovered among Brecht's papers. Feuchtwanger's opinion was shared, in 1937, by another notable writer, André Malraux. "Just as the Inquisition did not detract from the fundamental dignity of Christianity," Malraux declared, "so the Moscow trials do not detract from the fundamental dignity [of communism]."

A resumé of Shavian and a few other foreigners' views of Stalin may be rounded out by noticing those of American statesmen who knew Premier Stalin. Thus even Stalin the music lover emerges, a Stalin attuned to the impromptus of Chopin. "The night Stalin was host I had some very nice conversations with him," in the words of Harry Truman in his oral biography. "I liked him. I didn't like what he did, of course, but I liked him. .. . He was just like me about Chopin. He liked Chopin. Churchill didn't." And Averill Harriman, who probably saw more of Stalin than any other American or Briton, has recently written:

It is hard for me to reconcile the courtesy and consideration that he showed me personally with the ghastly cruelty of his wholesale liquidations. Others, who did not know him personally, see only the tyrant in Stalin. I saw the other side as well—his high intelligence, that fantastic grasp of detail, his shrewdness and the surprising human sensitivity that he was capable of showing, at least in the war years. I found him better informed than Roosevelt, more realistic than Churchill, in some ways the most effective of the war leaders. At the same time he was, of course, a murderous tyrant.

As for Soviet appraisals of Stalin—prior, that is, to the Khrushchev revelations—the bulk of the denunciatory ones is but gradually emerging, for obvious reasons. The year after Shaw's Moscow visit, an anti-Stalinist political comedy by Nikolai Erdman titled The Suicide was banned by Moscow censors, despite Gorky's praise of it and Meyerhold's wanting to produce it; it remains unproduced in the Soviet Union to this day. A 1980 New York production of the play unearthed the sobering line, "Only the dead can say what the living think." Then there is Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtensk District (revised as Katerina Ismailova in the 1940s), which was first produced early in 1934 with an enormous popular success through its first two years. But in January 1936 Stalin attended a performance and was displeased. An attack on the opera appeared in Pravda later that month, and the production was straightway withdrawn.

In recent years much has been heard from the stalwart Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His writings and his program (advocating a withdrawal from the totalitarian state, a return to the authoritarian one) scarcely require replication. Remarking other, less famous artists and victims may seem to be a duty more in order today, though it is a daunting one. Merely listing their names would require so many millions of entries as to leave the mind boggled. Assuredly Stalin had more communists put to death than did Hitler. Did he in fact "liquidate" more people? The answer appears to be a grim "yes."

An often published photograph of Shaw in Moscow shows him seated alongside about a dozen Soviet writers, one of whom was Karl Radek, the Polish Jew who had become the foremost Soviet press propagandist, one of the editors of Izvestia and a leading writer of Pravda, soon to appear on Stalin's "little list" and hence to disappear. He was one of those placed on trial for one week at the beginning of 1937; he was sentenced (provisionally) to ten years imprisonment. Mass imprisonments and liquidations continued up to the year of Stalin's death in 1953. During the night of August 12, 1952, for example, twenty-four Jewish writers and political figures were executed in the basement of Moscow's Lubianka Prison.

In 1933 a poet chanced to write a brief poem about Stalin—the poet Osip Mandelstam, considered by many Russian readers to be their finest poet of the century. The poem, quoted in his widow's Hope Against Hope, describes the leer of the great man's "cockroach whiskers" and the "fawning half-men" around him: distinctly not a publishable poem in Soviet circles then or now. Yet circulate it did. And shortly it fell into the hands of the exterminating profession (even the first draft of the poem that referred to Stalin as "the murderer and peasantslayer"). In the late Nadezhda Mandelstam's two volumes of memoirs we learn of the torment meted out to her husband, who evidently perished in a transit camp near Vladivostok at the close of 1938.

Interestingly, Shaw in the 1935 Preface to The Millionairess alluded to "the miserable plight of the great men neglected, insulted, and occasionally put to death, sometimes horribly, by the little ones." But then he was looking back, at history. Regarding the present, he had a reassuring lecture: "the power to exterminate is too grave to be left in any hands but those of a thoroughly Communist Government responsible to the whole community." The lecture may be found in the Preface to On the Rocks which, though principally a plea for tolerance, candidly confronted the fact that "every government, out of necessity, has exterminated people and is exterminating people." Analyzing killing as a political function, Shaw singled out the Soviet Union as "the only country which has yet awakened to this extension of social responsibility" because it had set up the Cheka for the purpose—as he described it—of asking these questions (and of liquidating persons who did not answer them satisfactorily): "Are you pulling your weight in the social boat? are you giving more trouble than you are worth? have you earned the privilege of living in a civilized community?" All reasonable questions. The trick is being able to answer them "satisfactorily" to reasonable judges. Neither the dead poet Osip Mandelstam nor the living poet Joseph Brodsky would be relieved to learn from Bernard Shaw that the security against the abuse of the power of life and death in the Soviet Union lay in this: "the Cheka had no interest in liquidating anybody who could be made publicly useful. . . . "

In 1980 the Nobel prize for literature went to another poet, one born in what is now the Lithuanian Soviet Republic, the Polish author Czeslaw Milosz, who has lived in this country for the past two decades after quitting the Communist diplomatic service of Poland. Much as he dreaded exile, he dreaded more the imposition of so-called socialist realism, requiring artists to serve "the Revolution" in their work, thus rendering inoperable what Milosz believes to be the writer's unique responsibility—"to look at the world from his own independent viewpoint." According to Milosz: "socialist realism is nothing more than a different name for a lie."

Lenin had early on demanded "party-mindedness" of writers in conformity with the Revolution. According to Roy A. Medvedev, "By 1929 there was not a single non-Party publication left, nor any privately owned publishing houses that might have served as vehicles for oppositionist views." Then in the mid-thirties the Writers' Union was created to impose orthodoxy. At the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's commissar of cultural affairs, made a speech in which the doctrine of socialist realism was initially propounded as the official Party line in literature: "the representation of reality not as it is but as it ought to be." Gorky, who died two years later, found it possible to embroider this doctrine with romantic fustian. The practical results of such doctrines swiftly followed: conformity, the Great Purge, the trials, and the terror of 1937-38.

Yet the 1936 Constitution of the U.S.S.R. most certainly makes for inspirational reading—and not only for such researchers as Beatrice and Sidney Webb. There was, however, a "Catch 22," which Mandelstam, Babel, Pasternak, Akhmatova, Bulgakov, and millions of other Soviet citizens learned could be applied to everything: Article 58 of the Criminal Code, which covered "anti-Soviet propaganda" and "counter-revolutionary activity." Can it be that such tyranny of the state was a-borning in the theories of Father Marx, the ones which held that political authority could not be a problem once private ownership of the means of production had been abolished, a theory which seemed to ensure the transient nature of political authority after a communist revolution?

In the Soviet Union, which claims to be a socialist country on the way toward communism, some freedom for the working class and some degree of equality had been effectively destroyed by Lenin as early as 1921; and a theoretical foundation for the role of "leader" was provided at the very outset of Stalin's rule. In short, Lenin cemented the cornerstone of Soviet communism with the suppression of dissent and the persecution of political opponents; Trotsky lent his fanatic support with forcible labor conscription; Stalin and Stalinism followed, with the imposition of forced collectivization on the peasants together with the rise of the General Secretary's personal dictatorship and the formation of a bureaucratic, arbitrary regime.

The lineaments of a Victorian gentleman unprepared to credit the terrible tidings of the twentieth century can sometimes be glimpsed in the later political assessments of Shaw, especially those questioning the possibility of mass brutalities. This is the gentleman who wrote a letter to the Secretary of the British Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky in the summer of 1937. Esteeming Trotsky as a writer, Shaw proceeded to argue that Trotsky was spoiling his defense by making the same sort of attacks on Stalin that the Stalinists were making against Trotsky. "Now I have spent nearly three hours in Stalin's presence and observed him with keen curiosity," Shaw wrote, "and I find it just as hard to believe that he is a vulgar gangster as that Trotsky is an assassin."

Yet Angus Wilson, in his recent biography of Kipling, has suggested that Shaw was guilty of accepting "the brutalities carried out in the Stalinist name of collectivist efficiency." Wilson finds nothing in Shaw's work that demonstrates a "proper realization of the meaning of individual suffering." Shaw, who wrote comedies, has himself testified: "Life cannot bear thinking of for those who know what it truly is." And in his "Chronicle" play Saint Joan he gave sensitive expression to individual suffering. All the same, for Wilson, and others, Shaw may be seen as one of the "professional humanists" described by Nadezhda Mandelstam as not interested in the fate of individuals.

Shaw once wrote an incisive preface to Dickens's Hard Times, in which Josiah Bounderby, a caricature of a capitalist exploiter, regards his dissatisfied employees as expecting to be fed on both turtle soup and venison with a silver spoon. Oddly, in his Preface to On the Rocks, after remarking the constant clamor of Soviet workers for more varied food and more of it, Shaw added: "As Stalin said quaintly They will be demanding silver watches next.'" Thus spake Josiah Stalin.

Bertrand Russell went so far as to describe the aging Shaw as acquiescing in systematic Marxism. Yet to an interviewer's question—"Are you not a friend of the Russian people?"—put to him in Moscow, Shaw replied with a thunderous "No!" He explained: "I am not the friend of any people as a whole. I reserve the right to criticize every people—including the Russians." Still, it must be owned that Shaw's criticism of the Russians was never so severe as that of Russell, who once recommended dropping the atom bomb on the Soviet Union. Although Shaw chose to affirm that he was a communist in theory and a playwright by profession, the theorist remained an undogmatic one who doubted (as had Marx) that Marx himself was a Marxist. He unswervingly disdained creeds as holding that—like the Athanasian Creed as described by himself—"certain things are so, and that anybody who doubts that they are so cannot be saved."

Shaw's non-doctrinaire espousal of the Soviet cause was chiefly another tactic in his essentially artistic campaign: the exposure of capitalism in the society he knew best, the British. He maintained till his death in 1950 at the age of ninety-four his invidious comparison of British parliamentarianism with what he took to be the relative equalitarianism of a bona fide socialist country. That illusion is comparable to the one recently ascribed by Isaiah Berlin to Shaw's friend Albert Einstein: "His [Einstein's] hatred of the cruelty and barbarity of reactionaries and fascists at times led him to believe that there were no enemies on the left—an illusion of many decent and generous people, some of whom have paid for it with their lives."

What did such elderly Western intellectuals as Shaw and the Webbs, for example, actually know about Soviet society? Next to nothing. Jean-Paul Sartre refused to condemn the concentration camps of the Soviet Union; Shaw considered them to be a creation of the venal Western press. The poet Robert Bly recently noted how Pablo Neruda "loved matter, and the poor, was suspicious of gods and ended up praising Stalin. What can one say about that?" Apparently the motes dimming human eyes sometimes have to await hindsight to be exposed for all to see. After all, till the end of the conflict, unbelievable as it now seems, astonishingly few people—other than the murderers and the murdered—were aware of the implementation by the Germans of a policy of total extermination of European Jews during World War II. Moreover, only after a score of years have we attained some detailed knowledge of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At the time of that war Shaw wrote: "there is no hope for civilization in government by idolized single individuals." He believed that absolute authority (that is, the "last word") should be vested in councils of qualified persons, not in an individual—and that the councils should stand accountable to public criticism. Therefore he had honest reasons for scolding his biographer Hesketh Pearson for repeating "the silly complaint that I have collapsed into dictator-worship in my old age." His political thinking always had a solid base in socialist theory; and the Shavian program was a constructive one, aimed at securing "substantial democracy" for the benefit of everybody. Nevertheless, he is most notable, and most readable, for his destructive criticism. As an artist first and a theorist last, he could always write better about what he knew and deplored than about what he sought and advocated. Whether as advocate or denunciator, Shaw and his matter should not in any case be viewed apart from his customary manner, prominently featuring levity, hyperbole, and paradox.

The complex artist that is Shaw has been misunderstood by shoals of critics, including some dotty ones calling themselves Marxists. Yet two distinguished British Marxians have declared that Shaw "exposed capitalist society with a passionate intensity that has never been equalled by any writer of English" (R. Palme Dutt) and that he has produced "the most remarkable running critique of imperialist civilization from within that has so far appeared" (E. J. Hobsbawn).

Obviously, a running critique of Soviet civilization was not supplied by Shaw. In the light of what is now known about it, his guesses, glosses, and good wishes make painful reading, even though one may agree with that other Fabian, the acute Leonard Woolf, who has said, "Communism has its roots in some of the finest of human political motives and social aspirations." He added that the corruption of such motives and aspirations is repulsive, for the greatest evil is the good corrupted (a Latin saying quoted by Woolf in his autobiography). It is possible that the greatest of the manifold evils of Stalin and Stalinism is located precisely here, in this shattering corruption.

The good that could be in communist aspiration remains in the future. Regarding the past and present, one can no more judge communism by the Soviet Union than one can judge Islam by the present Islam Republic of Iran or judge Christianity by . . . The Country of Your Choice.

Likewise, Shaw should not be judged exclusively by such a passage as this, from the Preface to Far-fetched Fables, written in his nineties:

The Soviet system ... includes all the conventional democratic checks and safeguards against despotism now so illusory, and gives them as much effectiveness as their airy nature is capable of. Incidentally it gives Stalin the best right of any living statesman to the vacant Nobel peace prize, and our diplomatists the worst. This will shock our ignoramuses as a stupendous heresy and a mad paradox. Let us see.

The ignoramus in these matters was, alas, Bernard Shaw—tragically duped as have been so many other staunch world betterers. The shock is a great one indeed.

Daniel Rancour-Laferriere (essay date 1985)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5676

SOURCE: "The Deranged Birthday Boy: Solzhenitsyn's Portrait of Stalin in The First Circle'," in Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Summer, 1985, pp. 61-72.

[In the following essay, Rancour-Laferriere attempts a psychoanalytical reading of the character Stalin in Solzenicyn's The First Circle.]

Since Alexander Solzhenitsyn personally experienced the concentration camps of Stalinist Russia, it is not surprising that his extended portrait of Stalin in The First Circle should be "bitter" and "sarcastic."1 What is surprising is that this portrait nonetheless succeeds on an esthetic level and is convincing psychologically. Solzhenitsyn's Stalin is just as real and just as likely to move the reader as his Ivan Denisovich, his Matryona and his Oleg Kostoglotov.

What I propose to do is to psychoanalyze the character of Stalin created by Solzhenitsyn. Any correspondences between this character and the historical Joseph Stalin are merely coincidental for my purposes (though they could hardly have been coincidental from Solzhenitsyn's personal viewpoint).

