I yield to no one in my admiration for Comrade Stalin. He led the Soviet Union from the 1920s to the 1950s. He combated the counter-revolution both outside the USSR and within the country, especially from those who had penetrated the ranks of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). He fought tenaciously to make the new Soviet state secure from internal sabotage and espionage even as he led the Party’s efforts to put the country’s agriculture on a collective basis so they could feed their people whilst they proceeded with the essential and massive process of industrialisation.
After the death of Lenin, he led the Party, and through the Party, the country, as the USSR patiently and cleverly broke through the isolation of the blockade imperialism sought to impose on the upstart Socialist state. As frightened capitalism increasingly turned towards fascism, Stalin led the efforts of the Communist International to counter it, and especially to prevent the imperialist states from uniting to attack the USSR, which was demonstrating to the people of the world that Socialism could work.
When the imperialist states eventually began their second global stoush to rearrange the world’s markets and the ownership of its natural resources, Soviet diplomacy under Stalin’s direction was able to keep the Soviet Union out of the conflict, at least initially. Whilst two imperialist blocs found themselves fighting each other instead of their preferred target, the USSR, the latter under Stalin’s astute leadership was free frantically to devote its efforts to developing its industrial capacity and military strength east of the Urals, clear of possible attack by either German or Anglo-French forces.
When Nazi Germany finally did invade the USSR, with an overwhelmingly huge invasion force, it was largely because of Stalin’s pre-war leadership that the Fifth Column, which had played such a crucial role in Germany’s defeat of so many European states, proved to be relatively insignificant in the USSR: it had been pre-emptively eliminated in the 1930s, in what bourgeois commentators derisively called “show trials”.
Stalin’s wartime leadership inspired not only the USSR but all the countries fighting Hitler and his associates. In Australia, the appearance of Stalin on cinema screens in a newsreel was greeted with spontaneous applause. As the war progressed and the size and scale of the Red Army’s achievements against Hitler’s forces became clear, people in the Allied countries watched in awe. Even the famous American propaganda documentary feature, The True Glory, about the USA’s part in the Second World War, had to acknowledge – referring to the Soviet Army − “We did pretty well, but I hate to think where we’d have been without them!”.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany, various efforts were made by imperialist politicians to persuade US and British soldiers to “go on and finish the job” by marching on Moscow – with singular lack of support from either the soldiers or their families at home. Recognising this, imperialist politicians – notably Churchill, and Roosevelt’s successor Truman – set out to wage a “Cold War” to overturn the public’s favourable view of the Soviet Union and of Stalin in particular.
Even as the Soviet army, with great loss of life and at huge material cost, had been tearing the guts out of Hitler’s forces, there were those in the West – notably the Reader’s Digest – who maintained a steady diatribe of rabidly anti-Communist and anti-Russian propaganda. When the War was over the capitalist media and politicians joined in a new anti-Soviet campaign with gusto: every anti-Soviet slur that had ever been used before the War was revived. The USA especially, recruited an enormous civilian army of college graduates, fired them up with patriotic arguments about the USA as the bastion of democracy whilst simultaneously filling their heads with the most vile and extraordinarily crude tales of the supposed barbarism of “godless Communism”. Nuns in Russia, it was alleged, were routinely beaten and tortured, suffering such sadistic horrors as having their tongue nailed to a table! As intended, these bright but brain-washed young men and women eagerly undertook the defence of their way of life from the alleged horrors and misery of Communism.
It was a multi-pronged campaign, alleging that Soviet Russia was intent on world domination, just as Hitler had been. Trotsky’s followers, of course, joined in the attack, but as always in their case ‘from the Left’. Even before the War, they had been prominent supporters (and contributors to) the campaign in the monopoly press that asserted that “Stalin is betraying the revolution!”. If he had been, of course, the monopoly media would have been offering him all the help he could want!
Before and after the War, the USSR was denigrated in capitalist propaganda as drab, oppressed, miserable, poverty-stricken and devoid of initiative, its people living in constant fear of the “secret police”. An all-encompassing economic blockade was imposed on it, intended to prevent the purchase of modern technology by anyone “behind the iron curtain”. The lack of this technology was then held up as evidence of the “failure” of Socialism.
At the same time there was a general assault upon the progressive forces and sentiments that had developed during the wartime alliance against fascism. Throughout Western Europe, British and US intelligence services, with the aid of the fiercely anti-Communist Catholic church, set out to slander and divide the progressive forces that had evolved from the war-time Resistance to Nazism. Wherever they thought these measures might not be enough to bring about the defeat of left-leaning groups – whom they thought of solely as ‘tools of the Kremlin’ − they readily resorted to deadly terrorist campaigns, successfully scaring people away from the untried ‘Left’ and back to the traditional and ‘safe’ Christian Democrats.
