Back to the virtual room with J. Stalin's works
(selected by Lorenzo Peña)

On the hundred and twenty first anniversary of Stalin's birth


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THE TWENTIETH century was one of great upheavals, world wars and revolutions. It was the century of great revolutionary changes; popular movements inevitably linked with the leaders thrown up by their times -- Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim II Sung, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro. It was the century in which the ideas of Marx and Engels were put into practice, the century when torch of the Paris Commune lit the flames of revolution across the globe.

The memory of all these leaders is subjected to denigration and abuse by the hired hands of the bourgeois media and academic world. The unholy alliance of bourgeois politicians, social democrats, Trotskyites and revisionists stoke fires of their own every day to produce a seemingly endless torrent of lies about the great revolutions that shook the world and the people who led them. The name of Joseph Stalin heads the list.

colossal achievements

Their hatred of Stalin should not surprise us. He led the world's first socialist state from 1924 until his death in 1953. During those decades the Soviet Union was the hope of working people across the world.

The colossal achievements of the Soviet Union led by Stalin was living proof of the validity of the socialist system. The Soviets swept out the capitalists and land-owners and unleashed the immense potential of the workers and peasants to build a new life for themselves.

While the economies of the imperialist world crashed the people of the Soviet Union saw their living standards rise twelvefold. While the imperialists prepared for another world war, against themselves and eventually against the USSR, the Soviet Union worked tirelessly for collective security and peace.

While the imperialists mercilessly plundered Africa and Asia the Soviet Union helped the world communist cause and the national liberation movement.

The oppressed nations or the Czarist empire were freed and lived as equals in a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which guaranteed everyone work, education, science and culture. The socialist system created new men and women who rebuilt the country after the destruction of the Civil War; who struggled to create the industries needed for the future; who sacrificed themselves by the millions to defend the Soviet Union and defeat fascism in the Second World War.

early days

Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili was born on 21 December 1879 in the town of Gori in the Czarist province of Georgia. He came from humble origins. His father was a peasant who later worked in a shoe factory in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. His mother came from a peasant family. Neither could read or write.

But Joseph Vissarionovich was brilliant at primary school. He was recommended for admission into the leading school in Georgia which was run by the Georgian Orthodox church.

The Tbilisi Seminary was a centre for Georgian nationalism and opposition to the Czar's regime. Here the young man turned to Marxism and revolution.

«My parents were uneducated, but they did not treat me badly by any means. But it was a different matter at the Orthodox theological seminary which I was then attending. In protest at the outrageous regime and the Jesuitical methods prevalent at the seminary, I was ready to become, and actually did become, a revolutionary, a believer in Marxism as a really revolutionary teaching,» he said later.

In his second year at the seminary, when Stalin was just 15, he made contact with underground Marxist circles. Three years later, in 1897, he joined the first socialist organisation in Georgia. Stalin started by setting up Marxist study groups for students and workers. In 1899 he was expelled and became a full-time revolutionary worker.

He called hirnself «Stalin» -- meaning «Steel» in Russian -- most Bolsheviks adopted movement names to work underground.

The Caucasus was seething with discontent. The Georgians and other peoples of the region were doubly oppressed by the Russian colonial and largely feudal administration and the Russian and local exploiters who were plundering the new industries in the province. Tbilisi was an administrative and railway centre serving the oil-town of Baku, on the Caspian Sea.

Stalin plunged into militant revolutionary activity. In 1901 he was elected to the first Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. He organised illegal strikes. He was sent to Siberia many times, escaping twice to return to the Caucasus.

In 1905 Stalin first met Lenin at the Bolshevik Congress in Czarist Finland. In 1912 at the Prague Conference which led to the final break between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks within the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, Stalin was chosen to head the Bolsheviks' Russian Bureau. He published the first edition of Pravda and organised the new party's work in Russia.

By 1917 he was regarded by most as Lenin's second-in-command. Stalin represented Lenin at the key Sixth Congress as Lenin was in hiding in Finland. That Congress drew up the plans to overthrow the bourgeois Provisional Government which had removed the Czar in February 1917 pretending to heed the workers, peasants and soldiers demands for «peace, bread and liberty» but secretly working to keep Russia in the war and for the restoration of the monarchy.

When the decision was taken to overthrow the provisional government Stalin was chosen by Lenin to lead the Party Centre which directed the uprising. In the Civil War which followed Stalin held important military and political commands. In 1922 when the post of General Secretary of the party was established Stalin was elected, an office he held until his death.