The portrait begins with Stalin lying on a couch, freeassociating (in literary parlance, having an "interior monologue") about his past, and ends with him continuing to free-associate as he falls asleep. Solzhenitsyn thus seems to have invited a psychoanalytic discussion of this tyrant. Furthermore, Solzhenitsyn's Stalin is a sick man, mentally,2 and psychoanalysis is (among other things) a method of understanding mental illness. There may not be much sex and violence in Solzhenitsyn's books, but there is much sickness and much perversity—indeed, how could there not be in a writer whose major concern has been the Soviet univers concentrationnaire? The text for the present analysis will be the new, uncensored 96-chapter version of the novel which was published only in 1978.3

I will focus on the long passage devoted to Stalin as he appears shortly after the celebration of his seventieth birthday. This passage comprises chapters 19-23, of which chapter 20, "Sketch of a Great Life," was entirely absent from the earlier, 1969 edition.4

I will be concerned specifically with the pathological aspects of Solzhenitsyn's Stalin. This is not to say that every single thing about this Stalin is abnormal. Indeed there is much about him that is ordinary and even rather mediocre for someone who is supposed to be the Leader of All Progressive Mankind.5 But Stalin is more than mediocre. He is truly twisted and this is what is upsetting. The reader has an opportunity—like it or not—to witness a florid and completely unchecked display of pathological symptoms, symptoms which in any ordinary Soviet citizen would have immediately led to confinement in a mental hospital or a prison.

Basically, these symptoms fall into seven clinical clusters: paranoia, hyperdeveloped narcissism, megalomania, agoraphobia, obsessive power hunger, sadism (with associated masochism), and defective conscience (underdeveloped superego). Other scholars have noticed some of these symptoms, but have not given them systematic study.6 I want to emphasize that the symptoms, though they are allowed to develop to extreme proportions in Solzhenitsyn's Stalin, just as they do in various mental patients, nonetheless are familiar and understandable to all of us because we have all experienced them within ourselves in rudimentary form. No one is innocent in the Freudian world. Nor for that matter is anyone even innocent in the often insistently self-righteous world of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for he himself has confessed:

In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains ... an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: they struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.7

Evil is thus a universal of the human heart. The human task, says Solzhenitsyn, is to "constrict" evil. Freud would have said "repress," and he would have dispensed with the religion, too. But we can hardly expect a man who has done time in the prisons of an atheist state to dispense with religion.

Extending Solzhenitsyn's metaphor, Edward Ericson says of Solzhenitsyn's portrayal of Stalin: "a soul in which the line dividing good and evil has been pushed so far over to one side that evil overwhelmingly predominates must be painted in very dark colors if the depiction is to be accurate."8 Again, Freud would have said that an individual whose repressive mechanism was as defective as Stalin's was must be depicted as a psychopath if the depiction is to be believable. I would add that the frequent characterization of Solzhenitsyn's Stalin as a Satanic figure,9 a personification of the evils of Soviet society, is also fully in line with a Freudian perspective: "the devil is certainly nothing else than the personification of the repressed unconscious instinctual life."10

Let us examine, then, Stalin's psychopathologies one by one. The symptoms in each category are presented according to the order of their appearance in the narration.

Indicative, first, of Stalin's paranoia is his dislike of curtains, recesses and other places where someone might hide (p. 122). He marvels at how many hindrances and enemies fate has sent him (p. 124). After his religious training is over, he feels that God has deceived him (p. 125), and then, after getting bored with revolutionary activities, he feels the revolution has deceived him (p. 126). When the (1905) revolution actually takes place, he feels the Czarist police, for whom he has been working, have deceived him (p. 128). In the 1937 trials he accuses fellow party members of having been Czarist informants (paranoid projective reversal, p. 132), and believes his revolutionary colleagues are laughing at him for his ineptness in theoretical discussions (p. 133). He formulates a strict principle never to believe what anyone says (pp. 137-38). He exerts unrelenting efforts to purge the party and the country of enemies (p. 142), and even finds it necessary to sacrifice close friends such as Sergo, and devoted assistants such as Yagoda and Yezhov (p. 143).

To the same effect, Stalin sees himself as long ago having turned the Soviet Union into a communist country if it were not for . . . —there follows a half page list of problems and enemies that Stalin has been fighting, including such unlikely items as "greedy housewives," "spoiled children" and "streetcar chatterboxes" (p. 146). Most of this passage is done in a thick Georgian accent (misplaced stresses, etc.), and by the end of the passage Stalin has gone from thinking silently to talking aloud, and nearly has a shaking fit.

Secret passages and one-way mirrors have been installed in his residence just as his bedroom is without windows, and the walls are armor-plated (p. 148). Elsewhere in his residence, where there are windows, they are bulletproof (p. 174). Disliking people who reach into their inner pockets in his presence (p. 150), he loves to hear Abakumov's regular revelations about hostile political groups (p. 154). No matter to whom he is talking, he always wonders whether the person is to be believed, and whether it is yet time to kill this individual (p. 155).

Solzhenitsyn's Stalin has never trusted anyone—not his mother, not God, not the revolutionaries, not the peasants, not the workers, not the engineers, not the soldiers and generals, not his intimates, not his wives and lovers, not his children (p. 155). Only Hitler was trusted, mistakenly, as we will see.

At the sight of the portraits of Zhelyabov and Perovskaya (terrorists who are made to shout "Kill the tyrant!"), Stalin has a coughing fit and orders the portraits removed (p. 158). The more lives Stalin takes, the more he fears for his own, the more he fears assassination plots, the more complicated becomes the guard system around him, the more security measures he orders for himself and his subordinates (p. 159).

The conversation with Abakumov, in which Stalin again speaks at length in a heavy Georgian accent, is primarily about counter-revolutionaries, terrorists, political sabotage (especially among youth), and the need to re-introduce capital punishment. At one point he declares that "The whole world is against us," that a "big war" will be necessary, and that such a war would have to be preceded by a "big purge" (p. 164). Again he thinks that everyone is trying to deceive him (p. 171), and in this case he is at least partially correct, since Abakumov has just managed to speak with the aging and forgetful leader for an hour and still avoid bringing up the crucial topic of secret telephones.

Indicative, in turn, of Stalin's pathological narcissism are the following. He reads and rereads incessantly his own biography, and he expects everyone to carry the conveniently sized biography around with them all through life; he warmly agrees with everything in the sycophantic biography—he is a genius of war strategy, he was Lenin's deputy from 1918 on, he is terribly modest, etc.; moreover, he helps his biographers write the biography (p. 117). The photographs of himself in the biography (p. 125) fuel his self love and recall those years when, as one of Lenin's henchmen, he traveled about in his smart officer's uniform and calf boots, with a clean-shaven face and moustache, and with the women adoring him (p. 135); in love with his voice, he likes to sit and listen to his old recorded speeches at night (p. 153). Extreme security measures he therefore feels are necessary because his person is priceless for human history (p. 159); in his view, he has to survive until he is ninety, because he is irreplaceable (p. 165).

Symptoms of Stalin's megalomania similarly abound. He wants his biography to be published for a third time, in an edition of ten or twenty million (p. 117), with his motive stemming from his belief that the revolution left the people without a god (p. 118). Feeling that he constantly has to correct the misguided Lenin (p. 119), in 1918 he believes that he is superior to Lenin, Trotsky and all those other "bookish dreamers" (pp. 133-34). Comparing himself to Napoleon, he imagines himself being called "Emperor of the Planet" and "Emperor of the Earth" (p. 166). He fantasizes living forever, but decides to settle for monuments, the heads of which will soar above the clouds on the Kazbek and the Elbrus (p. 166). Everyone is below him, only God is above him. He and God are alone (p. 167). He imagines that he has abilities in the area of linguistics, and takes it upon himself to write a tract supporting Chikobava against Marr (pp. 172ff). He has fantasies about conquering West Europe just as soon as he has built atom bombs and purged the rear. He will take over the whole world without bothering with revolutions (p. 177).

If Stalin is megalomanic, however, he is also agoraphobic. He feels he can easily avoid the space of the outside world, though he cannot avoid the passage of time (p. 116). Russia is to him a huge, unpeopled space (p. 174). When he steps out of his cozy quarters to go to a banquet in a large hall, when he has to cross the "frightening space" between the automobile and the door, and when he has to cross the "too broad" foyer—he feels ill (p. 175). Having gained power over one-sixth of terrestial space, he has become afraid of it.

Another set of Stalin's pathological symptoms takes the form of obsessive power hunger. The first time he leads a revolutionary political demonstration he becomes ecstatic, telling the followers what to do and where to go. He decides that giving orders is much better than being rich (p. 126). After working as a Czarist secret agent for a while, he is made a member of the Central Committee, and decides to rejoin the revolutionaries on the ground that a TsK member has more power than a petty secret agent (p. 130). Already at an early stage of the revolution he notices how much respect he gets from people when he signs this or that order for an execution (p. 135). He believes that he alone (not Lenin nor Trotsky) can direct the revolution (p. 134). He tricks Churchill and Roosevelt into giving him control of Poland, Saxony, Thüringen, Sakhalin, Port Arthur, etc. (p. 144). Only the death of one's enemy assures one of real power, he thinks (p. 163).

Nor is Stalin without sado-masochistic traits. He displays a (to the reader) false sense of pity for the Russian people, thinking that the revolution has made them orphans (p. 118), and that they therefore are in need of his guidance and help. Solzhenitsyn's heavy-handed irony here is almost a caricature of the psychoanalytic principle according to which "pity is .. . a character trait connected with an original sadism," as Otto Fenichel puts it.11 Stalin celebrates his birthday by arranging for Traicho Kostov to be beaten to death (p. 119). He feels obliged to live and suffer for another twenty years for the sake of the people. This way of accepting the pains and infirmities of old age may be thought of as a masochistic delusion on Stalin's part, but it also appears to be a kind of identification with the abused object typical of sadism, since the suffering is expressed specifically as a twenty-year prison term (p. 121). He takes great pleasure in not informing the people he investigates whether they will be executed or not (p. 137; cf. p. 150). He takes sadistic pleasure in developing facial expressions and gestures which terrorize people around him (p. 154). He takes sadistic pleasure in Hitler's destruction of Europe (p. 156). While conversing with Abakumov, he jokingly suggests that when capital punishment is reinstated, it first be applied to Abakumov (p. 163).

A final set of pathological traits concerns Stalin's defective conscience (underdeveloped superego). He is often referred to as having an "iron will" (e.g. p. 117, p. 148). His Russian alias "Stalin" (from stal, steel) is also aimed at conveying the impression of a determined, unstoppable leader. But the rigid determination and lack of hesitation in executing and imprisoning his (real or imagined) enemies in fact indicates a complete lack of guilt feelings about perpetrating such horrors, or at best a thorough repression of what faint voice of conscience he might have heard. Although some rudimentary functions of conscience may be detected in the passage where Stalin secretly locks himself up in his room and prays on his knees, this behavior is not a request for forgiveness for having let Hitler invade. Nor does Stalin want to be forgiven for all the other crimes he has committed. He wants only to be saved from Hitler's invasion, and makes a vow to let the Russian Orthodox Church function and not to persecute believers if God will grant his wish. God does, of course—or that is how Stalin sees it—and, in one of the few mildly positive acts that Solzhenitsyn has Stalin do, Stalin keeps his vow.

Many of the acts of aggression, cruelty, deception, etc. which are listed in the previous categories could not have been carried out by Stalin if he had had the normal ability to feel guilty. I say "many" rather than all these acts because in a wartime or revolutionary situation even the normal person does things which the superego would not under normal circumstances permit. Also, at some point in his ascent to power it may have become absolutely impossible for Stalin to stop committing horrors, because power itself would have been an antidote to whatever guilt he may have felt; as Fenichel observes, "the more power a person has, the less he needs to justify his acts. . . . the struggle against guilt feelings through power may start a vicious circle necessitating the acquisition of more and more power and even the commitment of more and more crimes out of guilt feelings in order to assert power. . . . These crimes may then be committed in an attempt to prove to oneself that one may commit them without being punished, that is, in an attempt to repress guilt feelings . . ." (p. 500).

Some of the pathologies I have described may, to the reader, look more like the narrator's ironical jabs at Stalin. The repeated use of the verb "deceive" to characterize how Stalin perceives the world, for example, may seem to be a satirical pseudo-identification on the narrator's part rather than a personal problem of Stalin's.12 But there is no a priori reason why it cannot be both. The numerous grandiose epithets for Stalin (e.g., "Father," "Master," "Leader," "the Highest," "the All-Powerful," "the Greatest of the Great," "the God-Chosen Leader," "the Wisest of the Wise," etc.) can be interpreted as simultaneously revealing Stalin's megalomania and the narrator's satiric hostility—the latter especially because these epithets tend to appear in contexts where the opposite of their literal meaning is clearly intended. Similarly, Stalin's pretense at doing linguistics is not only a symptom of his megalomania, but is a manifestation of what Edward Brown calls the narrator's "fierce satiric intent" (p. 363). The fond reading of the biography is both a symptom of Stalin's hyperdeveloped narcissism and another sign of the narrator's negative attitude (Kern describes the passage as "lightly laced with acid," i.e., the acid of satire, p. 11). The narrator's remark about Stalin's fear of all the space he has conquered is a particularly successful combination of clinical diagnosis (without using the technical term "agoraphobia") and ironic aggression. Note that when Stalin seems most deranged, namely, when he fantasizes starting a Third World War and becoming "Emperor of the Planet" is precisely when the narrator seems—to some readers at least—to have gone too far with his satiric thrust.

Not all of the horrors depicted in the Stalin chapters are necessarily the personal psychological problems of Joseph Stalin. Many of them are pathological features of the people around him, or collective aberrations of the entire Soviet society (as depicted by Solzhenitsyn), aberrations which harmonized nicely with the personal psychopathology of Stalin. Hence what Kern describes as the wonderfully Tolstoyan and hyperbolic description (p. 8) of how widely Stalin is pictured is not a part of Stalin's megalomania per se, but is a way of telling us how the Soviet masses fed that megalomania: "On the ottoman was reclining a man whose likeness had so often been sculpted in stone; painted in oil, water colors, gouache, sepia; drawn with charcoal, chalk, crushed brick; formed from road-side pebbles, sea shells, glazed tiles, wheat grains and soy beans; carved on bone; grown from grass; woven in rugs; formed by flying airplanes; photographed on motion picture film—more than any other likeness for the three billion years of the existence of the earth's crust" (p. 115). Similarly, the thousands upon thousands of gifts and greetings Stalin receives for his seventieth birthday encourage his narcissistic need to be loved (a particularly strong need, since the acting out of his paranoia has eliminated any possibility of having real friends). The simple fear of Stalin in most of his colleagues gratifies his obsession with gaining power over them. The very real hostility which some of these colleagues (e.g., Trotsky) have toward Stalin seems to justify his paranoia.

