Historical Questions –
A re-assessment of the past
Stalin and the ‘Cult of the Personality’
Beginning with Khrushchev, the successive revisionist leaders of the USSR have denounced Joseph Stalin for cultivating the “cult of the personality”, which, they allege, greatly distorted inner party life, did great damage to Soviet social development, and hindered economic development. When Khrushchev, in his capacity as the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, delivered his report on 14 February 1956 to the 20th Party Congress, he did not feel strong enough to attack Stalin openly and directly. On the contrary, he was obliged to make deferential and highly approving remarks about Stalin and the struggle of the Party during his leadership:
“Shortly after the 19th Congress”, he said, “death took Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin from our ranks. The enemies of socialism hoped there would be confusion in the Party’s ranks, discord among its leadership, hesitation in carrying out its internal and foreign policy. However, their hopes came to nought.” (N.S. Khrushchev, Report of the Central Committee, 20th Congress of the CPSU, London, February 1956, page 78.)
We know only too well that the imperialist hopes were more firmly grounded in reality than Khrushchev’s boastful assertions.
“The Party’s unity has been built up over the course of many years and decades; it grew stronger in battle with a host of enemies. The Trotskyites, Bukharinites, bourgeois nationalists, and other malignant enemies of the people, the men who wanted to restore capitalism, tried desperately to undermine the Party’s Leninist unity from within, and all of them broke their necks” (ibid. p. 79).
Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin in this report was veiled and shrouded in language almost allegorical:
“It was of paramount importance to re-establish and to strengthen in every way the Leninist principle of collective leadership...
“The Central Committee... vigorously condemned the cult of the individual as being alien to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism and making a particular leader a hero and a miracle worker ... currency of the cult of the individual tended to minimise the role of collective leadership in the Party, and at times resulted in serious drawbacks in our work.” (Ibid. pp. 80-81.)
Having already eliminated, through judicial murder, Beria and a few other Marxist-Leninists, Khrushchev felt bold enough to condemn Beria as an imperialist agent – a most absurd accusation:
“The imperialists had placed special hopes on their old agent, Beria, who had perfidiously wormed his way into leading posts in the party and government. The Central Committee put an end to the criminal conspiracy of that • dangerous enemy and his accomplices. That was a big victory for the party, a victory for its collective leadership.” (Ibid. pp. 78-79.)
If, in the remarks quoted immediately above, one were to substitute the name of Khrushchev for that of Beria, one would be very much closer to the truth. For this truth is that Beria was a Marxist-Leninist, and imperialists, so far removed were they from placing special hopes on him, went lurid with delight at the news of his physical elimination. With Khrushchev, matters stood differently. The imperialists had placed “special hopes” on this arch- revisionist, “who had perfidiously wormed his way into leading posts in the party and government,” and their hopes were not belied. This hypocritical high priest of capitalist restoration, this cringing flatterer, this double dealer and intriguer, learning his lessons from the “Trotskyites, Bukharinites, bourgeois nationalists, and other malignant enemies ... who had wanted to restore capitalism,” and who had all broken their necks, bided his time and waited for his opportunity, which came his way following the death of Stalin in March 1953.
“Honesty in politics is the result of strength;” remarked Lenin, “hypocrisy the result of weakness.” (Polemical Notes, Collected Works, Vol. XVII p. 166.)
It is a testimony to the hypocrisy – and weakness – of Khrushchev, and his revisionist cohorts, that his direct attack on Stalin was made in a “secret speech” to the 20th Party Congress on 25 February, 1956. So fearful were the revisionist clique of the reaction of the Soviet people to Khrushchev’s baseless and unwarranted abuse of Stalin that they never dared publish it in the USSR. Instead they leaked it to the US State Department, leaving it to the imperialist mass media to broadcast it to the Soviet people. For the revisionists this proved to be an extremely wise precaution, as even the rumours about the content of Khrushchev’s “secret speech” at the Congress led to industrial unrest, demonstrations and riots in the USSR. In this “secret speech”, Khrushchev charges that:
“... the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person.” (Russian Institute, Colombia University (ed.): The Anti-Stalin Campaign and International Communism, New York, 1956, p. 69.)
