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Joseph Stalin, was born in Gori, Georgia on 21st December, 1879. He was his mother's fourth child to be born in less than four years. The first three died and as Joseph was prone to bad health, his mother feared on several occasions that he would also die. Understandably, given this background, Joseph's mother was very protective towards him as a child.
Joseph's father was a bootmaker and his mother took in washing. As a child, Joseph experienced the poverty that most peasants had to endure in Russia at the end of the 19th century. At the age of seven he contacted smallpox. He survived but his face remained scarred for the rest of his life and other children cruelly called him "pocky".
Joseph's mother was deeply religious and in 1888 she managed to obtain him a place at the local church school. Despite his health problems, he made good progress at school and eventually won a free scholarship to the Tiflis Theological Seminary. While studying at the seminary he joined a secret organization called Messame Dassy. Members were supporters of Georgian independence from Russia. Some were also socialist revolutionaries and it was through the people he met in this organization that Stalin first came into contact with the ideas of Karl Marx.
In May, 1899, Stalin was expelled from the Tiflis Theological Seminary. Several reasons were given for this action including disrespect for those in authority and reading forbidden books. Stalin was later to claim that the real reason was that he had been trying to convert his fellow students to Marxism.
For several months after leaving the seminary Stalin was unemployed. He eventually found work by giving private lessons to middle class children. Later, he worked as a clerk at the Tiflis Observatory. He also began writing articles for the socialist Georgian newspaper, Brdzola Khma Vladimir.
In 1901 Stalin joined the Social Democratic Labour Party and whereas most of the leaders were living in exile, he stayed in Russia where he helped to organize industrial resistance to Tsarism. On 18th April, 1902, Stalin was arrested after coordinating a strike at the large Rothschild plant at Batum. After spending 18 months in prison Stalin was deported to Siberia.
At the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party in London in 1903, there was a dispute between Lenin and Julius Martov, two of the party's leaders. Lenin argued for a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters. Martov disagreed believing it was better to have a large party of activists.
Julius Martov based his ideas on the socialist parties that existed in other European countries such as the British Labour Party. Lenin argued that the situation was different in Russia as it was illegal to form socialist political parties under the Tsar's autocratic government. At the end of the debate Martov won the vote 28-23. Lenin was unwilling to accept the result and formed a faction known as the Bolsheviks. Those who remained loyal to Martov became known as Mensheviks.
Stalin, like Gregory Zinoviev, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Mikhail Lashevich, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Mikhail Frunze, Alexei Rykov, Yakov Sverdlov, Lev Kamenev, Maxim Litvinov, Vladimir Antonov, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Gregory Ordzhonikidze and Alexander Bogdanov joined the Bolsheviks. Whereas George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Lev Deich, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Leon Trotsky, Vera Zasulich, Irakli Tsereteli, Moisei Uritsky, Noi Zhordania, Andrei Vyshinsky and Fedor Dan supported Julius Martov.
In 1904 Stalin escaped from Siberia and within a few months he was back organizing demonstrations and strikes in Tiflis. Vladimir Lenin was impressed with Stalin's achievements and in 1905 he was invited to meet him in Finland.
Stalin returned to Russia and over the next eight years he was arrested four times but each time managed to escape. In 1911 he moved to St, Petersburg and the following year became editor of Pravda. Arrested again in 1913, Stalin was exiled for life to North Siberia.
After the overthrow of Nicholas II, the new prime minister, Alexander Kerensky, allowed all political prisoners to return to their homes. Stalin went back to St. Petersburg and once again became one of the editors of Pravda. At this time, Stalin, like most Bolsheviks, took the view that the Russian people were not ready for a socialist revolution.
When Lenin returned to Russia on 3rd April, 1917, he announced what became known as the April Theses. Lenin attacked Bolsheviks for supporting the Provisional Government. Instead, he argued, revolutionaries should be telling the people of Russia that they should take over the control of the country. In his speech, Lenin urged the peasants to take the land from the rich landlords and the industrial workers to seize the factories.
Lenin accused those Bolsheviks who were still supporting the Provisional Government of betraying socialism and suggested that they should leave the party. Some took Lenin's advice, arguing that any attempt at revolution at this stage was bound to fail and would lead to another repressive, authoritarian Russian government.
Stalin was in a difficult position. As one of the editors of Pravda, he was aware that he was being held partly responsible for what Lenin had described as "betraying socialism". Stalin had two main options open to him: he could oppose Lenin and challenge him for the leadership of the party, or he could change his mind about supporting the Provisional Government and remain loyal to Lenin.
After ten days of silence, Stalin made his move. In Pravda he wrote an article dismissing the idea of working with the Provisional Government. He condemned Alexander Kerensky and Victor Chernov as counter-revolutionaries, and urged the peasants to takeover the land for themselves.
In November, 1917, Lenin rewarded Stalin for his support of the October Revolution by appointing him Commissar of Nationalities. Lenin joked to Stalin that: "You know, to pass so quickly from an underground existence to power makes one dizzy."
As a Georgian and a member of a minority group who had written about the problems of non-Russian peoples living under the Tsar, Stalin was seen as the obvious choice as Commissar of Nationalities. It was a job that gave Stalin tremendous power for nearly half the country's population fell into the category of non-Russian. Stalin now had the responsibility of dealing with 65 million Ukrainians, Georgians, Byelorussians, Tadzhiks, Buriats and Yakuts.
The policy of the Bolsheviks was to grant the right of self-determination to all the various nationalities within Russia. This was reinforced by a speech Stalin made in Helsinki on November 16th, 1917. Stalin promised the crowd that the Soviet government would grant: "complete freedom for the Finnish people, and for other peoples of Russia, to arrange their own life!" Stalin's plan was to develop what he called "a voluntary and honest alliance" between Russia and the different national groups that lived within its borders.
Over the next couple of years Stalin had difficulty controlling the non-Russian peoples under his control. Independent states were set up without his agreement. These new governments were often hostile to the Bolsheviks. Stalin had hoped that these independent states would voluntarily agree to join up with Russia to form a union of Socialist States. When this did not happen Stalin was forced to revise his policy and stated that self-determination: "ought to be understood as the right of self-determination not of the bourgeoisie but of the toiling masses of a given nation." In other words, unless these independent states had a socialist government willing to develop a union with Russia, the Bolsheviks would not allow self-determination.
Lenin also changed his views on independence. He now came to the conclusion that a "modern economy required a high degree of power in the centre." Although the Bolsheviks had promised nearly half the Russian population that they would have self-determination, Lenin was now of the opinion that such a policy could pose a serious threat to the survival of the Soviet government. It was the broken promise over self-determination that was just one of the many reasons why Lenin's government became unpopular in Russia.
During the Civil War Stalin played an important administrative role in military matters and took the credit for successfully defeating the White Army at Tsaritsyn. One strategy developed by Stalin was to conduct interviews with local administrators on a large barge moored on the Volga. It was later claimed that if Stalin was not convinced of their loyalty they were shot and thrown into the river.
In August, 1918, Moisei Uritsky, chief of the Petrograd Secret Police was assassinated. Two two weeks later Dora Kaplan shot and severely wounded Lenin. Stalin, who was in Tsaritsyn at the time, sent a telegram advocating an "open and systematic mass terror" against those responsible. The advice of Stalin was accepted and in September, 1918, Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, instigated as the Red Terror. It is estimated that in the next few months 800 socialists were arrested and shot without trial.
The Soviet's government's policy of War Communism during the Civil War created social distress and led to riots, strikes and demonstrations. The Kronstadt Uprising reinforced the idea that the government was unpopular and in March, 1921, Vladimir Lenin announced details of his New Economic Policy (NEP). Farmers were now allowed to sell food on the open market and could now employ people to work for them.
The New Economic Policy also allowed some freedom of internal trade, permitted some private commerce and re-established state banks. Factories employing less than twenty people were denationalized and could be claimed back by former owners.
Stalin supported Lenin's policy. His view was that as long as there was only a one party state, the government could allow the introduction of small-scale private enterprise. As he pointed out: "The New Economic Policy is a special policy of the proletarian state designed to tolerate capitalism but retain the key positions in the hands of the proletarian state."
Lenin found the disagreements over the New Economic Policy exhausting. His health had been poor ever since Dora Kaplan had shot him in 1918. Severe headaches limited his sleep and understandably he began to suffer from fatigue. Lenin decided he needed someone to help him control the Communist Party.
At the Party Conference in April, 1922, Lenin suggested that a new post of General Secretary should be created. Lenin's choice for the post was Stalin, who in the past had always loyally supported his policies. Stalin's main opponents for the future leadership of the party failed to see the importance of this position and actually supported his nomination. They initially saw the post of General Secretary as being no more than "Lenin's mouthpiece".
Soon after Stalin's appointment as General Secretary, Lenin went into hospital to have a bullet removed from his body that had been there since Kaplan's assassination attempt. It was hoped that this operation would restore his health. This was not to be; soon afterwards, a blood vessel broke in Lenin's brain. This left him paralyzed all down his right side and for a time he was unable to speak. As "Lenin's mouthpiece", Stalin had suddenly become extremely important.
While Lenin was immobilized, Stalin made full use of his powers as General Secretary. At the Party Congress he had been granted permission to expel "unsatisfactory" party members. This enabled Stalin to remove thousands of supporters of Leon Trotsky, his main rival for the leadership of the party. As General Secretary, Stalin also had the power to appoint and sack people from important positions in the government. The new holders of these posts were fully aware that they owed their promotion to Stalin. They also knew that if their behaviour did not please Stalin they would be replaced.
Surrounded by his supporters, Stalin's confidence began to grow. In October, 1922, he disagreed with Lenin over the issue of foreign trade. When the matter was discussed at Central Committee, Stalin's rather Lenin's policy was accepted. Lenin began to fear that Stalin was taking over the leadership of the party. Lenin wrote to Leon Trotsky asking for his support. Trotsky agreed and at the next meeting of the Central Committee the decision on foreign trade was reversed. Lenin, who was too ill to attend, wrote to Trotsky congratulating him on his success and suggesting that in future they should work together against Stalin.
Stalin, whose wife Nadya Alliluyeva worked in Lenin's private office, soon discovered the contents of the letter sent to Leon Trotsky. Stalin was furious as he realized that if Lenin and Trotsky worked together against him, his political career would be at an end. In a fit of temper Stalin made an abusive phone-call to Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, accusing her of endangering Lenin's life by allowing him to write letters when he was so ill.
After Krupskaya told her husband of the phone-call, Lenin made the decision that Stalin was not the man to replace him as the leader of the party. Lenin knew he was close to death so he dictated to his secretary a letter that he wanted to serve as his last "will and testament". The document was comprised of his thoughts on the senior members of the party leadership.
Lenin became increasing concerned about Stalin's character and wrote a testament in which he suggested that he be removed. "Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands: and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. I therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing Stalin from this post and appointing someone else who differs from Stalin in one weighty respect: being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades."
However, Lenin died before any action was taken. Stalin now emerged as the leader of the Soviet Union. When he first gained power Stalin continued Lenin's New Economic Policy. Farmers were allowed to sell food on the open market and were allowed to employ people to work for them. Those farmers who expanded the size of their farms became known as kulaks.
In 1928 Stalin began attacking kulaks for not supplying enough food for industrial workers. He also advocated the setting up of collective farms. The proposal involved small farmers joining forces to form large-scale units. In this way, it was argued, they would be in a position to afford the latest machinery. Stalin believed this policy would lead to increased production. However, the peasants liked farming their own land and were reluctant to form themselves into state collectives.
Stalin was furious that the peasants were putting their own welfare before that of the Soviet Union. Local communist officials were given instructions to confiscate kulaks property. This land was then used to form new collective farms. Thousands of kulaks were executed and an estimated five million were deported to Siberia or Central Asia. Of these, approximately twenty-five per cent perished by the time they reached their destination.
After the death of Lenin, Stalin joined forces with two left-wing members of the Politburo, Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, to keep Leon Trotsky from power. Both these men had reason to believe that Trotsky would dismiss them from the government once he became leader. Stalin encouraged these fears. He also suggested that old party activists like themselves had more right to lead the Bolsheviks than Trotsky, who had only joined the party in 1917.