Stalin's illness, in other words, comes into existence and flourishes only because a specific social context permits it to. It is, of course, obvious that Stalin cannot personally carry out every arrest, every execution, every beating, every sentencing to hard labor that is perpetrated in Solzhenitsyn's depiction of Soviet reality. However, there are plenty of police personnel, as sick or sicker than Stalin, who are ready and willing to do these things.

There are some more forms of neurotic behavior in Solzhenitsyn's Stalin that do not fall into the general categories described above. For example, Stalin is very prone to denial. When a doctor warns him about his deteriorating health, the doctor is shot (p. 118). When an oblast committee secretary informs him about the tendency for young people to flee the kolkhozes, this secretary is shot (p. 121). These are not particularly sadistic acts, but manifestations of a refusal to deal with reality.

A rather mild neurotic symptom is Stalin's temper tantrums. He will step on a comrade's foot, or spit at him, or blow hot ashes into his face (p. 150). There are also behaviors which are not even particularly neurotic, though we may find them quite repellent. For example, Stalin's participation in extorting large sums of money from capitalists (the so-called expropriations) seems to be just plain greed. His panicky flight from Moscow at the height of Hitler's invasion is pure cowardice, a natural enough human trait, and not a psychopathology.

There is also, of course, much overlap in the categories of pathology I have charted. For example, many of the items listed under paranoia have the effect of furthering Stalin's megalomania and gratifying his lust for power. Thus, to imagine that many of his close collaborators are "enemies" leads Stalin to kill them off, but their absence then leaves less competition and thereby encourages his megalomania and leaves him with more power. His passionate striving for power can itself be understood as a route to narcissistic gratification (Fenichel says power hunger reveals a need for narcissistic reassurance, p. 479). Also, there is considerable overlap between the items listed under pathological narcissism and those under megalomania. It is difficult to decide, for example, whether Stalin's repeated view of himself as irreplaceable is the expression of a deeply wounded narcissism or a megalomanic delusion.

Freud did observe that megalomania may constitute a regression to a primitive, infantile form of narcissism (XII, 72; XIV, 86). Indeed, our impression that many of Stalin's pathologies overlap with one another makes sense in light of what psychoanalysts believe is an intrinsic relatedness of many forms of pathology. To take another example, Freud says that "the majority of cases of paranoia exhibit traces of megalomania," and that "megalomania can by itself constitute a paranoia" (XII, 72). But what is interesting from the psychoanalytic viewpoint is how various psychopathologies can be related to one another. In his famous essay on the Schreber case (XII, 62-65), Freud comes up with the idea that one particular constellation of pathologies might be thought of as variations on one, essentially homosexual proposition,

I (a man) love him.

The relations of pathologies to one another are relations of propositions.13 Stalin's paranoid delusions of persecution, for example, might be arrived at by the progression

I do not love him (negation).
I hate him (reversal).
He hates (persecutes) me (subject-object inversion).

His grandiose narcissism, on the other hand, might be derived as follows:

I do not love any one (categorical negation).
I love only myself.

For Stalin to trust no one and to believe everyone is an "enemy" (he hates me) is just two propositional steps (contradicted verb, reversed subject) away from his megalomanic/narcissistic belief that he is a precious and irreplaceable personality (I love myself).

One gets the impression from Solzhenitsyn's portrait (especially from the new, uncensored and much more complete portrait) that Stalin's narcissism had been wounded at a very early stage, and that he carried this wound with him for the rest of his life. Perhaps it was the birthday boy's illegitimate and low origin which first did the damage: "Hopelessly did this life come into being. An illegitimate son, supposedly fathered by an impoverished, drunken shoemaker. An uneducated mother. The grubby child Soso did not exactly come out of the pools beside the hillock of Queen Tamara. Not that he wanted to become lord of the earth, but how in the world was this child supposed to escape from a most vile, most degrading situation?" (p. 124). Right from the start, then, everything was wrong. Later, after Stalin had become "leader of the world proletariat," his mother on her deathbed would confront him with the words: "It's a shame you didn't become a priest" (p. 166). This Stalin interprets as the worst possible criticism. He is a failure.

Solzhenitsyn's Stalin thus could not have had a very positive image of himself. He was a Narcissus looking into very muddy, very disturbed waters, and he would have to spend the rest of his life trying to improve the faulty image, inflating it and often replacing it with the projected images of enemies deliberately stirring up the waters. Stalin nicely illustrates Freud's belief that "paranoics have brought along with them a fixation at the stage of narcissism . . ." (XII, 72). In Heinz Kohut's terms, Stalin appears to be suffering from a generalized "narcissistic personality disorder."14

Psychoanalysts know that the narcissistic mirror which gives rise to paranoia also gives rise to a duality of the psyche. The paranoid personality is a personality observed by itself. It is a double personality, a split personality. The imagined persecutor is one's double, as Dostoevsky understood quite well sixty-five years before Freud's analysis of Senatspräsident Schreber.

Dostoevsky was probably not consciously aware, however, that persecutory delusions can camouflage a latent homosexuality. The paranoic individual fears that the persecutor seeks sexual union with him. It took Freud, Rank and later experimental psychologists to bring this ego-distonic material to the surface.15

Applying the idea to Solzhenitsyn's Stalin, we would have to say that the mentally ill old tyrant has spent most of his life liquidating potential sex objects. Better to kill them than to admit possibly erotic feelings about them. For, if they cannot be killed, they will prance about, mocking the self by duplicating the self.

Take Tito, for example. Joseph Tito is Joseph Stalin's double and his nemesis. Trotsky, Kirov, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Churchill, Roosevelt and others were all problems that were solved in one way or another. Kolchak and Nicholas II could come back from the grave, for all Stalin cared. But Tito was something else. Tito did not budge: "Joseph had tripped on Joseph." Joseph the Yugoslav was proposing a "better socialism" than Joseph the Georgian had to offer: "A better socialism?! Different than Stalin's?! The snotnose! Socialism without Stalin is just Fascism pure and simple!" (p. 145). A page later Stalin is reading that "pleasant book" by Renaud de Jouvenal, Tito, the Traitors' Marshall, which completely corroborates his feelings about his rival. Tito is described as a "vain, touchy, cruel, cowardly, revolting, hypocritical, base tyrant" (p. 147). If this sounds familiar, I am not sure Solzhenitsyn meant it to be. The crude caricature of Tito by de Jouvenal is embedded within Solzhenitsyn's own hatchet job on Stalin, and seems to be that hatchet job all over again, in miniature. Just as Stalin did, Tito shows cowardice in the face of the German onslaught, engages in intrigue, destroys his enemies, covers himself with medals, etc. Stalin would only like to add: "Didn't Tito have some sexual deficiencies too?" What could those deficiencies be, and why is Stalin interested in them? Solzhenitsyn does clearly intend a parallel between the Stalin biography (described earlier in the chapter) and the Tito biography—both of which Stalin has difficulty putting down.

Another double of Stalin's is Adolph Hitler. Stalin had a special place in his heart for Hitler. Whether this was true of the real, historical Stalin is irrelevant here, though there have been some interesting differences of opinion on the subject.16

What matters for the reader of Solzhenitsyn's novel is this paradox: Stalin fears persecution from everyone but the one person whom he should fear, the one person who does in fact attack. Stalin's "idiotic faith in Hitler"17 is based on an affirmation of his similarity to Hitler, while his hatred of Tito is based on a denial of his similarity to Tito. Paranoia cannot survive without denial of the identification-based doubling effect, and the open identification with Hitler temporarily cancels Stalin's usual paranoia. Hitler is a "man of action," just as Stalin is. Hitler smashes Poland, France and Belgium, and invades the skies over England, just as Stalin would like to be doing. Stalin is so carried away by his sadistic identification with Hitler that he pays no heed to the warnings of his subordinates about a possible German invasion. And sure enough, Hitler catches him with his pants down. Or, as I have put it elsewhere, there seems to be a "hole" in Stalin's paranoia, a spot where the usual mistrust is perversely inverted into trust, a spot where Stalin seems to invite anal penetration by the aggressor.18

The most fundamental of Stalin's doubles is of course Stalin himself. For example, was he a Czarist agent or a Bolshevik? The narrator says: "Not only was his will not made of steel in those days, but it became completely double, he lost himself and could see no way out" (p. 128). Is this former seminarian a believer in God, or is he the self-proclaimed leader of the avowedly atheistic international Communist movement? Is Stalin a Georgian or is he a Russian? Is he Djugashvili or is he Stalin? We know he sincerely admires the Russians (who have always been "faithful" to their "Father"). We know he would like to be a Russian: "Stalin had, with the passage of years, wanted to be taken as a Russian as well" (p. 168). But the narrator's savage parody of his heavy Georgian accent tells us that Stalin could never really make it as a Russian. He can identify with the Russians in his sentimentally sadistic way, but he can never be a Russian. He is thus rather like two other famous tyrants who figure in the Stalin chapters, namely, the non-German Adolph Hitler and the non-Frenchman Napoleon Bonaparte.

Solzhenitsyn's Stalin is a fragmented, perverse and pathological personality. The author does gain some distance from this personality by being satirical and ironic. As Vladislav Krasnov says, ". . . Solzhenitsyn shows great sympathy for many characters, including Communists, but not for the 'leader'."19 We too, as readers, are relieved of too painful an involvement with the sick birthday boy by the author's ironic distance.

Yet the very need to be relieved bespeaks a profound involvement on our part. There is something much too engrossing about Solzhenitsyn's Stalin. Alexander Schmemann speaks of "the life we live during those several unforgettable hours in Stalin's cell. . . . "20 We are all too easily sucked into the vortex of Stalin's free associations, into what is really the innermost circle of hell in Solzhenitsyn's deliberately Dantean novel. As Sergei Dovlatov contends in his Zone, another novel of the prison genre: "hell is us ourselves. . . . "21


1 These terms are from Gary Kern, "Solzhenitsyn's Portrait of Stalin," Slavic Review, 33 (1974), 2.

2 Kern speaks of Stalin as "diseased" (p. 7) and says the reader has "an impression of a mental structure falling to pieces" (p. 15). Deming Brown says Stalin is, among other things, "sick"; see his Soviet Russian Literature Since Stalin (Cambridge, 1978), p. 316.

3 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Sobranie sochinenii: V kruge pervom, vols. 1 and 2 (Vermont/Paris, 1978). Translations are mine; quotations are from volume I.

4 Solzhenitsyn, V kruge pervom (New York, 1969).

5 Edward Brown refers to Solzhenitsyn's Stalin as a "mediocre man" and a "banal nonentity"; see his "Solzhenitsyn's Cast of Characters," in Major Soviet Writers: Essays in Criticism, ed. E. Brown (London, 1973), p. 365.

6 See, for example, Brown, pp. 360-65. Brown says that "Solzhenitsyn's purpose is . . . to examine the psychic makeup of one of history's great criminals" (p. 361). What a psychoanalyst would call pathological narcissism Brown calls the "chronically festering amour-propre" in Stalin. Other literary studies which mention Stalin's pathological behaviors (usually his paranoia), and which I have found helpful, are: Susan Layton, "The Mind of the Tyrant: Tolstoy's Nicholas and Solzenitsyn's Stalin," Slavic and East European Journal, 23 (1979), 479-90; Helen Muchnic, "Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle'," Russian Review, 29 (1970), 154-66; Sviatoslav Ruslanov, "Epigon Velikogo Inkvizitora, " Grani, 92-93 (1974), 279-94; Deming Brown, p. 316; Kern, "Solzhenitsyn's Portrait."

7 Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956, trans. T. Whitney (New York, 1975), IV, 615. The original is: Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 (Paris, 1974), IV, pp. 602-03.

8 Edward Ericson, Jr., Solzhenitsyn: The Moral Vision (Grand Rapids, 1980), p. 73.

9 See, for example: Ruslanov, pp. 284ff; David M. Halperin, "The Role of the Lie in The First Circle," in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Critical Essays and Documentary' Materials, ed. J. Dunlop, R. Haugh, A. Klimoff (Belmont, Mass., 1973) p. 262.

10 Sigmund Freud, Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. and ed. J. Strachey (London, 1953-65), IX, 174. For a more detailed study of the demonic from a psychoanalytic perspective, see my Out From Under Gogol's Overcoat (Ann Arbor, 1982), pp. 62ff.

11 Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (New York, 1945), p. 476.

12 There are at least two historically real, non-paranoid uses of this verb in the Stalin chapters: "Hitler deceived him . . ." (p. 143), and "to deceive the experienced investigators . . ." (p. 148)—the last a reference to Traicho Kostov's public retraction of an earlier, forced confession.

13 For a discussion of psychoanalyses based on propositional relationships, see my "'Ja vas Ijubil' Revisited," in Russian Poetics, ed. Dean Worth, Thomas Eekman (Columbus, 1983), pp. 305-24.

14 Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders (New York, 1971).

15 See Freud, XII, 12-82; Otto Rank, The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study (1914), trans. H. Tucker (Chapel Hill, 1971); Seymour Fisher and Roger Greenberg, The Scientific Credibility of Freud's Theories and Therapy (New York, 1977), pp. 255-70.

16 For example, Adam Ulam strongly doubts that Stalin had "faith" in Hitler before Hitler's invasion of Russia, while Christopher Moody is inclined to believe that Solzhenitsyn's Stalin is true to life. See Ulam, Stalin: The Man and his Era (New York, 1973), p. 529; Moody, Solzhenitsyn, rev. ed. (New York, 1975), pp. 108-09.

17 Moody, Solzhenitsyn, p. 108.

18 Daniel Rancour-Laferriere, "The Boys of Ibansk," Psychoanalytic Review, 72 (1985), 528.

19 Vladislav Krasnov, Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky: A Study in the Polyphonic Novel (Athens, 1980); p. 33.

20 Alexander Schmemann, "On Solzhenitsyn," in Critical Essays and Documentary Materials, p. 38.

21 Sergei Dovlatov, Zona: zapiski nadziratelia (Ann Arbor, 1982), p. 7.

Rosalind Marsh (essay date 1989)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 15986

SOURCE: "The Image of Stalin in Soviet Literature During Stalin's Lifetime," in Images of Dictatorship: Portraits of Stalin in Literature, Routledge, 1989, pp. 17-53.

