Ted Grant

The Purge of Stalin

Written: May 1956
Source: Socialist Current, vol. 1 no. 1. (May 1956) pp. 1-4 & 13-14
Transcription: Ted Crawford
Markup/Proofread:: Emil (July 27, 2007)

The entire capitalist press of the world during the last few weeks has been filled with articles endeavouring to explain the posthumous purge of Stalin. In this they have been followed by the Stalinist and Labour papers. But their explanations have been feeble in the extreme.

It is not a question of personal hatred of Stalin by his lieutenants and colleagues, though this was real enough, nor was it a question of moral revulsion against his crimes. Khrushchev and all the other leaders at present in control of [the] Soviet Union participated with Stalin in all the purges and his other bestial crimes. Not only that, they continued and still continue with the same frame-up methods. When there was a quarrel and struggle for power between different sections of the bureaucracy, between Malenkov-Khrushchev-Bulganin and Beria; and Beria lost out, he was executed and denounced in the same dishonest way as a traitor and agent of imperialism, as Stalin had dealt with his enemies. Beria, like the other leaders was stained with crimes but was as much an agent of imperialism, as Churchill and Eden are agents of Russia. As head of the secret police he was guilty of the oppression and persecution of millions, but the present leaders share the guilt. And they show that they continue the methods of Stalin by continuing to propagate the fiction of Beria’s treason.

Above all the fiction is preserved that Socialism has been established in the Soviet Union, for the same reason that Stalin originally introduced the myth; the endeavour to fool the broad masses in Russia and the world and to justify and try to perpetuate the dominant and privileged position of the officialdom.

Stalin did not represent himself, as they now pretend, but like every dictator in history, represented a class or stratum of society. Stalin did not gain power by accident, nor establish his tyranny without support. His dictatorship represented not his role as an individual but the needs of the bureaucratic caste which usurped power from the broad masses.

Historically, Stalin represented the bureaucratic reaction against the revolution. In him individually was personified the interests of the officialdom. This is proved by the fact that all the gains of the revolution except the basic one, state ownership of the means of production and planning, were destroyed in the process of the consolidation of the rule of Stalin. That was the meaning of the countless crimes; and the arbitrary terror of the secret police. Everything achieved under the regime of Lenin and Trotsky has been transformed into its opposite. Nationalism instead of internationalism, inequality and differentiation instead of equality, enslavement and differentiation among the workers in place of workers control; national oppression of the republics instead of fraternal and equal relations; a privileged bureaucratic hierarchy in the army, industry, agriculture, police and civil service. That was the real meaning of the Stalin terror.

The present leaders in the Kremlin claim that they are returning to the methods of Lenin. But they are preserving the basic gains and perquisites of the officialdom.

If there has been a revulsion against the methods of Stalin, that has been for two reasons, the growing pressure of the masses, and the fear of the bureaucracy of a repetition of the personal and arbitrary rule of Stalin. Like every dictatorship which reflects the contradictions within a given society, the Stalin dictatorship ended with the personal megalomania and arbitrary domination of an individual. So it was in ancient Rome, in medieval society and the maniacal dictatorship of Hitler and Mussolini.

Towards the end of Stalin’s rule he reacted to the growing dissatisfaction and mounting hatred against his regime by preparing for a purge which threatened to compare with the monstrous nightmare of pre-war.

The projected trial of the doctors has set the stage. No one was safe. According to the statements of Khrushchev, Molotov, Voroshilov, Bulganin, himself and other leaders were all threatened by the danger of arrest and execution. It is probable as the Marxist tendency surmised, that in this atmosphere the tops of the bureaucracy alarmed at the dangers to the regime as well as their own personal safety, decided to rid themselves of the paranoiac who ruled Russia. It was in the Russian tradition. Just us the nobility at court removed Ivan the Terrible when his madness threatened them, so they decided to remove Stalin, even more terrible in his blood-lust than all the Czars.

Then account must be taken of the changes in Russian society in the past decades, especially the period since the war. The level of industry, science, culture, are immeasurably higher than at the period when the bureaucracy usurped power. Then Russia was almost at the level of a colony.

In 1927 the working class numbered about 4 million, in great part diluted by illiterate semi-peasants who had just left the villages. Now Russia has a proletariat which is educated and cultured numbering 40 to 50 millions. And Russia has, though relatively still backward, become the second greatest industrial power in the world. She overshadows the old capitalist powers in Europe and only the colossus of the American continent outstrips her at present.

It was the isolation of the Revolution in Russia, and the backwardness of her economy which allowed the bureaucracy to gain control under the leadership of Stalin who gradually perfected his totalitarian rule as their instrument. But more and more with the development of the economy, the bureaucracy, which under the given conditions played a relatively progressive role in the past, comes into conflict with the needs of culture and the economy.