Leon Trotsky accused Stalin of being dictatorial and called for the introduction of more democracy into the party. Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev united behind Stalin and accused Trotsky of creating divisions in the party. Trotsky's main hope of gaining power was for Lenin's last testament to be published. In May, 1924, Lenin's widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya, demanded that the Central Committee announce its contents to the rest of the party. Zinoviev argued strongly against its publication. He finished his speech with the words: "You have all witnessed our harmonious cooperation in the last few months, and, like myself, you will be happy to say that Lenin's fears have proved baseless." The new members of the Central Committee, who had been sponsored by Stalin, guaranteed that the vote went against Lenin's testament being made public.
In 1925 Stalin was able to arrange for Leon Trotsky to be removed from the government. Some of Trotsky's supporters pleaded with him to organize a military coup. As commissar of war Trotsky was in a good position to arrange this. However, Trotsky rejected the idea and instead resigned his post.
With the decline of Trotsky, Joseph Stalin felt strong enough to stop sharing power with Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev. Stalin now began to attack Trotsky's belief in the need for world revolution. He argued that the party's main priority should be to defend the communist system that had been developed in the Soviet Union. This put Zinoviev and Kamenev in an awkward position. They had for a long time been strong supporters of Trotsky's theory that if revolution did not spread to other countries, the communist system in the Soviet Union was likely to be overthrown by hostile, capitalist nations. However, they were reluctant to speak out in favour of a man whom they had been in conflict with for so long.
When Stalin was finally convinced that Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev were unwilling to join forces with Leon Trotsky against him, he began to support openly the economic policies of right-wing members of the Politburo such as Nikolay Bukharin, Mikhail Tomsky and Alexei Rykov. They now realized what Stalin was up to but it took them to summer of 1926 before they could swallow their pride and join with Trotsky against Stalin.
When Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev eventually began attacking his policies, Joseph Stalin argued they were creating disunity in the party and managed to have them expelled from the Central Committee. The belief that the party would split into two opposing factions was a strong fear amongst communists in the country. They were convinced that if this happened, western countries would take advantage of the situation and invade the Soviet Union.
Under pressure from the Central Committee, Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev agreed to sign statements promising not to create conflict in the movement by making speeches attacking official policies. Leon Trotsky refused to sign and was banished to the remote area of Kazhakstan.
In 1927 Stalin's advisers told him that with the modernization of farming the Soviet Union would require an extra 250,000 tractors. As well as tractors there was also a need to develop the oil fields to provide the necessary petrol to drive the machines. Power stations also had to be built to supply the farms with electricity.
Since the October Revolution industrial progress had been slow. It was not until 1927 that production had reached the levels achieved before the start of the First World War. Stalin decided that he would use his control over the country to modernize the economy. The first Five Year Plan that was introduced in 1928, concentrated on the development of iron and steel, machine-tools, electric power and transport. Stalin set the workers high targets. He demanded a 111% increase in coal production, 200% increase in iron production and 335% increase in electric power. He justified these demands by claiming that if rapid industrialization did not take place, the Soviet Union would not be able to defend itself against an invasion from capitalist countries in the west.
Every factory had large display boards erected that showed the output of workers. Those that failed to reach the required targets were publicity criticized and humiliated. Some workers could not cope with this pressure and absenteeism increased. This led to even more repressive measures being introduced. Records were kept of workers' lateness, absenteeism and bad workmanship. If the worker's record was poor, he was accused of trying to sabotage the Five Year Plan and if found guilty could be shot or sent to work as forced labour on the Baltic Sea Canal or the Siberian Railway.
With the modernization of industry, Stalin argued that it was necessary to pay higher wages to certain workers in order to encourage increased output. His left-wing opponents claimed that this inequality was a betrayal of socialism and would create a new class system in the Soviet Union. Stalin had his way and during the 1930s, the gap between the wages of the labourers and the skilled workers increased.
Eugene Lyons was an American journalist who was fairly sympathetic to the Soviet government. On 22nd November, 1930, Stalin selected him to be the first western journalist to be granted an interview. It took place on 22nd November, 1930. Lyons claimed that: "One cannot live in the shadow of Stalin's legend without coming under its spell. My pulse, I am sure, was high. No sooner, however, had I stepped across the threshold than diffidence and nervousness fell away. Stalin met me at the door and shook hands, smiling. There was a certain shyness in his smile and the handshake was not perfunctory. He was remarkably unlike the scowling, self-important dictator of popular imagination. His every gesture was a rebuke to the thousand little bureaucrats who had inflicted their puny greatness upon me in these Russian years.... At such close range, there was not a trace of the Napoleonic quality one sees in his self-conscious camera or oil portraits. The shaggy mustache, framing a sensual mouth and a smile nearly as full of teeth as Teddy Roosevelt's, gave his swarthy face a friendly, almost benignant look."
Walter Duranty was furious when he heard that Stalin had granted Lyons this interview. He protested to the Soviet Press office that as the longest-serving Western correspondent in the country it was unfair not to give him an interview as well. A week after the interview Duranty was also granted an interview. Stalin told him that after the Russian Revolution the capitalist countries could have crushed the Bolsheviks: "But they waited too long. It is now too late." Stalin commented that the United States had no choice but to watch "socialism grow".
Duranty argued that unlike Leon Trotsky Stalin was not gifted with any great intelligence, but "he had nevertheless outmaneuvered this brilliant member of the intelligentsia". On 18th January, 1931, he wrote in the New York Times: "Stalin has created a great Frankenstein monster, of which... he has become an integral part, made of comparatively insignificant and mediocre individuals, but whose mass desires, aims, and appetites have an enormous and irresistible power. I hope it is not true, and I devoutly hope so, but it haunts me unpleasantly. And perhaps haunts Stalin."
Some people complained that the Soviet Union was being industrialized too fast. Isaac Deutscher quoted Stalin as saying: "No comrades... the pace must not be slackened! On the contrary, we must quicken it as much as is within our powers and possibilities. To slacken the pace would mean to lag behind; and those who lag behind are beaten.... The history of old Russia... was that she was ceaselessly beaten for her backwardness. She was beaten by the Mongol Khans, she was beaten by Turkish Beys, she was beaten by Swedish feudal lords, she was beaten by Polish-Lithuanian Pans, she was beaten by Anglo-French capitalists, she was beaten by Japanese barons, she was beaten by all - for her backwardness... We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. we must make good this lag in years. Either we do it or they crush us."
In the summer of 1932 Stalin became aware that opposition to his policies were growing. Some party members were publicly criticizing Stalin and calling for the readmission of Leon Trotsky to the party. When the issue was discussed at the Politburo, Stalin demanded that the critics should be arrested and executed. Sergey Kirov, who up to this time had been a staunch Stalinist, argued against this policy. When the vote was taken, the majority of the Politburo supported Kirov against Stalin.
The journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, discovered the existence of widespread famine in the Soviet Union in 1933. He knew that his reports would be censored and so he sent them out of the country in the British diplomatic bag. On 25th March 1933, the Manchester Guardian published Muggeridge's report: "I mean starving in its absolute sense; not undernourished as, for example, most Oriental peasants... and some unemployed workers in Europe, but having had for weeks next to nothing to eat." Muggeridge quoted one peasant as saying: "We have nothing. They have taken everything away." Muggeridge supported this view: "It was true. The famine is an organized one." He went to Kuban where he saw well-fed troops being used to coerce peasant starving to death. Muggeridge argued it was "a military occupation; worse, active war" against the peasants.
Muggeridge travelled to Rostov-on-Don and found further examples of mass starvation. He claimed that many of the peasants had bodies swollen from hunger, and there was an "all-pervading sight and smell of death." When he asked why they did not have enough to eat, the inevitable answer came that the food had been taken by the government. Muggeridge reported on 28th March: "To say that there is a famine in some of the most fertile parts of Russia is to say much less than the truth; there is not only famine but - in the case of the North Caucasus at least - a state of war, a military occupation."
On 31st March, 1933, The Evening Standard carried a report by Gareth Jones: "The main result of the Five Year Plan has been the tragic ruin of Russian agriculture. This ruin I saw in its grim reality. I tramped through a number of villages in the snow of March. I saw children with swollen bellies. I slept in peasants’ huts, sometimes nine of us in one room. I talked to every peasant I met, and the general conclusion I draw is that the present state of Russian agriculture is already catastrophic but that in a year’s time its condition will have worsened tenfold... The Five-Year Plan has built many fine factories. But it is bread that makes factory wheels go round, and the Five-Year Plan has destroyed the bread-supplier of Russia."
Eugene Lyons, the Moscow correspondent of the United Press International pointed out in in his autobiography, Assignment in Utopia (1937): "On emerging from Russia, Jones made a statement which, startling though it sounded, was little more than a summary of what the correspondents and foreign diplomats had told him. To protect us, and perhaps with some idea of heightening the authenticity of his reports, he emphasized his Ukrainian foray rather than our conversation as the chief source of his information. In any case, we all received urgent queries from our home offices on the subject. But the inquiries coincided with preparations under way for the trial of the British engineers. The need to remain on friendly terms with the censors at least for the duration of the trial was for all of us a compelling professional necessity."
Lyons and his friend Walter Duranty, who were both supporters of Stalin, decided to try and undermine these reports by Jones. Lyons told Bassow Whitman, the author of The Moscow Correspondents: Reporting on Russia from the Revolution to Glasnost (1988): "We admitted enough to soothe our consciences, but in roundabout phrases that damned Jones a liar. The filthy business having been disposed of, someone ordered vodka."
Duranty published an article, Russians Hungry But Not Starving , in the New York Times on 31st March 1933, where he argued that there was a conspiracy in the agricultural sector by "wreckers" and "spoilers" had "made a mess of Soviet food production". However, he did admit that the Soviet government had made some harsh decisions: "To put it brutally - you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevik leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socialism as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction." Duranty then went on to criticize Gareth Jones. He admitted that there had been "serious food shortages" but Jones was wrong to suggest that the Soviet Union was enduring a famine: "There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from disease due to malnutrition, especially in the Ukraine, North Caucasus, and Lower Volga." He then went on to claim that Jones description of famine in the Soviet Union was an example of "wishful thinking".
Eugene Lyons has argued: "Throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in years of juggling facts to please dictatorial regimes - but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by our denials."
Gareth Jones wrote to the New York Times complaining about Duranty's article in the newspaper. He pointed out that he was not guilty of "the strange suggestion that I was forecasting the doom of the Soviet regime, a forecast I have never ventured". Jones argued that he had visited over twenty villages where he had seen incredible suffering. He accused journalists such as Duranty and Lyons of being turned "into masters of euphemism and understatement". Jones said that they had given "famine" the polite name of "food shortage" and "starving to death" is softened to read as "wide-spread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition".
Sally J. Taylor, the author of Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990) has argued that Lyon's record on the famine was appalling: "He had been among the earliest to hear of it, suggested at first by the investigations of his own secretary and confirmed later by the findings of Barnes and Stoneman. But Lyons declined to go into the famine-stricken area.... The zealous Lyons fulminated about moral and ethical issues, but he had shown little inclination himself to interrupt what was an unusually successful social life in Moscow."
Walter Duranty and Eugene Lyons were not the only journalists in the Soviet Union who attacked Gareth Jones for his account of the famine. Louis Fischer questioned Jones estimate of a million dead: "Who counted them? How could anyone march through a country and count a million people? Of course people are hungry there - desperately hungry. Russia is turning over from agriculture to industrialism. It's like a man going into business on small capital."
Arthur Koestler lived in the winter of 1932-33 in Kharkiv in the Ukraine. When he visited the countryside he saw starving young children that looked like "embryos out of alcohol bottles." Traveling through the countryside by rail was "like running the gauntlet; the stations were lined with begging peasants with swollen hands and feet, the women holding up to the carriage-windows horrible infants with enormous wobbling heads, stick-like limbs, swollen, pointed bellies." Later the Soviet authorities began to require that the shades of all windows be pulled down on trains traveling through the famine areas. To Koestler, it was most unreal to see the local newspapers full of reports of industrial progress and successful shock workers, but "not one word about the local famine, epidemics, the dying out of whole ' villages.... The enormous land was covered with a blanket of silence."
Victor Kravchenko was a soviet official who witnessed these events: "People dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables. There was not even the consolation of inevitability to relieve the horror.... Everywhere were found men and women lying prone, their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless."
William Henry Chamberlin was eventually allowed into Kuban that autumn. On 13th September, 1933, Chamberlain argued in the Christian Science Monitor: "The whole North Caucasus is now engaged in the task of getting in the richest harvest of years, and shows few outward signs of recent poor crops." However, Chamberlain told officials at the British Embassy that he estimated that two million had died in Kazakhstan, a half a million in the North Caucasus, and two million in the Ukraine. Historians have estimated that as many as seven million people died during this period. Journalists based in Moscow were willing to accept the word of the Soviet authorities for their information. Walter Duranty even told his friend, Hubert Knickerbocker, that the reported famine "is mostly bunk".