[In the following essay, Marsh reviews portrayals of Stalin in Soviet literature written and published during his leadership.]

With the exception of Lenin,1 no historical figure in modern times has been the subject of as many literary and dramatic portrayals as Joseph Stalin. Many writers in the USSR, including both hack writers and the best writers in the country, have chosen—or been forced—to treat this subject. In Stalin's time Soviet writers were obliged to contribute to the ever-growing cult of Stalin's personality; and after his death Stalin became a subject of intense speculation by Soviet writers, as a result of the party's reassessment of Stalin's achievements and the need of individual writers to come to terms with their own and their country's past. Hence a sharp dichotomy exists between literary portraits composed in Stalin's lifetime and after his death. Another useful distinction can be drawn between works published in the USSR, where portrayals of Stalin are subject to a rigorous scrutiny for ideological purity, and works published elsewhere, where there are no such restrictions. The latter group includes a wide spectrum of western writers and dissident and émigré Russian authors with different approaches to Stalin, but they are all united by their freedom to depict Stalin in any way they wish.

Solzhenitsyn's portrait of Stalin in the new version of The First Circle manifests some similarities to, but also considerable differences from, other fictional depictions of Stalin both in the USSR and in the west. An examination of other literary portraits of Stalin will help to highlight the originality of Solzhenitsyn's conception, as well as to provide a measure by which the literary qualities and historical accuracy of his portrait can be judged.


Not surprisingly, few Soviet writers are known to have expressed opposition to Stalin during his lifetime, since derogatory references to Stalin could mean persecution, imprisonment, or even death. Paradoxically, this reflects the high regard in which literature has been held in the USSR: as Osip Mandelstam said in the 1930s, 'Poetry is respected only in this country—people are killed for it. There's no place where more people are killed for it'.2 Nevertheless, in the 1920s, before Stalin's rise to uncontested leadership of the party, three prominent Soviet authors, Kornei Chukovsky, Evgeny Zamyatin and Boris Pilnyak, inspired by the long-standing Russian tradition of using literature for the scrutiny of socio-political issues, were drawn to treat the subject of Stalin.

One of the first Soviet writers to make an oblique allusion to Stalin was Chukovsky, in his narrative poem for children, The Big Bad Cockroach (1923).3 Chukovsky paints an allegorical picture of an idyllic animal kingdom terrorised by 'a dreadful giant .. . A big bad cockroach' which rages and twitches its moustache, snarling 'I'll devour you, I'll devour you, I won't show any mercy'. As Lev Loseff has shown, the tyrant-cockroach is an image common in Russian folklore: the ëtymology of the Russian word 'cockroach' (tarakan) is linked with the Turkic word 'dignitary' (tarkan); and the figure of Torokanchik, the representative of an alien and hostile power, appears in a number of folk epics.4 The Russian cockroach has whiskers, so 'Tarakan' is often used as a nickname for any man possessing a thick, bristly moustache. Moreover, the word 'moustache' (usy) was in use up to the nineteenth century as a slang term for 'thieves' in a cycle of folk ballads depicting thieves who pillage and torment the simple people, the muzhiki. Thus the images of 'moustache' and 'cockroach' combine to form a single, powerful image evoking coercion and unlawfully acquired power. Chukovsky composed his poem before Stalin became dominant, at a time when several of the contenders for power in the party had moustaches (Zinoviev and Trotsky, for example, as well as Stalin), so his satire was aimed not at any specific ruler, but at any dictatorship imposed by a small political faction against the will of the majority of the population. It was only with hindsight that Chukovsky's vision could be seen as prophetic, and was clearly regarded as such in the USSR. Stalin's nickname 'The Cockroach', which was in use from the beginning of the 1930s, was taken from Chukovsky's poem; and in the 1950s, in a performance based on The Big Bad Cockroach at the Leningrad Young People's Theatre, the title character was played as an undisguised caricature of Stalin. Chukovsky's work, moreover, established a whole genre of successful anti-Stalinist Aesopian satire in the guise of children's literature.

One of the first Soviet prose writers to portray a character bearing some resemblance to Stalin was Zamyatin, in his comic story X (1926), a satire on the superficial adaptation of some people to the new Soviet environment.5 Zamyatin depicts Comrade Papalagi, a terrifying member of the Cheka (secret police), whose foreign-sounding name and huge, black, pointed moustache are reminiscent of Stalin (whose real name was Djugashvili). Zamyatin emphasises Comrade Papalagi's ruthlessness: his moustache is like 'a pair of horns ready to gore' his hapless victims, and he shouts 'Confess!' to Deacon Indikoplev, who admits to making the sign of the cross in public.6 Stalin was not formally connected with the Cheka in the 1920s, but since 1919 he had been Commissar of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate which supervised the machinery of government, and, as General Secretary of the Central Committee from 1922, he had co-ordinated the work of the Central Control Commission, the body responsible for purges in the party. Although there is no definite proof that Zamyatin had Stalin in mind, by 1926 he would have had some reason to express hostility to Stalin, because his anti-utopian novel We (written in 1920-1), with its idea of 'infinite revolutions' (an echo of the concept of 'permanent revolution' advocated by Stalin's rival Trotsky), had been banned in the USSR in 1924.7 Moreover, the prophetic talent displayed by Zamyatin in We, which proved to be a fairly accurate prediction of some aspects of Stalinist Russia, renders it legitimate to interpret the character of Papalagi, who shines a light into his victims' eyes and forces them to confess to absurd crimes, as a precursor of Stalin and his NKVD interrogators during the purges of the 1930s.

Zamyatin's We, which has often been interpreted as a powerful satire on Stalin's Russia, cannot be cited as the first Soviet novel to contain a portrait of Stalin, since it was written too early for the figure of the all-powerful Benefactor to bear any direct relation to Stalin. Zamyatin's Benefactor can rather be seen as a generalised picture of a dictator of the future, and his 'Socratically bald' head gives him, if anything, a greater resemblance to Lenin. However, Zamyatin's frequent use of metallic imagery in his portrait of the dictator, and, particularly, the repeated image of 'steel' to describe the Benefactor's supporters and the One State that he rules: 'Everything was new, of steel: a steel sun, steel trees, steel people', make it not entirely fanciful to suspect a veiled reference to Stalin, who chose the revolutionary name 'Man of Steel'. More significantly, Zamyatin's portrait of the Benefactor demonstrates that already, in the early 1920s, he was keenly aware of the dangers of a 'cult of personality'. By 1926, when X was written, the cult of Lenin was growing, and excessive reverence for the party leaders was becoming a more serious problem in the USSR. Zamyatin's contempt for the burgeoning 'cult of personality' is evident in X, when he comments ironically: 'Before Papalagi stood a plate with the most ordinary millet gruel, and it was a marvel to see him eating it in the most ordinary manner, like everybody else'.8

A character more obviously recognisable as Stalin was depicted by Boris Pilnyak, in his Tale of the Unextinguished Moon (1926).9 This story was closely based on the death of M. V. Frunze, People's Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, who died in October 1925 during an operation for a stomach ulcer undertaken at the behest of the party. It was rumoured that Stalin had ordered Frunze to be murdered because he resisted the domination of the army by the GPU, and because his power and popularity represented a threat to Stalin's ambition. Although in real life Stalin's complicity has not been proven, Pilnyak suggests in his story that Commander Gavrilov was killed on the orders of his superior, the shadowy 'Number One' (Pervyi).10 Pilnyak uses the epithets 'Number One' and 'the Unbending Man' (negorbyashchiisya chelovek) interchangeably to evoke the powerful bureaucrat in whom many Soviet readers recognised a resemblance to Stalin. Vera Reck contends that Pilnyak depicted this Stalin-like character because of 'his artist's instinct rather than any deliberate attempt at portraiture'11; he did, however, take pains to inform himself about the details of Stalin's life and conduct during Frunze's illness, acquiring information both from the newspapers and from two friends, the critic A. K. Voronsky and the Communist leader Karl Radek. Pilnyak's Unbending Man shares several characteristics with the real Stalin: his posture is stiff, his movements quick and angular; he lives like a recluse in Moscow in a silent, curtained room whose only luxuries are a carpet and a fireplace;12 and he justifies the liquidation of people in the name of the Revolution: 'It is not for us to talk about the grindstone of the Revolution, Gavrilov. The wheel of history, unfortunately, I suppose, is turned mainly by blood and death—particularly the wheel of revolution'.13 The epithet 'Unbending Man' is reminiscent of the Soviet phrase 'inflexible Bolshevik' (nesgibaemyi bolshevik); and Number One is the senior figure in the ruling troika at a time when Stalin too was a member of a troika, but rapidly gaining ascendancy over his colleagues Zinoviev and Kamenev. Although Pilnyak 'covers' himself by crediting Number One with several traits which differentiate him from Stalin—he does not smoke, and is an educated man with a knowledge of foreign languages—these differences only serve to accentuate the parallel. In particular, Pilnyak's evocation of the dictator's ruthless lust for power, indifference to human life and willingness to annihilate his rivals, who were old revolutionaries, former comrades in the 'glorious band of 1918',14 testifies to the author's prophetic talent.

Vera Reck considers that Pilnyak was only able to write such a work as a result of 'political naïveté';15 and indeed, Pilnyak's preface, which warns the reader: 'It is not at all the point of my story to report on the death of a Commissar of Military Affairs. I feel I must inform the reader of all this, lest he seek real persons or events in my story.',16 seems to be an example of extreme naïveté, since it had just the opposite effect from that explicitly intended: many readers associated Gavrilov with Frunze and his murderer with Stalin. Pilnyak's camouflage is so thin that it is legitimate to speculate that the preface may have been an attempt to alert readers to the reasons for Frunze's death, or to point to other, wider philosophical ideas in the text. As Elena Semeka has demonstrated, it is an oversimplification to view the Unbending Man as merely a portrait of Stalin; with his angular movements, his monotonous speech in which 'every phrase was a formula',17 his absence of emotions, immobility, loneliness and silence, he is associated both with machinery and with death. The Unbending Man is more than Stalin: 'a generalised portrait of the dictator of the future who has ceased being human and has become a machine'.18 Everything in his study is red, the colour of blood and violence; and when he travels in his car, the embodiment of soulless mechanisation, which is like a spaceship or a 'whip', he gazes with 'a cold glance' on the city which suffers under his scourge.19 The moon in Pilnyak's story is an ambiguous symbol with multiple possible meanings, which has variously been interpreted as signifying death, or the unfathomable spirit of nature and eternity which cannot be extinguished.20 When Number One rushes out of the city in his car, he is able to change the direction of the moon, which, like him, remains solitary and immobile until it is eventually chased beyond the clouds. The Unbending Man can be seen as the master of the universe who glimpses higher eternal values, but is unable to sustain the vision; he is able to stop life and set death in motion, although he is ultimately powerless to exert full dominion over nature and death.

The wider philosophical significance of Pilnyak's story was ignored when the author's personal fate was being decided. Although many details of Pilnyak's case remain obscure, it would seem that Stalin recognised himself in the story; Pilnyak's tale was not republished in the USSR for over half a century; and Pilnyak himself, despite his contacts with senior party and secret police officials, including Ezhov, disappeared in mysterious circumstances in the purges (he was probably shot in 1937). It has been assumed that Pilnyak's fate was sealed because Stalin never forgave him for the unflattering portrait; but since he was arrested on other charges, and so many other literary figures were purged at the same time, the precise contribution made by The Tale of the Unextinguished Moon towards Pilnyak's ultimate fate still remains unclear.

Another writer who dared to express a hostile attitude to Stalin was Osip Mandelstam. According to Nadezhda Mandelstam, her husband composed his famous epigram on Stalin in November 1933,21 at a time when the cult of Stalin was beginning to blossom, because he had been deeply affected by collectivisation and 'the terrible sight of the hungry, wraith-like peasants he had recently seen on the way through the Ukraine and the Kuban'. The opening lines of the poem:

We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
Ten steps away no one hears our speeches,

express Mandelstam's feeling that he could no longer remain silent about the evils of Stalinism, as exemplified by the mass deportation of the peasantry and the herding of writers into a single Union of Soviet Writers, subservient to Stalin. Mandelstam's wife relates that, although he suspected that his fate was already sealed, 'he did not want to die before stating in unambiguous terms what he thought about the things going on around us'. The poem, which was written in a comprehensible, accessible style 'with a view to a wider circle of readers than usual', was a deliberate act of suicide on Mandelstam's part; it led directly to his first arrest in 1934, although after Stalin's personal intervention he was only sentenced to exile. Mandelstam describes Stalin with imagery taken from the most primitive forms of life. His reference to Stalin's fat greasy fingers like grubs has a basis in reality: the poet Demyan Bedny fell into disgrace because he was unwise enough to note in his diary that he did not like lending books to Stalin because of the dirty marks left on the white pages by his greasy fingers.22 Mandelstam's line 'his great cockroach moustache laughs' is a highly condensed and powerful use of the image first employed by Chukovsky; and Stalin's cronies are depicted as subhuman creatures who fawn around their master mewing and whining like animals. In the first version of the poem which came into the hands of the secret police Mandelstam had emphasised Stalin's responsibility for the tragedy of collectivisation, calling him a 'murderer and peasant-slayer'23 (the word muzhikoborets again evokes the 'moustaches', or thieves in folk tales who robbed the peasantry). Stalin's unlimited power and ruthlessness are evoked by imagery of heavy metal; his words resemble 'lead weights' and, like some infernal blacksmith, he forges iron laws like horseshoes which are flung at vulnerable parts of the human body. He takes a malign pleasure in terror: 'Every killing is a treat'. The epithet 'Kremlin mountaineer' applied to Stalin has been explained by Nadezhda Mandelstam: 'In Russian there is a clear phonetic trail of association leading from "Kremlin" to "mountain" via the words kremen' ("flint") and kamen' ("stone")'.24 In this poem, as in one of Mandelstam's later poems of 1936 describing an idol living in the middle of a mountain which tries to remember the days when it still had human shape,25 the image of the mountain evokes Stalin's remoteness, immobility and isolation.

