A Paper Originally Scheduled To Be Read By Bill Bland At The Conference Of 'International Struggle : Marxist-Leninist' In October 1999; Paris.
by Bill Bland
Transcription by Hari Kumar
Today almost everyone who calls himself a Marxist-Leninist accepts that, in its final years, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was dominated by revisionists — that is, by people who claimed to be Marxist-Leninists but who had in reality distorted Marxism-Leninism to serve the interests of an embryonic capitalist class.
On one question, however, there is still disagreement, namely, when did the domination of the CPSU by revisionists begin?
These days, most people date it from the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956, when Khrushchev threw off his false Marxist-Leninist mask.
However, there are good grounds for believing that for many years prior to Stalin’s death in 1953, a majority of the Soviet leadership were either concealed or latent revisionists.
Why, for example, did Stalin, who played such an active role in the international communist movement in the 1920s, cease to do so after 1926?
Why did the publication of Stalin’s works, scheduled for sixteen volumes, cease with Volume 13 in 1949, four years before his death?
Why was Stalin not asked to deliver the report of the Central Committee to the 19th Congress in 1952?
Why were Stalin’s last writings confined to subjects like linguistics and the critique of a proposed textbook on economics -- subjects which might be considered harmless to concealed revisionists had not Stalin turned them into attacks on revisionist ideas?
Why did the Soviet government surprise world opinion in 1947 by suddenly reversing its foreign policy in order to endorse the American proposal for the partition of Palestine which has proved so disastrous for the nations of the Middle East?
All this makes sense if — and I believe only if — we accept the fact that for some years before his death, Stalin and his fellow Marxist-Leninists were in a minority in the leadership of the Soviet Union.
The fact of the existence of a revisionist majority in the leadership of the CPSU was effectively concealed by the ‘cult of personality’ that was built up around Stalin.
Stalin himself criticised and ridiculed this ‘cult’ on numerous occasions. Yet it continued.
It follows that Stalin was either an utter hypocrite, or he was unable to put a stop to this ‘cult’.
The initiator of the ‘cult of personality’ around Stalin was, in fact, Karl Radek, who pleaded guilty to treason at his public trial in 1937.
A typical example of the ‘cult’ is the following quotation from 1936: "Miserable pygmies! They lifted their hands against the greatest of all living men, our wise leader Comrade Stalin. We assure you, Comrade Stalin, that we will increase our Stalinist vigilance still more and close our ranks around the Stalinist Central Committee and the great Stalin".
The author of these words was one Nikita Khrushchev, who in 1956 denounced the ‘cult’ as an indication of Stalin’s ‘vanity’ and ‘personal power’.
It was Khrushchev too who introduced the term ‘vozhd’ for Stalin — a term meaning ‘leader’ and equivalent to the Nazi term ‘Fuehrer’.
Why should the revisionists have built up this ‘cult of personality’ around Stalin?
It was, I suggest, because it disguised the fact that not Stalin and the Marxist-Leninists, but they — concealed opponents of socialism — who held a majority in the leadership. It enabled them to take actions — such as the arrest of many innocent persons between 1934 and 1938 (when they controlled the security forces) and subsequently blame these ‘breaches of socialist legality’ upon Stalin.
Stalin himself is on record as telling the German author Lion Feuchtwanger in 1936 that the ‘cult of his personality’ was being built up by his political opponents (I quote:)
“ . . . with the aim of discrediting him at a later date.”
Clearly, Stalin’s ‘pathological suspicion’ of some of his colleagues, of which Khrushchev complained so bitterly in his secret speech to the 20th Congress, was not pathological at all!
On one allegation both Stalin and the revisionists are agreed — that in Stalin’s time miscarriages of justice occurred in which innocent people were judically murdered.
The revisionists, of course, maintain that Stalin was responsible for these miscarriages of justice.
But there is a contradiction here.
Krushchev himself said in his 1956 secret speech (and I quote):
“The question is complicated here by the fact that all this was done because Stalin was convinced that this was necessary for the defence of the interest of the working class against the plotting of ememies. He saw this from the position of the interests of the working class, of the interest of the victory of socialism.”
But only a person who was completely insane could possibly imagine that the arrest of innocent people could serve socialism. And all the evidence shows that Stalin retained his full mental faculties right to his death.
However, the contradiction resolves itself if these judicial murders were carried out, not at the behest of Stalin and the Marxist-Leninists, but at the behest of the revisionist opponents of socialism.
At his public trial in 1938, the former People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs, Genrikh Yagoda, pleaded guilty to having arranged the murder of his predecessor, Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, in order to secure his own promotion to a post which gave him control over the Soviet security services. He then, according to his own admission, used this position to protect the terrorists responsible for the murder of prominent Marxist-Leninists close to Stalin — including the Leningrad Party Secretary, Sergei Kirov, and the famous writer Maksim Gorky.