In the spring of 1934 Sergey Kirov put forward a policy of reconciliation. He argued that people should be released from prison who had opposed the government's policy on collective farms and industrialization. Once again, Stalin found himself in a minority in the Politburo. After years of arranging for the removal of his opponents from the party, Stalin realized he still could not rely on the total support of the people whom he had replaced them with. Stalin no doubt began to wonder if Kirov was willing to wait for his mentor to die before becoming leader of the party. Stalin was particularly concerned by Kirov's willingness to argue with him in public, fearing that this would undermine his authority in the party.
As usual, that summer Kirov and Stalin went on holiday together. Stalin, who treated Kirov like a son, used this opportunity to try to persuade him to remain loyal to his leadership. Stalin asked him to leave Leningrad to join him in Moscow. Stalin wanted Kirov in a place where he could keep a close eye on him. When Kirov refused, Stalin knew he had lost control over his protégé.
Sergey Kirov was assassinated by a young party member, Leonid Nikolayev, on 1st December, 1934. Victor Kravchenko, pointed out: "Hundreds of suspects in Leningrad were rounded up and shot summarily, without trial. Hundreds of others, dragged from prison cells where they had been confined for years, were executed in a gesture of official vengeance against the Party's enemies. The first accounts of Kirov's death said that the assassin had acted as a tool of dastardly foreigners - Estonian, Polish, German and finally British. Then came a series of official reports vaguely linking Nikolayev with present and past followers of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other dissident old Bolsheviks."
Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent based in Moscow argued that Nikolayev was part of a larger plot: "The details of Kirov's assassination at first pointed to a personal motive, which may indeed have existed, but investigation showed that, as commonly happens in such cases, the assassin Nikolaiev had been made the instrument of forces whose aims were treasonable and political. A widespread plot against the Kremlin was discovered, whose ramifications included not merely former oppositionists but agents of the Nazi Gestapo. As the investigation continued, the Kremlin's conviction deepened that Trotsky and his friends abroad had built up an anti-Stalinist organisation in close collaboration with their associates in Russia, who formed a nucleus or centre around which gradually rallied divers elements of discontent and disloyalty. The actual conspirators were comparatively few in number, but as the plot thickened they did not hesitate to seek the aid of foreign enemies in order to compensate for the lack of popular support at home."
Max Shachtman pointed out: "The official indictment charges a widespread assassination conspiracy, carried on these five years or more, directed against the head of the Communist party and the government, organized with the direct connivance of the Hitler regime, and aimed at the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship in Russia. And who are included in these stupefying charges, either as direct participants or, what would be no less reprehensible, as persons with knowledge of the conspiracy who failed to disclose it?"
Robin Page Arnot, a member of the British Communist Party, argued that the conspiracy was led by Leon Trotsky. This resulted in the arrest of Genrikh Yagoda, Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Nikolay Bukharin, Mikhail Tomsky and Alexei Rykov and eleven other party members who had been critical of Stalin. "In December 1934 one of the groups carried through the assassination of Sergei Mironovich Kirov, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Subsequent investigations revealed that behind the first group of assassins was a second group, an Organisation of Trotskyists headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev. Further investigations brought to light definite counter-revolutionary activities of the Rights (Bukharin-Rykov organisations) and their joint working with the Trotskyists."
However, according to Alexander Orlov, a NKVD officer, "Stalin decided to arrange for the assassination of Kirov and to lay the crime at the door of the former leaders of the opposition and thus with one blow do away with Lenin's former comrades. Stalin came to the conclusion that, if he could prove that Zinoviev and Kamenev and other leaders of the opposition had shed the blood of Kirov".
At the first of what became known as show trials, all the men were found guilty and executed. Walter Duranty was the New York Times journalist based in Moscow. He wrote in the The New Republic that while watching the trial he came to the conclusion "that the confessions are true". Based on these comments the editor of the journal argued: "Some commentators, writing at a long distance from the scene, profess doubt that the executed men (Zinoviev and Kamenev) were guilty. It is suggested that they may have participated in a piece of stage play for the sake of friends or members of their families, held by the Soviet government as hostages and to be set free in exchange for this sacrifice. We see no reason to accept any of these laboured hypotheses, or to take the trial in other than its face value. Foreign correspondents present at the trial pointed out that the stories of these sixteen defendants, covering a series of complicated happenings over nearly five years, corroborated each other to an extent that would be quite impossible if they were not substantially true. The defendants gave no evidence of having been coached, parroting confessions painfully memorized in advance, or of being under any sort of duress."
Eugene Lyons, the author of Workers’ Paradise Lost: Fifty Years of Soviet Communism: A Balance Sheet (1967) argued: "Somewhere along the line, however, Stalin apparently decided to join the anti-Semitic tide instead of fighting it. His inborn anti-Semitism had been exacerbated by the bitter struggle with Trotsky and his chief associates, many of them also Jews. He came to abhor intellectuals in general and Jewish intellectuals in particular. His alliance with Hitler was marked by the immediate expulsion of virtually all Jews from high office in the diplomatic and military services and from the higher reaches in the Soviet elites generally. Essentially this condition still prevails."
Leon Trotsky, who was living in exile in Mexico City, was furious with Duranty and described him as a "hypocritical psychologist" who tried to explain away the terrors of the regime with "glib and facile phrases." Trotsky condemned Joseph Stalin "for betraying socialism and dishonoring the revolution" and describing the leadership as being "dominated by a clique which holds the people in subjection by oppression and terror." The trial, Trotsky claimed was a "frame-up" that lacked "objectivity and impartiality" and volunteered to go before an international commission to prove his innocence."
In September, 1936, Stalin appointed Nikolai Yezhov as head of the NKVD, the Communist Secret Police. Yezhov quickly arranged the arrest of all the leading political figures in the Soviet Union who were critical of Stalin. The Secret Police broke prisoners down by intense interrogation. This included the threat to arrest and execute members of the prisoner's family if they did not confess. The interrogation went on for several days and nights and eventually they became so exhausted and disoriented that they signed confessions agreeing that they had been attempting to overthrow the government.
In 1936 Nickolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Krestinsky and Christian Rakovsky were arrested and accused of being involved with Leon Trotsky in a plot against Stalin. They were all found guilty and were eventually executed.
Stalin now decided to purge the Red Army. Some historians believe that Stalin was telling the truth when he claimed that he had evidence that the army was planning a military coup at this time. Leopold Trepper, head of the Soviet spy ring in Germany, believed that the evidence was planted by a double agent who worked for both Stalin and Adolf Hitler. Trepper's theory is that the "chiefs of Nazi counter-espionage" took "advantage of the paranoia raging in the Soviet Union," by supplying information that led to Stalin executing his top military leaders.
In June, 1937, Mikhail Tukhachevsky and seven other top Red Army commanders were charged with conspiracy with Germany. All eight were convicted and executed. All told, 30,000 members of the armed forces were executed. This included fifty per cent of all army officers.
The last stage of the terror was the purging of the NKVD. Stalin wanted to make sure that those who knew too much about the purges would also be killed. Stalin announced to the country that "fascist elements" had taken over the security forces which had resulted in innocent people being executed. He appointed Lavrenti Beria as the new head of the Secret Police and he was instructed to find out who was responsible. After his investigations, Beria arranged the executions of all the senior figures in the organization.
Stalin supported the Popular Front government in Spain. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he sent large quantities of Soviet tanks and aircraft to the Republicans. They were accompanied by a large number of tank-drivers and pilots from the Soviet Union. All told, about 850 Soviet advisers, pilots, technical personnel and interpreters took part in the war.
Stalin became increasingly concerned that the Soviet Union would be invaded by Germany. Stalin believed the best way to of dealing with Adolf Hitler was to form an anti-fascist alliance with countries in the west. Stalin argued that even Hitler would not start a war against a united Europe.
Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, was not enthusiastic about forming an alliance with the Soviet Union. He wrote to a friend: "I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with getting everyone else by the ears."
Winston Churchill, an outspoken critic of British foreign policy, agreed with Stalin: "There is no means of maintaining an eastern front against Nazi aggression without the active aid of Russia. Russian interests are deeply concerned in preventing Herr Hitler's designs on eastern Europe. It should still be possible to range all the States and peoples from the Baltic to the Black sea in one solid front against a new outrage of invasion. Such a front, if established in good heart, and with resolute and efficient military arrangements, combined with the strength of the Western Powers, may yet confront Hitler, Goering, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Goebbels and co. with forces the German people would be reluctant to challenge."
Stalin's own interpretation of Britain's rejection of his plan for an antifascist alliance, was that they were involved in a plot with Germany against the Soviet Union. This belief was reinforced when Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler at Munich in September, 1938, and gave into his demands for the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Stalin now believed that the main objective of British foreign policy was to encourage Germany to head east rather than west.
Stalin realized that war with Germany was inevitable. However, to have any chance of victory he needed time to build up his armed forces. The only way he could obtain time was to do a deal with Hitler. Stalin was convinced that Hitler would not be foolish enough to fight a war on two fronts. If he could persuade Hitler to sign a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, Germany was likely to invade Western Europe instead.
On 3rd May, 1939, Stalin dismissed Maxim Litvinov, his Jewish Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Litvinov had been closely associated with the Soviet Union's policy of an antifascist alliance. Meetings soon took place between Vyacheslav Molotov, Litvinov's replacement and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister. On 28th August, 1939, the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed in Moscow. Under the terms of the agreement, both countries promised to remain neutral if either country became involved in a war.
Another aspect of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty that made the Soviet Union vulnerable to attack was the loss of Finland. Leningrad was only thirty-two kilometres from the Finnish border. This made Leningrad and its 3.5 million population, a potential target of artillery fire. Stalin therefore began to consider the Invasion of Finland.
After attempts to negotiate the stationing of Soviet troops in Finland failed, Stalin ordered the Red Army to invade. Adolf Hitler, who also had designs on Finland, was forced to standby and watch the Soviet Union build up its Baltic defences. It took the Soviet troops three months to force the Finnish government to agree to Stalin's original demands. Although the world was now aware of Stalin's shrewdness in foreign affairs, Finland's small army of 200,000 men had exposed the Soviet Union's poorly trained and equipped army.
Stalin believed that Germany would not invade the Soviet Union until Britain and France had been conquered. From Stalin's own calculations, this would not be until the summer of 1942. Some of his closest advisers began to argue that 1941 would be a much more likely date. The surrender of France in June, 1940, also cast doubts on Stalin's calculations.
Stalin's response to France's defeat was to send Vyacheslav Molotov to Berlin for more discussions. Molotov was instructed to draw out these talks for as long as possible. Stalin knew that if Adolf Hitler did not attack the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, he would have to wait until 1942. No one, not even someone as rash as Hitler, would invade the Soviet Union in the winter, he argued.
Germany was now in a strong negotiating position and Molotov found it impossible to agree to Hitler's demands. As soon as talks broke-up, Hitler ordered his military leaders to prepare for Operation Barbarossa. The plan was for the invasion of the Soviet Union to start on the 15th May, 1941. Hitler believed that this would give the German Army enough time to take control of the country before the harsh Soviet winter set in.
Information on the proposed invasion came to Stalin from various sources. Richard Sorge, an agent working for the Red Orchestra in Japan, obtained information about the proposed invasion as early as December, 1940. Winston Churchill sent a personal message to Stalin in April, 1941, explaining how German troop movements suggested that they were about to attack the Soviet Union. However, Stalin was still suspicious of the British and thought that Churchill was trying to trick him into declaring war on Germany.
When Sorge's prediction that Germany would invade in May, 1941, did not take place, Stalin became even more convinced that the war would not start until 1942. The reason for this delay was that Germany had invaded Yugoslavia in April. Adolf Hitler had expected the Yugoslavs to surrender immediately but because of stubborn resistance, Hitler had to postpone Operation Barbarossa for a few weeks.
On 21st June, 1941, a German sergeant deserted to the Soviet forces. He informed them that the German Army would attack at dawn the following morning. Stalin was reluctant to believe the soldier's story and it was not until the German attack took place that he finally accepted that his attempts to avoid war with Germany until 1942 had failed.
