Krishna Chakravortty, Member Central Committee, Socialist Unity Centre of India

Fifty years have passed since the death of Comrade Stalin. With millions of communists and progressive people all over the world, our Party, Socialist Unity Centre of India, remembers Stalin with boundless love and esteem. A large part of the progressive and revolutionary traditions, fervour and morale that inspire present day anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggles are Stalin’s heritage. Stalin occupies such a position in world history that it is impossible for even his worst enemy to deny it altogether and the imperialists have resorted to relentless smear campaigns to erase him from public memory. The great leader of the proletariat has been described as ‘despot’, ‘egoist’, ‘power hungry’, ‘indulgent to his own cult’ etc. Anti-Stalin propaganda soared, based on revisionist support. For the uninformed common people it was impossible to separate the truth from the lies. Even communists were divided in their assessment of Stalin’s contribution. The confusion, differences of opinion and division within the communists proved advantageous to imperialism. The clarity of idea and unity of action of the communist movement have been undermined. The socialist camp has collapsed and imperialism has gripped the world in its stranglehold of globalization and war. Correct assessment of Stalin’s role therefore concerns not only the communists, but also all anti-imperialist, anti-war and progressive individuals and the toiling masses of the world. Stalin’s achievements are too many and I shall confine this discussion to just one aspect, the role of Stalin and CPSU in the defeat of fascism.

Socialism was established in Soviet Russia with the Revolution of 1917. The leader of the Revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin gave a crushing defeat to all the counter-revolutionary uprisings that were designed, triggered and effected by the reactionaries within and outside the country. He not only saved and nurtured the newly born socialist state, but had also planned to turn it into a mighty modern state. He had the golden vision of building up a new industrialized Russia. Stalin had subsequently concretized Lenin’s dreams and visions in just sixteen years’ time. This was a Herculean task that was successfully carried out. Famines became tearful tales of the past. Huge modern industries raised their heads. Vast snow covered desolate fields now had well-populated industrial towns. Siberia, which was a dreadful desolate land for exile, acquired a different face much beyond recognition. The whole country was passing through tremendous changes in all spheres of life. While this was happening in Soviet Union the ugly face of fascism was making its appearance in Germany. Severe economic depression after the First World War, combined with the sense of national humiliation in Germany at its defeat, paved the way for Hitler’s coming to power. Anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism were the two main planks of Hitler’s political ideology. The German capitalist class came to see in Hitler the man who would defend their interests against the threat of Communism. The other imperialist countries, Britain, France and USA viewed the German militarization with some suspicion, but their fear of communism made them adopt a placatory attitude towards Hitler. They viewed Hitler as a bulwark against Soviet Russia, and thought that Hitler would fight their war against Communism. Hitler himself had always clearly indicated his designs against Soviet Russia, which would provide the lebensraum for the German people. He was well aware of the attitude of the imperialist countries and once he declared to his Generals that when the attack on Soviet Russia begins the world will hold its breath and make no comment. Stalin also knew it well that the war cry of the fascist Germany was principally and ultimately directed at total destruction and demolition of socialism in Soviet Russia. And in doing this it would have the support and patronage from all the capitalist-imperialist countries.

Soviet Russia was making giant strides towards industrialization and modernization of agriculture, but these were aimed at the betterment of, for the benefit of, the people of the country. Thus production of modern war weapons and arsenal was not emphasized in the early years of socialist construction. As fascism was getting consolidated Stalin started preparing for the battle. Industry was mechanized and modernized to step up production of airplanes, tanks and artillery pieces. In the diplomatic front, with astute political sense he kept urging England and France to join in a ‘system of collective security’ against fascist Germany, but got no response from them. On the contrary they went on appeasing Hitler who never tired of reminding the British and the French of the great service Germany was performing in safeguarding Europe against Communism. When war started in 1939, Hitler chose to deal first with England and France before finally turning to Russia. He offered Soviet Union a non-aggression Pact and most sagaciously Stalin took hold of the opportunity. But Stalin had no illusions about Hitler’s intentions, and the little respite that the Pact provided was utilized for making the final preparations for the war. Weapons production was augmented so that there would be uninterrupted military supply during the impending war, and major industries were shifted to the region beyond the Urals to protect them from the advancing German army.

