Strong on Stalin
The Stalin Era by Anna Louise Strong (New York:
Masses and Mainstream, 8s. 6d.)
' . . they first turn mad'
'IT IS too soon to sum up the era, and yet one must try to' - so writes Miss Strong in her foreword, and why 'one must try to' is indeed obvious. The paean writers of yesterday are now faced with the problem of Khrushchev's secret speech, of Yugoslavia, Poland and Hungary, etc. How does Miss Strong face the problem?
This book has been taken up by the leadership of the Communist Party in this country. Indeed it needs to be, because a decision which formerly faced a few individuals inside the Communist Party is now facing almost all the members - namely, what political conclusions do you reach and what political action do you take when you become aware of the mass terror that existed inside the Soviet Union? Deceit, silence and slander will no longer hide the problem. It has to be faced, and Miss Strong has come forward to prevent workers reaching the 'wrong', that is, the anti-Stalinist conclusions.
It would be gratifying to report that 'The Stalin Era' contained an examination or analysis more serious than that of a Mr. Gollan who says that the revelations of the Twentieth Congress came as a great shock to the Executive Committee of the Communist Party, or indeed of a Mr. Khrushchev who naively wonders what text of what speech is being referred to in a recent interview. But unfortunately there is no attempt at serious analysis. 'The Stalin Era' lies in the lightweight class.
For example, the Georgian oppression is dealt with, but only to be misrepresented. Lenin's criticism of Stalin's great-nation chauvinism becomes merely his criticism of Stalin's 'ruthlessness', or his 'brutalities', and oh, the philosophical vacuity of the word 'excesses' in Georgia! But Lenin's criticism was not of arbitrary actions against individuals but of an impermissible relationship between the Soviet power and the Georgian people. Lenin was a Marxist and not a professor of moral philosophy, and understood that the ruthlessness was the result not of the policeman's ulcer but of a wrong relationship between police and people, between the Soviet State and the Georgian nation.
Miss Strong's explanation for the embalming of Lenin's body for public show condemns both her and her idol, Stalin.
It was done by Stalin 'over the protests of Lenin's widow and some other Bolshevik intellectuals'. (This is one of several disparaging references to intellectuals contained in the book.) Why not just 'some other Bolsheviks'? 'Stalin understood better than any of the Europeanized Bolsheviks how the Russian people, still largely peasant, could be moved by a shrine and a saint with "incorruptible" flesh.' The Bolsheviks did understand it and all their lives had been fighting such backwardness, not catering for it.
Miss Strong should bring the career of the mortician Bolsheviks up to date. Do they think, thirty years later, after building socialism under the 'wise leader Stalin' that the Russian people need yet another shrine and saint with 'incorruptible' flesh?
'The Great Madness, the chapter on the terror, finds Miss Strong writing twenty years too late, and developing her gloss on events with ingenious subtlety. It is one of these she-knows-that-we-know-that-she-knows situations. She knows that we know that Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Bukharin and many others were, like Rajk, innocent. But she knows that we know that Khrushchev has not yet said so and won't. (Can the most able man Stalinism has produced afford an examination of the question of the Moscow Trials?) Therefore she knows she may safely get away with her explanation that Stalin became 'sickly suspicious' when he found former comrades trying to assassinate him. So the 'treachery' of his comrades is to explain Stalin's actions!
There is also the story of her closest friend who after arrest by the GPU had those 'interesting discussions' with her jailer. A proper Marxist discussion group it was, a sort of fore-runner to the Socialist Forums! Her explanation of the terror seems to have influenced Miss Strong. We. however, are advised against hasty explanations until we have some definite statement from the CPSU. Miss Strong, rather illogically, does advance a theory that may be summed up in her statement: 'They will find the key most probably in actual extensive penetration of the GPU by a Nazi fifth column . . .' Only one fifth column! What about the second fifth column that purged the first one and so on? What fifth columns were variously responsible for the deaths of successive heads of police? (The reviewer in Dutt's Labour Monthly quotes this same phrase with evident support. The 'sun-spots' are now clearly seen to have been swastikas.)
'Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and justice, not only under capitalism, but even more so under socialism.' Thus writes our chastened authoress, but Marxists will not identify with this unqualified 'socialism' the bitter experience of the masses of the people under Stalin. 'Eternal vigilance' is no substitute for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as Engels recognized it in the Paris Commune, and when it comes to over three million people estimated by Mosa Pijade to have been killed by Stalinism in the USSR in 1936-38, 'eternal vigilance' is criminal phrasemongering, not honest humane analysis or leadership.
The Labour movement is in a mood to go deeper in its analysis of the Stalin Era (or is it perhaps the Lenin Era?) than this addle-pated apologia. It contains no serious thought. It is journalistic, evasive, slick. As an aid to an understanding of the Stalin Era it is valueless and can only act as a weak prop for what it claims to study.
The problem for the revolutionary trend in the Labour movement is that the Great Madness left some in high places permanently mad.
W. and R. HUNTER
Labour Review July – August 1957