The German forces, made up of three million men and 3,400 tanks, advanced in three groups. The north group headed for Leningrad, the centre group for Moscow and the southern forces into the Ukraine. Within six days, the German Army had captured Minsk. General Demitry Pavlov, the man responsible for defending Minsk, and two of his senior generals were recalled to Moscow and were shot for incompetence.
With the execution of Pavlov and his generals, Stalin made it clear that he would punish severely any commander whom he believed had let down the Soviet Union. In future, Soviet commanders thought twice about surrendering or retreating. Another factor in this was the way that the German Army massacred the people of Minsk. Terrified of both Stalin and Adolf Hitler, the Soviet people had no option but to fight until they were killed.
The first few months of the war was disastrous for the Soviet Union. The German northern forces surrounded Leningrad while the centre group made steady progress towards Moscow. German forces had also made deep inroads into the Ukraine. Kiev was under siege and Stalin's Chief of Staff, Georgi Zhukov, suggested that the troops defending the capital of the Ukraine should be withdrawn, thus enabling them to take up strong defensive positions further east. Stalin insisted that the troops stayed and by the time Kiev was taken, the casualties were extremely high. It was the most comprehensive defeat experienced by the Red Army in its history. However, the determined resistance put up at Kiev, had considerably delayed the attack on Moscow.
It was now September and winter was fast approaching. As German troops moved deeper into the Soviet Union, supply lines became longer. Stalin gave instructions that when forced to withdraw, the Red Army should destroy anything that could be of use to the enemy. The scorched earth policy and the formation of guerrilla units behind the German front lines, created severe problems for the German war machine which was trying to keep her three million soldiers supplied with the necessary food and ammunition.
By October, 1941, German troops were only fifteen miles outside Moscow. Orders were given for a mass evacuation of the city. In two weeks, two million people left Moscow and headed east. Stalin rallied morale by staying in Moscow. In a bomb-proof air raid shelter positioned under the Kremlin, Stalin, as Supreme Commander-in-Chief, directed the Soviet war effort. All major decisions made by his front-line commanders had to be cleared with Stalin first.
In November, 1941, the German Army launched a new offensive on Moscow. The Soviet army held out and the Germans were brought to a halt. Stalin called for a counter-attack. His commanders had doubts about this policy but Stalin insisted and on 4th December the Red Army attacked. The German forces, demoralized by its recent lack of success, was taken by surprise and started to retreat. By January, the Germans had been pushed back 200 miles.
Stalin's military strategy was basically fairly simple. He believed it was vitally important to attack the enemy as often as possible. He was particularly keen to use new, fresh troops for these offensives. Stalin argued that countries in western Europe had been beaten by their own fear of German superiority. His main objective in using new troops in this way was to convince them that the German forces were not invincible. By pushing the German Army back at Moscow, Stalin proved to the Soviet troops that Blizkrieg could be counteracted; it also provided an important example to all troops throughout the world fighting the German war-machine.
The German Army was severely handicapped by the Soviet winter of 1941-42 and once spring arrived they began to advance once again. German forces were particularly successful in the south and they were able to close in on Stalingrad.
Stalin was horrified to hear reports that the Red Army in the Ukraine had been in such a hurry to retreat that they had left behind their weapons and equipment. Not only were soldiers shot for desertion but Stalin gave permission for highly critical articles of the army to be published in the newspapers. The army, which had been praised during the early stages of the war, was now accused of betraying the Soviet people. It was an extremely risky move on Stalin's part, but it had the desired effect and its performance improved.
Stalingrad was Stalin's city. It had been named after him as a result of his defence of the city during the Russian Civil War. Stalin insisted that it should be held at all costs. One historian has claimed that he saw Stalingrad "as the symbol of his own authority." Stalin also knew that if Stalingrad was taken, the way would be open for Moscow to be attacked from the east. If Moscow was cut off in this way, the defeat of the Soviet Union was virtually inevitable.
A million Soviet soldiers were drafted into the Stalingrad area. They were supported from an increasing flow of tanks, aircraft and rocket batteries from the factories built east of the Urals, during the Five Year Plans. Stalin's claim that rapid industrialization would save the Soviet Union from defeat by western invaders was beginning to come true.
General Georgi Zhukov, the military leader who had yet to be defeated in a battle, was put in charge of the defence of Stalingrad. The line held and on 19th November, 1942, Stalin gave the order to counterattack from the north and the south. Although the German 6th Army continued to make progress towards Stalingrad, they were gradually becoming encircled. General Friedrich Paulus, the German commander, asked permission to withdraw but Adolf Hitler refused and instructed him to continue to advance on Stalingrad. This they did, but with their supplies cut-off from the west, they were unable to take the city.
In recognition of his commander's bravery, Adolf Hitler made Friedrich Paulus a Field Marshal on 30th January, 1943. Hitler was furious when a couple of days later Paulus surrendered. The German losses at Stalingrad were 1.5 million men, 3,500 tanks and 3,000 aircraft. It marked the turning point of the war. From this date on, Germany began to retreat.
It was only when the Red Army regained territory previously controlled by the Nazis that the Soviet Government became fully aware of the war crimes that had been committed. Soviet soldiers who had been taken prisoner had been deliberately starved to death. Of the 5,170,000 soldiers captured by the Germans, only 1,053,000 survived.
Women and children were also killed in large numbers. The Jews were always the first to be executed, but other groups, especially the Russians, were also killed. German soldiers were given the instructions that the "Jewish-Bolshevik system must be destroyed". Adolf Hitler was aware that to control the vast population of the Soviet Union would always be an extremely difficult task. His way of dealing with the problem was by mass exterminations.
Soviet authorities estimated that in all, over twenty million of their people were killed during the Second World War. However, it has been argued that Hitler's policy of exterminating the Soviet people guaranteed his defeat. Stories of German atrocities soon reached Red Army soldiers fighting at the front. Faced with the choice of being executed or being killed fighting, the vast majority chose the latter. Unlike most other soldiers, when faced with defeat in battle, the Soviet army rarely surrendered.
This was also true of civilians. When territory was taken by the German Army, women, children and old men went into hiding and formed guerrilla units. These groups, who concentrated on disrupting German supply lines, proved a constant problem to the German forces.
In November, 1943, Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met together in Teheran, Iran, to discuss military strategy and post-war Europe. Ever since the Soviet Union had entered the war, Stalin had been demanding that the Allies open-up a second front in Europe. Churchill and Roosevelt argued that any attempt to land troops in Western Europe would result in heavy casualties. Until the Soviet's victory at Stalingrad in January, 1943, Stalin had feared that without a second front, Germany would defeat them.
Stalin, who always favoured in offensive strategy, believed that there were political, as well as military reasons for the Allies' failure to open up a second front in Europe. Stalin was still highly suspicious of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt and was worried about them signing a peace agreement with Adolf Hitler. The foreign policies of the capitalist countries since the October Revolution had convinced Stalin that their main objective was the destruction of the communist system in the Soviet Union. Stalin was fully aware that if Britain and the USA withdrew from the war, the Red Army would have great difficulty in dealing with Germany on its own.
At Teheran, Stalin reminded Churchill and Roosevelt of a previous promise of landing troops in Western Europe in 1942. Later they postponed it to the spring of 1943. Stalin complained that it was now November and there was still no sign of an allied invasion of France. After lengthy discussions it was agreed that the Allies would mount a major offensive in the spring of 1944.
From the memoirs published by those who took part in the negotiations in Teheran, it would appear that Stalin dominated the conference. Alan Brook, chief of the British General Staff, was later to say: "I rapidly grew to appreciate the fact that he had a military brain of the very highest calibre. Never once in any of his statements did he make any strategic error, nor did he ever fail to appreciate all the implications of a situation with a quick and unerring eye. In this respect he stood out compared with Roosevelt and Churchill."
The D-Day landings in June, 1944, created a second front, and took the pressure off the Soviet Union and the Red Army made steady progress into territory held by Germany. Country after country fell to Soviet forces. Winston Churchill became concerned about the spread of Soviet power and visited Moscow in October, 1944. Churchill agreed that Rumania and Bulgaria should be under "Soviet influence" but argued that Yugoslavia and Hungary should be shared equally amongst them.
The most heated discussion concerned the future of Poland. The Polish Government in exile, based in London, had a reputation for being extremely anti-Communist. Although Stalin was willing to negotiate with the Polish prime minister, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, he insisted that he was unwilling to have a government in Poland that was actively hostile to the Soviet Union.
In February, 1945, Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met again. This time the conference was held in Yalta in the Crimea. With Soviet troops in most of Eastern Europe, Stalin was in a strong negotiating position. Roosevelt and Churchill tried hard to restrict postwar influence in this area but the only concession they could obtain was a promise that free elections would be held in these countries.
Once again, Poland was the main debating point. Stalin explained that throughout history Poland had either attacked Russia or had been used as a corridor through which other hostile countries invaded her. Only a strong, pro-Communist government in Poland would be able to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union.
Stalin also promised that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan three months after the war with Germany ended and in return would recover what Russia had lost at the end of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05).
At Yalta, the decision at Teheran to form a United Nations organization was confirmed. It was only on this issue that all three leaders were enthusiastically in agreement. At the time of Yalta, Germany was close to defeat. British and USA troops were advancing from the west and the Red Army from the east. At the conference it was agreed to divide Germany up amongst the Allies. However, all parties to that agreement were aware that the country that actually took control of Germany would be in the strongest position over the future of this territory.
The main objective of Winston Churchill and Stalin was the capture of Berlin, the capital of Germany. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not agree and the decision of the USA Military commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, to head south-east to Dresden, ensured that Soviet forces would be the first to reach Berlin.
The leaders of the victorious countries met once more at Potsdam in July, 1945. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died in April, 1945, had been replaced by the Vice-President, Harry S. Truman. While the conference was taking place, the British General Election results were announced. The landslide victory of the Labour Party meant that Clement Attlee replaced Winston Churchill as Britain's main negotiator.
Although Germany had been defeated, the USA and Britain were still at war with Japan. At Yalta, the Allies had attempted to persuade Stalin to join in the war with Japan. By the time the Potsdam meeting took place, they were having doubts about this strategy. Churchill in particular, were afraid that Soviet involvement would lead to an increase in their influence over countries in the Far East.
At Yalta, Stalin had promised to enter the war with Japan within three months of the defeat of Germany. Originally, it was planned that the conference at Potsdam would confirm this decision. However, since the previous meeting the USA had successfully tested the Atom Bomb. Truman's advisers were urging him to use this bomb on Japan. They also pointed out that its employment would avoid an invasion of Japan and thus save the lives of up to two million American troops.
When Harry S. Truman told Stalin that the USA had a new powerful bomb he appeared pleased and asked no further questions about it. Truman did not mention that it was a atomic bomb and it appears that Stalin did not initially grasp the significance of this new weapon. However, with the dropping of the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, the Japanese quickly surrendered and the Allies were successful in preventing Soviet gains in the Far East.
Stalin's main concern at Potsdam was to obtain economic help for the Soviet Union. Nearly a quarter of Soviet property had been destroyed during the Second World War. This included 31,000 of her factories. Agriculture had also been badly hit and food was being strictly rationed. Stalin had been told by his advisers that under-nourishment of the workforce was causing low-productivity. He believed that the best way to revive the Soviet economy was to obtain massive reparation payments from Germany.
Unlike at Yalta, the Allies were no longer willing to look sympathetically at Stalin's demands. With Germany defeated and the USA now possessing the Atom Bomb, the Allies no longer needed the co-operation of the Soviet Union. Stalin felt betrayed by this change of attitude. He believed that the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt was an important factor in this.
The ending of lend-lease supplies to the Soviet Union immediately the war ended with Germany in May, 1945 and the insistence that Henry Wallace, the US Secretary of Commerce, resign after he made a speech in support of Soviet economic demands, convinced Stalin that the hostility towards the Soviet Union that had been in existence between the wars, had returned.
Stalin once again became obsessed by the threat of an invasion from the west. Between 1945 and 1948, Stalin made full use of his abilities by arranging the setting up of communist regimes in Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. He now had a large buffer zone of "friendly states" on his western border. Western powers interpreted these events as an example of Stalin's desire to impose communism on the whole of Europe. The formation of NATO and the stationing of American troops in Western Europe was a reaction to Stalin's policies and helped ensure the development of the Cold War.
In 1948, Stalin ordered an economic blockade of Berlin. He hoped this measure would help him secure full control over Berlin. The Allies airlifted supplies to the beleaguered Berlin and and Stalin was eventually forced to back down and allow the land and air routes to be reopened.