And in order that the security services should not appear idle, Yagoda arranged for the arrest of many people who were not conspirators, but had merely been indiscreet.
After Yagoda’s arrest, the conspirators were successful in getting him succeeded by another conspirator, Nikolai Yezhov, who continued and intensified this process.
It was because of the suspicions of Stalin and the Marxist-Leninists that the security services were acting incorrectly — were protecting the guilty and punishing the innocent — that they began to use Stalin’s personal secretariat, headed by Aleksandr Poskrebyshev, as their private detective agency.
And it was on the basis of the evidence uncovered by this Secretariat and submitted directly to the Party — that the concealed revisionists, to maintain their cover, were compelled to endorse the arrest of genuine conspirators, including Yagoda and Yezhov.
And it was on Stalin’s personal initiative that in 1938, his friend, the Marxist-Leninist Lavrenty Beria, was brought to Moscow from the Caucasus to take harge of the security services.
Under Beria, political prisoners arrested under Yagoda and Yezhov had their cases reviewed and, as Western press correspondents reported at the time, many thousands of people unjustly sentenced were released and rehabilitated.
Marxist-Lenininists in Britain, in particular, should have no difficulty in accepting the picture of a Marxist-Leninist minority in the CPSU.
How many members of the Communist Party of Great Britain came out in opposition to the revisionist ‘British Road to Socialism’, which preached the absurd ‘parliamentary road to socialism’ when it was adopted in 1951? I know of only four.
The question arises, of course:
if revisionists had a majority in the leadership of the CPSU from the 1930s, why did they not take any steps to dismantle socialism until 1956, after Stalin’s death?
The short answer is that they tried and failed.
In the early 1940s, the economists Eugen Varga and Nikolai Voznsensky both published books openly espousing revisionist programmes, and both were quickly slapped down by the Marxist-Leninists.
Of course, it is important not to exaggerate the extent of these miscarriages of justice.
In the 1960s, anti-Soviet propaganda originally published in Nazi Germany, was republished by a former British secret service agent named Robert Conquest under the more respectable cloak of Harvard University. In his 1969 book ‘The Great Terror’ Conquest puts the number of ‘Stalin’s victims’ (in inverted commas) at ‘between 5 and 6 million’.
But by the 1980s, Conquest was alleging that there had been in 1939 a total of 25 to 30 million prisoners in the Soviet Union, that in 1950 there had been 12 million political prisoners.
But when, under Gorbachev, the archives of the Central Committee of the CPSU were opened up to researchers, it was found that the number of political prisoners in 1939 had been 454,000, not the millions claimed by Conquest.
If we add those in prison for non-political offences, we get a figure of 2.5 million, that is, 2.4% of the adult population.
In contrast, there were in the United States in 1996, according to official figures, 5.5 million people in prison, or 2.8% of the adult population.
That is, the number of prisoners in the USA today is 3 million more than the maximum number ever held in the Soviet Union.
In January 1953, less than two months before Stalin’s death, nine doctors working in the Kremlin were arrested on charges of having murdered certain Soviet leaders — including Andrei Zhdanov in 1948 — by administering to them deliberately incorrect medical treatment.
The charges arose out of an investigation into allegations by a woman doctor, Lydia Timashuk, The accused doctors were charged with conspiracy to murder in conjunction with the American Zionist organisation ‘JOINT’.
Western press correspondents in Moscow insisted that some of the most prominent Soviet leaders were under investigation in connection with the case.
But before the case could be brought to trial, Stalin conveniently died.
The Albanian Marxist-Leninist Enver Hoxha, a tireless oppponent of revisionism and not a man given to indulging in unfounded gossip — insists that Soviet revisionist leaders admitted — nay, rather boasted — to him that they had murdered him. And we know that Stalin’s son was himself arrested and imprisoned for having declared that his father had been killed as part of a plot.
Be that as it may, the arrested doctors were immediately released and officially ‘rehabilitated’.
Then Lavrenti Beria — a scourge of the revisionists second only to Stalin — was arrested in a military coup, tried in secret, and executed.
The way was open for the revisionist conspirators to throw off their masks, expel the remaining Marxist-Leninists from leading positions in the Party, and take the first steps towards the restoration of a capitalist society.
This, then, is the picture of Stalin that emerges from an objective examination of the facts.
It is the picture of a great Marxist-Leninist who fought all his life for the cause of socialism and the working class.
It is the picture of a great Marxist-Leninist who, although surrounded by revisionist traitors, succeeded during his lifetime in preventing this revisionist majority from significantly betraying the working class he loved and restoring the capitalist system he hated.
We in all countries who have taken on the task of rebuilding the international communist movement must see the defence of Stalin as a part of the defence of Marxism-Leninism.
There can be no greater compliment for anyone who aspires to be a Marxist-Leninist than to be called a Stalinist.