The personal interest which Stalin took in Mandelstam's case, as in Pilnyak's, once again demonstrates the seriousness with which Stalin regarded literary references to himself. Mandelstam recognised this when he said, 'That poem of mine really must have made an impression, if he makes such a song and dance about commuting my sentence'.26 It has been claimed that the question Stalin asked Pasternak on the telephone after Mandelstam's arrest, 'He is a genius, he is a genius, isn't he?', and Stalin's initial decision to spare Mandelstam's life, were a result of his desire to be immortalised in verse by a real genius, rather than by innumerable hacks.27 The epigram of 1933, however, represented Mandelstam's true feelings about Stalin; as we will see, when in 1937 he forced himself to write an ode glorifying Stalin it turned out to be an artistic failure and did not save his life.28

The highly personal manner in which Stalin read fiction is also demonstrated by the experience of the satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko. In the original version of his story Lenin and the Sentry (1940) Zoshchenko had presented Lenin as a kind, gentle, wise man; for contrast, he had described a crude party official with a moustache and beard. His editor suggested that in subsequent editions the beard should be omitted, in case people thought the crude official was based on Mikhail Kalinin, the President of the USSR. Unfortunately, however, Zoshchenko made the horrific mistake of removing the beard, but leaving the moustache. Allegedly Stalin read the work and took offence, imagining that it was about him; subsequently a series of troubles began for Zoshchenko, culminating in the famous attack on him by Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's aide on cultural matters, in 1946.29 Whether or not this story is true, it aptly illustrates Stalin's sensitivity to any slight, real or imagined, and the extreme caution with which all Soviet writers had to operate in Stalin's time.


The cult of Stalin's personality in the 1930s grew out of and became integrated into the cult of Lenin, which Lenin himself opposed and managed to keep in check until incapacitated by a stroke in March 1923. The Lenin cult, while undoubtedly based on the Bolsheviks' genuine veneration for their leader, whose personal influence had been vital from the formation of the movement to the seizure and consolidation of power, was also a result of the party's need for a unifying symbol after Lenin's death. Moreover, as Robert Tucker and Nina Tumarkin have convincingly shown, the Lenin cult, with its religious overtones which clashed with the professed secularism of the Soviet state, also grew out of certain elements of the Russian past, notably traditional peasant respect for personal authority, and, particularly, veneration for the Tsar as a divinely appointed ruler.30 Stalin had been fully conscious of the power of such feelings from the moment of Lenin's death, ensuring that he posed at Lenin's funeral as Lenin's faithful disciple and natural successor. Although he possessed considerable support and even popularity within party circles in the years after Lenin's death, Stalin knew that his prestige was not remotely comparable with Lenin's; hence it was in his interests to associate himself as closely as possible with Lenin. The Stalin cult was already in evidence by 21 December 1929, Stalin's fiftieth birthday, when the press was full of adulation of Stalin, the 'glorious leader' and 'staunch fighter'. During the ceremonials of 21 January 1930 to mark the anniversary of Lenin's death an idealised view of Stalin's close relationship with Lenin was frequently expressed.

Since Stalin's popularity subsided somewhat in the early 1930s as a result of forced collectivisation and the concomitant famine of 1932-3, he resolved to prevent the growth of opposition to him by making his political position more unassailable. Conscious that his elevation to a status similar to that of Lenin would be useful for this purpose, he actively assisted the creation of his own cult. Stalin's letter to the journal Proletarian Revolution, 'On Some Questions of the History of Bolshevism', published in October 1931, was a turning point in the building of the cult.31 The underlying aims of this letter, which attacked an article by A. S. Shitsky suggesting that Lenin had underestimated the Centrist danger in the German Social Democratic Party before the First World War, were to solicit a Stalin cult in party history; to assert the infallibility of Lenin, and hence of Lenin's successor; and to falsify the position of other revolutionaries by proposing that they be judged by their deeds, rather than by documents discovered by 'archive rats'. The influence of this letter was so far-reaching that idolatry of Stalin became universal in all fields of culture in the 1930s, rising to heights of extravagance on such occasions as the Seventeenth Congress of 1934, the promulgation of the Stalin Constitution of 1936 and the purge trials of 1937 and 1938. Political expediency alone, however, does not explain why Stalin found it necessary to allow the cult to grow after his power became increasingly absolute later in the 1930s. It must be assumed that Stalin had a psychological need for adulation; as Tucker suggests, 'Boundlessly ambitious, yet inwardly insecure, he had an imperative need for the hero worship that Lenin found repugnant'.32 The image of Stalin projected in the cult must have borne some relation to Stalin's own self-image, since, while outwardly assuming a demeanour of modesty, he was angry when Louis Fischer suggested in 1930 that he should put a stop to the personal glorification.33 Evidently Stalin, the ordinary man, needed the idealised picture of 'Stalin' evoked by his sycophants. Once the cult had been established, its continuation can be ascribed to several factors: Stalin's personal encouragement, the servility of his followers and the psychology of mass conformism engendered by a totalitarian state. Above all, the cult persisted because it was highly effective; just as tyrants of the past had solicited flattery and worship in order to retain their power, the personality cult enabled Stalin to survive until his death in 1953.

It would be an impossible and thankless task to attempt to encompass the ceaseless flood of hack literature eulogising Stalin which flowed from the pens of Soviet writers from the early 1930s to the end of the dictator's life. Nevertheless, it is worth considering certain literary genres which were specifically engendered by the cult of Stalin's personality. Alexander Tvardovsky, the poet and editor of the journal Novy Mir in the post-Stalin era, had these in mind when he said scornfully: 'By 1936 every issue [of Novy Mir] opened with a portrait of Stalin, a skaz [folk tale] on Stalin, "folk songs" on Stalin'.34

The 'poem' or 'song about Stalin', which attributed exceptional human virtues or even superhuman powers to him, was a unique new genre which emerged in the 1930s.35 Such tributes were produced in great quantities in all the languages of the USSR, particularly by poets from the east, where the tradition of flattering rulers in verse dates back to ancient times. An early example was To the Leader, to Comrade Stalin, a long poem by A. A. Lakhuti, an Iranian who emigrated to the USSR and became a Soviet citizen, which was translated from Persian into Russian in 1932:

Wise master, Marxist gardener!
Thou art tending the vine of communism.
Thou art cultivating it to perfection.
After Lenin, leader of Leninists.36.

Other exponents of the genre who received decorations and prizes were the Kazakh bard Dzhambul Dzhabaev, to whom were ascribed the oriental dithyrambs My Stalin, I Sing this Song to You and The Immortal NameStalin;37 and Suleiman Stalsky from Dagestan, who received a special ovation when he was presented to the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934. Deutscher describes their conquest of Moscow: 'Both were the last of the oriental tribal bards, illiterate nonagenarians, long-bearded, picturesque composers of folk-songs, belated native Homers. From their highland and steppe they came to Moscow to sing, to the accompaniment of their harps, Stalin's praise at the Lenin Mausoleum'.38

The case of Dzhabaev is particularly curious and instructive. As Shostakovich relates in his memoirs, Dzhabaev was entirely a creation of the 'personality cult'; he embodied the strange phenomenon of 'a great poet, known by the entire country, who doesn't exist'. The promotion of Dzhambul began in the 1930s when a Russian poet and journalist working on a Kazakh newspaper brought to his editor a few poems which he claimed to have written down from the words of some folk singer and translated. The party leader of Kazakhstan happened to read the poems of the 'unknown poet', whereupon he ordered him to be found and immediately made to write a song in Stalin's honour. At this point the journalist admitted that he had lied and that the poems he had submitted were his own, but he managed to extricate himself from the dilemma by discovering Dzhambul, a picturesque old man who sang and played the domba, a Kazakh folk instrument. Shostakovich relates: 'They found Dzhambul and a hurried song in his name praising Stalin was sent to Moscow. Stalin liked the ode, that was the main thing, and so Dzhambul Dzhabaev's new and incredible life began'. Dzhambul was illiterate, but he was handsomely paid for his poems, which existed only in Russian translation, not in the Kazakh original. Shostakovich comments sarcastically, 'An entire brigade of Russian poetasters laboured for Dzhambul, including some famous names like Konstantin Simonov. And they knew the political situation well and wrote to please the leader and teacher, which meant writing mostly about Stalin himself. After Dzhabaev's death some young Kazakh poets wanted to expose the myth, but they were ordered to keep quiet, and the non-existent poet's anniversary was celebrated with pomp.39

Apart from labouring for Dzhabaev, many well-known Russian poets produced in their own names popular lyrics about Stalin intended to be sung. These included Mikhail Isakovsky, Aleksei Surkov, who likened Stalin to 'the flight of our youth' (a phrase later used ironically by the dissident Alexander Zinoviev as the title of his 'literary and sociological study of Stalinism'),40 and Vasily Lebedev-Kumach, whose famous Song of the Motherland, written in 1935 and published in editions of 20 million copies, quotes Stalin's 1936 Constitution:

A person always has the right
To study, rest and labour.

(this verse was omitted from the 1977 text of the song).41 The Soviet national anthem, which was composed in 1943 by the poet Sergei Mikhalkov and the journalist Gabriel El-Registan after taking Stalin's corrections into account, and set to music by A. Aleksandrov, after a national competition, contained a third verse eulogising Stalin:

Stalin raised us—faithfulness to the people,
Work and heroic deeds he inspired in us.42

When the 'cult of personality' was exposed in the post-Stalin period the anthem became known as the 'song without words', until in 1977 a new text was approved in which Stalin's name was replaced by Lenin's.

Songs about Stalin are highly stylised in language and imagery, using elements divorced from popular speech. The emotional range is very restricted: no satire or humour could be included, and the poet could only express positive emotions such as joy, happiness, gratitude, veneration, pride and fidelity, or defiance towards the enemies of the USSR. Some epithets and images are those associated with God or gods in religious literature: Stalin is constantly addressed as 'father', and is seen as a 'sun', a 'star', a source of light; and the words 'immortal' and 'eternal' are sometimes used in connection with his youth or his fame.43 Other images evoke the earthly power and majesty of the ruler and shaper of human destinies: he is an architect, a helmsman, a military leader ('our fighting glory'),44 or an incalculable treasure:

You are more dear than all diamonds
You are more valuable than all pearls.45

Other images are more closely connected with Stalin's own life and achievements. He is frequently depicted against a specific geographical background: either the mountains, sun and snows of his native Georgia, or the fields and steppes of Russia.47 Bird imagery is also commonly used to evoke Stalin's Georgian background and soaring genius. Stalin had once characterised Lenin as a mountain eagle, and in the 1930s this image was taken up by the Old Bolshevik N. Antonov-Ovseenko to eulogise Stalin.48 Subsequently, innumerable poets employed the image of the eagle, sometimes coupled with a reference to aeroplanes, to evoke Stalin's paternal encouragement of the long-distance pilots such as the Arctic flier Valery Chkalov, popular heroes whose feats enhanced Soviet national prestige in the 1930s, and who were known as 'Stalin's falcons' or 'Stalin's fledgeling children'.49 While most imagery is taken from archaic rural folklore rather than from modern urban life, Stalin is sometimes depicted in Moscow, where he is seen as the embodiment of Russia's capital city and of the Kremlin, the symbol of imperial Russian power;50 the light in the Kremlin window at night symbolises his fatherly concern for his people.51 In the 1940s, in homage to Stalin's interest in Lysenko's agricultural schemes and his sponsorship of the 'Great Stalin Plan to Transform Nature' (1948), another set of images depicted Stalin as a 'gardener' before whom the abundant kolkhoz fields extend in sunny profusion;52 the promise of new life which he offers is conveyed by images of dawn and spring. While most poets treat Stalin with awe, some present a more approachable Stalin, describing him as a 'friend', a genial figure who blows smoke rings;53 and his role as the mentor of youth is frequently evoked:

He loves youth
He himself is young.54

Another unique genre engendered by the cult of personality in the 1930s was the folk tale in prose or verse about Stalin and other Soviet leaders. A renewed interest in folklore was stimulated by Gorky, who in his speech to the First Writers' Congress of 1934 called on literature to model its heroes on those of 'folklore, i.e. the unwritten compositions of the toiling man'.55 Considerable resources were invested in the collection and dissemination of oral folklore; and an attempt was made to create a genuine contemporary folk literature. The main aim of these latter-day byliny (traditional heroic poems) or folk tales was to extol and legitimise the Stalin leadership. In 1937 the publishing house 'Two Five Year Plans' invited some singers of byliny to travel from their remote villages to Moscow to create new tales in praise of the present age. Professional writers were usually assigned to the bards to help them compose their epics or tales. The best known example is Tale of Lenin (1937) by Marfa Kryukova, the granddaughter of the bylina singer used as a source by the great nineteenth-century collector of folklore, Rybnikov.56 Kryukova's epic poem depicts three meetings between 'the red sun Vlademir' (Lenin) and 'Stalin-svet' (light), after which Lenin sends Stalin out into the world to accomplish his work. The poem, which closely follows the Stalinist version of Bolshevik history, is intended to legitimise Stalin's succession.57

Other folk tales are either designed to provide a general eulogy of Stalin as a wise leader, or to glorify specific aspects of his life and achievements. In The Dearest Thing (1937) by F. A. Konashkov, a story-teller from a Karelian kolkhoz, the three best workers from a collective farm are sent to resolve an argument about the identity of 'the dearest thing'. They follow an enchanted ball of thread until it leads to Moscow, to Stalin; and the moral of the story is: 'The best and dearest thing we have on earth is the word of Comrade Stalin'.58 The Chuvash tale About Happiness (1935) is designed to praise Stalin's collectivisation policy. An old Chuvash sends his son away to find happiness; he meets an eagle (Stalin) who tells him to kill, successively, a bear, a wolf and a fox; each time the life of the peasants improves until, after the third heroic deed, the kolkhoz is established. The conclusion leaves the reader in no doubt as to how the story should be interpreted: 'Thus the poor Chuvash Endri, having killed the bear-Tsar, wolf-landowner and fox-kulak, at last found his happiness'.59

Other tales, such as V. Bespalikov's Three Sons (1937) and The Sun by the Chuvash V. Khramov, celebrate Stalin's role as father and mentor of heroic young people.60 In Khramov's tale an old kolkhoznik says he will give his blessing to whichever of his three sons reaches the sun; one becomes a pilot, the other a sailor and the third a soldier, seeking the sun by air, sea and land. Finally all three are rewarded by Stalin, and the old man gives his blessing to them all, as 'The brightest of all suns in the world is our Stalin'.61 Other tales, such as I. Kovalyov's Icy Hill and a tale by the old story-teller Ayau from Dagestan, How the Heroes Subdued Ilmukhanum, celebrate the exploits of the Arctic pilots, depicting the conquest of icy northern regions by young heroes inspired by Stalin.62 One aspect of Stalin's early life emphasised in adulatory biographies was his daring escapes from exile. This was dramatised in a Nenets tale from a Siberian kolkhoz, Stalin and Truth (1936), in which Stalin is sent to the tundra by the wicked Tsar because he is friendly with Truth; Stalin fraternises with the peoples of the tundra, and because he is 'not a simple man, but a hero' (bogatyr') and 'the gods have invested him with the strength of a bear and the wisdom of a polar falcon' he manages to send a letter to Truth discussing 'how the poor people can live better on earth'. Stalin tells the people to fight for Soviet power, and when it is achieved, their life becomes happier.63

The revival of folk genres did not prove to be a particularly successful method of inculcating praise of the leader or of portraying a model of the new man, because, in Katerina Clark's words, 'the crudity of the engrafted folksiness and the transparency of the devices reduced its effectiveness as a repository of myth'.64 In 1947 critics came out against the folk bards, quoting a phrase in Zhdanov's speech of 1946, 'Russia is not the same', to argue that the policy of encouraging folk epics was misconceived.65

One work which presents a striking contrast to the artificially sponsored adulatory songs and tales about Stalin is an ironic song, Comrade Stalin, You're a Real Big Scholar (first published abroad in 1964), which circulated in the prison camps and became a genuine folk song of the late Stalin era. The composer subsequently turned out to be Yuz Aleshkovsky, a former convict, who had been published in the USSR only as a children's writer, and who emigrated in 1979.66 The song parodies various aspects of the 'cult of personality' by juxtaposing them with the hard life of the prisoners in Stalin's camps:

Comrade Stalin, you're a real big scholar
You know what's going on in linguistics
But I'm a simple Soviet convict
And my comrade is the grey Bryansk wolf.67

The singer, incarcerated in the Turukhansk region where Stalin himself had been imprisoned under Nicholas II, calls himself a fool for not being able to escape even once, when Stalin managed to escape from exile six times (this is an ironic reference to the far harsher conditions for prisoners and exiles in the Stalin era than in Tsarist times).