Stalin also miscalculated over Korea. In 1950, he encouraged Kim Il Sung, the communist ruler of North Korea, to invade South Korea. Stalin had assumed that the USA would not interfere and that Kim IL Sung would be able to unite Korea as a communist state.
Stalin's timing was particularly bad on this occasion as the Soviet representative had at that time been ordered to boycott the Security Council. With the Soviet Union unable to use its veto, it was powerless to stop the United Nations sending troops to defend South Korea.
The Korean War ended in 1953. Not only had the communists failed to unite Korea, the war also provided support for those right-wing American politicians such as Joseph McCarthy who had been arguing that the Soviet Union wanted to control the world. Hostility between the Soviet Union and the United States continued to increase as the world became divided between the two power blocks. Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill may have been responsible for the start of the Cold War but Stalin's policies in Eastern Europe and Korea had ensured its continuance.
At home, Stalin was closely associated with the Soviet Union's victory in the Second World War and so his prestige and status remained high. His only possible rival for the leadership was Georgi Zhukov, who had played such an important role in the defeat of Germany. Stalin's response to the public acclaim that Zhukov received was to accuse him of "immodesty, unjustified conceit, and megalomania." After the war Zhukov was demoted and once again Stalin had removed from power someone who was potentially his successor.
Now in his seventies, Stalin's health began to deteriorate. His main problem was high blood-pressure. While he was ill, Stalin received a letter from a Dr. Lydia Timashuk claiming that a group of seven doctors, including his own physician, Dr. Vinogradov, were involved in a plot to murder Stalin and some of his close political associates. The doctors named in the letter were arrested and after being tortured, confessed to being involved in a plot arranged by the American and British intelligence organizations.
Stalin's response to this news was to order Lavrenti Beria, the head of the Secret Police, to instigate a new purge of the Communist Party. Members of the Politburo began to panic as they saw the possibility that like previous candidates for Stalin's position as the head of the Soviet Union, they would be executed.
Fortunately for them, Stalin's health declined even further and by the end of February, 1953, he fell into a coma. After four days, Stalin briefly gained consciousness. The leading members of the party were called for. While they watched him struggling for his life, he raised his left arm. His nurse, who was feeding him with a spoon at the time, took the view that he was pointing at a picture showing a small girl feeding a lamb. His daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, who was also at his bedside, later claimed that he appeared to be "bringing a curse on them all". Stalin then stopped breathing and although attempts were made to revive him, his doctors eventually accepted he was dead.
Three years after his death, Nikita Khrushchev, the new leader of the Soviet Union, made a speech at the Twentieth Party Congress, where he attacked the policies of Stalin. Khrushchev revealed how Stalin had been responsible for the execution of thousands of loyal communists during the purges.
In the months that followed Khrushchev's speech, thousands of those people imprisoned under Stalin were released. Those who had been in labour camps were given permission to publish their experiences. The most notable of these was the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose powerful novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, became a world-wide bestseller.
In 1962 the official party newspaper published a poem by the poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko called the Heirs of Stalin. The poem describes the burial of Stalin but at the end suggests that the problems are not yet over: "Grimly clenching his embalmed fists, just pretending to be dead, he watched from inside. He was scheming. Had merely dozed off. And I, appealing to our government, petition them to double, and treble, the sentries guarding the slab, and stop Stalin from ever rising again."
After Khrushchev's revelations, attempts were made to erase Stalin's image from the Soviet Union. Statues and portraits of Stalin were removed from public places. Towns, streets and parks named after him were changed. Stalingrad, which had been closely associated with his generalship during both the Civil War and the Second World War, was renamed Volgagrad. Even his ashes were takes from the Kremlin Wall and placed elsewhere.
Although the superficial aspects of Stalinism was removed, the system that he created remained. Stalin had developed a state apparatus that protected those in power. It was a system that the Soviet leaders who were to follow him for the next thirty years, were only too pleased to employ in order to prevent any questioning of their policies. Writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Yevgeni Yevtushenko were free to criticize Stalin but not those currently in power. The excesses of Stalinism had been removed but the structure of his totalitarian state remained until the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s.
(1) Svetlana Alliluyeva wrote about her father in her book Only One Year (1969)
A church education was the only systematic education my father ever had. From his experiences at the seminary, he had come to the conclusion that men were intolerant, coarse, deceiving their flocks in order to hold them in obedience; that they intrigued, lied, and as a rule possessed numerous faults and very few virtues.
(2) Joseph Stalin, article in Brdzola newspaper (December, 1901)
Groaning are the oppressed nationalities and religions in Russia, among them the Poles and Finns. Groaning are the unceasingly persecuted and humiliated Jews, deprived even those miserable rights that other Russian subjects enjoy the right to live where they choose, the right to go to school, etc. Groaning are the Georgians, the Armenians and other nations who can neither have their own schools nor be employed by the state and are compelled to submit to the shameful and oppressive policies of Russification.
(3) Lenin, statement issued in December, 1922.
Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands: and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. I therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing Stalin from this post and appointing someone else who differs from Stalin in one weighty respect: being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades.
(4) Joseph Stalin, speech (June, 1930)
Should the slightest hardship appear, they are already worried that something may happen. Let a cockroach stir somewhere, even before it has managed to crawl out of its hole, and already they rush back, become frightened and begin to yell about a catastrophe, about the destruction of the Soviet power. (General laughter.) We quiet them and try to convince them that there is nothing menacing, that it is only a cockroach, which they need not fear. But nothing doing! They yell their "Who says cockroach? It is not a cockroach but a thousand wild animals. It is not a cockroach but destruction of the Soviets."
(5) Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (1937)
The headquarters of the Central Committee were just inside the ancient Chinese Wall, a six-story building, plain and business-like. The G.P.U. guards at the door were expecting me and passed us through immediately; another guard led us to the ante-chamber of the most powerful, most feared, least known human being on the face of the globe. An amiable woman secretary asked us to wait; Comrade Stalin would be free in a few minutes.
The building and this office were as unlike the usual, littered, chaotic Soviet institution as possible: quiet, orderly, unhurried but efficient. It was, above all, stamped with an unmistakable simplicity: the hall-mark, I was to learn in the next hour or two, of Stalin himself. I had a sense of concentrated authority, the more impressive because it was devoid of the trappings of power, curiously austere and self-assured, without elegance of gold braid or shrieking symbols: power naked, clean, and serene in its strength.
Half a dozen or so people were waiting in this room, some for Stalin, some for other leaders with offices on the same floor. A tall, unshaven fellow, with matted black hair and dirty boots. An elderly woman in a leather jacket, red kerchief on her head.
"Provincial Party secretaries, come to report or complain," Charlie guessed.
"Probably," I said. "Imagine what the ante-chambers of the former rulers were like, the pomp and grandeur, the courtiers and generals, and look how simple all of this is! Stalin may be inaccessible to reporters and diplomats, but I should judge from these folks that he is accessible enough to his own Party people."
We could not pursue this line of thought. The woman secretary said Comrade Stalin was waiting, and an office boy led the way.
One cannot live in the shadow of Stalin's legend without coming under its spell. My pulse, I am sure, was high. No sooner, however, had I stepped across the-threshold than diffidence and nervousness fell away. Stalin met me at the door and shook hands, smiling. There was a certain shyness in his smile, and the handshake was not perfunctory. He was remarkably unlike the scowling, self-important dictator of popular imagination. His every gesture was a rebuke to the thousand little bureaucrats who had inflicted their puny greatness upon me in these Russian years.
We followed him to the extreme end of a long conference table, where he motioned us affably to chairs and sat down himself. His personal interpreter, a young man with bushy black hair, was there. Stalin pushed over a box of cigarettes, took one himself, and we all lighted up. The standardized photographs of Stalin show him smoking a pipe and I had a feeling of faint disappointment that he was not measuring up to the cliches, even in this regard.
In my letter the previous day, I had specifically asked for "only two minutes" and I had assumed that the interview was to be no more than a brief formality to enable at least one reporter to testify that Stalin was still fully alive. But I saw him stretch out his feet and lean back in leisurely fashion as though we had hours ahead of us. With that natural gesture of relaxing in his chair, Stalin turned a strait jacketed interview into an unhurried social call. I realized that there would be no time limitations.
And here was I, unprepared for this generosity, with only one question ready-the superfluous question whether he was alive or not! I cursed myself inwardly for a bungler not to have mapped out an organized campaign of interrogation that would probe to the very center of the Soviet situation.
"Tell Mr. Lyons," Stalin addressed his interpreter, "that I am sorry I could not receive him before. I saw his letters, but I cannot easily find the opportunity for interviews."
There was no need for translation. My Russian would probably be adequate to the occasion, I smiled, and if I got stuck, these gentlemen would come to my rescue. Several times in the next hour Stalin harked back to my letters. To this day I do not know precisely why, among the score of permanent correspondents in his capital-many of them less outspoken in their criticism of the regime and more amenable to the discipline of the Press Department - he had selected me for this first interview since his rise to supreme power. Any one of a dozen other correspondents would have served Moscow's purpose just as well. But unquestionably my letters over more than a year played a part in the selection.
"Comrade Stalin," I began the interview, "may I quote you to the effect that you have not been assassinated?"
He laughed. At such close range, there was not a trace of the Napoleonic quality one sees in his self-conscious camera or oil portraits. The shaggy mustache, framing a sensual mouth and a smile nearly as full of teeth as Teddy Roosevelt's, gave his swarthy face a friendly, almost benignant look.
"Yes, you may," he said, "except that 1 hate to take the bread out of the mouths of the Riga correspondents."
The room in which we sat was large, high-ceilinged, and furnished simply almost to bareness. Its only decorations were framed pictures of Karl Marx, Lenin, and Engels - there was no portrait of Stalin: probably the only office in all his empire without one. Stalin wore the familiar olive-drab jacket with stand-up collar, belted at the waist, and his trousers were tucked into high black boots. The negligent austerity of his attire was of a piece with that room. Though of vigorous physique, he seemed to me older than his fifty-one years; his face was large-features and fleshy, darker in tinge than I had expected and faintly pock-marked, his shock of black hair thick, unruly, and touched with gray.
For over an hour I asked questions and answered them. Again and again the talk debouched into argument; I was aware afterwards, though not at the time, that I did not hesitate to interrupt him: another proof of the essential simplicity of a powerful ruler who could put a reporter so completely at his ease.
The "ethics of bourgeois journalism" came in for considerable discussion; though at the moment he had sufficient cause to be indignant with that journalism, there was no bitterness in Stalin's comments.
I asked him about Soviet-American relations, about the chances for world revolution, the progress of the Piatiletka, and such other obvious matters as came to my mind. He listened without the slightest sign of impatience to my labored Russian and repeated sentences slowly when he thought I might not have grasped the meaning. Often I reached a linguistic impasse from which Charlie and the other interpreter retrieved me. Stalin never once spoke impetuously, never once resorted to mere cleverness or evasion. Sometimes he thought for many seconds before he replied, his forehead furrowed in lines of concentration, and the answers came in strangely schematized array: "firstly, secondly... and finally...." I recalled that note he had sent me the previous year with its "Motives: (a)... and (b)... " There had been no affectation in it: that was how his mind worked. It had been conditioned, perhaps, by long years devoted to driving elementary predigested ideas into simple minds, in simple a-and-b formulations.
"It seems to me," I said at one point in the rambling conversation, "that the American press has been making a more determined effort to obtain fair, objective news about the Soviet Union than any other country. We have the largest group of correspondents here and all of them, I think, trying to tell the truth as they see it."
"That's right," Stalin agreed thoughtfully. "Economic classes in the United States are not yet quite as rigidly differentiated as in Europe - you have no deeply rooted landed aristocracy."
The economic interpretation of journalism! To Stalin, as to all Bolsheviks, there are no "good" men and "bad" men, but only men reacting to their social environment and economic compulsions.
In the midst of the interview, someone opened the door and, noting that Stalin was occupied, was about to withdraw. It was Klementi Voroshilov, the Commissar of War!
"Oh, I'm sorry," he smiled apologetically.
"No, no, do come in and join us, Comrade Voroshilov," I said boldly. As though cornering Stalin were not triumph enough for one day, my luck was corralling the War Lord for me as well.