Stalin knew further that it would not be possible to defeat the fascist army merely with the help of an army with modern weapons. This war would be a battle involving the whole of the nation. Industries, mines, agricultural fields – all of these would have to keep on maintaining the supplies for the war for days on end. So what are needed further are the indomitable determination of the people, and a leadership, which would shine before them as the symbol of the inevitable victory of human civilization over barbarism and would inspire them with courage, determination and will. Under Stalin’s leadership the Communist Party roused the people on such a scale and in such a manner as the world had never seen before. Starting from twelve year olds to people of all ages and strata volunteered and they formed the inexhaustible and invisible army behind the frontline. The Communists themselves organized the masses, took the most difficult responsibilities, volunteered in the most daring campaigns and died valiantly.

After the war had broken out in 1939 Hitler’s formidable fascist army made its way through many European countries unchecked and unabated. In preparation of war Hitler had formed bands of traitors in different countries, who would organize subversive activities and work for the Nazi army from within the invaded countries; for Soviet Russia also the German military and political high commands had made plans of ‘inside work’ to be done preparatory to German attack. Stalin knew that unless these activities are crushed and the traitors wiped out the Soviet nation could not rise up as one man against the fascist invaders. We have to view the great purges of the 1930s and the celebrated Moscow trials in this context.

The conspiratorial activity of the anti-Leninist groups of Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev and Bukharin came out in the open in 1934, after Kirov’s murder. The accused were tried in open sessions of the Soviet Supreme Court, found guilty and were executed. Joseph Davies, the American Ambassador to Russia wrote, " The story which was unfolded in these trials disclosed a record of Fifth Columnist and subversive activities in Russia under a conspiracy in agreement with the German and Japanese governments that were amazing….They agreed to and actually did cooperate in plans to assassinate Stalin and Molotov, and to project a military uprising against Kremlin…..In preparation for war they agreed to and actually did plan and direct sabotaging of industries, blowing up of chemical plants, destruction of coal mines, wrecking of transportation facilities and other subversive activities." Opposition and conspiratorial activities of the Trotskyites were active for many years. But prior to 1934 they were treated with leniency. Most of them were not considered dangerous enough to be executed. Political opponents were also not strictly suppressed at that time. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin had rallied sections of Soviet people against Stalin, but Stalin did not opt for administrative measures against the confused comrades; he had tried only to persuade them to find out their faults and come back to the correct line. But things changed after the murder of Kirov in 1934. Fascist Germany was gathering strength and its war cries were being increasingly heard from across the border. It was clear that war was imminent, that there were enemy spies within the country who should be exterminated before the war started. The task was difficult, for it was complex and to be done quickly and without erring. The open ‘Moscow Trials’ attended by national and foreign journalists, lawyers and other professionals, workers, peasants and a host of foreign dignitaries amply proved that the traitors and conspirators had a close link with the fascist countries and their espionage network.

The guilty were executed and there was a massive purge in the party. This played a decisive role in the subsequent anti-fascist war. In the words of John Davies, " All of these trials, purges and liquidations, which seemed so violent at the time and shocked the world, are now quite clearly a part of vigorous and determined effort of the Stalin government to protect itself not only from revolution from within but from attack from without. They went to work thoroughly to clean up and clean out all treasonable elements within the country…. There were no Fifth Columnists in Russia in 1941 – they had shot them. The purge had cleaned the country and rid it of treason."

Considering the historical background, the personalities involved in treason and the extent to which they had penetrated within the Party and society, it must be admitted that Stalin had an uphill task before him. He had to be stern and severe; but that did not affect the Soviet people. It was a section of the political circle that was affected, because it was them who were involved in these acts of intrigue and treason. It is true that there was terror and apprehension all over the country during those days. But that was not just from the fear of indiscriminate arrest and punishment or the repressive measures adopted by Stalin. As the conspiracies were unearthed and made public, the Soviet people were stunned and shocked to see how some of the leaders they had once loved and trusted were involved in high treasons that could have endangered or even wiped out socialism and the national sovereignty itself. People could not make out who was in support of socialism and who was a spy. Surely enough this added to the uncertainties and apprehensions. There were lots of arrests, death sentences and sending off to stringent labour camps. In such a massive and very difficult operation, mistakes and excesses are not unnatural, though not called for too and should be avoided wherever possible. At the same time, history does not mean exclusive and emphatic documentation of these excesses and mistakes without mentioning the real significance of the events. The revisionist-imperialist cliques try to present a few such examples of excess to prove how cruel ‘Stalinist terror’ was. But Stalin himself had made it clear in the Eighteenth Congress, "It cannot be said that the purge was not accompanied by grave mistakes. There was unfortunately more mistakes than might have been expected. Undoubtedly, we shall have no need to resort to the method of mass purges any more. Nevertheless, the purge of 1933-36 was unavoidable and its results, on the whole, were beneficial."

