Book review: Thoughts on Stalin – the history and critique of a black legend by Domenico Losurdo – Part 1

Originally published in Italian in 2008, Iskra press has just released the first authorised translation into English edition, translated by Henry Hakamäkr and Salavatore Engel-Di Manso. The present review is based on a version that was re-translated from the Portuguese version. This book is a refreshing change from the countless books on the subject of Stalin written by despicable paid mercenaries pretending to be objective academics, who attempt to pass off their lies as historical truth.

Following the Second World War, in which she almost single-handedly defeated the Hitlerite war machine, the Soviet Union and its undisputed leader, JV Stalin, were held in the highest regard not only by ordinary people all over the world, but also in large numbers by statesmen, intellectuals, and writers who could not be suspected to being partial to Stalin.  This was not to the liking of the representatives of imperialism, especially US imperialism which had emerged from the war much strengthened while other imperialist countries, notably Britain, Germany, Japan and France, lay prostrate.  On the other hand, following the legendary victory of Soviet arms, there arose a mighty socialist camp comprising eastern and central Europe, followed shortly after by the victories of the revolutions in China, Korea, Vietnam and the rest of Indochina.  The prestige of the USSR, of socialism, of Stalin, the undisputed leader at the time of the international communist movement, stood at its pinnacle.

The socialist bloc of states became a pole of attraction for the working-class movement in the imperialist countries, as well as for the national liberation movements in the vast continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America – a development that could not but shake imperialism to its foundations.  In response, imperialism applied a combination of military and economic pressure against the socialist bloc, hand in hand with a relentless propaganda barrage aimed at belittling and maligning the achievements of socialism and the person under whose leadership these earth-shaking developments had taken place, namely Joseph Stalin.  Thus started the ‘Cold War’ in which two camps – the camp of imperialism and the camp of socialism and national liberation movements – confronted each other.  On the propaganda front, imperialism pressed into service its academics and intellectuals who wrote atrociously falsified accounts of the socialist movement in general, and the Second World War in particular – making a special target of Stalin.  And for their services this nefarious gentry were, and still are, handsomely rewarded.

The Bourgeoisie turns everything into a commodity”, observed Engels, “hence also the writing of history.  It is part of its being, of its condition of existence, to falsify all goods: it falsified the writing of history.  And the best paid historiography is that which is best falsified for the purposes of the bourgeoisie …” (Preparatory material for the History of Ireland).

Doubtless the bourgeois falsifiers became the best paid ‘historians’ of the contemporary world.  The less they knew about the substance of actual developments, and the more they rushed forth with falsifications, the more they were recognised as being authorities on the subject and handsomely paid for their flunkey services to imperialism.

And these hired pens resorted to hypocritical cant to hide their mercenary activity in the service of the imperialist bourgeoisie, sprinkling their writings with concern about ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’, ‘rule of law’ and suchlike verbiage.  They remind us of the brilliantly shrewd observation of Plekhanov:

Marx said very truly that the greater the development of antagonism between the growing forces of production and the extant social order, the more does the ideology of the ruling class become permeated with hypocrisy.  In addition, the more effectively life unveils the mendacious character of this ideology, the more does the language used by the dominant class become sublime and virtuous” (‘Fundamental problems of Marxism’, in Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, p. 174).

Mao Zedong correctly and pithily characterised imperialists as having honey on their lips and murder in their hearts.

People all over the world have pierced through the veil of the deception created by the ideologies of the bourgeoisie.

With each passing day it becomes clear that imperialism, that the system of exploitation of one human being by another and of one nation by another, is past its sell-by date; with each passing day, the mendacity of the ideology of the bourgeoisie is revealed. Hence the use of sublime and virtuous language by bourgeois politicians, intellectuals and ‘historians’.

Losurdo is one of the small minority of historians and thinkers who have the courage and candour to swim against the tide.

Imperialists could never have been successful in their lying campaign of slander and vilification directed against socialism and against Stalin if they had not received help from an unexpected quarter, namely Khrushchevite revisionists who, following the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, joined the imperialist bourgeoisie in a veritable campaign of slander against Stalin and thus helped to sully the banner of Marxism-Leninism.

Losurdo tears the mask off the faces of not only ordinary bourgeois falsifiers of history, but also of their kindred spirits in the camp of Khrushchevite revisionists and Trotskyites alike.

He begins his book with a depiction of the scenes of mourning following Stalin’s death on 5 March 1953.  He says: “impressive demonstrations of grief accompanied Stalin’s passing”; millions of people flocked to the centre of Moscow to pay their last respects to him; millions of the Soviet people wept over his loss as if they were grieving over a loved one; and this reaction was by no means confined to Moscow, but took place in the most remote corners of the vast Soviet land; people everywhere fell into “spontaneous and collective mourning” (p.2).