Stalin smiled his assent and Voroshilov, having shaken hands with Charlie and myself, joined the group at the table. Later I wondered whether his arrival was quite as accidental as it seemed. The sensational reports abroad had been full of supposed trouble between Stalin and his military chief. But Voroshilov himself, having heard of my doubts, declared that his intrusion had indeed been entirely fortuitous; a piece of luck which heightened greatly the dramatic value of the interview.
Voroshilov plunged warmly into the conversation. He was brimming with questions and opinions, slapped his thigh vigorously to express satisfaction. His is a warm, high-mettled nature with something impetuously boyish about it, a startling contrast to the deliberate, methodical, very earnest Stalin.
Voroshilov's vitality seemed effervescent against the immense, highly disciplined power in reserve which characterized Stalin. Once or twice, I thought I detected a shadow of annoyance on Stalin's face at Voroshilov's ebullience, but I may have been mistaken.
I felt that I was taking more of Stalin's time than I had any right to do, and that the talk would go on and on interminably if I did not call it off myself. Outside this office the tides of revolution rose and fell, hammered at people's lives and shivered the certainties of the world. But here, with Stalin, there was no suggestion of this violence and hectic urgency: he was enveloped in his own atmosphere of calm assurance.
"Comrade Stalin, the press of the world is by this time in the habit of calling you dictator," I said. "Are you a dictator?"
I could see that Voroshilov waited with interest for the answer. Stalin smiled: "No, I am no dictator. Those who use the word do not understand the Soviet system of government and the methods of the Communist Party. No one man or group of men can dictate. Decisions are made by the Party and acted upon by its chosen organs, the Central Committee and the Politburo."
"And now," I said, my embarrassment all too evident, "may I ask you some personal questions? Not that I myself care to pry into your private life, but the American press happens to be interested."
"All right," Stalin consented. His tone implied amused astonishment, as though the curiosity of bourgeois barbarians were beyond communist comprehension.
Voroshilov chuckled, like a little boy at a circus. "Sure, that's what the world wants to know!" he said.
Under my questioning, Stalin thereupon admitted that he had one wife, three children - one of them working, the other two youngsters still in school. Voroshilov was not concealing his enjoyment of the situation. When Stalin reached his five-year-old daughter, his War Lord added in mock earnest: "And she has as yet no well-defined political program." And then: Didn't I also have a young daughter? he wanted to know. I told them that she was in school in Berlin.
And thus it was, of all things, on an intimate domestic note that the party broke up.
"I don't want in any way to interfere with what you may write," Stalin said, "but I would be interested to see what you make of this interview."
"On the contrary," I said, "I am anxious that you read my dispatch before I send it. Above all things I should hate to misrepresent anything you have said. The only trouble is that this is Saturday night and the Sunday papers go to press early. Getting the story to you and back again may make me miss the early editions."
"Well, then, never mind." He waved the matter aside. I thought quickly.
"But if I could get a Latin-script typewriter," I said, "I could write my story right here and now and show it to you immediately."
Stalin thought that was a good idea. With Charlie and myself at his heels, he walked into the adjoining room, where several secretaries were standing around chatting and asked whether they couldn't dig up a Latin typewriter. The relation between Stalin and his immediate employees was entirely human, without so much as a touch of restraint. To them, obviously, he was not the formidable dictator of one-sixth of the earth's surface but a friendly, comradely boss. They were deferential without being obsequious.
The typewriter was found and I was installed in a small room to do my stuff. I could hear Stalin suggesting that they send in tea and sandwiches as he returned to the conference room. I was nearly an hour in writing the dispatch. Several times Stalin peeked in, and inquired whether we were comfortable and had everything we needed...
The unthinkable interview was over. The two minutes had stretched to nearly two hours. As we left the building and hailed a droshky, I said to Charlie: "I like that man!"
Charlie agreed, but in a lower emotional key. A little more analytical than I, and less involved in the sheer thrill of the newspaper scoop, he discounted much of Stalin's personal charm. Warm hospitality is a racial characteristic of the Georgians. Perhaps he could recognize more of the hardness under the charm than I did, in my mood of gratitude for this gift of the first interview.
But in the years that followed, with ample time to re assay my impressions, I did not change my mind about my essential reaction to Stalin's personality. Even at moments when the behavior of his regime seemed to me most hateful, I retained that liking for Stalin as a human being. I could understand thereafter the devotion to the man held by certain writers of my acquaintance who had come to know him personally. There was little in common between the infallible deified Stalin fostered as a political myth and the Stalin I had met. In the simplicity which impressed me more than any other element in his make-up, there was nothing of make-believe, nowhere a note of falseness or affectation. His friendliness was not the back-slapping good-fellow type of the politician, but something innate, something that rang true. In his unpretentiousness there was nothing pretentious.
Subsequently another American correspondent was received by Stalin (Walter Duranty). We compared notes, and it was as if we had met totally different men, our impressions were so completely at variance. He carried away the imprint of a ruthless, steel-armored personality, with few of those human attributes which I had seen to relieve its harshness: a picture more consistent with Stalin's public character. For years I wondered which of us was closer to the truth, or whether there were two truths.
(6) Walter Duranty, I Write As I Please (1935)
Stalin and Trotsky were antagonists by character and circumstances. Trotsky was brilliant, proud, and independent. He did not join the Communist Party until 1917, whereas Stalin had nailed his flag to Lenin's mast as early as 1902, and had never wavered in allegiance. After my first interview with him in the autumn of 1929 I wrote that he was "the inheritor of Lenin's mantle". He changed the phrase to "Lenin's faithful disciple and the prolonger of his work". There is a parallel which suggests itself. I mean the story in the New Testament about the labourers in the vineyard when some of them were hired in the early morning to work all day for a penny. At noon others were hired, for the same wage, and late in the evening a group was brought in to rush the work to completion, who still received the full penny, although they were only working for an hour or so in the cool of twilight. I have forgotten the moral of this parable, but quite naturally the morning-hired workers objected bitterly to the fact that the latest comers received the same pay as they who had sweated and laboured throughout the heat of the day.
That was Stalin's position with regard to Trotsky. When most of the Bolshevik leaders fled abroad after the abortive revolution of 1905-06, Stalin stuck it out in Russia to continue the seemingly hopeless task of organising the remnants of the Bolshevik cause under one of the most bloody and pitiless repressions in history. More than any other he "sweated in the heat of the day", tireless and persistent, always being arrested yet always escaping somehow, until at last they caught him in 1914, and exiled him to the far north of the Ural Mountains within the Arctic Circle, whence escape was impossible. Even there he never lost heart. He made friends with his guards and went hunting with them and outshot them. While other exiles sat and moped or died of cold and hunger Stalin shot bears and wolves and ptarmigan, caught fish through ice, ate well and kept himself fit and strong and warm with thick skins and fur. Because there was an indomitable purpose in his heart. He was not brilliant like Trotsky nor clever in the use of words; nor had he the humanity of Lenin, who ordered a Christmas-tree for the children on the country estate where he was living in the year before he died. Stalin would never have done that.
It is not too much to say that Stalin held together the Bolshevik Party in Russia during the bitter years which followed Igo6. In those years a Bolshevik who did not weaken was a real man, and it was Stalin who picked these men, who saw them stand up or break under pressure and judged them by results. Intellectually Stalin is more limited than Trotsky, but one of the dangers of intellectual unlimitedness is that its possessor cannot believe wholeheartedly in anything except himself. Thus Trotsky believed in Trotsky, but Stalin believed in Lenin and in the Bolshevik cause and thought of himself as no more than an instrument or "chosen vessel". In this last phrase is implied all the resistless power of fanaticism when its exponent is, like Stalin, a man of inflexible will and great political adroitness. It is probable that Trotsky and Stalin are equally ambitious, but whereas Trotsky's ambition was personal, Stalin had sublimated his ambition to service of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, which gave him added strength.
Unlike most of the Bolshevik leaders, Stalin never raised his voice in opposition to Lenin on any point at any time. It was impossible, therefore, for him to forgive Trotsky's continuous criticism, which was further damned by his natural exasperation against this labourer who had been hired at the eleventh hour. He possessed, moreover, a strong weapon against Trotsky's brilliance - his Oriental patience and vindictive willingness to bide his time. Raymond Robbins once told me that he knew Stalin in the first winter of 1917-8. "He sat outside the door of Lenin's office like a sentry," said Robbins, "watching everyone who went in and out, no less faithful than a sentry and, as far as we then knew, not much more important.' In March, 1922, Stalin received the reward of his faithful watching. He was made General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which gave him, as he well knew, control of the Party machine. One month later Lenin was stricken, and Stalin and the others in the know must have guessed what we foreigners only learned later, that Lenin's sickness was mortal. While Lenin lived and had his strength, the Party Secretariat was no more than an important cog in the machine which Lenin had created and controlled, but with Lenin weakened and dying the cog became the keystone of the Soviet arch.
(7) Alexander Orlov was a NKVD officer who escaped to the United States.
Stalin decided to arrange for the assassination of Kirov and to lay the crime at the door of the former leaders of the opposition and thus with one blow do away with Lenin's former comrades. Stalin came to the conclusion that, if he could prove that Zinoviev and Kamenev and other leaders of the opposition had shed the blood of Kirov, "the beloved son of the party", a member of the Politburo, he then would be justified in demanding blood for blood.
(8) Leon Trotsky, Stalin (4th January, 1937)
Much was said in the Moscow trial about my alleged "hatred" for Stalin. Much was said in the Moscow trial about it, as one of the motives of my politics. Toward the greedy caste of upstarts which oppresses the people "in the name of socialism" I have nothing but irreducible hostility, hatred if you like. But in this feeling there is nothing personal. I have followed too closely all the stages of the degeneration of the revolution and the almost automatic usurpation of its conquests; I have sought too stubbornly and meticulously the explanation for these phenomena in objective conditions for me to concentrate my thoughts and feelings on one specific person. My standing does not allow me to identity the real stature of the man with the giant shadow it casts on the screen of the bureaucracy. I believe I am right in saying I have never rated Stalin so highly as to be able to hate him.
(9) Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (1937)
Stalin spoke for seven hours, a record even in Russia. The speech was published in full and we studied it painstakingly for pegs on which to hang dispatches. Whatever I may have thought about the cumulative cruelties of his regime, I could not but feel an awed respect for the sharp, single-minded, unfeeling certainty of this man's attitude. Nowhere in it was there so much as a tremor of fellow-feeling for the millions uprooted and dispersed, for the battalions in forced labor camps, for a population stagger under burdens and weakened by deprivations. Not even glowing hatreds. Stalin was a calm engineer building a new world within the frame of the old, diverting great rivers of national history, blasting out millionfold classes, bridging centuries of backwardness, leveling mountains of opposition. Listening to his formulas and statistics, I had the sense that he was working with earth, stone, and water rather than flesh and blood; describing the tensile strengths of steel, the resistance of granite rather than the tensions of human hearts and the stubbornness of human minds.
Nothing his enemies can say of Stalin-not even the toadying of his petty worshippers can detract from the essential greatness of the man. He belongs in the succession of monstrous genius with Caesar and Hernando Cortes, Peter the Great and Napoleon, the genius that is too often an affliction upon mankind.
The shattered lives implicit in his statistics were so much debris which, like a good engineer, he was using to fill swamps and fortify weak spots in the structure. Stalin felt no need to explain or apologize. The expansion of the lumber industry in the Northern forests, the emergence of new industries in waste-lands based on kulak and other involuntary labor, were justification enough. When he finished his seven-hour report, nothing remained for the rest to do, except shout "Amen!"
Only when he paused to attack the weak-kneed humanists and deviators, the creatures tangled in mortal hesitancies and squeamishness, did Stalin break through his calm. But he would not pay them the compliment of flaming anger, covering them instead with derision and humiliation. He reduced all their principles and decencies to the muddy level of cowardice...
The Congress rocked with laughter. The waves of hilarity washed Rykov and Tomsky onto the rostrum. (Bukharin was saved from appearing by a merciful illness.) Rykov, short, stocky, with the smoldering eyes and ascetic face of a fanatic, had succeeded Lenin as chairman of the Council of People's Commissars. All his life he had fought for the Bolshevik cause, but never before had he been called a coward scared by cockroaches. For a moment, perhaps, he considered the need to strike back, to die defending himself. Then he looked into the sea of taunting faces, felt the sting of the laughter, and gave up. Meekly, he recited his rehearsed speech of contrition. He was not an enemy of the revolution, he pleaded weakly, but had allowed himself blindly to become the mouthpiece and instrument of enemies. The audience jeered; not enough! The penitence did not ring true! The old warrior lifted his shaggy head for once with a defiant gesture.