Aleshkovsky's irony is aimed against those party members who remained loyal to the party and Stalin in the camps and even accepted Stalin's ideological justification for the purges:

What I'm in for, I swear I don't know,
But the procurators are. right, it would seem . . .
Naturally, I understand all this
As an intensification of the class struggle.

The song ridicules those 'loyalists', to use Solzhenitsyn's term,68 who remained convinced that when the all-wise Stalin found out what crimes were being committed in his name by the security organs, he would investigate the cases of party members and set them free. The song tells of a dying Marxist:

And before he passed away forever,
He willed you his tobacco pouch and all his words,
He asked you to get to the bottom of all this here,
And screamed out quietly: 'Stalin's so clever!'

Live a hundred years, comrade Stalin,
And though it may be my fate to kick the bucket here,
I only hope the production of steel can rise
Per head of population in the country.

A genre which proved particularly effective in inculcating Stalinist values, especially pride in Holy Mother Russia, was the historical epic, or film. Aleksei Tolstoy's Peter the Great, published in serial form from 1929 to 1945, a portrait of the ruthless Tsar who transformed Russia from a backward country into a European power, was a skilful attempt to create a parallel with Stalin and an apologia for his tyranny.69 Similarly, numerous historical films of the 1930s, such as Petrov's Peter the First, Pudovkin's Minin and Pozharsky, Dovzhenko's Shchors (made in response to Stalin's request for a Ukrainian version of Chapaev) and Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, featured a powerful and charismatic leader.70 Film was Stalin's own favourite art form, and he was fond of quoting Lenin's dictum: 'Cinema for us is the most important of the arts'.71 Stalin's awareness of the value of films on historical subjects was demonstrated in 1947 when he summoned Eisenstein and instructed him to make a film showing Ivan IV as a 'great and wise ruler'; of all the leaders in Russian history, he claimed, Ivan and Lenin were the only two who had introduced a state monopoly of foreign trade. According to Ehrenburg, Stalin contrasted Ivan favourably with Peter the Great, who did not cut off enough heads.72 In Part I of Ivan the Terrible Eisentein followed Stalin's instructions, glorifying autocracy and putting into Ivan's mouth what Stalin could not say to anyone: 'O God, am I right in what I do?', to which God seems to answer that he is right.

However, if historical works could be used to extol Stalin, they could also be subverted to express criticism of him. Vera Alexandrova, writing in 1943, recognised a similarity between the Russia depicted in the first part of V. Kostylev's trilogy Ivan the Terrible (1943-55) and contemporary Soviet reality.73 Part II of Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible was banned by the Soviet authorities, as it represented a clear attempt to attack Stalin and tyrannical rule. Eisenstein himself in his autobiographical notes compared the 'black forms of the oprichniki of Ivan the Terrible' with the 'soulless automatons of the apparatchiki of Stalin the terrible'.74 The film director Mikhail Romm, a witness to the first showing of Part II, saw Ivan's henchman Malyut Skuratov as Beria; and the victim in the film, Vladimir Staritsky, can be interpreted as an image of Eisenstein, the victim in real life.75

It was not only hack writers who contributed to the personality cult; some of the best Soviet poets also felt obliged to write poems about Stalin. The better poets, such as Nikolai Zabolotsky, treated this theme obliquely, with greater subtlety than the majority of Soviet writers. Zabolotsky's poem Gori Symphony (1936) provides a good description of Stalin's birthplace, the small town of Gori in Georgia, with its trees and encircling mountains.76 The poet's attention is attracted to a poor dark hut, and he tries to understand how in such a remote place unutterable thoughts first formed in Stalin's head, and how:

The original structure of his soul
Was formed by the action of nature.

Most of the poem is a hymn in praise of Georgia, and only the final stanza bows to the prevailing literary climate with a conventional eulogy of the revolution, the birth of the new world and the Five Year Plan. Unfortunately, Zabolotsky's willingness to write a poem in praise of Stalin did not save him from persecution: he spent the years 1938 to 1946 in camps and exile.

Another unconventional work which includes a reference to Stalin is Alexander Tvardovsky's long narrative poem Muravia Land (1936), which skilfully combines elements of the bylina with the flavour of peasant speech.77 Rumour spreads through the countryside that Stalin is coming, and he appears like a fairytale bogatyr' 'on a raven-black horse', 'in a greatcoat, with his pipe'. He looks around, speaks to the people and takes note of conditions. (This is, of course, an idealised picture of Stalin, who rarely travelled into the countryside). The hero Nikita Morgunok tells Stalin everything in his heart: he admits that conditions are improving and agrees to join the kolkhoz one day, but regrets the loss of his own land. Stalin listens in silence as Nikita asks if he can make allowances for him and 'for the time being' leave him his farm. The rest of the poem concerns Nikita's search for the peasants' Utopia where he will be allowed to keep his small holding; but experience and the advice of a mysterious old man teach him that there is no Muravia Land, and he must join a collective farm. This poem, which demonstrates Tvardovsky's understanding of the psychology of the peasant, perhaps represents the poet's attempt to smooth over his own doubts about collectivisation (his father was deported as a kulak). Tvardovsky was subjected to some criticism for alleged 'peasant anarchism';78 and indeed, Muravia Land is by no means an orthodox embodiment of Stalinist ideology, as at times the author appears sympathetic to Nikita's dream. Nevertheless, the poem was eventually awarded a Stalin Prize.

In order to understand Tvardovsky's real feelings about Stalin and collectivisation it is salutary to contrast Muravia Land with his posthumously published poem For the Right of Memory,79 which evokes both the guilt that Tvardovsky was made to feel in the 1930s as 'the son of a kulak', and the guilt he subsequently felt in relation to his father's persecution when he had reassessed the experience of collectivisation.

One of the most tragic aspects of the effect of the personality cult on literature was that the best and most independent poets in the country were obliged to join in the chorus of praise. A brief discussion of some of the darkest pages in the biographies of Pasternak, Mandelstam and Akhmatova (without any intention of passing judgement on their actions) will help to illuminate the impact of politics on literature in Stalin's time.

Pasternak's poetic inspiration declined in the 1930s; he did not himself write 'poems about Stalin', but his decision to translate Georgian poetry as a refuge from the need to create original works meant that it was difficult to avoid references to Stalin in his translations. Some of his translations of the 1920s, for example P. Yashvili's On the Death of Lenin (1924) and V. Gaprindashvili's October Lines (1929), contained passing references to Stalin;80 but a new departure occurred in 1934, when Pasternak's translations of two poems dedicated to Stalin by N. Mitsishvili and P. Yashvili became widely known through their publication in the journals Novy Mir and Krasnaya Nov'.81 The poems were written at the beginning of 1934 and rapidly translated by Pasternak so that they could be published before the Seventeenth Party Congress (the 'Congress of Victors'). Mitsishvili's Stalin, with its grandiose tone and ornate symbolism, is particularly alien to Pasternak's own style. Lazar Fleishman argues that Pasternak's decision to translate these odes cannot be ascribed to bureaucratic compulsion; rather, in 1934 his views did not significantly diverge from those of the Georgian poets. He saw Stalin as a unifying force in the country after the troubled period of the 'Great Turning-Point', and hoped that the development of fascism in Europe would inspire the socialist state to move in the direction of greater civilisation and humanity. Pasternak's decision may also have been inspired by a desire to help his fellow poets in the Georgian 'Blue Horn' group whose work had suffered neglect; and possibly also represented a reaction against Mandelstam's epigram about Stalin, which horrified Pasternak as a 'suicidal' act. Moreover, in 1934 the cult of Stalin was only in its infancy; Pasternak could not have foreseen the extravagant proportions it would reach in later years.82 These odes are an exception in Pasternak's oeuvre; most of his translations, while published in collections containing eulogies of Stalin, are remarkably free from references to Stalin. In general Pasternak deliberately avoided political themes, concentrating on personal or nature lyrics.83 Nevertheless, these odes to Stalin may have played their part in ensuring Pasternak's survival and cementing his enigmatic personal relationship with Stalin (as witnessed by the famous phone call from Stalin to Pasternak after Mandelstam's first arrest in 1934).

Although Pasternak, like many other people in the USSR, was 'morbidly curious about the recluse in the Kremlin',84 in his later work he preferred to pass over the subject of Stalin in silence. Doctor Zhivago, however, contains a reference to 'pockmarked Caligulas', which may well express Pasternak's considered judgement of Stalin as the latest in a long line of tyrants.85 It is true, as Neil Cornwell points out, that Pasternak was being particularly cautious if he placed a reference to Stalin in the mouth of Zhivago's uncle Vedenyapin, who was speaking in 1903;86 but this argument does not invalidate the allusion, since Pasternak frequently displayed caution in his literary activities, and may have been resorting to deliberate camouflage in the hope that Doctor Zhivago would be published in the USSR. Isaiah Berlin mentions a theory current among the Soviet intelligentsia that Evgraf, Yuri Zhivago's mysterious half-brother, was intended to represent Stalin—a theory apparently dismissed by Anna Akhmatova.87 The parallel is valid only in the limited sense that Evgraf is a high official who acts as a deus ex machina in Yuri's life, as Stalin did in the lives of such writers as Pasternak, Mandelstam and Bulgakov. Although there have been many other more plausible and complex interpretations of the figure of Evgraf,88 the theory nevertheless possesses some interest as an example of the highly political interpretations accorded to literary works by the Soviet reading public.

The case of Mandelstam is more tragic. Nadezhda Mandelstam describes how in the winter of 1936-7, foreseeing the impending catastrophe, her husband made an attempt to save himself by writing an Ode to Stalin.89 The artificiality of the whole project was evident from the fact that Mandelstam forced himself to sit down at their table with paper and pencil and waited for words to come, 'like Fedin, or someone of that kind'. Since he had never in his life composed in that manner, the plan was bound to fail; 'his attempt to do violence to himself met stubborn resistance', but the artificially conceived poem about Stalin led to the creation of other poems, antagonistic to the Ode, which formed part of the Second Voronezh Cycle. Mandelstam asked his friend Natasha Shtempel to destroy the Ode when they left Voronezh, but some indications of its content can be extrapolated from Nadezhda Mandelstam's memoirs. The word os' ('axle') which featured in the ode, perhaps connected with Stalin's first name 'Iosif, led to a scattering of words containing the syllable 'os' throughout the cycle. In the Ode an artist, with tears in his eyes, draws a portrait of the leader; but another poem of 8 February contained the line: 'I do not draw and I do not sing'. A reference to Aeschylus and Prometheus in the Ode led in the other poems to a treatment of the theme of tragedy and martyrdom; and the Caucasus, mentioned as Stalin's birthplace in the Ode, occurs again in the reference to Tbilisi as the place which remembers not the Great Leader but the poor poet with his worn shoes. Nadezhda Mandelstam concludes: To write an ode to Stalin it was necessary to get in tune, like a musical instrument, by deliberately giving way to the general hypnosis and putting oneself under the spell of the liturgy which in those days blotted out all human voices. Without this, a real poet could never compose such a thing: he would never have had that kind of ready facility. M. thus spent the beginning of 1937 conducting a grotesque experiment on himself. Working himself up into the state needed to write the Ode', he was in effect deliberately upsetting the balance of his own mind. "I now realise that it was an illness", he said later to Akhmatova.'

Although Nadezhda Mandelstam was advised not to speak of the Ode, as if it had never existed, she insists on telling the truth about the double life that she and her husband were forced to live in Stalin's time. She comments bitterly that, unlike other poets who 'wrote their odes in their apartments and country villas and were rewarded for them, M. wrote his with a rope around his neck'. The Ode did not achieve its aim of saving Mandelstam's life, but it may have been instrumental in saving his wife's life and enabling her to preserve his poems.