Similar scenes were repeated beyond the frontiers of the Soviet Union – in the streets of Budapest and Prague, and even in Israel where the membership of MAPAM (which embraced the leadership of Israel) ‘without exception cried”.  Al Hamishnar, the kibbutz movement’s newspaper declared: “The sun has set”.

In the West, tributes to Stalin came not only from leaders and members of communist parties but also from many others.  Historian Isaac Deutscher, a devoted admirer of Trotsky, in his obituary of Stalin acknowledged his achievements thus:

After three decades, the face of the Soviet Union has been completely transformed. What’s essential to Stalinism’s historical action is this: it found a Russia that worked the land with wooden ploughs and left it as the owner of the atomic bomb.  It elevated Russia to the rank of the second industrial power in the world, and it is not merely a question of material progress and organisation. A similar result could not have been achieved without a great cultural revolution in which the entire country has been sent to school to receive an extensive education” (quoted in Losurdo on p.2).

In Deutscher’s evaluation there was no place for Trotsky’s accusations against Stalin: “What sense was there in condemning Stalin as a traitor to the ideals of world revolution and as the capitulationist theorist of socialism in one country, at a time in which the new social order had expanded in Europe and in Asia and had broken its national shell?” (ibid.).

Ridiculed by the embittered Trotsky as a “small provincial man thrust into great world events, as if by a joke of history”, Stalin had been, according to Alexandre Kojeve, the Russian-born French philosopher, the protagonist of a decidedly progressive turning point of planetary dimensions, with a mission to unify and lead humanity.

Stalin’s death, despite the accelerating Cold War and the continued war in Korea, produced by and large respectful or balanced obituaries.  At that time people affectionately remembered ‘Uncle Joe’, the great wartime leader who had guided the Soviet people to victory over the military might of fascist Germany and helped to rescue Europe from Nazi barbarity.  Deutscher recalled in 1948 that during the Second World War statesmen as well as foreign generals were won over by the “exceptional competence with which Stalin managed all the details of his war machine” (p.3).

Figures who had a very favourable view of Stalin included Winston Churchill, an incurable enemy of communism, who, on the occasion of the Teheran Conference in November 1943, praised his Soviet counterpart as “Stalin the Great”, and Alcide De Gasperi, for many years prime minister of Italy.

Stalin enjoyed enormous prestige among intellectuals, such as the Labour Party supporter Harold Laski; Benedetto Groce, who emphasised Stalin’s greatness by saying that he had taken the place of Lenin, in such a way that “a genius had been followed by another” (quoted on pp.4-5).  The Fabian Beatrice Webb, from 1931 through the Second World War up until her death, referred to the Soviet Union of Stalin’s time as a “new civilisation”.

In the words of Losurdo, “… for an entire historical period, in the circles that went beyond the communist movement, the country led by Stalin and Stalin himself could enjoy sympathetic curiosity, respect and, at times, even admiration” (p.7).

Even in his Fulton speech which officially launched the Cold War, Churchill felt obliged to say: “I have great admiration and respect for the courageous Russian people and for my wartime companion, Marshall Stalin” (quoted on pp. 7-8).

Khrushchev’s speech of 25 February 1956 marked a radical turn in the image of Stalin.  Delivered during the 20th Party Congress of the CPSU, it portrayed Stalin as a mad and bloodthirsty dictator, characterised by vanity and possessed of intellectual mediocrity.  Not surprisingly, imperialist circles were ecstatic about Khrushchev’s speech.  It became a weapon in the Cold War, used by the CIA and other imperialist military and intelligence agencies against the homeland of the October Revolution. Step by step, as the Khrushchevites strengthened their grip on power, they went further along the road of ‘de-Stalinisation’, reaching a point where they were left without any form of ideological identity and self-esteem, resulting in their total capitulation and the dissolution of the CPSU and the USSR.

Following Khrushchev’s speech, leading intellectuals in the West had little problem forgetting their former sympathy and admiration for the Soviet Union.  The Trotskyist movement, long buried and discredited as a tool in the hands of the intelligence agencies of imperialism, received a new lease of life to work its mischief in the working class in the imperialist countries.