"It is not an easy thing," he threw at them, "to make a speech such as I am making!"
Then his defiance fizzled. He gave the delegates a full measure of his humiliation.
He was followed by Mikhail Tomsky, whose principal fault was that he had sought to make the trade unions a genuine bulwark against impersonal exploitation by the state; he was a small, hunched man, intense, the type almost of the underground revolutionary. He, too, went through the gestures of recantation.
Their only consolation was that no one in his senses believed their penitence. Like the demonstration and the resolutions and the laughter, it was a ritual prescribed by the priesthood: a sacrament of public confession.
A high point in the proceedings was provided by the arrival and presentation of a shiny new tractor, the gift of the recently completed Stalingrad Tractor Plant. It was described as "the first tractor to come off the belt." Everyone knew that the belt was not yet moving, would not move for weeks, and that this gift had been carefully hand-tooled under American technical supervision. But that, too, did not matter-another act in the ceremonial. A cockroach as symbol of the opposition, a tractor as symbol of Stalin.
Rykov for the time being was allowed to remain in the Politburo. Tomsky and Bukharin were removed. Three new members were designated: Kaganovich, Kirov, and Kossior. The Politburo was further purged of its Leninist heritage. Tough-skinned, ruthless drill-sergeants from the ranks of the proletariat had displaced the argumentative intellectuals...
By education, experience, and interests the group around Lenin had been cosmopolitan and internationalist; it was brilliant and cultured, at home in Europe and European languages; and it was middle-class in its origins. Stalin's Politburo, though it contained two Georgians, a Lett, and a Jew, was earthy, Russian through and through, aware of the West only as something hostile and treacherous. Only one of its members (Molotov, who soon took Rykov's place) was not clearly proletarian by birth and upbringing.
(10) The New Statesman (5th September, 1936)
Very likely there was a plot. We complain because, in the absence of independent witnesses, there is no way of knowing. It is their (Zinoviev and Kamenev) confession and decision to demand the death sentence for themselves that constitutes the mystery. If they had a hope of acquittal, why confess? If they were guilty of trying to murder Stalin and knew they would be shot in any case, why cringe and crawl instead of defiantly justifying their plot on revolutionary grounds? We would be glad to hear the explanation.
(11) Leon Trotsky, The Trial of the Seventeen (22nd January, 1937).
How could these old Bolsheviks who went through the jails and exiles of Czarism, who were the heroes of the civil war, the leaders of industry, the builders of the party, diplomats, turn out at the moment of "the complete victory of socialism" to be saboteurs, allies of fascism, organizer of espionage, agents of capitalist restoration? Who can believe such accusations? How can anyone be made to believe them. And why is Stalin compelled to tie up the fate of his personal rule with these monstrous, impossible, nightmarish juridical trials?
First and foremost, I must reaffirm the conclusion I had previously drawn that the ruling tops feel themselves more and more shaky. The degree of repression is always in proportion to the magnitude of the danger. The omnipotence of the soviet bureaucracy, its privileges, its lavish mode of life, are not cloaked by any tradition, any ideology, any legal norms.
The ruling caste is unable, however, to punish the opposition for its real thoughts and actions. The unremitting repressions are precisely for the purpose of preventing the masses from the real program of Trotskyism, which demands first of all more equality and more freedom for the masses.
(12) Nadezhda Khazina, Hope Against Hope (1971)
In the period of the Yezhov terror - the mass arrests came in waves of varying intensity - there must sometimes have been no more room in the jails, and to those of us still free it looked as though the highest wave had passed and the terror was abating. After each show trial, people sighed, "Well, it's all over at last." What they meant was: "Thank God, it looks as though I've escaped. But then there would be a new wave, and the same people would rush to heap abuse on the "enemies of the people."
Wild inventions and monstrous accusations had become an end in themselves, and officials of the secret police applied all their ingenuity to them, as though reveling in the total arbitrariness of their power.
The principles and aims of mass terror have nothing in common with ordinary police work or with security. The only purpose of terror is intimidation. To plunge the whole country into a state of chronic fear, the number of victims must be raised to astronomical levels, and on every floor of every building there must always be several apartments from which the tenants have suddenly been taken away. The remaining inhabitants will be model citizens for the rest of their lives - this was true for every street and every city through which the broom has swept. The only essential thing for those who rule by terror is not to overlook the new generations growing up without faith in their elders, and keep on repeating the process in systematic fashion.
Stalin ruled for a long time and saw to it that the waves of terror recurred from time to time, always on even greater scale than before. But the champions of terror invariably leave one thing out of account - namely, that they can't kill everyone, and among their cowed, half-demented subjects there are always witnesses who survive to tell the tale.
(13) In November, 1933, Osip Mandelstam wrote a poem about Stalin (the Kremlin mountaineer). Ossette was a reference to the rumour that Stalin was from a people of Iranian stock that lived in an area north of Georgia. The poem resulted in Mandelstam being sent to a NKVD labour camp where he died.
We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
Ten steps away no one hears our speeches,
All we hear is the Kremlin mountaineer,
The murderer and peasant-slayer.
His fingers are fat as grubs
And the words, final as lead weights, fall from his lips,
His cockroach whiskers leer
And his boot tops gleam.
Around him a rabble of thin-necked leaders -
fawning half-men for him to play with.
The whinny, purr or whine
As he prates and points a finger,
One by one forging his laws, to be flung
Like horseshoes at the head, to the eye or the groin.
And every killing is a treat
For the broad-chested Ossete.
(14) Leon Trotsky, Hitler's Austria Coup (12th March, 1938).
There is a tragic symbolism in the fact that the Moscow trial is ending under the fanfare announcing the entry of Hitler into Austria. The coincidence is not accidental. Berlin is of course perfectly informed about the demoralization which the Kremlin clique in its struggle for self-preservation carried into army and the population of the country. Stalin did not move a finger last year when Japan seized two Russian islands on the Amur river: he was then busy executing the best Red generals. With all the more assurance during the new trial could Hitler send his troops into Austria.
No matter what one's attitude toward the defendants at the Moscow trials, no matter how one judges their conduct in the clutches of the G.P.U., All of them - Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, Piatakov, Radek, Rykov, Bukharin, and many others. - have by the whole course of their lives proved their disinterested devotion to the Russian people and their struggle for liberation.
(15) Milovan Djilas, Conversations With Stalin (1962)
He (Stalin) was of very small stature and ungainly build. His torso was short and narrow, while his legs and arms were too long. His left arm and shoulder seemed rather stiff. He had quite a large paunch, and his hair was sparse, though his scalp was not completely bald. His face was white, with ruddy cheeks. Later I learned that this coloration, so characteristic of those who sit long in offices, was known as the 'Kremlin complexion' in high Soviet circles. His teeth were black and irregular, turned inward. Not even his moustache was thick or firm. Still the head was not a bad one; it had something of the common people, the peasants, the father of a great family about it-with those yellow eyes and a mixture of sternness and mischief.
I was also surprised at his accent. One could tell that he was not a Russian. But his Russian vocabulary was rich, and his manner of expression very vivid and flexible, and full of Russian proverbs and sayings. As I realized later, Stalin was well acquainted with Russian literature - though only Russian - but the only real knowledge he had outside Russian limits was his knowledge of political history.
One thing did not surprise me: Stalin had a sense of humour - a rough humour, self-assured, but not entirely without subtlety and depth. His reactions, were quick and acute - and conclusive, which did not mean that he did not hear the speaker out, but it was evident that he was no friend of long explanations. Also remarkable was his relation to Molotov. He obviously regarded him as a very close associate, as I later confirmed. Molotov was the only member of the Politburo whom Stalin addressed with the familiar pronoun ty, which is in itself significant when one remembers that Russians normally use the polite form vy even among very close friends.
Stalin ate food in quantities that would have been enormous even for a much larger man. He usually chose meat, which was a sign of his mountain origins. He also liked all kinds of local specialities in which this land of various climes and civilizations abounded, but I did not notice that any one dish was his particular favourite. He drank moderately, usually mixing red wine and vodka in little glasses. I never noticed any signs of drunkenness in him, whereas I could not say the same for Molotov, let alone for Beria, who was practically a drunkard.
(16) Isaac Deutscher, Stalin (1949)
In Tsarist days political offenders had enjoyed certain privileges and been allowed to engage in self-education and even in political propaganda. Oppositional memoranda, pamphlets, and periodicals had circulated half freely between prisons and had occasionally been smuggled abroad. Himself an ex-prisoner, Stalin knew well that jails and places of exile were the 'universities' of of the revolutionaries. Recent events taught him to take no risks. From now on all political discussion and activity in the prisons and places of exile was to be mercilessly suppressed; and the men of the opposition were by privation and hard labour to be reduced to such a miserable, animal-like existence that they should be incapable of the normal processes of thinking and of formulating their views.
(17) In the 1930s Nikita Khrushchev worked closely with both Joseph Stalin and Lavrenti Beria.
Beria and I started to see each other frequently at Stalin's. At first I liked him. We had friendly chats and even joked together quite a lot, but gradually his political complexion came clearly into focus. I was shocked by his sinister, two-faced, scheming hypocrisy.
Even though I agreed with Stalin completely, I knew I had to watch my step in answering him. One of Stalin's favourite tricks was to provoke you into making a statement - or even agreeing with a statement - which showed your true feelings about someone else. It was perfectly clear to me that Stalin and Beria were very close. To what extent this friendship was sincere, I couldn't say, but I knew it was no accident that Beria had been Stalin's choice for Yezhov's replacement.
(18) Leopold Trepper, the head of the Red Orchestra, kept Joseph Stalin and the Red Army informed of the planned German invasion of the Soviet Union. He wrote about this in his autobiography, The Great Game (1977)
On December 18, 1940, Hitler signed Directive Number 21, better known as Operation Barbarossa. The first sentence of the plan was explicit: "The German armed forces must be ready before the end of the war against Great Britain to defeat the Soviet Union by means of Blitzkrieg."
Richard Sorge warned the Centre immediately; he forwarded them a copy of the directive. Week after week, the heads of Red Army Intelligence received updates on the Wehrmacht's preparations. At the beginning of 1941, Schulze-Boysen sent the Centre precise information on the operation being planned; massive bombardments of Leningrad, Kiev, and Vyborg; the number of divisions involved.
In February, I sent a detailed dispatch giving the exact number of divisions withdrawn from France and Belgium, and sent to the east. In May, through the Soviet military attaché in Vichy, General Susloparov, I sent the proposed plan of attack, and indicated the original date, May 15, then the revised date, and the final date. On May 12, Sorge warned Moscow that 150 German divisions were massed along the frontier.
The Soviet intelligence services were not the only ones in possession of this information. On March 11, 1941, Roosevelt gave the Russian ambassador the plans gathered by American agents for Operation Barbarossa. On the 10th June the English released similar information. Soviet agents working in the frontier zone in Poland and Rumania gave detailed reports on the concentration of troops.
He who closes his eyes sees nothing, even in the full light of day. This was the case with Stalin and his entourage. The generalissimo preferred to trust his political instinct rather than the secret reports piled up on his desk. Convinced that he had signed an eternal pact of friendship with Germany, he sucked on the pipe of peace. He had buried his tomahawk and he was not ready to dig it up.
(19) Joseph Stalin, radio speech (June, 1941)
The Red Army, the Red Navy, and all citizens of the Soviet Union must defend every inch of Soviet soil, must fight to the last drop of blood for our towns and villages, must display the daring, initiative and mental alertness characteristic of our people.
In case of forced retreat of Red Army units, all rolling stock must be evacuated, the enemy must not be left a single engine, a single railway truck, not a single pound of grain or gallon of fuel. Collective farmers must drive off all their cattle and turn over their grain to the safe keeping of the state authorities, for transportation to the rear. If valuable property that cannot be withdrawn, must be destroyed without fail.
In areas occupied by the enemy, partisan units, mounted and on foot, must be formed; sabotage groups must be organized to combat enemy units, to foment partisan warfare everywhere, blow up bridges and roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines, set fire to forests, stores and transport. In occupied regions conditions must be made unbearable for the enemy and all his accomplices. They must be hounded and annihilated at every step, and all their measures frustrated.