Lenin's cause

Lenin, crippled by an assassin's bullet, died in 1924. Stalin was inevitably seen by the Soviet masses as Lenin's successor. But not by all.

Within the Bolshevik leadership factions were at work. Lenin fought the same battle with the Menshevik defeatists and class collaborators when they were all in the same party. Now the Staiin leadership faced the same challenge, with much higher stakes -- the future of the first workers' and peasants republic.

Stalin fought first of all to defeat Trotsky, who had bitterly opposed Lenin in the past. Trotsky, who without foundation believed he should have succeeded Lenin, used a variety of bogus arguments to oppose the construction of socialism in one state. Later his tiny band of followers would abandon argument for treason and sabotage.

Stalin upheld Lenin's legacy against Trotsky's left sectarianism and against right deviation -- held by others who did not believe the revolution could succeed in building socialism and were ready to capitulate to local and international reaction.

Stalin stuck to Lenin's strategy of building socialism in one country.

There was no other choice. The White Guards and the foreign interventionist armies were crushed in the Civil War but the great upheaval in the other imperialist heartlands which the Trotskyites said had to happen for socialism to work did not occur. The revolutionaty upsurge in Germany and Hungary was drowned in blood. Communist Parties were founded out of the working class movement in Europe and the rest of the world but social-democracy prevailed. As Stalin put it in 1927:

Our West European brothers do not yet want to seize power, and we are obliged to do the best we can with our own means.

And did it they did. Agriculture was collectivised and the grasping petty landlords, the kulaks, were liquidated as a class. Immense new industries were established across the Soviet Union, the country was electrified, universal education and a national health service that was the envy of the rest of the world was established. In the Thirties, when the capitalist world tottered on the brink of economic collapse and the ruling classes in some parts of Europe established naked dictatorships in the form of fascism, the Soviet Union ended unemployment and established a constitution which guaranteed every Soviet citizen work, education, science and culture.

Stalin was a great revolutionary and a great organiser. But he was also an outstanding populariser of Marxist-Leninist thinking and made some important new contributions to the science of socialism himself. His development of the Marxist-Leninist theory of the national question provided the basis for the revolutionary changes which transformed the Czarist Empire, which was a prisoner of nations, into a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in which everyone regardless of nationality, creed or culture lived in equality and harmony. Stalin's Foundations of Leninism, written back in 1924 remains to this day the best introduction to Marxism-Leninism.

Stalin always upheld the principle of collective leadership and putting the Party first.

collective leadership

Comrades, I shall not comment on the matter of personal feelings, although personal feelings played a rather conspicuous part in the speeches of some of the comrades from Bukharin's group,

he warned in 1929.

I shall make no comment on this subject because personal feelings are a trivial matter, and it is not worth while speaking of trivial matters. Bukharin spoke of letters he had written to me. He read some of these letters and from their content one could gather that although we were still friends some time ago, now we differ politically. The same mood could be detected in the speeches of Uglanov and Tomsky: What is happening, they seemed to suggest, how is it that we, old Bolsheviks, should suddenly be at odds and have no respect for each other. I think that these moans and lamentations are not worth a brass-farthing. Our organisation is not a family group nor is it an association based on personal friendship; it is the political party of the working class. We cannot tolerate that interests of personal friendship should be placed higher than the interests of our cause.
Things have come to a sad pass, comrades, if the only reason why we are called old Bolsheviks is that we are just old. Old Bolsheviks are respected not because they are old, but because they are eternally young, never-aging revolutionaries. If an old Bolshevik has swerved from the path of the revolution, or degenerated and failed politically, then, be he even one hundred years old, he has no right to call himself an old Bolshevik; he has no right to demand that the Party should respect him.
Moreover, questions of personal friendship should not be placed on one level with political questions, for, as the saying goes -- friendship is all very well, but duty comes first. We are all of us servants of the working class, and if the interests of personal friendship clash with the interests of the revolution, then personal friendship must come second. For Bolsheviks this is the only possible attitude.
I shall not comment either on the subject of insinuations and veiled accusations of a persona1 nature that were contained in the speeches of the comrades from Bukharin's opposition. Evidently these comrades are attempting to conceal the underlying political reason for our differences behind a cloak of insinuations and ambiguities. They are seeking to substitute petty political scheming for politics. Tomsky's speech is indeed typical in this respect. His was the speech of a typical trade union politician trying to substitute petty political scheming for politics. However, this subterfuge will get them nowhere.

defending the USSR

In the Thirties war was in the air. Fascists, the most aggressive elements of the German and Italian ruling class, were preparing for war.

