How Stalin wiped out the militants of the October 1917 revolution

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On the occasion of the anniversary of the October 1917 revolution in Russia, the scribblers of the ruling class regularly serve us up with the same refrain: the dictator Stalin is the heir of Lenin; his crimes were the inevitable consequences of the policies of the Bolsheviks of 1917. The moral? The communist revolution can only lead to the terror of Stalinism.

Men make history, but they do so in definite circumstances that necessarily weigh on their actions. So, the principal cause of the emergence of a regime of terror in the USSR was the tragic isolation of the 1917 October revolution. Because, as Engels said in 1847, in his Principles of Communism, the proletarian revolution can only be victorious at the world level: "The communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries...It will have a powerful impact on the other countries of the world, and will radically alter the course of development which they have followed up to now, while greatly stepping up its pace. It is a universal revolution and will, accordingly, have a universal range."

The Russian revolution wasn't beaten by the armed forces of the bourgeoisie during the civil war (1918-1920), but from the inside, through the progressive identification of the Bolshevik Party with the state. That is what allowed the bourgeoisie to spread its historic big lie, either presenting the USSR as a proletarian state or spreading the idea that any proletarian revolution can only end up with a Stalinist-type regime.

The politics of Stalin weren't those of Lenin

Contrary to what the ideologues of the bourgeoisie affirm, there is no continuity between the politics of Lenin and those undertaken after his death by Stalin. The fundamental difference that separates them rests in the key question of internationalism: the idea of ‘socialism in one country', adopted by Stalin in 1925, constituted a real betrayal of the basic principles of proletarian struggle and the communist revolution. In particular, this thesis, presented by Stalin as a ‘principle of Leninism', meant the exact opposite of Lenin's position. The intransigent internationalism of Lenin, his total adherence to the cause of the proletariat, was a constant throughout his life. His internationalism wasn't dimmed with the victory of the Russian revolution in October 1917. On the contrary, he saw this as the first step of the world revolution: "The Russian revolution is only one detachment of the world socialist army, and the success and triumph of the revolution that we have accomplished depends on the action of this army. This is a fact that no one amongst us forgets (...). The Russian proletariat is conscious of its revolutionary isolation, and it clearly sees that its victory has the indispensable condition and fundamental premise of the united intervention of the entire world proletariat". (Report to the Factory Committees of the Province of Moscow, 28 July, 1918).

It's for that reason that Lenin played a decisive role, with Trotsky, in the foundation of the Communist International (CI) in March 1919. In particular it was Lenin who drew up one of the fundamental texts of the founding congress of the CI: the ‘Theses on the democratic bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat'.

At the time of Lenin, the CI no connection with what it was to become under the control of Stalin: a diplomatic instrument of Russian state capitalism and the spearhead of the counter-revolution on a world scale.

Contrary to Lenin, Stalin affirmed that it was possible to construct socialism in a single country. This nationalist policy of the defence of the ‘socialist fatherland' in Russia constituted a betrayal of the proletarian principles enunciated by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto: "The proletarians have no country. Proletarians of all countries unite!" The politics of Stalin served to justify the strengthening of state capitalism in the USSR with the accession to power of a privileged class, the bureaucracy, living on the ferocious exploitation of the working class. Stalin was the iron fist and the figurehead of the counter-revolution.

If he was able to be the hangman of the revolution, it's because he had certain personality traits that rendered him more apt than other members of the Bolshevik Party to fulfil this role. It was exactly these traits of personality that Lenin had stigmatised in his ‘last testament': "Comrade Stalin in becoming General Secretary has concentrated an immense power into his hands and I am not sure that he always knows how to use it with sufficient prudence."

And in a post script, drawn up on the eve of his death, Lenin wrote: "Stalin is too rude and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealing among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a General Secretary. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post and appointing another man in his stead who in all other respects differs from Comrade Stalin in having only one advantage, namely, that of being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious, etc. This circumstance may appear to be a negligible detail. But I think that from the standpoint of safeguards against a split and from the standpoint of what I wrote above about the relationship between Stalin and Trotsky it is not a minor detail, but it is a detail which can assume decisive importance" ( 4 January 1924).