Another poet who wrote poems to Stalin in similar tragic circumstances was Anna Akhmatova. She had suffered persecution since 1946, when she had been singled out for attack in a speech by Stalin's henchman Zhdanov. She was subsequently expelled from the Union of Writers, and in 1949 her husband Nikolai Punin and her son Lev Gumilyov were arrested. It was in order to save her son's life that she wrote for Stalin's seventieth birthday in December 1949 In Praise of Peace, a cycle of poems extolling Stalin, which was sent directly to Aleksei Surkov, Secretary of the Writers' Union, for prompt publication.90 Akhmatova regarded the cycle as a sacrifice, and expressly requested that it be omitted from her Collected Works.91 Earlier, in a poem of her Requiem cycle written in 1939, she had recognised the inner necessity of surrendering to the authorities and begging for forgiveness, despite the futility of the sacrifice:

For seventeen months I have cried
I call you home.
I have thrown myself at the feet of the executioner,
You are my son and my terror . . .92

Akhmatova was aware that she could not write the panegyric to Stalin in any remotely literary style; it is striking in its banality. The poems are a contribution to the peace movement launched by the Soviet Union in 1949-50, which was intended to suggest to world public opinion that America's possession of atomic weapons rather than Soviet policies constituted the major threat to peace. Akhmatova demands 'peace' on Soviet terms, praising the Stockholm peace charter of 1950, a document calling for a ban on the atom bomb which was allegedly signed by 500 million people, and attacking the imperialists for their participation in the Korean War. She praises Stalin in many of the current clichés; he is an eagle, the transformer of nature,

The true master of life,
The sovereign of mountains and rivers,

who utters the 'radiant word—peace'.93 There is a bitter irony in her words:

Legend speaks of a wise man
Who has saved each of us from a terrible death.94

Akhmatova's real feelings had been expressed in a poem of the 1930s, An Imitation of the Armenian, in which an oriental tyrant is asked:

And was my son to the taste
Of yourself and your children?95

In Praise of Peace is one of the most tragic documents of the age, but Akhmatova's sacrifice may have saved her son's life (he was released in 1956). The very artistic poverty of the cycle makes it an ironic work: in Amanda Haight's words, it was 'a joke on the very times themselves when a handful of bad poems by someone who had written the poems of Requiem could actually result in saving someone's life'.96 As Nadezhda Mandelstam says of her friend Akhmatova and her husband: 'Who can blame either her or M.?'.97

Prose fiction was the most important genre for the inculcation of Stalinist values; and during the period of the 'personality cult' writers were unanimous in their extravagant eulogies of Stalin. As Katerina Clark has shown, in the mythology of the 1930s sightings of Stalin or meetings between Stalin and young pilots or Stakhanovite workers, which were extensively reported in the press, played the role of 'ritual exchanges between "mentor" and "disciple", between "father" and "son", which conferred greater consciousness' on the young heroes.98 Such climactic moments were also important for characters in fiction. In P. Pavlenko's In the East (1936), for example, the heroine Olga feels great joy when she sees Stalin's 'calm figure' and 'severe' countenance, and listens to 'the voice of our motherland, the simple, clear, infinitely honest, boundlessly kind, unhurried and fatherly voice of Stalin'.99

In the 1930s writers of fiction, like historians, fulfilled the function of rewriting history to legitimise the Stalinist succession. One of the most effective promoters of the Stalin cult was Aleksei Tolstoy, who enjoyed a good personal relationship with Stalin and, according to Ilya Ehrenburg, would go to any lengths to achieve 'peace and quiet'.100 His novel Bread (1937), an adulatory account of Stalin's allegedly single-handed defence of Tsaritsyn in the Civil War, contains some of the clichés with which we are already familiar from poetry and folk epics, and some which became the stock-in-trade of the prose writer for the next decade. The most prominent is Tolstoy's evocation of Stalin's 'calm' voice and manner; as Katerina Clark demonstrates, the epithet spokoinyi ('calm, confident') is frequently used in Soviet novels as a sign of complete self-control and firmness in the revolutionary faith.101 Tolstoy's Stalin first appears as Lenin's close comrade-in-arms, and gives Lenin advice in the 'even, quiet, calm voice in which he conducted all conversations'; when he arrives in Tsaritsyn his face is 'serious and calm', and he greets everyone without distinction 'not too warmly and not too drily'.102 Stalin's good nature and courage are stressed: his eyes are 'cheerful', and when under fire he merely laughs and says: 'It happens'.103 It is Stalin who alerts Lenin to the importance of Tsaritsyn; his role as Lenin's equal is emphasised by the orders which are issued in the names of 'Lenin and Stalin'. He tackles his job as organiser of the food supply in south Russia in a business-like manner; he is firm, decisive and knowledgeable, with a 'penetrating gaze'.104 He stresses the importance of the political preparation of his soldiers and of hardwork to produce armaments. Although he does not immediately use his emergency powers, he is ruthless in dealing with enemies: he comes into conflict with the Supreme Military Council headed by Trotsky, and has several officers and specialists shot for counter-revolutionary activities. Tolstoy rewrites history in order to contribute to the mythology surrounding Stalin in the 1930s: Trotsky's role as creator of the Red Army is ignored, and Tolstoy emphasises Stalin's part in revitalising the Red Army by purging its command of saboteurs. Tolstoy also anachronistically projects on to Stalin an interest in aviation: he predicts that one day Soviet people will fly like birds.

During the first, disastrous period of the war, July-December 1941, Stalin's name was notable for its absence from newspapers and war stories. Ehrenburg relates: 'Stalin's name was hardly mentioned; for the first time for many years there were neither portraits nor enthusiastic epithets; the smoke of, nearby explosions banished the smoke of incense'.105 Even Stalin appeared to understand that he needed to take a back seat, since his unpreparedness for war had led to the initial heavy defeats. For a long time Soviet writers kept silent about the first months of the war and began their account with the counter-offensive of December 1941.

After the shock of the invasion had subsided, however, Stalin returned to prominence. Alexander Korneichuk's play The Front, published in Pravda in August 1942, was commissioned by Stalin himself to improve his image—a striking example of the political use of literature.106 Korneichuk attempts to exonerate Stalin, laying the blame for the defeats of 1941-2 at the door of generals with oldfashioned ideas and practices. Although Stalin himself does not appear as a character in the play, he is shown to be supremely well-informed and actively concerned with introducing new technology and replacing inefficient commanders with younger, more talented men. Another work of the same year, Leonid Leonov's play The Invasion (1942), emphasises the patriotic and near-religious aspects of Stalin's leadership. Before Stalin's speech of November 1941 an old man tells his grandson about a previous meeting at which Stalin was present; 'It was an enormous great hall and there were more than a thousand of us, but it felt empty and cold somehow. Then one man entered, and it felt as though there weren't an empty seat. His presence set us on fire.'107 Another aspect of Stalin's leadership which was emphasised in wartime fiction was his ability to organise industrial production. A. Karavaeva's Fires (1943) also evokes Stalin's speech of November 1941, emphasising his claim that Germany's resources will be more quickly exhausted and that Soviet tanks, although less numerous, are of better quality; Stalin's 'calm' voice with its 'deep trust' in the Soviet people makes a great impression on the listening workers, who vow to produce tanks more rapidly.108 Works published later in the war, such as Simonov's Days and Nights (1944), also concentrated on the inspiration inculcated by Stalin's speeches, perhaps because it was easier to portray Stalin as a national and spiritual leader than as a military strategist. 109 By 1945 adulation of Stalin had become more intense. The climax of V. Kataev's novel A Son of the Regiment (1945) is a boy's dream of ascending a marble staircase, at the top of which stands Stalin with his brilliant marshal's star and his 'severe paternal smile'.110

After the victory, during the oppressive 'Zhdanov period' in literature until Stalin's death in 1953, the cult flourished with renewed vigour; and writers once again extolled Stalin's military genius. In Vsevolod Ivanov's At the Capture of Berlin (1946), Marshal Zhukov asks an artist to give him a sketch of Stalin's face so that he can look at it during the capture of Berlin: 'I always look at Stalin! We conquer through his genius. Always!'.111 In the conclusion of Ivanov's novel the panegyric rises to hagiographic proportions. Stalin mounts the Mausoleum steps with 'a thoughtful gait, the gait of a thinker and wise soldier, sure of every step' and 'all rapturously applaud Stalin, the father of the people, the happiness of humanity, the greatest military leader in the world. . . . And everybody can clearly see love written on his face, an inextinguishable love for his people, for their lives, for their happiness, and those in the square, realising his feelings, applaud again and again'.112

Nikolai Virta's play Great Days, written in 1947 and allegedly edited by Stalin himself, depicts Stalin making all the major decisions about the battle of Stalingrad. Virta includes a theory widely disseminated in the post-war years to explain the events of 1941: the myth that the retreat of the Soviet troops was a deliberate strategy conceived by Stalin to draw the Germans deep into the country prior to the launching of a counter-offensive, a plan allegedly based on the example of the ancient Parthians. Moreover, Virta suggests that already in August 1942 Stalin had devised the precise tactics through which the Red Army's offensive in November would trap the Germans in Stalingrad (Marshal Zhukov, who at the time of the victory at Stalingrad was recognised as the chief planner, is not mentioned). One innovation introduced into Virta's play is the shadowy character of 'Stalin's Friend', whose function is to humanise him. The Friend comments sympathetically on 'Joseph's' grey hair and tiredness, advises him to rest more and not to smoke (although Stalin admits he cannot give it up) and recalls his escapes from exile and the battle near Tsaritsyn (about which Stalin comments modestly: 'I always have to undertake something'). Stalin is cordial and polite with his Friend, inviting him to his dacha to talk about old times; when his comically solicitous secretary Poskryobyshev reminds him of the urgent business that awaits him, Stalin protests wearily: 'Don't I get any free time, even at night?'.113 Virta's play, although set in the war, reflects the atmosphere of the post-war years: the emphasis laid on Churchill's refusal to open a second front in Europe is redolent of the confrontation of the Cold War period; and Virta implausibly depicts Stalin reflecting in the middle of the war both on post-war car production and the need to make contact with Lysenko about a new type of grain in order to double agricultural production by 1950. Other incongruous elements in Virta's play are Stalin's solicitude and respect for Molotov (notwithstanding the arrest of Molotov's wife in 1948), and an anachronistically friendly reference to the Americans, who are presented as good, if naive people who call Stalin 'Uncle Joe' (a name which never became popular in the USSR). It is not surprising that Virta's play was singled out for satirical treatment by Solzhenitsyn in The First Circle.114

Another work satirised by Solzhenitsyn is V. Vishnevsky's play Unforgettable 1919 (1949), which also depicts past events in order to provide lessons for the present. Vishnevsky's portrayal of Stalin's stern treatment of spies in Petrograd in 1919 and his arrest of members of the Military Council, a body headed by Trotsky, is an attempt to justify the renewed campaigns in the late forties against anti-cosmopolitanism and bourgeois nationalism. Stalin's final threat that 'if anyone is to be bloodied' he will make sure that it is 'the bourgeois camp and not the Soviet state' is clearly aimed against the USA.115 According to Shostakovich, Stalin was particularly fond of the film Unforgettable 1919, based on Vishnevsky's play. As he watched his young self riding by on the footboard of an armoured train with a sabre in his hand, he was heard to exclaim, 'How young and handsome Stalin was!'. Shostakovich comments ironically, 'He talked about himself in the third person and gave an opinion on his looks. A positive one'.116

In the late 1940s and early 1950s the cult of Stalin reached new heights. In Alexander Kron's Party Candidate (1950), the hero, in the middle of a love scene, when asked by the heroine if he has one 'sacred dream' .. . a fantastic dream, an almost impossible one', responds: 'I would like to have a talk with Comrade Stalin'.117 In A. Gribachev's Spring in 'Pobeda' (1948) Stalin's sainthood is established when he personally escorts the party organiser Zernov across the threshold of death, with the words:

'You have struggled not in vain.
You have laboured not in vain.
Your last day is your first step into the commune.
Here comes its dawn.'
Thus, at dawn in "Pobeda"
Zernov, the party organiser, died.118

Since apparently orthodox works such as A. Fadeyev's The Young Guard and V. Kataev's For the Power of the Soviets came under attack in the late 1940s for underestimating the role of the party in the war, it was inevitable that history would be rewritten to present Stalin as a supreme military genius. Two extreme examples of 'varnishing reality' are the first part of G. Berezko's Peaceful Town (1951) and the second part of M. Bubyonnov's White Birch Tree (1952), which contain frequent, extravagant depictions of Stalin.119 Both writers dramatise the myth of Stalin's counter-offensive strategy, suggesting that Stalin's aim in 1941 was to conserve reserves, not to weaken them in defensive fights, and to defeat the enemy outside Moscow. Berezko describes Stalin in a 'large bright room' in the Kremlin, poring over maps with a 'concentrated face' and an 'enormous energy of thought . . . analysing, comparing, predicting, creating'. Stalin's speech on 7 November 1941 is seen as 'a father's blessing'; Stalin, as always, is 'attentive, very serious, very calm', and his omniscience is emphasised: 'He had thought of everything, predicted everything'.120 Bubyonnov depicts Stalin on the night of 16 November 1941: he is concerned about the forthcoming battle, but confident that Moscow will stand; and he plans an improvement in the war industries in the Urals.121 Both writers suggest, with hindsight, that Stalin's defensive strategy in 1941 marked the beginning of the Soviet victory.

The hagiography in which Soviet writers indulged during the 'period of the personality cult' now appears absurd, but the main reason for the cult's survival is that it was highly effective. Just as tyrants of the past had solicited flattery and worship in order to retain their power, the personality cult of Stalin, which perhaps corresponded to Russia's deep-rooted autocratic traditions, enabled Stalin to survive unchallenged until his death in 1953.


Apart from the anonymous composers of folk songs and anecdotes, only very few writers explicitly expressed hostility to Stalin in his lifetime—and, of these, Pilnyak and Mandelstam perished. After the war the only writer to compose and recite verses against Stalin while Stalin was still alive was the young poet Naum Mandel (Korzhavin). One of his poems was:

There in Moscow in a whirlpool of darkness
Wrapped in his greatcoat,
Not understanding Pasternak
A hard and cruel man stared at the snow.

Korzhavin was exiled, but Evtushenko claims that the very fact that he did recite his verses openly saved his life, because the authorities thought him insane.122 More frequently, although still very occasionally, writers made derogatory references to Stalin obliquely, through Aesopian devices, although works containing such allusions only rarely achieved publication in the USSR.