The Soviets knew another war was coming. Either all the imperialists would combine against them as they did during the Civil War, or some of them would attack -- which is what eventually happened. This made the drive for rapid industrialisation even more urgent.

Stalin put it like this in 1931:

Do you want our socialist motherland to be beaten and lose its independence ... we are fifty to a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do this or they crush us.

While the Party led the campaign for greater production others amongst the leadership were plotting the Soviet Union's downfall. On the 1 December 1934 Sergei Kirov, regarded as second only to Stalin himself in the Party leadership, was shot dead by an agent of the Trotskyite opposition. At the 17th Party Congress that same year Kirov had said: «Immense, indeed, are the successes we have achieved. To put it in plain human language one would like to live on and on».

The anti-communist lie-machine immediately claimed Stalin had ordered it himself. In fact, as became clear in a series of state trials later, the right-deviationists and the left sectarian Trotskyites had made common cause in a conspiracy involving imperialismn to overthrow Soviet power.

The leaders were put on trial. All confessed. The ring-leaders were sentenced to death and shot for treason. The Party ordered a purge, a cleansing of its ranks which led to waves of arrests.

The professional anti-communist bourgeois «historians» and their Trotskyite friends portray this period as the time of «Stalin's terror».

Ludicrous figures are given of the numbers sent to labour camps during the crackdown and astronomic figures for those said to have died in the camps.

Most claim «millions» perished. The most rabid talk about «25 million» in an effort to equate Stalin with the very real number of people who died on the orders of Adolf Hitler and the German Nazis.

In fact the figures were made public in 1990. Two Soviet historians delved deep into the archives which revealed a totally different picture.

According to Zemskov and Dugin the total number in the labour camps in 1934 was exactly 510,307. This number includes criminals as well as those charged with «political crimes». In fact the number accused of «political» offences oscillated between 127,000 in 1934 to a maximum of 500,000 during the two war years of 1941 and 1942.

From 1936 to 1939 the figure for all criminals detained had risen to 839,406 and then to 1,317,195. The largest number held in labour camps in Stalin's day was in 1951 when the figure had risen to 1,948,158. Most were ordinary criminals. The number sentenced for «political» offences totalled 579,878. Most of them had been Nazi collaborators; 334,538 had been convicted of treason.

To put this into perspective the population of the Soviet Union in 1939 was 170 million. It should also be noted that in Krushchov's day, the Soviet leader who did his best to denigrate and smear the memory of Stalin, the labour camp population was still around two million, all convicted of criminal offences.

The masses closed ranks around the Party. The counter-revolutionaries were crushed. Many workers took up the challenge of the Stakhanovite movement and worked even harder to meet rheir targets. In 1935 a coal miner, Alexei Stakhanov, overfulfilled his work target by 1,400 per cent.

Others followed. But Stalin never forgot that working people had to benefit concretely from the revolution.

concrete benefits

He told the Stakhanovites that:

The basis For the Stakhanov movement was first and foremost the radical improvement in the material welfare of the workers. Life has improved, comrades. Life has become more joyous. And when life is joyous, work goes well. Hence the high rate of output. Hence the heroes and heroines of labour. That, primarily, is the root of the Stakhanov movement. If there had been a crisis in our country, if there had been unemployment -- that scourge of the working class -- if people in our country lived badly, drably, joylessly, we should have had nothing like the Stakhanov movement.
Our proletarian revolution is the only revolution in the world which had the opportunity of showing the people not only the political results but also material results. Of all workers' revolutions, we know only one to achieve power. That was the Paris Commune. But it did not last long.
True, it endeavoured to smash the fetters of capitalism; but it did not have time enough to smash them, and still less to show the people the beneficial material results of revolution.
Our revolution is the only one which not only smashed the fetters of capitaiism and brought people freedom, but also succeeded in creating the material conditions of a prosperous life for the people. Therein lies the strength and invincibility of our revolution.
It is a good thing, of course, to drive out the capitalists, to drive out the landlords, to drive out the Czarist henchmen, to seize power and achieve freedom. That is very good.
But unfortunately, freedom alone is not enough, by far. If there is a shortage of bread, a shortage of butter and fats, a shortage of textiles, and if housing conditions are bad, freedom will not carry you very far.
It is very difficult, comrades, to live on freedom alone. In order to live well and joyously, the benefits of political freedom must be supplemented by material benefits.
It is a distinctive feature of our revolution that it brought the people not only freedom, but also material benefits, and the possibility of a prosperous and cultured life. That is why life has become joyous in our country, and that is the soil from which the Stakhanov movement sprang.