The USA and Britain both intervened to prevent the progressive forces in Greece from throwing out the pro-fascist ‘Royal Family’ and opting for Socialism. Although the presence of the Soviet Army meant Anglo-US forces could not directly intervene in Eastern Europe, active efforts were made nevertheless to overthrow the governments of countries there that had opted for a Socialist future. Albania was invaded by a rag-tag army of counter revolutionaries but the move was thwarted by Soviet intelligence agent Kim Philby. East Germany and China were also subjected to similar disruption in the early 1950s but, to the surprise and obvious disappointment of Washington’s propagandists, the populace did not rush to rise up and embrace their ‘liberators’.
For the first four to five years after the Second World War, Stalin had to contend with a US leadership that revelled in its possession of a “nuclear monopoly”. As Sayers and Kahn reported in their splendid book The Great Conspiracy Against Russia: “Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 31, 1947, Representative Fred L Crawford of Michigan proposed that the US Government issue an ultimatum to the Soviet Government demanding that they immediately scuttle their weapons of war and stating that, in the event of their failure to do so, the American air force would start dropping atomic bombs on Soviet cities. Conceding the Russians might choose to fight rather than disarm under such terms, Representative Crawford observed that the issue must be faced ‘now or in a few months anyway’.
“He added: ‘Take our spokesmen and tell them to shove their chins right up against the chins of Mr Molotov, Mr Stalin and Mr Vishinsky. Tell them to shove their stomachs right up against the stomachs of those gentlemen, physically, and say this is our programme: either disarm or we proceed’.”
In Hungary, which had been fascist since before Mussolini marched on Rome, a counter-revolutionary campaign was begun that united the Catholic Church, remnants of the pre-War Greenshirt Fascists, and those who simply hankered for a return to the ‘good old days’ of Hungarian capitalism. It took 10 years but was finally launched in 1956 (three years after Stalin had died). It caused enormous destabilisation – as it was intended to – and was a colossal propaganda success for imperialism. When it was defeated, having failed to gain the mass support of the workers, the many thousands of Greenshirt supporters and others who favoured Hungarian capitalism over a social system that gave preference to common workers fled over the border to West Germany (quite a few ended up in Australia).
Anti-Soviet propaganda held that the USSR was so backward it would take many years for its science and armed forces to catch up to the USA, if in fact they ever would. Under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet government held its nerve in the face of US threats whilst it campaigned everywhere for peace and a ban on nuclear weapons. These Soviet initiatives were routinely dismissed by Western media and politicians as “propaganda”. After all, they reasoned, the USA had the Bomb – why should it give up that advantage? Then, in 1949, China went Socialist and the USSR revealed that it too had the Bomb.
In 1950 the desperate US-orchestrated attempts to “roll back Communism” in Europe and Asia reached their Zenith with the launching of the Korean War. It would be another six years before the propaganda war being waged against the USSR and its long-time leader, Josef Stalin, also reached its zenith. Stalin died in 1953, to be succeeded by his colleague Georgi Malenkov.
Only a couple of years later, Malenkov’s team were all ousted in a leadership ‘spill’ orchestrated by the Soviet leader in the Ukraine, Nikita Krushschev, with the support of a number of regional Party secretaries, at least one of whom thought that her support of Krushschev would see her elevated to a leading position nationally. Khrushchev became General Secretary but ironically the regional secretary who had persuaded the others to support the removal of Stalin’s designated successors was herself passed over.
As leader, Khrushchev initiated a number of policies that were not well received because of their departure from previous practice under Stalin. In 1956, Khrushchev moved to nullify this opposition within the Party and consolidate his position once and for all: he used the Party Congress to launch a wide-ranging attack on Stalin’s record as leader, his personality, his policies, even his war-time record. Khrushchev's so-called “secret speech” − the text of which was circulated widely, especially in the West − was a massive propaganda coup for capitalist intelligence services. Within the Soviet Union, Khrushchev ensured that pictures and statues of Stalin were hastily removed from their previous places of honour, and not just statues. A larger-than-life image of Stalin in one of Moscow’s Metro stations was simply white-washed all over. Even a quote about peace in bas-relief on the station’s exterior wall was ‘de-Stalinised’: the quote was allowed to remain but Stalin’s name, as the person who said it, was carefully chipped off!
Outside the USSR, those Communist parties that had left the development of ideology solely to their leadership found themselves ill-equipped to cope with the turmoil Khrushchev's ‘revelations’ unleashed. In Australia, leading Comrades, particularly prominent propagandist Bill Brown, traversed the country rooting out any lingering manifestations of ‘Stalinism’. In the 1970s, I attended a large class on philosophy given by Bill Brown on behalf of the Central Committee at which the State Secretary of the Building Workers’ Industrial Union in South Australia was so impressed by the content of the class that he tried to pay Bill Brown a compliment: “I think this class could become as important to our Party as Stalin’s History of the CPSU was for the Soviet Party,” he said.