As time went on, and Khrushchev felt more secure and bold, he gave vent to his anti-Stalin spleen in language most absurd, violent and venomous. In his conversation with the delegation of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) on 22 October 1961, he abused Stalin as a “murderer” a “criminal”, a “bandit” and an “idiot”. In his speech at a 1962 May Day reception given by the Soviet government, Khrushchev described Stalin as a “gambler;” a “despot of the type of Ivan the Terrible”, “the greatest dictator in Russian history” and a “fool.”
The meaning of Khrushchev’s abuse, its real significance, can only be that the first socialist state was for nearly three decades headed by a “bandit”; that the heroic struggle of the glorious CPSU was, over this period, waged under the leadership of a “fool;” that the great Red Army, which by smashing the Nazi war machine triumphed in the anti-fascist and Great Patriotic War, had an “idiot” as its supreme commander. That the international communist movement had a “murderer” for its teacher over 30 long years; and that the international proletariat and the oppressed people the world over had a “gambler” as their standard-bearer in the struggle against international imperialism and all reaction. As the Chinese comrades at the time correctly commented, such abuse of Stalin by Khrushchev was “a gross insult to the Soviet people, a gross insult to the CPSU, to the Soviet army, to the dictatorship of the proletariat and to the socialist system, to the international communist movement, to the revolutionary people the world over and to Marxism-Leninism.” (On the Question of Stalin; Second Comment on the Open Letter of the Central Committee of the CPSU by the Editorial Departments of People’s Daily and Red Flag; 13 September, 1963).
The Chinese comrades went on to ask:
“In what position does Khrushchev, who participated in the leadership of the Party and the state during Stalin’s period, place himself when he beats his breast, pounds the table and shouts abuse at the top of his voice? In the position of an accomplice to a “murderer” or a “bandit”? Or in the same position as a “fool” or an “idiot”? (Ibid.)
Asked the Chinese comrades: “What difference is there between such abuse of Stalin by Khrushchev and the abuse by the imperialists, the reactionaries in various countries, and the renegades to communism? Why such inveterate hatred of Stalin? Why attack him more ferociously than you do the enemy?
“In abusing Stalin,” said the Chinese comrades by way of an answer to the above question, “Khrushchev is in fact wildly denouncing the Soviet system and state. His language in this connection is by no means weaker but actually stronger than that of such renegades as Kautsky, Trotsky, Tito and Djilas.” (Ibid.)
While pouring such abuse on Stalin, the Khrushchevites were heaping praise on the political representatives of US imperialism. Noted the Chinese comrades:
“On the one hand, they viciously lash out at a great Marxist-Leninist, a great proletarian revolutionary and a great leader of the international communist movement, and on the other, they laud the chieftains of imperialism to the skies.” Hitting the nail on the head, they pertinently asked:
“Is there any possibility that the connection between these phenomena is merely accidental and that it does not follow with inexorable logic from the betrayal of Marxism-Leninism?” (Ibid.)
That was indeed the political significance of Khrushchev’s vicious attack on Stalin, of his vituperative invective. In attacking Stalin, he (Khrushchev) was only maligning the party of great Lenin, the motherland of socialism, the Soviet people who were the first to accomplish a socialist revolution, who upheld its great gains in fierce battles against international imperialism and internal counter-revolution, who displayed miracles of heroism and dedication in the task of socialist construction, and who faithfully fulfilled their internationalist duty to the working people the world over.
In his article, The Political Significance of Abuse, Lenin made the observation:
“Abuse in politics often covers up the utter lack of ideological content, the helplessness and the impotence, the annoying impotence of the abuser.”
This apt observation so neatly described the Khrushchevite revisionists who, feeling constantly haunted by the spectre of Stalin, tried to cover up their utter lack of principle, their helplessness and their annoying impotence by abusing Stalin. Khrushchev merely abused Stalin; he never even attempted to substantiate his accusations and charges against Stalin. Such was his hatred of Stalin that in his speech at the Soviet- Hungarian Friendship Rally in Moscow on 19 July, 1963, Khrushchev said: “Ah! If only Stalin had died ten years earlier.” As is known, Stalin died in 1953. Ten years earlier would have meant 1943, the very year in which the glorious Red Army began its counter-offensive against the Nazi beasts in the Great Patriotic War. None but Hitler would have wanted Stalin to die just then – one would have thought! No, it turns out that the Khrushchevite revisionists were at one with Hitler in wishing Stalin’s demise in that fateful year when the fortunes of the war, and with them the destiny of the entire humanity, hung so precariously in the balance.