History has proved that Stalin not only saved socialism, but also saved the human civilization from subjugation to fascism. For this, he did not hesitate to sign the death warrants of even his close comrades. But there was no personal prejudice in his actions. History documents that he gave the opposition leaders all opportunities of self-rectification. He criticized them unsparingly but sincerely wanted them to become worthy communists. However, once their conspiracy was established doubtlessly, he could no longer consider them except as counter-revolutionaries; and to save the revolution he was ruthless. He was a ‘terror’, only to the enemies of revolution. At the critical hour of history when socialism was in danger he did not falter to rise as the ‘iron-man’. To defend socialism and to help it develop was the only mission in his life. Everything else was secondary. In fact the very existence of Stalin, his life, was unified with the demands and interest of the proletarian class and its revolution. His feelings and emotions, his happiness, his sorrow, his humanity, his strictness (termed as ‘cruelty’) – everything was guided by the realization of the necessity of revolution, the advancement of socialism and accomplishment of the tasks set forth by his great leader Lenin. Shibdas Ghosh, the founder General Secretary of our Party and a great Marxist thinker, points out that to judge Stalin, to understand him, it is necessary to be guided by the proletarian class outlook. He wrote, " How to account for this seemingly strange conduct of Stalin – approving capital punishment of his close and loyal comrades and not feeling at all sorry for their death… A humanist will fail to appreciate the character expressed in such acts. To a revolutionary, revolutionary necessity stands supreme; all other things like love, affection, personal relationship, friendship etc, which to a humanist are so important and precious and make life worth living are subordinated to it. If revolutionary necessity calls for the execution of the closest comrade, a revolutionary does it with supreme satisfaction."

A common accusation of the bourgeois world is that Stalin suppressed the Soviet people through coercion and terror. But they hide the fact that, leave aside under normal conditions of peace time, during the turbulent disorder of the war-time, it would not have been possible to suppress any popular discontent by bureaucratic-administrative steps, particularly in the bordering states like the Baltic ones, where the Germans had launched a continuous instigating campaign in the territories occupied by them. Why the Russian people in the regions overrun by the Germans during the war did not take advantage of the situation and raise their protest against Stalin’s ‘cruelty’, is a question that the revisionist leaders choose to ignore to raise and answer. In fact this was the hope of the German fascists. Hitler visualized that the invasion would produce a political upheaval in Russia and that Stalin would be overthrown by his own people if he suffered defeats in the initial stage. But the entire Soviet people had tremendous confidence in Stalin who embodied their aspiration, hope and morale. It is his leadership which inspired the Russian people to fight with unparalleled valour in the guerilla detachments behind the German lines, make tremendous sacrifices, and after the initial reverses resolutely fight back to decisively defeat the fascist force. Stalin himself told in 1945 after the victory in the war, "… we have had our moments of desperation in 1941 and 1942 when our army was retreating, abandoning our native villages and towns in the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia, the Leningrad region, the Baltic area and the Karelo-Finnish Republic; we abandoned them because there was no other way. Another people might say to their government, you have not justified our expectations, clear out and we shall put in another government which will conclude peace with Germany and ensure us a quiet life. But the Russian people have not done so, for they have faith in the correctness of the policy of their government and have made sacrifices to ensure the defeat of Germany. It is this trust of the Russian people in the Soviet government that proved to be the decisive force which has guaranteed the historic victory over mankind’s enemy - fascism."