(20) Alexander Vasilevsky, Memoirs (1974)
Stalin was unjustifiably self-confident, headstrong, unwilling to listen to others; he overestimated his own knowledge and ability to guide the conduct of the war directly. He relied very little on the General Staff and made no adequate use of the skills and experience of its personnel. Often for no reason at all, he would make hasty changes in the top military leadership. Stalin quite rightly insisted that the military must abandon outdated strategic concepts, but he was unfortunately rather slow to do this himself. He tended to favour head-on confrontations.
(21) Anthony Eden, diary (21st October, 1943)
He (Joseph Stalin), of course, understands to the full our contribution to the war; it is a danger to the future that his people don't and now the Americans are making claims to a share in the bomber offensive which is by no means justified, but further dims our glory. Joe was friendly enough to me personally, even jovial. But he still has that disconcerting habit of not looking at one as he speaks or shakes hands. A meeting with him would be in all respects a creepy, even a sinister experience if it weren't for his readiness to laugh, when his whole face creases and his little eyes open.
Somewhere along the line, however, Stalin apparently decided to join the anti-Semitic tide instead of fighting it. His inborn anti-Semitism had been exacerbated by the bitter struggle with Trotsky and his chief associates, many of them also Jews. He came to abhor intellectuals in general and Jewish intellectuals in particular. His alliance with Hitler was marked by the immediate expulsion of virtually all Jews from high office in the diplomatic and military services and from the higher reaches in the Soviet elites generally. Essentially this condition still prevails.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany, Stalin took over the vanquished Hitler's anti-Semitism along with other German reparations. Disguising it as a campaign against "cosmopolitans," "rootless persons," and other euphemisms for Jews, the Kremlin systematically demoted or purged Jews from sensitive positions in government, the party, education, science, and culture. (There were and there remain enough exceptions to sow confusion on the thorny issue-men like Lazar Kaganovich in the Kremlin, Ilya Ehrenburg in journalism, Yevsci Liberman in economics.) Military, diplomatic, and other elite schools excluded Jews altogether, and the universities fixed narrow quotas for admission of Jewish students.
(23) Henry A. Wallace, diary (18th December, 1943)
Stalin said that thinking about the future peace of the world, he decided there could not be any assurance of peace until 100,000 of the leading Prussian army officers had been killed. He might be willing to cut this down to 50,000 but he thought that was as low as he could go. Churchill was annoyed at this and said it had not been the British habit to slaughter prisoners of war, especially officers. The President then proposed a toast and said, "Suppose we compromise and make it 40,000" The President looked on the whole conversation as deliberate ribbing of Churchill by Stalin. However, it seemed that Stalin was more or less serious.
The President then went on to talk about dividing up Germany into five states, a proposal which did not please Churchill but did please Stalin. I interrupted to ask, "Did you propose a customs union for the five German states?" The President said, "No, I would propose a customs union for all of Europe."
(24) Waldo Heinrichs, Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt & American Entry Into World War II (1988)
Now that war had come, Soviet-American relations looked entirely different from the way they had looked before June 22 when the question was appeasement or war. Now the posture of cool reserve urged by the European Division seemed quite mistaken, at least to the White House. Churchill, knowing that every day of Soviet resistance postponed a German invasion just that much, made an immediate offer of cooperation and assistance. The American statement of policy, made by Acting Secretary Welles at a press conference June 23, was by no means comradely. It dwelt on German treachery (and the implicit folly of relying on non-aggression pacts with Hitler) and on American revulsion for Soviet denial of freedom of worship. Soviet Communist dictatorship was just as alien to the American people as Nazi dictatorship. But the issue at the moment facing a "realistic America," the statement continued, was the defeat of Hitler's plan of world conquest and "any defense against Hitlerism, any rallying of the forces opposing Hitlerism, from whatever source these forces may spring" enhanced American securiry. This was not an offer of aid to the Soviet Union, but it sought to prepare the way by urging Americans to set aside their profound aversion to that nation and consider their national interest. Despite the icy tone it went substantially beyond the posture American diplomats recommended before the German attack.
In subsequent weeks Roosevelt took a number of steps to implement the offer. He exempted the Soviet Union from the order freezing assets. He ruled against invoking the neutrality act and inclusion of Soviet ports in combat areas. A number of minor problems were resolved and one difficult one was buried: the Soviet embassy was firmly told not to raise the issue of the American sequestering of Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian ships. The State Department set up machinery for expediting Soviet orders and investigated means of payment." On July 10 the president, who always seemed one step ahead of informed opinion on the possibility of prolonged and prolonging Soviet resistance, saw Soviet Ambassador Oumansky for the first time in 1941. Just in was an encouraging report from London on the Russian fighting. He promised to fill the most urgently needed Soviet requests, provided the British approved and they could be shipped to reach the front before October 1 and the onset of winter. The more machines the Germans used up in Russia, he added, the more certain and rapid the German defeat, since German production was not as great as supposed. Clearly the president was moving to aid the Russians, indeed accelerating and setting the pace in the administration. Even so, he was covering his bets: what could be sent immediately was not necessarily what the Russians were asking for (machine tools, gasoline refineries, explosives plants), and he had not given Soviet requirements priority over all other demands.
(25) Milovan Djilas, Conversations With Stalin (1962)
Today I have come to the opinion that the deification of Stalin, or the 'cult of the personality', as it is now called, was at least as much the work of Stalin's circle and the bureaucracy, who required such a leader, as it was his own doing. Of course, the relationship changed. Turned into a deity, Stalin became so powerful that in time he ceased to pay attention to the changing needs and desires of those who exalted him.
An ungainly dwarf of a man passed through gilded and marbled imperial halls, and a path opened before him; radiant, admiring glances followed him, while the ears of courtiers strained to catch his every word. And he, sure of himself and his works, obviously paid no attention to all this. His country was in ruins, hungry, exhausted. But his armies and marshals, heavy with fat and medals and drunk with vodka and victory, had already trampled half of Europe under foot, and he was convinced they would trample over the other half in the next round. He knew that he was one of the cruellest, most despotic figures in human history. But this did not worry him a bit, for he was convinced that he was carrying out the will of history.
His conscience was troubled by nothing, despite the millions who had been destroyed in his name and by his order, despite the thousands of his closest collaborators whom he had murdered as traitors because they doubted that he was leading the country and people into happiness, equality, and liberty. The struggle had been dangerous, long, and all the more under-handed because the opponents were few in number and weak.
(26) Nikita Khrushchev claimed that it was some time after Stalin's death before he realized the extent of his crimes.
I still mourned Stalin as an extraordinary powerful leader. I knew that his power had been exerted arbitrarily and not always in the proper direction, but in the main Stalin's strength, I believed, had still been applied to the reinforcement of Socialism and to the consolidation of the gains of the October Revolution. Stalin may have used methods which were, from my standpoint, improper or even barbaric, but I hadn't yet begun to challenge the very basis of Stalin's claim to a special honour in history. However, questions were beginning to arise for which I had no ready answer. Like others, I was beginning to doubt whether all the arrests and convictions had been justified from the standpoint of judicial norms. But then Stalin had been Stalin. Even in death he commanded almost unassailable authority, and it still hadn't occurred to me that he had been capable of abusing his power.
(27) Nikita Khrushchev, speech, 20th Party Congress (February, 1956)
Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Whoever opposed this concept or tried to prove his viewpoint, and the correctness of his position, was doomed to removal from the leading collective and to subsequent moral and physical annihilation. This was especially true during the period following the 17th Party Congress, when many prominent Party leaders and rank-and-file Party workers, honest and dedicated to the cause of communism, fell victim to Stalin's despotism.
Stalin originated the concept "enemy of the people". This term automatically rendered it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man or men engaged in a controversy be proven; this term made possible the usage of the most cruel repression, violating all norms of revolutionary legality, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin, against those who were only suspected of hostile intent, against those who had bad reputations.
(28) C. L. R. James, Stalin and Socialism (1937)
In the Testament, Lenin, as superior to his contemporaries in grasp of men as of politics, had warned the party of a probable split between Trotsky and Stalin. It was, he said, a trifle, but "a trifle as may acquire a decisive significance." Lenin believed in historical materialism but he did not underestimate the significance of individuals, and the full immensity of the consequences are visible today.
Yet, as Lenin, quite obviously saw, the immediate origin of the danger was personal. Lenin did not say so in so many words. The Testament is very carefully phrased, but all through the civil war there had been clashes between Trotsky and Stalin. Stalin, with Zinoviev and Kamenev, who supported him at first, hated Trotsky, but Stalin hated him with a hatred which saw in him the chief obstacle to his power; Zinoviev and Kamenev Stalin knew he could manage. Zinoviev on his part feared Trotsky, but feared Stalin also. He had the idea of balancing one against the other. But he went with Stalin for the time being. What manner of man was this who was so soon to usurp Lenin's position and attempt to play Lenin's part? No man of this generation, few men of any other, could have done this adequately.
Lenin, first and foremost, knew political economy as few professors in a university did. He was-absolute master of political theory and practice. He knew the international working class movement of the great countries of Europe, not only their history theoretically interpreted by historical materialism, but from years of personal experience in Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland. He spoke almost faultless German and wrote the language like a second tongue. He was at home in French and English and could read other European languages with ease. Intellectual honesty was with him a fanatical passion, and to his basic conception of allying the highest results of his theoretical and practical knowledge in the party to the instinctive movements of millions, honesty before the party and before the masses was for him essential. The range and honesty of his intellect, his power of will, the singular selflessness and devotion of his personal character, added to a great knowledge and understanding of men, enabled him to use all types of intellect and character in a way that helped to lift the Bolshevik party between 1917 and 1923 to the full height of the stupendous role it was called upon to fulfill. No body of men ever did so much, and how small most of them really were we can realise only by looking at what they became the moment their master left them. Lenin made them what they were. He was sly and manoeuvred as all who have to manage men must manoeuvre. But through all the disagreements of those years which often reached breaking-point he never calumniated, exiled, imprisoned or murdered any leaders of his party. He was bitter in denunciation, often unfair, but never personally malicious. He was merciless to political enemies, but he called them enemies, and proclaimed aloud that if they opposed the Soviet regime he would shoot them and keep on shooting them. But Trotsky tells us how careful he was of the health of his colleagues; hard as he was it is easy to feel in his speeches, on occasions when the party was being torn by disputes, a man of strong emotions and sensitiveness to human personality. In his private life he set an unassuming example of personal incorruptibility and austere living. No man could ever fill his place, but it was not impossible that someone able and willing to act in his tradition could have carried on where he left off, and all knew that Trotsky was best fitted for that difficult post. Lenin had designated him as such in the Testament. But the irony, the cruellest tragedy of the post-war world is, that without a break the leadership of the over-centralised and politically dominant Bolshevik party passed from one of the highest representatives of European culture to another who, in every respect except singlemindedness of purpose, was the very antithesis of his predecessor.
(29) John Gates, The Story of an American Communist (1959)
In March, 1953, Stalin died. I had enormous regard and admiration for him, and his death left a void in my scheme of things. But developments after his death forced me to question whether my absolute faith in Stalin had been justified. Immediately following his death, the Soviet government launched a peace offensive that resulted a few months later in the settlement of the Korean war. Soviet foreign policy had a new quality now, different from when Stalin had been alive. Had he been at all responsible for the Korean war? Had he been an obstacle to its settlement? The strange phrase, "cult of the individual," began to appear in the Soviet press. What did it mean? Who was the anonymous "individual"? To me it was obvious that the reference was to Stalin; I said so to Dennis, but he could not see it that way.
Just before Stalin died, a group of Jewish doctors had been imprisoned, charged with being part of an international "Zionist conspiracy" to poison the Soviet leaders. It was fantastic; still I accepted it as gospel truth, so firm was my faith. This had a sardonic counterpart at Atlanta when Dennis fell ill with gall bladder trouble and the prison doctors recommended an operation. His condition was becoming critical, but Dennis feared an operation by doctors who were probably not sympathetic with his politics. I advised him to go through with it and remarked sarcastically that in America surgeons were not influenced by politics in performing operations, but that if he were in the Soviet Union he might have good reason to fear, as I said, the doctors' plot demonstrated.
Dennis was shocked at rhy cynicism; but he went through with the operation, which turned out very successfully. As later events made clear to me, I had slandered the Jewish doctors and so had the Soviet leaders. After Stalin died the case was revealed to be a frame-up. When the doctors had first been arrested, Earl Browder had charged not only that they were being framed, but that the arrests had anti-Semitic connotations. This I had firmly refused to believe. Now I was forced to reverse myself. It was not easy.
© John Simkin, March 2013