From the middle of the 1920s, Stalin oversaw the ruthless liquidation of all the old comrades of Lenin, using the organs of repression that the Bolshevik Party had originally put in place in order to resist the White Armies (notably the political police, the Cheka).

The great Stalinist purge within the Bolshevik Party

After Lenin's death in January 1924, Stalin was quick to place his allies in key posts within the Party. He took his aim at Trotsky principally, the alter ego of Lenin during the revolution of October 1917. Opportunistically, Stalin allied himself with Bukharin who committed the fatal error of theorising the possibility of constructing socialism in one country (later, Stalin had no scruples about executing Bukharin).

From 1923-24, a whole series of divergences appeared within the Bolshevik Party. Several oppositions were constituted, the most important of which was led by Trotsky, later joined by other militants of the Bolshevik old guard (notably Kamenev and Zinoviev). With the growth of bureaucracy within the Party, the Left Opposition had understood that the Russian revolution was degenerating.

Stalin occupied a key post. He controlled the apparatus of the Party and even the promotion of its leadership. This is what allowed him to put his men in place and transform the Bolshevik Party into a deadly machine. He particularly favoured the entry into the Party of a great number of ambitious arrivistes. The latter, whom Stalin supported, were only looking for a career within the state apparatus.

Henceforth, he had a free hand to undertake the great purge of the Party, with the principal aim of removing from the leadership the principal figures of the October revolution (Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bukharin and above all Trotsky) in order to finally liquidate everyone.

Progressively Stalin withdrew all political responsibilities from Trotsky up to the time he was expelled from the Party in 1927 and from Russia in 1928. This is the period where all oppositions to Stalin and all suspects filled up the Gulags. The Moscow Trials (1936-1938) allowed Stalin to liquidate the Bolshevik old guard under the fraudulent pretext of hunting ‘terrorists', following the assassination of the party chief of Leningrad, Sergei Kirov, on 1 December 1934.

Dozens of Bolsheviks were persecuted, imprisoned, and finally exterminated in terrifying conditions. It was the time of the great Stalinist campaign against the "Hitlero-Trotskyists". Accusing them of a lack of ‘loyalty' towards the ‘Socialist Fatherland', Stalin also executed thousands of Bolshevik militants who had been the most implicated in the October revolution. It was necessary to definitively muzzle all those who had kept their internationalist and communist convictions. It was necessary to wipe out for ever all the witnesses capable of contradicting the ‘official' history, by exposing the great lie: the idea that Stalin was the executor of Lenin's will, the idea of a direct continuity between Lenin and Stalin[1].

The complicity of the democratic bourgeoisie with Stalin

Faced with the barbarity of Stalinist repression, what was the reaction of the great democracies of the West? When, from 1936, Stalin organised the wretched ‘Moscow Trials', when the old comrades of Lenin, broken by torture, were accused of the most abject crimes and themselves ended up asking for exemplary punishment, this same democratic press in the pay of capital let it be known that ‘there was no smoke without fire' (even if some newspapers made some timid criticisms of Stalin's policies, affirming that they were ‘exaggerated').

It was with the complicity of the bourgeoisies of the great powers that Stalin accomplished his monstrous crimes, that he exterminated, in his prisons and concentration camps, hundreds of thousands of communists, more than ten million workers and peasants. And the bourgeois sectors that showed the greatest zeal in this complicity were the democratic sectors (and particularly Social-Democracy); the same sectors that today virulently denounce the crimes of Stalinism and present themselves as models of virtue.