Stalin played an outstanding role in changing the world of his time. The contradictions in the international arena based on the class alignments, for example, the contradiction between the working class and the capitalists in the imperialist countries, the contradiction between the people in the colonial countries and their imperialist rulers, the contradiction between the newly independent bourgeois states and the imperialist camp etc., - Stalin handled all these contradictions in a mastery fashion with a profound understanding of dialectics. During the antifascist war Stalin succeeded in building up world opinion against fascism, and acting on the contradictions within the imperialist camp managed to bring together the sworn anti-Soviets – imperialist Britain, France and America – to join hands with Soviet Russia to fight against German fascism. Churchill made the grudging admission that "Stalin made us whom he called imperialists fight against one another". With the victorious march of the Red Army and the smashing of fascism, People’s Democracies were established in the East European countries. The heroic battle and victory of the Soviet people and the Red Army encouraged working class movements all over the world. Revolution broke out in China and Korea. A socialist camp emerged parallel to the imperialist camp. Most former colonies and semi-colonies became free. Soviet Union provided them with economic assistance and political backing, which helped them to play an effective anti-imperialist, anti-war, pro-peace role. Thus rose the Non-Aligned Movement. Stalin’s handling of the different contradictions put a tight pressure on the capitalist class and could keep the imperialist powers in check. The face of the world had changed, new horizons were opened and the world was brought to the doorstep of world revolution. Stalin and the Soviet State under his guidance played a pivotal role in this development.

Stalin was identified with socialism and communism. Hence the capitalist-imperialists made Stalin the target of their attack. In this they were aided by the revisionist leadership of Khrushchev, who, in the name of fighting the cult of the individual, denigrated the leading role of Stalin and started the process of de-Stalinization. Ideological confusion gripped the communist movement. Except a few, nearly all the communist parties of the world were carried away by the bogey of the cult of individual raised in the 20th Congress of CPSU and shifted their allegiance from Stalin to Khrushchevite leadership. Refusal to acknowledge Stalin’s role amounts to mutilating the history of communist movement and thus blunting the communist consciousness. The attack upon Stalin did exactly this. It lowered the prestige of the communist cause in the public eye. Revisionism weakened the socialist system from within and ultimately led to counter-revolution in Soviet Russia and East European countries and dismantling of the socialist camp.

The root cause of this setback is a mechanical process of thinking and blind sense of allegiance to leadership which has long plagued the world communist movement and which is a consequence of the low standard of ideological consciousness. The growth of the cult of individual centring around Stalin in the last part of his life is an acknowledged fact. But as Comrade Shibdas Ghosh pointed out unless we have a correct Marxist understanding of the appearance of this cult we shall not be able to fight it, and the advancement of the proletarian revolutionary movement will suffer. Comrade Ghosh said, " …there is no denying the fact that in Russia gigantic socialist construction was made, projecting Stalin before the masses.. The personality of Stalin and his leadership imbued the whole of the Russian people generally. But again, following this very course came the backwardness in the ideological standard. The mechanization that is inherent in this method of imbuing the people by projecting a leader before them could not be fought out ultimately because the low level of the ideological-cultural standard among the communists and the masses continued to persist. That is why Stalin’s Russia today is treading the revisionist path." Comrade Ghosh showed that it is the absence of dialectical relation between the leader of the collective whole and the rest of the collective whole that create conditions favourable for the growth and development of the cult of individual. Stalin himself was aware of this danger. He pointed out in the 17th Congress of the Party in 1934, "Add to this the not very high theoretical level of the majority of our party comrades, the inadequate ideological work of our party bodies and the fact that our functionaries are overburdened with purely practical work, which deprives them of the opportunity of augmenting their theoretical knowledge and you will understand the origin of the confusion on a number of questions of Leninism". In the Report to the 19th Congress in 1952 he warned, "…achievements have bred in the ranks of the party a tendency to self-satisfaction, to make a pretence of all being well, a spirit of smug complacency." But although he planned to initiate an inner party intense ideological struggle, he passed away in 1953. If we want to carry forward the legacy of the revolutionary politics of Stalin we have to relentlessly wage thorough ideological struggles within the communist movement covering all aspects of life, thought and organization. But as Comrade Ghosh pointed out, this struggle "can only be on the basis of a correct understanding of the fundamentals of Leninism and appreciation of the services and contribution of Stalin to it and the communist movement, without which there is every possibility of sinking into revisionism".

Contribution to the 12th International Communist Seminar
"The Marxist-Leninist Party and the Anti-Imperialist Front Facing the War"
Brussels, 2-4 May 2003