Stalin (1878-1953)

Joseph Stalin

What explains Joe Stalin? And what about those who gave him power, and those who saw him as a hero, or still see him as a hero?

Stalin, it seems to me, really believed in building socialism in the Soviet Union. He believed in Marx's revolution. To the end he believed that he was making a better society than the hard, crude, chaotic world of struggle that he grew up in.

Stalin had acquired some of those crudities. Crude men are likely to rule crudely. At any rate, Stalin was not supposed to rule. The revolution was supposed to transfer power to the working class masses, and leadership was supposed to be collective. That it was not in reality collective contributed to what Stalin became. As Lenin and his wife Krupskaya had come to suspect, Stalin was not suited for power.

In his forties, around 1920, Stalin benefited from the tendency among the young supporters of revolution to idolize the old fighters like himself. In the early 1920s as one of the members of the Communist Party's politburo, Stalin established himself intellectually with his party comrades with his "Socialism in One Country." He held that the Soviet Union should focus on building socialism at home. The Communist revolution, he believed in these decades between the wars, was not about to engulf the world. He bellieved it would be better to build friendly relations with foreign powers than to offend these powers by pushing local Party members into a hopeless effort to overthrow them.

Stalin was on the wrong side of the democracy issue raised by Trotsky in the early 1920s. And Stalin demonstrated a simplistic ideological weakness in his collectivization program in the late twenties and early thirties. On this issue his friend and fellow Bolshevik, Bukharin, had a greater subtlety of thought. As I see it, Stalin and the Bolsheviks in general were oversimplistic in their ideological fixation on class struggle – a vulgar Marxism some might call it. Stalin and the Bolsheviks were tough on the middle class. Lenin had the brains to go a little lighter than some on this issue of the middle class as class enemies, Lenin putting a stop to blue collar workers converting engineers into cleaners of latrines.

Stalin's exchange with the German writer Emil Ludwig in December, 1931, revealed his continuing Marxism and a modicum of intelligence:

Ludwig: Do you think a parallel can be drawn between yourself and Peter the Great? Do you consider yourself a continuer of the work of Peter the Great?

Stalin: In no way whatever. Historical parallels are always risky. There is no sense in this one.

Ludwig: But after all, Peter the Great did a great deal to develop his country, to bring western culture to Russia.

Stalin: Yes, of course, Peter the Great did much to elevate the landlord class and develop the nascent merchant class. He did very much indeed to create and consolidate the national state of the landlords and merchants. It must be said also that the elevation of the landlord class, the assistance to the nascent merchant Class and the consolidation of the national state of these classes took place at the cost of the peasant serfs, who were bled white. As for myself, I am just a pupil of Lenin's, and the aim of my life is to be a worthy pupil of his. The task to which I have devoted my life is the elevation of a different class-the working class. That task is not the consolidation of some "national" state, but of a socialist state, and that means an international state; and everything that strengthens that state helps to strengthen the entire international working class. If every step I take in my endeavor to elevate the working class and strengthen the socialist state of this class were not directed towards strengthening and improving the position of the working class, I should consider my life purposeless. So you see your parallel does not fit.

It looks to many that Stalin was responsible for the death of Kirov, to say nothing about all the other unnecessary deaths that resulted from his social engineering and desire to be rid of what he perceived as the revolution's enemies.

During the Soviet Union's war against Hitler's armies he was inclined to blame others for his own mistakes and ready again to ruin people who were rivals. He developed an exaggerated defensiveness, an enemy-think regarding the security of his rule, which was to make his position in the world less secure. He could not take criticism from Yugoslavia's Milovan Djilas about Soviet soldiers raping, and he held to an ideological simplicity that told him that capitalism was going to self-destruct sometime around the 1960s.

He displayed some modesty in the early fifties in his book "Marxism and Problems of Linguistics." In the book he answers questions put to him by a "group of younger comrades," and he has the sense to say that he is not a linguistic expert and could not therefore "fully satisfy the request of the comrades." Then he shoots down questions that suggest simplistic ideological nonsense. QUESTION: Is it true that language is a superstructure on the base? ANSWER: "No, it is not true" (followed by a page or so of explanation). QUESTION: Is it true that language always was and is class language, that there is no such thing as language which is the single and common language of a society, a non-class language common to the whole people. ANSWER: "No, it is not true." QUESTION: What are the characteristic features of language? ANSWER: "Language ...arises and develops with the rise and development of a society... Apart from society there is no language.... Language is a medium, an instrument with the help of which people communicate with one another, exchange thoughts and understand each other." Simple stuff, but at least not pompous and ideologically turgid.

Stalin was a part of what became a corruption of conformity. He surrounded himself with people who were short in stature like himself, and yes men. Those around Stalin put their positions above all else – as Molotov did in agreeing to have his wife sent to Siberia. They rationalized, each sensing that their status was dependent upon Stalin's favor. To the end Stalin saw himself as the bulwark against enemies of the Revolution. He told Khrushchev that after he, Stalin, was gone, the capitalist powers would wring the necks of the leaders who followed him like chickens.

Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.