Throughout the Thirties the Soviet Union worked to prevent war, proposing collective security to Britain and France to counter the threats from the new Nazi leadership in Gennany. But the leaders of Britain and France feared communism more than they feared Nazi demands. They hoped and encouraged the Nazis to look to the East for a new German empire. They didn't realise that the most aggressive sections of the German ruling class, those who had put Hitler into power to prepare for war, wanted to settle accounts with Britain and France first.

In the end the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with the Germans in 1939, sparing the Soviet people the horrors of war for two more years.

The Nazi war-machine over-ran Western Europe and then turned its venom against the land of the Soviets in 1941.

Hitler and the Wehrmacht believed the Soviet Union would fall like a pack of cards under their blitzkrieg. They expected the Soviet masses to welcome the Nazis with open arms as liberators. What they got was ferocious resistance.

Soviet young men and women in the Red Army, the partizans, and working in the factories and fields, rallied to the Party to defend their Soviet Motherland. Millions upon millions, over 20 million, died in the struggle. «For the Motherland! For Stalin!» was the watchword as the Red Army brought the might of the Nazi army to its knees in an epic struggle of sacrifice, endurance and heroism. It ended in 1945 with Berlin captured and the Nazi fuhrer dead by his own hands in his bunker.

The defeat of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire was largely due to the Soviet Union's efforts, a fact recognised by British and American politicians at the time but soon forgotten when the war ended.

The Soviet victory was only possible because of the measures taken by the Stalin leadership in the Thirties. Without rapid industrialisation the Soviet Union would not have been able to withstand the blows of the Nazi invaders. They would have made mince-meat out of the Red Army.

Without the purges, the Nazis would have found plenty of collaborators to work for them few offered to serve the swastika. The defeat of fascism was the greatest achievement of the Stalin leadership. The alternative -- a world run by Hitler and Hirohito -- would have set back humanity hundreds of years.

Stalin's last years saw the drive to reconstruct in a postwar world which was dramatically different. In eastern Europe socialism had triumphed and in the East the Chinese people had stood up, winning their own civil war and establishing the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The flames of revolution had spread to Korea and Vietnam. The people of Africa and Asia were breaking the chains of European colonialism. And the Soviet Union was able to stand up to the threats of the imperialists, now led by the United States. Within a decade the Soviets would match their technology rocket for rocket and bomb for bomb.

Joseph Stalin died on 5 March 1953. The people of the Soviet Union were overcome with grief. A file of mourners, sixteen across and ten miles long, marched through the icy streets of Moscow to pay their last respects.

Hundreds of millions across the world paid tribute to the man who had led the Soviet Union.

In the years which followed much of Stalin's work was undone. Revisionist and corrupt elements who had wormed their way into the leadership began by attacking Stalin's record and then moved to attack what had been built during his leadership. They paved the way for hidden traitors to rise to top and lead the counter-revolution which destroyed the Soviet Union in 1990.

pro-capitalist cliques

Now the Soviet Union has gone. The former Soviet republics including Russia are all led by pro-capitalist cliques drawn almost entirely from the corrupt Party apparatus which mushroomed after Stalin's death. Workers and peasants live in poverty unknown since the days of the Czar. The cities are run by drug-lords, spivs and profiteers and feudal relations are returning to much of the rural areas.

But Stalin's memory is now being recalled in Russia and the other republics. The genuine communist movements all uphold his name. Old people, old enough to have lived under the Stalin leadership bear his photo on demonstrations. Noone carries posters of Krushchov or Brezhnev. The traitor Gorbachov is probably one of the most despised men in Russia today.

It is not heroes that make history, but history that makes heroes. It is not heroes who create a people, but the people who create heroes and move history forward. Heroes, outstanding individuals, may play an important part in the life of society only in so far as they are capable of correctly understanding the conditions of development of society and the ways of changing them for the better.
History ofthe Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), short course. Moscow 1938.

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This short essay was kindly sent to us via email by the New Communist Party of Britain on 2000-12-22

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