In a whole series of speeches which have aroused little comment in the West, Khrushchev and the other leaders of the bureaucratic ruling oligarchy, showed that they recognised the problems and dangers that spring from them. Bureaucratic rule as revealed by those speeches means mismanagement, squandering, corruption, waste, nepotism. It is holding up the full utilisation of all the productive forces in Russia, especially the most important of all: man. Arbitrary rule means inefficiency and red tape in industry and agriculture. It retards the development of science and culture, which in their turn react upon the development of the productive forces.

This too is recognised by the bureaucracy and the problems that flow from it. To try and deal with it, with the out-and-out brutal methods of Stalin would provoke resistance from the masses, and threaten to engulf the bureaucratic regime itself, and it would weaken Russia tremendously nationally and internationally. Thus the problem of the bureaucracy has been how to alleviate the regime, allow a certain lee-way for the development of initiative and criticism, while preserving the regime intact.

As distinct from Capitalism or any other mode of production, for the full utilisation of the possibilities inherent in it, state ownership and planning require democratic participation and control. The masses, with the raising of their level of culture, and standard of living, have become more and more critical of the arbitrary regime. All strata of society, including all levels of the bureaucracy itself, feel the clogging of initiative and enterprise. The delicate mechanism of a mighty industrial state suffers even more than a backward economy the stultifying effects of absolutism.

Democratic control and participation of the masses, free play for discussion, criticism and enterprise from top to bottom in all spheres of society, especially in industry and agriculture, would mean a much faster and more harmonious tempo of development of the economy. It would mean a big increase in living standards for the masses as well as higher capital production.

But the bureaucracy cannot allow this; to do so would be to abdicate their rule. Like all ruling classes and castes of the past, the bureaucracy wish to have their cake and eat it at the same time. They strive to overcome the abuses and effects of their rule while preserving it intact.

Despite the hysteria of the Capitalist and Stalinist scribes in the West, this is not the first time that the endeavour has been made to introduce such a turn. Under Stalin himself in 1936 we had the introduction of the Stalin constitution, which on paper guaranteed all rights and blessings to the population. It followed the little purge of 1934 on…and was succeeded by the insane obliteration of any remote potential of opposition in the mass purges.

To return completely to this policy would be very difficult because of the resistance of the masses. At the same time the bureaucracy wish to give themselves a certain protection and possibilities of discussion at the top. They wish for democracy within certain limits within the top strata of the bureaucracy itself. That is the meaning of the so-called return to “collective leadership”, in place of the “cult of the individual”. So long [as] it does not threaten their position they even wish for a certain amount of initiative from the rank and file. Stalin in his day also endeavoured to have this safeguard. He sometimes leaned on the masses as the “father of the people”, and cracked the whip over the bureaucracy and its excesses. But inevitably, the surge from below led to panic [at] the top, and a reinforcement of the bureaucratic strait-jacket.

Now, Khrushchev, Bulganin, Molotov and company wish to introduce “collective leadership” and allow “benevolent criticism” from below in the same way. But the moment this criticism passes beyond the arbitrary excesses of individuals and lower officials in the local areas and threatens to become criticism of the top leadership and the system, they immediately clamp down. Already reports have been published in the press of warnings and threats against criticism of the “party”, and of the regime.

Here it must be remembered too, that the party is not the same as it was in the early days of the revolution, when it was the party of the workers and peasants, an instrument of their rule. Reflecting this it was overwhelmingly composed of such elements in its rank and file. Under the leadership of Stalin the bureaucracy transformed the party from an instrument of workers’ rule to a machine of the bureaucracy.

In its formal composition, to the extent of 90 to 95% it has become a party of officials, secret police, managers, collective farm overlords, army officers, and the aristocracy of labour. The ordinary workers and peasants are conspicuous by their absence. Now, even within this castrated party, the bureaucracy cannot allow real inner party democracy, because it would inevitably [reflect] the upsurge from the workers and peasants outside, and endanger their rule.

A few months back, the capitalist world was mystified by the reprimand which Molotov received for saying that Socialism was not yet accomplished in the U.S.S.R. but lay in the future. To them it was “doctrinaire” and “mystification”. In reality, as happened before under Stalin, the contradiction between the present regime and the ideal of Socialism as reflected in the ideas of Marx and Lenin is glaring to any student who reads them conscientiously. Consequently the bureaucracy reinforce the regime on the one hand by terror, on the other by ideological falsification.

However, the significance of their pretence that they were returning to ideas and methods of Lenin, lies in the deep longing of the population as a whole for a return to the methods and traditions of the October Revolution.

In this is foreshadowed the doom of the revamped version of Stalinism. Squirm and wriggle as they may, the bureaucracy cannot escape from the consequences of the contradictions in their system. These tremendous events foreshadow the inevitability of political revolution in the Soviet Union.

Only by an overthrow of the bureaucracy and the restoration of control of the state and of society as a whole by the working class can a way be cleared for a transition regime to evolve in the direction of Socialism.

In this crisis is reflected the justification of the struggle of Trotsky and the Left Opposition and the correctness of his basic ideas as to the development of the Soviet Union.