Mikhail Bulgakov's play Batumi, which concerns Stalin's early life and, particularly, his activities during the strikes and demonstrations in Batumi in 1902, followed by his imprisonment, exile to Siberia and escape, at first sight appears to be yet another tragic example of a great writer's sacrifice of his artistic integrity. The play was conceived in March 1936 under the title The Pastor, but was put aside until September 1938 when well-meaning friends from the Moscow Arts Theatre, the literary consultant P. Markov and the theatrical scholar V. Vilenkin, suggested that Bulgakov complete the play to coincide with the celebrations for Stalin's sixtieth birthday in 1939. Bulgakov finally agreed, and the play was finished on 24 July 1939. Vilenkin states in his memoirs that the aim of giving the subject to Bulgakov was that there would be 'no varnishing, no speculations, no incense; the emotional content of the drama could arise from the truth of the authentic material, if only a dramatist of Bulgakov's stature took it up'.123 Bulgakov's decision to write the play, which gave the author no pleasure, and is not particularly successful, can be ascribed to several factors. Firstly, The Pastor was originally conceived at a time when Bulgakov's play Molière, which implies a parallel between Molière's relationship with Louis XIV and Bulgakov's relationship with Stalin, had been subjected to criticism in the press and eventually taken off. It is possible, as Ellendea Proffer suggests, that the first version of the play about Stalin was 'far from icon-painting'.124 Secondly, Bulgakov's life and works testify to his interest in tyrants. He had a strange personal relationship with Stalin, which began on 18 April 1930 when a letter he had sent to the Soviet government was followed by a telephone call from Stalin offering Bulgakov a choice between emigration and the possibility of working in a consultative capacity in the Soviet theatre. Subsequently Stalin took an interest in Bulgakov's literary career, and in particular, became fascinated by Bulgakov's play The Days of the Turbins, (first produced in 1926 and restaged in 1932 at Stalin's personal request), which he went to see fifteen times. Moreover, as an artist Bulgakov was interested in Stalin in the same sense that he was interested in other absolute rulers such as Louis XIV or Nicholas I. Another factor was the strong pressure exerted on Bulgakov by his friends in the Moscow Arts Theatre to write something for the Stalin jubilee. Bulgakov's wife Elena Sergeevna also supported the idea, hoping that it would assist the publication and production of Bulgakov's other works. Personal reasons were, however, perhaps the decisive factor: Bulgakov was ill and knew he was dying, so although he himself had no further need for protection, he hoped the play might secure the future for his widow and her son.

Vilenkin describes the character of Stalin in Bulgakov's play as 'a young, fearless, intelligent revolutionary who had already won authority among the workers, a recent pupil of a theological seminary. Without a halo. With the right to ordinary human feelings, a living, authentic daily life and humour'.125 This is an apt characterisation: Bulgakov's Stalin is an unimpeachable hero, but he is also a realistic character, unlike the idealised stereotypes who were later to appear in plays by Virta and Vishnevsky.126 Bulgakov's play was fated to have an unsuccessful outcome: on the very day when Bulgakov and other members of the theatre were going to Batumi to collect more material for the production, he received a telegram in the train informing him that the play had been banned. According to one commentator, Stalin decided that all young people were alike and saw no need for a play about his youth;127 but the real reason may have been that the contrast between Stalin's youthful democratic ideals portrayed in the play and the USSR of the 1930s was too great for comfort.

Although Batumi appears on the surface to follow the pattern of Soviet hagiography, Bulgakov was unable to write a truly servile play. As Lev Loseff demonstrates, the ease with which Bulgakov's Stalin implements his schemes is absurd, and all his enemies, from the police informant to the governor and Tsar Nicholas himself, are ludicrously inept.128 The primitivism of Bulgakov's style in this work contrasts markedly with the psychological subtlety of his other plays. Moreover, the text itself contains hints that the work can be read on another level of Aesopian parody. As Loseff points out, the rector of the theological seminary from which Stalin is expelled uses phrases which could be construed as critical of Stalin, such as 'wrongdoers', 'crazed people clanging the cymbal of their barren ideas', and 'human society proclaims an anathema on the noxious tempter'.129 The scene at the end of Act II where Stalin is beaten on stage by his jailers also diverges from conventional depictions of Stalin. Furthermore, as Loseff demonstrates, Bulgakov makes a subtle equation between Stalin and the imbecilic Nicholas II through their use of the word 'miraculous': Nicholas refers to miracle cures and his 'miraculous trained canary'; and Stalin says that his rescue from the icy river during his escape from Siberia, after which he has not coughed once, was 'miraculous'.130

Loseff's Aesopian reading of the play can be taken even further. A Moslem worker relates a dream in which he watched the Tsar swimming, and makes a comment which recalls Hans Christian Andersen's tale The Emperor's New Clothes, 'But how would he [the Tsar] walk naked if someone stole his uniform?'. Then the Tsar drowns and everyone shouts: "The Tsar has drowned! The Tsar has drowned!" And all the people were joyful'.131 This dream is reminiscent of Stalin's 'miraculous' escape from drowning at the end of the play (although Stalin himself also appears in the worker's dream, perhaps in an attempt to deceive the censor). Furthermore, the prison scenes in the play evoke the imprisonment of many people under Stalin. At one point a prisoner sings:

The Tsar lives in great halls,
He walks and sings;
Here in grey overalls,
The people croak in prison cells.

The Tsarist police report read out in the play which states that Stalin's appearance 'makes no impression' may indicate Bulgakov's own feelings about Stalin's mediocrity; and Stalin's story about the 'black dragon' which 'stole the sun from the whole of humanity' could refer to Stalin's terror of the 1930s. Moreover, the Tsar's trained canary which sings the first line of 'God save the Tsar' could be interpreted as an allegory of the Soviet writer in the 'period of the personality cult'.133

In his novel The Master and Margarita, written during the period 1928-40, but first published in the USSR posthumously in a censored version in the years 1966-7,134 Bulgakov chose to approach the figure of Stalin obliquely, through allegory and fantasy. Donald Piper has argued that much in Bulgakov's portrait of the Devil, Woland, suggests Stalin, who was also 'aloof, mysterious, rarely seen in the thirties, having difficulty with the Russian language, destructive when affronted, demanding subservience, impressive in his self-control'.135 Other scholars dispute Piper's interpretation;136 and, indeed, it is difficult to sustain, as Woland is not a sufficiently independent force of evil to be an adequate personification of Stalin. He is, rather, a fallen angel who frequently acts as the agent of the 'other department' of light, tempting people, but not compelling them to do evil, and using black magic for beneficent ends.137 Bulgakov does, however, draw an ironic comparison between the servility of Woland's retinue and the cult of Stalin's personality. The cat Behemoth speaks of the grandeur of Satan's ball, but, after being contradicted by Woland, immediately hastens to agree with his master: 'Of course, messire .. . If you think it wasn't very grand, I immediately find myself agreeing with you'.138 The Soviet censorship was evidently conscious of this allusion, since the passage was deleted in the version of the novel published in the journal Moskva in 1966-7. The censor also heavily cut passages in Chapter 26 containing Pilate's ambiguous conversation with his secret policeman Aphranius during which he explicitly warned against, but implicitly proposed, the murder of Judas. These passages must have been removed because they would have suggested to Soviet readers Stalin's dealings with his security services, notably in the case of Kirov's assassination in 1934, widely believed to have been committed by the Soviet security police on Stalin's secret instructions.139 There is more evidence to suggest that Bulgakov intended a parallel between the Rome of Tiberius and the Moscow of the 1930s. Both societies are permeated by philistine values, spies, denunciations and the power of the secret police; and the eulogies of Tiberius, for example Pilate's insincere toast: 'For us, for thee, Caesar, father of the Romans, most beloved and best of all men!', are reminiscent of the praise of Stalin in the period of the 'personality cult' (although they were also characteristic of contemporary references to Tiberius).140 Significantly, the phrase 'most beloved and best of all men' was omitted in the journal edition, in order to remove the implied parallel with Stalin. Furthermore, the comment on the nature of political power which Bulgakov puts into the mouth of Yeshua (Jesus), 'Every form of authority means coercion over men and .. . a time will come when there shall be neither Caesars, nor any other rulers'141 is a general statement which is clearly applicable to Stalin's Russia. Although the interpretations of Piper and others who see The Master and Margarita as a 'cryptotext' for Stalin's Russia are highly debatable,142 it is indisputable both that the Soviet censorship in the 1960s read the novel in an Aesopian fashion, and that some Soviet intellectuals perceived a parallel between Woland and Stalin (although some readers appear to have been disappointed by Part II of the novel which did not seem to bear out this interpretation as clearly as the first part). One prominent Soviet intellectual to support this reading was Andrei Sinyavsky, who compared Woland's relationship with the Master to Stalin's strange relationship with Bulgakov.143 Although Bulgakov's love of ambiguity and mystification makes it impossible to prove conclusively any definite parallels between either Woland or Tiberius and Stalin, it should be remembered that Bulgakov was fully aware of the subversive nature of his manuscript, suspecting that he would have been shot if the novel had been discovered, and feeling it necessary to burn a draft of the manuscript at the time that he wrote his letter to Stalin and the government in March 1930. Moreover, Bulgakov was a close friend of Zamyatin, and the multiple possible implications of such Aesopian, but not entirely precise parallels with contemporary society as Zamyatin's We would have been familiar to him.

As we have seen, one of the most successful forms of anti-Stalinist satire was that conceived on the basis of children's literature. In 1941 Daniil Kharms used the children's magazine The Siskin (Chizh) to parody stereotyped May-day verses to Stalin. Kharms's May Song displays all the hallmarks of the military-patriotic song, with its simple metrical patterns and frequent repetitions:

We'll get to the reviewing stand
We'll get there
We'll get to the reviewing stand
First thing in the morning
So that we'll shout the loudest
Shout the loudest

So that we'll shout the loudest
'Hooray for Stalin!'144

As Loseff has shown, the exaggerated urgency of the repetitions and the illogicality of the content are disproportionate even by the usual standards of the 'song about Stalin': the lyric hero longs not to accomplish heroic deeds but merely to shout 'Hooray!', and his faith in the invincibility of the USSR is based only on the belief that Voroshilov will lead the Soviet army into battle 'on a horse'.145

The most skilled exponent of the genre of 'fairy tales for adults' was Evgeny Shvarts, whose play The Dragon can read on several levels: as a fairy story, a morality play and an Aesopian satire.146The Dragon was written for the Leningrad Comedy Theatre at the request of the theatre's director, chief set designer and artist Nikolai Akimov; it was begun during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the first version was completed by November 1943. On the surface the play is an obvious satire against Nazism: the Dragon is related to Attila the Hun; he persecutes gypsies (a reference to Hitler's persecution of gypsies, and, by implication, his much more extensive repression of Jews); his proclivity for sudden invasions, aerial tactics in battle and use of 'poisonous smoke' are reminiscent of the methods of the German armed forces; moreover, the names of the townspeople, such as Müller and Friedrichsen, as well as the Gothic lettering on the town hall, help to create a Germanic atmosphere. However, Shvarts's use of typically Soviet words, phrases and plot situations suggests that the allegory was also intended to point to Stalin and Stalinism.

Shvarts was clearly not unaware of the possibility of equating the Dragon with Stalin, since his earlier plays The Naked King (1935) and The Shadow (1940) had established a pattern of introducing elements which could apply equally well to the west or to the USSR. (In particular, The Naked King, based on Andersen's story The Emperor's New Clothes, could be interpreted as a satire on the 'personality cult'). In The Dragon the stage direction in Act I which precedes the Dragon's entrance states: 'At this point a middle-aged, but robust, man, looking younger than his years, enters the room. He is towheaded and has a military bearing. He wears his hair in a crew-cut. On his face is a broad smile. Despite its coarseness, his manner is in general not without a certain appeal'.147 The portrait of the leading villain is so drawn that it combines traits which could apply equally to the typical Nazi or the typical Soviet leader of the 1930s: the crew-cut hair, military bearing and genial appearance of a father-commander. However, the Soviet slang of the Dragon's opening lines: 'Hello, lads!' ('Zdorovo, rebyata!') points the reader in the direction of Soviet, rather than German, reality. Another double-edged reference is made by Charlemagne: 'The only way of getting free of dragons is to have one of your own'.148

Shvarts parodies many specifically Soviet situations: for example, the Burgomaster's address to an empty chair, as he appeals to the Dragon to act as the meeting's 'honoured head', is reminiscent of the Soviet ritual of electing an 'honoured presidium' at ceremonial gatherings to demonstrate loyalty to the Politburo; and Heinrich's direction of the townspeople in a rehearsal of 'greetings to the leaders' recalls a time-honoured Soviet custom. The battle scene contains a satire on Soviet wartime information and propaganda: the Burgomaster and Heinrich issue communiqués which try to prove, against the evidence of the citizens' own eyes, that the Dragon is winning the battle, and that all his efforts to evade the invisible Lancelot, including the loss of his three heads, are well-planned military manoeuvres. This is particularly reminiscent of the theory of Stalin's tactical withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1941. In Act III Shvarts even includes a veiled reference to the Stalin terror: the conversation between the Burgomaster and the jailer contains a pun on the Soviet term sazhanie, which means both the 'planting' of seeds and the 'planting' of men in prison.

Shvarts's play met a fate as unsuccessful as that of Bulgakov's Batumi There was one preliminary showing of the play in Moscow in August 1944, in the course of which Akimov was summoned by an official who told him the production was to be discontinued. Akimov later commented: 'There were no motives, and indeed they could not be expressed: a long time later it became clear that some excessively vigilant official of that time had seen in the play what was not in it at all'.149 This is the only suggestion that the play was banned for any more specific reason than a lack of ideinosi': the unsuitably trivial treatment of a subject as serious as fascism. The Dragon remained banned until after Shvarts's death in 1958; it was performed in Leningrad during the theatrical season of 1962-3, but, despite its great popularity with the audience, was soon taken off (perhaps because the character of the Burgomaster who rules the town after the Dragon's death could now be identified with Khrushchev). Shvarts's play can certainly be interpreted as an anti-Stalin satire, but, as Amanda Metcalf reminds us, it is more than that: 'a play about a tyrant—especially one which uses allegory—can always support as many different meanings as there are tyrants in the world'.150

The last phase of Stalinism was an unpromising period for anti-Stalinist satire, but one rare example of a children's story of the 1940s which uses 'Aesopian language' to criticise Stalin was Lev Kassil's Tale of the Three Master Craftsmen (1949).151 Kassil's portrayal of King Vainglorious, whose kingdom is ruled by winds, implicates Stalin and the time-serving sycophants of the 'personality cult'. The tale of the three master craftsmen seized by the King's 'weathercocks' suggests the persecution of talented people and the success of pragmatists and intriguers in Stalin's time.

In the year before Stalin's death Novy Mir published Vasily Grossman's For the Just Cause (1952), ostensibly a conventional war novel which emphasised Stalin's brilliant strategy in the battle of Stalingrad and juxtaposed a favourable depiction of Stalin and Molotov with a satirical picture of Hitler and his generals. There were, however, certain passages in the novel, notably the views expressed by an academic, Chepyzhin, which hinted at a parallel between Nazi and Stalinist obscurantism.152 Grossman's novel aroused Stalin's personal displeasure and was criticised in the press; some of the offending passages were removed from subsequent editions. That a parallel between Nazism and Stalinism was indeed in Grossman's mind has only become evident since the appearance of the sequel, originally entitled Stalingrad, but published abroad in 1980 under the title Life and Fate.15