It's only because the regime that consolidated itself in Russia after the death of Lenin and the final crushing of the German revolution (1923) was a variant of capitalism, and even the spearhead of the counter-revolution, that it received such warm support from all the bourgeoisies that only a few years earlier had ferociously fought the power of the Soviets. In 1934, in fact, these same ‘democratic' bourgeoisies accepted the USSR into the League of Nations (ancestor of the UN), an institution that Lenin had called a "den of thieves" at the time of its foundation. This was the sign that Stalin had become a ‘respectable Bolshevik' in the eyes of the ruling class of every country, the same rulers who had once presented the Bolsheviks of 1917 as barbarians with knives between their teeth. The imperialist brigands recognised Stalin as one of their own. Henceforth, the communists who opposed Stalin submitted to the persecutions of the entire world bourgeoisie.

It was in this international context that Trotsky, expelled from country after country, under police surveillance at all times, had to face a campaign of shameless Stalinist lies, which were obligingly repeated by the bourgeoisies of the western democracies.

But where the complicity of the big democratic powers is most evident is in the fact that no one would give Trotsky asylum when he was expelled from Russia. The old leader of the Red Army was considered persona non grata everywhere. For Trotsky, the world became a planet without visa.

At the time of his stay in France in 1935, journalists, members of the intelligentsia, and some members of the Academie Francaise (like Georges Lecomte) went as far as circulating rumours that Trotsky was planning a terrorist ‘coup d'état'. Following these rumours, Trotsky was expelled by the French democratic state. To prevent him being delivered to the Stalinist political police, the Norwegian government offered him provisional asylum, before expelling him.

After wandering for more than ten years, Trotsky was finally welcomed by the Mexican government in 1939 thanks to the painter Diego Rivera who had some sympathy for Trotskyism. After a first murder attempt from a squad led by the Stalinist painter Siqueriros, Trotsky was assassinated on 20 August 1940 by an agent of Stalin, Ramon Mercader, who infiltrated his entourage by seducing one of the old revolutionary's collaborators.

Trotsky succumbed to the blows of Stalinist repression at the very time when he was beginning to understand that the USSR wasn't a "proletarian state with bureaucratic deformations" so dear to the epigones of the Fourth International (to which many of today's Trotskyist organisations give allegiance).

Today's democrats can shout as loud as they like about the abominable crimes of the Bolshevik Party. They will not wipe out our memory of these historic facts: it is with the blessing and complicity of their predecessors that Stalin was able to carry out his dirty work.

This reminder of one of the most tragic episodes of the 20th century reveals, if it's needed, that there was no continuity but a radical break between the politics of Lenin and those of Stalin. On his death-bed Lenin had seen correctly: Stalin had concentrated too much power in his hands[2]. Replacing him wouldn't have changed the course of history: another leader of his stamp would have taken on the role of hangman of the revolution. Stalin's personality was suited to take on this role, as was that of Hitler, himself benefiting from the favours of a German bourgeoisie avid for revenge after the defeat of 1918 and shaken to the core by the revolutionary wave of 1918 and 1923.

Contrary to the lies spread by democratic propaganda, the worm wasn't in the fruit of October 1917. Bolshevism did not contain in itself the terror of Stalinism. It was the crushing of the revolution in Germany that opened the royal road to the counter-revolution in Russia, the same as the death of Lenin on 20 January 1924 removed one of the last obstacles to Stalin's grip on the Bolshevik Party. The latter became a Stalinist party with the adoption of the theory of ‘socialism in one country.

Bolshevism belongs to the proletariat, not to its hangman, Stalinism.

Sylvestre, 20/1/08.

[1] In order to wipe out any trace of the past, all testimony, Stalin even tried to liquidate foreigners residing in Russia, such as Victor Serge who was imprisoned. He was quite a well-known writer and was only saved thanks to a large international campaign.

[2] It's for that reason moreover that Lenin's doctor, under orders from Stalin, estimated that it wasn't necessary to prolong his agony and proceeded with his euthanasia (this ‘humanitarian' gesture had the ‘merit' of preventing Lenin giving his last directives about the weaknesses of the Party).


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