By Rainer Shea, February 20, 2021
Why is “Stalinist” used as a pejorative, despite there not even being an actual ideology called “Stalinism?” Because under the worldview that anti-communist propagandists and their ideological lackeys seek to cultivate, studying Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory is associated with being complicit in the myriad of atrocities which Stalin is accused of. The false image of Stalin that these propagandists have manufactured is meant to serve as a representation of Marxism in general.
The dishonest nature of this rhetorical tactic is found in the very framing of the “Stalinist” insult. The implication of this insult is that a cult of personality has always existed around Stalin, one which those who study Marxism have by extension bought into. But this idea comes from the misleading narrative that such a cult existed around Stalin. The “Stalin has a cult of personality” claim was originally cultivated by opportunistic individuals within the Soviet government, who sought to discredit Stalin by portraying him as vain and those who supported him as naive. Stalin criticized and ridiculed the idea that he deserved any sort of cult around him, which makes the accusation that Marxist-Leninists are merely indulging the wishes of an egomaniac, totally absurd.
It’s also dishonest in that it portrays the fictional “Stalinism” ideology as something to associate with indefensible crimes against humanity. The claims that paint Stalin as some sort of genocidal war criminal all originate either from Nazi propagandists, or from anti-communist authors whose assertions have been debunked, or from those opportunistic Soviet leaders I mentioned. The “Stalin starved Ukraine” claim comes from the Third Reich, which got the US media to broadcast their lie. The accounts of the Soviet gulags and the Great Terror that Westerners usually get exposed to come from discredited sources like Robert Conquest and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The claims that Stalin was to blame for the Soviet legal system’s miscarriages of justice come from Nikita Krushchev, who’s been debunked on every single one of his charges against Stalin.
It all comes back to what Che Guevara said: “In the so called mistakes of Stalin lies the difference between a revolutionary attitude and a revisionist attitude. You have to look at Stalin in the historical context in which he moves, you don’t have to look at him as some kind of brute, but in that particular historical context. I have come to communism because of daddy Stalin and nobody must come and tell me that I mustn’t read Stalin.”
What information have the deceivers, demagogues, and manipulators who’ve slandered Stalin been seeking to turn us away from? What kind of knowledge was Che referring to in his statement about how powerful Stalin’s writings were? As I dive into Stalin’s works, I get a sense of how good a job he did of making proletarian revolutionary theory comprehensible, and therefore how dangerous his ideas are to the ideological defenders of capital.
The first Stalin passage I came across that struck me in this way was this one, from Chapter One of his book The Foundations of Leninism:
Imperialism is the omnipotence of the monopolist trusts and syndicates, of the banks and the financial oligarchy, in the industrial countries. In the fight against this omnipotence, the customary methods of the working class—trade unions and cooperatives, parliamentary parties and the parliamentary struggle—have proved to be totally inadequate. Either place yourself at the mercy of capital, eke out a wretched existence as of old and sink lower and lower, or adopt a new weapon—this is the alternative imperialism puts before the vast masses of the proletariat. Imperialism brings the working class to revolution.
This passage starts to give us a sense of why Che was moved to become a communist from reading Stalin. In it, he summarizes the reasons behind why workers and poor people will never have their interests represented under the existing state structure. And he supports this argument not simply by stating that the capitalist state is innately bad, but by explaining how even the supposed options for change that the proletariat is offered won’t be effective for as long as the capitalist state exists. He calls this harsh reality about life under capitalism the “first contradiction” of imperialism, where the development of capitalism towards its imperialist form fortifies the despotic power of the capitalist state and leaves the proletariat with no option other than revolution.
He then explained that imperialism’s second contradiction is the weakening of capital which emerges when the different imperialist powers inevitably fight amongst each other for dominance, and that imperialism’s third contradiction is the vast disparity between oppressor countries and exploited countries which inevitably leads towards revolutions within the exploited countries.
These innate weaknesses in the system we live under, said Stalin, are going to lead to “the acceleration of the advent of the proletarian revolution and to the practical necessity of this revolution.” Here we see Stalin, with the knowledge he had gained from the first world war and the Russian revolution, expanding upon the prediction from Marx that capitalism will one day eat itself. Stalin explained why the events of the early 20th century had totally vindicated the Marxist view of where capitalism was headed. And all the wars, revolutions, and economic crises under capitalism since then have only further proven Marx (and Stalin by extension) right.
Having established why capitalism was doomed to collapse and create the seeds for revolution, in the second chapter of The Foundations of Leninism Stalin explained why these post-collapse conditions would be able to specifically facilitate a proletarian revolution in the vein of the Bolshevik rise to power. He did this by repudiating the nonsense claims from the opportunistic bourgeois reformists, who used a series of dogmatic beliefs to say that the creation of a new workers democracy was unrealistic:
First dogma: concerning the conditions for the seizure of power by the proletariat. The opportunists assert that the proletariat cannot and ought not to take power unless it constitutes a majority in the country. No proofs are brought forward, for there are no proofs, either theoretical or practical, that can bear out this absurd thesis… Second dogma: the proletariat cannot retain power if it lacks an adequate number of trained cultural and administrative cadres capable of organising the administration of the country; these cadres must first be trained under capitalist conditions, and only then can power be taken. Let us assume that this is so, replies Lenin; but why not turn it this way: first take power, create favourable conditions for the development of the proletariat, and then proceed with seven-league strides to raise the cultural level of the labouring masses and train numerous cadres of leaders and administrators from among the workers?
In this section, he explained how relatively easy the task of creating a Marxist-Leninist workers state would actually be. The liberals, who continue to assert in various ways that the current conditions make it impractical for a dictatorship of the proletariat to be newly established in any nation, are proven wrong by these and the other arguments Stalin put forth. And as for the similarly demoralizing false belief that a revolution can only happen after an unlikely set of conditions arise within a given country, in Chapter Three Stalin applies Leninism to expose the truth:
Formerly, the proletarian revolution was regarded exclusively as the result of the internal development of a given country. Now, this point of view is no longer adequate. Now the proletarian revolution must be regarded primarily as the result of the development of the contradictions within the world system of imperialism, as the result of the breaking of the chain of the world imperialist front in one country or another. Where will the revolution begin? Where, in what country, can the front of capital be pierced first? Where industry is more developed, where the proletarian constitutes the majority, where the proletariat constitutes the majority, where there is more culture, where there is more democracy—that was the reply usually given formerly. No, objects the Leninist theory of revolution, not necessarily where industry is more developed, and so forth. The front of capital will be pierced where the chain of imperialism is weakest, for the proletarian revolution is the result of the breaking of the chain of the world imperialist front at its weakest link.
And how can the chain of capital become weak in a given country? Through the unavoidable processes of imperialist and capitalist collapse that Stalin explained earlier. Whether the bourgeoisie will it or not, their system is going to result in increasing class tensions due to unacceptable worker conditions, the mutual weakening of the imperialist powers due to their own greed, and rebellions from the colonies that the imperialists have forced into subjugation.
I still have a lot more of Stalin’s works to read, but after absorbing these ideas of his, I’ve already gotten a sense of why his works are seen as so threatening to the guardians of the ruling class hegemony. The realities he exposes about the self-defeating nature of capitalism and the practicality of proletarian revolution are terrifying to the world’s exploiters, because they have the potential to show the masses why it makes logical sense to join the side of Marxism-Leninism. In the face of Stalin’s works, all the bourgeois propagandists can do is throw out slanders and keep repeating “Stalinism” as an epithet, unable to stop people like Che from coming to communism because of Stalin’s contributions to theory.
Featured image: (File photo)