Lenin, in the Preface to his remarkable work in defence of Marxian philosophy, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, made this penetrating observation in regard to revisionism:
“... it was only the revisionists who gained a sad reputation for themselves by their departure from the fundamental views of Marxism, and by their fear or inability, to ‘settle accounts’ openly, explicitly, resolutely and clearly with the views they had abandoned. When orthodox Marxists had occasion to pronounce against some antiquated views of Marx..., it was always done with such precision and thoroughness that no one found anything ambiguous in such literary utterances.”
Khrushchevite revisionism is, or shall we say was, characterised by precisely such a duality – by its departure from the fundamentals of Marxism- Leninism accompanied by its fear of, or inability to, ‘settle accounts’ openly and honestly with the views it had abandoned. Even as late as Gorbachev’s accession to power, the revisionists in the USSR, while doing everything to bring about the final collapse of even the remnants of socialism, continued to invoke the names of Marx and Lenin. They have found an easy way: instead of openly taking up cudgels against Marxism-Leninism even today, they confine themselves to abusing Stalin and blaming everything and every misfortune, real and imaginary, on Stalin’s ‘personality cult’.
In what follows we intend to refute beyond doubt the revisionist assertions that Stalin was an extremely vain person, who not only encouraged the ‘Stalin personality cult’, but also took great pleasure in it, that he regarded himself as a superhuman being who knew everything, that he made statements without prior investigation and forced everyone to agree with him through sheer conceit. What emerges in our study of the real Stalin, as distinct from the mythical Stalin, is an extraordinarily competent Marxist-Leninist, who hated flattery and flatterers, who hated the cult of personality and did everything to stop it. What emerges is a great proletarian revolutionary suffering neither from conceit nor mock-modesty, and one mission – one burning desire – in life, namely, to contribute to the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat for its social emancipation; who never opened his mouth without making a careful study of the matter concerned. What also emerges clearly is that it is precisely his detractors, the Khrushchevite revisionists, who were guilty of building the Stalin ‘personality cult’. But he was never fooled or distracted by their flattery from the proletarian course he had set himself. That is precisely why the bourgeois intelligentsia – in particular the revisionists – entertained such burning resentment against him. For three long decades he frustrated their attempts to divert the international communist movement along opportunist channels and curtailed their freedom to corrupt the working-class movement with bourgeois ideology. It is natural that his consistent refusal to assume the pictorial leadership of a cult officiated by the opportunist intelligentsia aroused such uncontrollable hatred of him as that felt by the revisionist clique which seized the leadership of the CPSU after his death.
Friend and foe alike testify to Stalin’s simplicity and modesty. This is how Enver Hoxha, the Albanian leader, describes Stalin:
“Stalin was no tyrant, no despot. He was a man of principle; he was just, modest and very kindly and considerate towards people, the cadres and his colleagues (E. Hoxha: With Stalin: Memoirs, Tirana, 1979, pp. 14-15.)
Henri Barbusse, the French writer, gives the following vivid picture of Stalin’s lifestyle:
“One goes up to the first floor, where white curtains hang over three of the windows. These three windows are Stalin’s home. In the tiny hall a long military cloak hangs on a peg beneath a cap. In addition to this hall there are three bedrooms and a dining-room. The bedrooms are as simply furnished as those of a respectable, second
“Each month he earns the five hundred roubles which constitute the meagre maximum salary of the officials of the Communist Party (amounting to between £20 and £25 in English money)....
“This frank and brilliant man is ... a simple man. ... He does not employ thirty-two secretaries, like Mr Lloyd George; he has only one....
“Stalin systematically gives credit for all progress made to Lenin, whereas the credit has been in very large measure his own.” (H. Barbusse: Stalin: A New World Seen Through One Man, London 1935, pp. vii, viii, 291, 294.)
