Stalin, Murder and Unity

Lenin's leadership team was amazingly diverse. After all, Stalin, Trotsky and Bukharin all worked together under Lenin. Lenin fought for unity, but did not murder those in the leadership team who disagreed with him. He debated with them, fiercely demanding high standards of evidence and principle in his opponents arguments, always calling people to task for unclear, illogical, factually weak positions. He brought the best out in people, who on their own were fatally flawed. He even threatened to resign several times in order to make his points. Lenin was a master of Marxism  at the global level, European wide level, national, regional and city by city level. One of Lenin's most powerful accomplishments was his ability to translate Marxism to the individual and personal level and then return to broad general points, not just "What is to Be Done" but what is to be done by you and I right now.

Stalin was famously weak in his Marxism on a personal and interpersonal level. He eventually put on trial and had executed almost every single member of Lenin's entire leadership team in a "witchhunt" that makes " Salem" look like a tupperware party. Toward the end of Lenin's politically active life, in 1922, Lenin could feel the hand of death and began to act  from his sick bed to deal with the political problem of his own passing. Stalin's power and position combined with his fatal flaws was one such problem.   

Lenin said,  "Stalin is too rude and this defect ... becomes intolerable in a Secretary-General. That is why I suggest ... removing Stalin from that post ... and appointing another ... more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious ... it is a detail which can assume decisive importance" (CW Lenin vol.36 pp.596, 1/4/1923).    

Lenin's final 2 letters before he was forever silenced by a stroke concerned this very issue, " Dear Comrade Stalin: You have been so rude as to summon my wife to the telephone and use bad language......I have no intention of forgetting  so easily what has been done against me, and it goes without saying that what has been done against my wife I consider having been done against me....make your apologies,or...relations between us should be broken off."(CW Lenin V 45 pp.608 3/5/1923)  Lenin's use of the  term "rude" more closely resembles the 21st century usage of the term "abusive". In a situation of true collective leadership a problem such as this is more manageable but in a situation of one man rule  and the "cult of the personality" which grew up around Stalin this problem became, as Lenin himself said, "..a detail which can assume decisive importance." A careful analysis of Stalin's worst deviations from Marxism show that some of them flow directly from his abusive, intolerant, inconsiderate and capricious characteristics.

Stalin was extremely cynical about people and their potential and this is common with very abusive individuals. Under Lenin's guidance and in collective leadership he provided a kind of balance to Trotsky's "excessive self assurance" and Bukharin's weakness with dialectical thinking (seeing all sides of a complex issue.) (CW Lenin V 36 pp.594-595 12/24/1922)

 In the late 1920s and early 1930s , Stalin, in leadership by himself, with his cynical tendency unchecked, Stalin then gutted Marxism's emphasis on carefully considered revolutionary action. Stalin's disastrous political line equating the Social Democrats as an equal danger to the fascists was a prejudiced course of action reflecting his cynicism about the Social Democrats rather than a careful examination of them. Stalin did not abandon this ill conceived perspective until after it was too late to stop Hitler. As Lenin might have put it, the "What is to Be Done?" was replaced by "Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder."

Stalin replaced Marxian dialectics with a mechanistic version that emphasized the "inevitability" of Socialism in place of Karl Marx's stark choice for revolutionaries in "The Communist Manifesto",  "a fight that each time ended, either in the revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." (CW Marx Engels V 6 pp.482)  For Marx the possibility of terrible defeat was so real that all prejudice and intellectual short cuts had to be abandoned because each serious choice in a crisis that revolutionaries make on the "ground they have been given" can lead to advance or "the common ruin of the contending classes." Stalin's disastrous line equating Social Democracy as an equal enemy to the workers movement as Fascism was so clearly prejudiced and filled with intellectual short cuts that it can only be explained, at least in part, by the same character flaws that Lenin wanted Stalin removed as Secretary General of the Communist Party for in 1922. All revolutionaries have to accept "the ground they have been given" such as the militarized imperialism and ferocious racism in Germany in 1932, but Marxists have no excuse to abandon careful analysis for cynical prejudice. We have no excuse now nor should we excuse Stalin.

These flaws arise again for Stalin and the Communist Movement, but in a different form. But that will be the topic of another series of essays.

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  • Stalin had serious psychological problems,what many contemporary psychologists would call a bipolar personality. What became Soviet Marxism was essentially a mechanistic stage by stage approach, where dialectical relationships were short changed. The purges are a complex phenonom--many old Bolsheviks were executed, along with many newer comrades, but many others, like Molotov, Kaganovich, Alexandra Kollontai continued to play an important part of the leadership.
    The Stalin personality cult is long dead. The "Stalin the devil cult is remains alive. It is a major prop of anti-Communist ideology. Ho Chi Minh once said (this is a paraphrase) that Stalin made "major errors" which we, the Communists should criticize and learn from, but not parade before our enemies, the anti-Communists, which would only strengthen them and weaken us.
    What we can best learn from the Stalin period is that socialism needs intellectual freedom and civil liberties to truly develop much more than capitalism, and if it does not have intellectual freedom and civil liberties than even its great accomplishments, and there great accomplishments in this period, will bed threatened
    Norman Markowitz

    Posted by norman markowitz, 03/08/2011 4:01pm (8 years ago)

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