Bill Brown put his head in his hands: “Oh, don’t say that!” he exclaimed, to the bewilderment of the chap who had offered the praise. The Communist Party of China astutely saw through Khrushchev's motives and rejected his criticism. In the Soviet Union, it took several decades before the mischief done by Khrushchev could begin to be undone during Brezhnev’s time as General Secretary. I led a delegation to the USSR in the 1980s from the SPA (as we were then) [Socialist Party of Australia]. Whilst visiting Lenin’s rather Spartan quarters in the Smolny, the CPSU person showing us around pointed to the large photograph of the Party in the early days of the USSR and made only one – startling [to us] − comment: “Stalin is second from the left”. And then he grinned at us. He knew the effect his words were having. This was at a time when mentioning Stalin was still strictly taboo in our Party and we had thought it was in the CPSU too.
Unfortunately, this rehabilitation of Stalin that was beginning to become evident under Brezhnev came to a shuddering stop after the latter’s death.
Mikhail Gorbachev had worked very hard to impress the members of the CPSU that he was man who could lead a renewal of the Party after the stagnation in so many areas during the Brezhnev years. Nevertheless, his motives were viewed with distrust by experienced Party cadres and Yuri Andropov was elected as General Secretary instead. Andropov had great potential as Soviet leader and there is no doubt that had he lived the process of renewal that he began would have flourished. Unfortunately, his health collapsed abruptly. After his premature death, an ageing Chernenko sought to block Gorbachev but Gorbachev’s accession to the top position had now become virtually inevitable.
As soon as he attained his goal as General Secretary, Gorbachev stole a leaf from Khrushchev's play-book and denounced his opponents as “Stalinists” and, to cut the ground from under them, promptly whipped up a new round of denunciations of − and attacks on − Stalin himself. Ironically, given the slow but steady progress towards rehabilitating Stalin under Brezhnev, Gorbachev’s opponents to some extent were Stalinists. After he had successfully dissolved the USSR, in defiance of a referendum result showing that the country’s population wanted to retain it, Mikhail Gorbachev boasted in an interview of how he and his Georgian colleague Shevardnadze had plotted for years how they would bring about the overthrow of Socialism in the USSR and its replacement by bourgeois democracy.
Gorbachev not only abolished the Soviet Union, he condemned Socialism itself and declared – all evidence to the contrary not withstanding − that the Communist Party’s mistrust of the capitalist West was misplaced: capitalist governments wanted peace and trade, not war! After all, they said so all the time, so the USSR should take them at their word and stop worrying about nuclear defence.
In Australia, Trotskyists celebrated their new hero, chanting “Gor-by! Gor-by!” whilst an unimpressed SPA General Secretary Peter Symon exposed Gorbachev’s anti-Communist position at public meetings, in the face of opposition from a handful of SPA members who refused to believe that the leader of the CPSU could be so treacherous or naïve. Life itself proved Comrade Symon’s dire assessment to be correct.
Naturally, anti-Communist propagandists had a field day. Inevitably, they did as they had in the past and focused on attacking Stalin once more, reasoning that the accumulated weight of the propaganda barrage against him since 1956 made him easily the weakest link. And now they were able to add in the material thrown up by Gorbachev and other Russians who had also embraced his contempt for Socialism.
Stalin may have been rude, uncouth and even arrogant when dealing with people who questioned, in word or deed, the validity of Socialism. He certainly did not suffer fools gladly within the Party. On the other hand, he was infinitely patient with ordinary people who may not have understood the significance of particular policies at certain times. He always took the time to explain matters for their benefit because he knew that people more readily supported policies and actions when they understood the reasoning behind them.
However, in the renewed ‘Cold War’ being waged against Socialism across the globe, Stalin ‘the monster’ is too valuable a weapon to be discarded because of a little inconvenience like the truth! Capitalism’s propagandists feel free to attribute all manner of ridiculous ‘crimes’ to him. I have seen one attack on the Soviet Union that baldly asserted that Stalin murdered no less than fifty million people!
Communists need to reject these absurd examples of capitalist propaganda. At the same time we need to be aware of the overwhelming success to date of capitalism’s anti-Stalin campaign. To counteract it we need to be clever, subtle and firm. Simply rushing in with a large picture of Stalin convinces no one. Just as we have to win people to our belief in the superiority of Socialism, so we have to convince them that our assessment of Stalin’s contribution is also correct.
But we have the advantage of knowing that it is correct. It is based on truth and historical accuracy, and is supported by any genuine study of the facts.