Although Stalin had the use of a country cottage (dacha), his lifestyle in it was just as simple and modest. Let Svetlana, his daughter, speak:
“It was the same with the dacha at Kuntsevo. ... My father lived on the ground floor. He lived in one room and made it do for everything. He slept on the sofa, made up at night as a bed” (S Alleluyeva, Letters to a Friend, London, 1967, p. 28).
The Russian-born American writer, Eugene Lyon, in his biography of Stalin, paints the following picture of the simplicity of Stalin’s lifestyle and of his pleasant, likable and friendly manner:
“Stalin lives in a modest apartment of three rooms... In his everyday life his tastes remained simple almost to the point of crudeness.... Even those who hated him with a desperate hate and blamed him for sadistic cruelties never accused him of excesses in his private life...
“Those who measure ‘success’ by millions of dollars, yachts and mistresses find it hard to understand power relished in austerity ...
“There was nothing remotely ogre-like in his looks or conduct, nothing theatrical in his manner. A pleasant, earnest, aging man – evidently willing to be friendly to the first foreigner whom he had admitted to his presence in years. ‘He’s a thoroughly likable person,’ / remember thinking as we sat there, and thinking it in astonishment.” (E Lyons, Stalin: Czar of All the Russias: Philadelphia, 1940, pp. 196 and 200.)
Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the famous British Fabians, in their enduring work Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation, forcibly reject the myth of exercise by Stalin of dictatorial power:
“Sometimes it is asserted that... the whole state is governed by the will of a single person, Josef Stalin.
“First let it be noted that, unlike Mussolini, Hitler and other modem dictators, Stalin is not invested by law with any authority over his fellow-citizens. He has not even the extensive power which ... the American Constitution entrusts for four years to every successive president... Stalin is not, and never has been,... the President of the USSR ... He is not even a People’s Commissar, or a member of the Cabinet... He is... the General Secretary of the Party....
“We do not think that the Party is governed by the will of a single person, or that Stalin is the sort of person to claim or desire such a position. He has himself very explicitly denied any such personal dictatorship in terms which ... certainly accord with our own impression of the facts.
“The Communist Party in the USSR has adopted for its own organisation the pattern which we have described ... In this pattern individual dictatorship has no place. Personal decisions are distrusted, and elaborately guarded against. In order to avoid the mistakes due to bias, anger, jealousy, vanity and other distempers... it is desirable that the individual will should always be controlled by the necessity of gaining the assent of colleagues of equal grade, who have candidly discussed the matter and who have to make themselves jointly responsible for the decision ...
“Stalin ... has... frequently pointed out that he does no more than carry out the decisions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party...
“The plain truth is that, surveying the administration of the USSR during the past decade under the alleged dictatorship of Stalin, the principal decisions have manifested neither the promptitude nor the timeliness, nor yet the fearless obstinacy that have often been claimed as the merits of a dictatorship. On the contrary, the action of the Party has frequently been taken after consideration so prolonged, and as the outcome of discussion sometimes so heated and embittered, as to bear upon their formulation the marks of hesitancy and lack of assurance... These policies have borne the stigmata of committee control.” (S and B Webb: Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation, London, 1947, pages 333-336.)
For those who are disinclined to believe in the testimony of Hoxha, Barbusse and the Webbs as being biased witnesses, we shall reproduce excerpts from the writings of those very critical of Stalin but who, nevertheless, corroborate the testimony already cited.
Joseph Davies, the US ambassador to Moscow from 1936-1938 – the period of the Moscow Trials – has this to say of Stalin:
I was startled to see the door... open and Mr Stalin come into the room alone... His demeanour is kindly, his manner almost deprecatingly simple...
“He greeted me cordially with a smile and with great simplicity, but also with a real dignity ... His brown eye is exceedingly kindly and gentle. A child would like to sit in his lap and a dog would sidle up to him.” (J.E. Davies, Mission to Moscow, London, 1940, pages 222 and 230.)
Walter Bedell Smith, another US ambassador to Moscow, from 1946- 1949, writes of Stalin:
“He is not, for instance, an absolute dictator, on the one hand, nor a prisoner of the Politburo, on the other; his position, I would say, is more that of chairman of the board with the decisive vote ...” (Walter Bedell Smith: Moscow Mission, William Heinemann Limited, London, 1950, p. 44).