Apart from portraying Stalin as cruel and inhumane, Khrushchev asserted that Stalin was an absurd figure who learned about Soviet agriculture and the country “only through movies”, films that distorted reality so as to make it unrecognisable; who was driven to repression by his capriciousness and pathological lust for power.  Deutscher, forgetting the respectful and admiring portraits of Stalin that he had himself made only three years earlier, now, following Khrushchev’s ‘revelations’, depicted Stalin as “the huge, grim, whimsical, morbid, human monster” (quoted on p.13).  He suspected that Stalin was complicit in the murder of Kirov, his best friend, so as to provide him with a pretext for liquidating his real or imaginary opponents one by one for that crime.

As to the Great Patriotic War, Stalin’s crowning achievement, Khrushchev insisted that the war had been won despite the “dictator’s madness”; on the contrary, it was only because of his short-sightedness, stubbornness and blind trust in Hitler that the Third Reich’s forces had been able to enter deep into Soviet territory, resulting in death and devastation on a massive scale.

It was Stalin who, Khrushchev alleged, had delayed the modernisation of the Soviet armed forces, which lacked even the most basic equipment with which to fight the war.  More than that, “after the first defeats and first disasters on the frontlines”, the man allegedly the architect of these disasters had fallen into despair and apathy, overtaken by a sense of ‘defeat’; unable to react, “Stalin refrained from overseeing military operations and stopped dealing with anything.  After some time had lapsed, and finally ceding to pressure from other members of the Politburo, he returned to his post.” We may be forgiven for asking: if he was so useless, why were the other Politburo members pressuring him to return to his post?  Of course it is a fake story made up by that renegade, Khrushchev.

Further, Khrushchev alleged that Stalin was not familiar with the conduct of military affairs and “planned operations on a globe. Yes, comrades, he used to take a globe and trace the front line on it”.

Still, by some miracle, despite Stalin’s allegedly incompetent leadership, victory was achieved by the Soviet Union!

Only three years separated Stalin’s death from Khrushchev’s attack on him, which was initially met with strong resistance.  On 5 March 1956, students in the Georgian capital Tbilisi took to the streets to place flowers on the monument to Stalin on the third anniversary of his death. This demonstration to honour Stalin turned into a protest against the deliberations of the 20th Party Congress.  The demonstrations continued for five days until the afternoon of 9 March when tanks were sent to the city to restore order.

At the time, a fierce political struggle, between Stalin’s followers and their opponents, was underway in the USSR and in the socialist camp.  The Khrushchevites therefore resorted to lies and fabrications, and an absurd depiction of Stalin, in order to delegitimise their opponents.  Stalin’s prestige, his ‘cult of the personality’ in Khrushchev speak, was such that the Khrushchevite revisionists stood no chance of coming out on top unless Stalin was lowered in the eyes of the masses of people and in the international communist movement.  Hence the necessity, in Losurdo’s words, “… to cast a god into hell.”

Khrushchev’s depiction of Stalin bears comparison with Trotsky’s a few decades earlier, when the latter had presented a picture of Stalin that sought to demean him at the political, moral and personal level as a “small provincial man” characterised by irredeemable mediocrity and pettiness, and “peasant rudeness”.

No objective observer could accept the vitriolic and outrageous slanders levelled by pygmies such as Khrushchev and Trotsky against this giant whose brilliance shone at the political, ideological, moral, intellectual, military and theoretical level.

Already by 1913 Stalin had established himself as a brilliant Marxist theoretician with the publication of his Marxism and the national question. No one reading Stalin’s analysis of the national question could regard him as a theoretical mediocrity.  Trotsky, just like Khrushchev, got round that ‘little’ difficulty by the lying assertion that Stalin was not the real author of that work; that its author was Lenin, and that Stalin should be regarded as a ‘usurper’ of the great Bolshevik leader’s “intellectual rights”.  Trotsky obviously expected his audience not to know that Lenin had highly praised Stalin’s work on the national question.

Khrushchev’s assertions regarding Stalin’s alleged incompetence in the field of military affairs had already been made by Trotsky.  On 2 September 1939, anticipating a German invasion of the Soviet Union, Trotsky wrote that “the new aristocracy” in power in Moscow was, among other things, characterised by “its inability to conduct a war”.

Losurdo demolishes these assertions by Khrushchev and Trotsky by reference to solid historical evidence, including evidence that comes from the Bundeswehr as well as Soviet archives.  While the German archives speak of the Red Army’s “numerical superiority” in armoured cars, planes and artillery pieces, of the high level reached by the industrial capacity of the USSR whereby it could supply its armed forces with an almost unimaginable amount of weaponry, the Soviet archives show clearly that at least two years prior to the Hitlerite invasion Stalin was literally obsessed with the problem of the “qualitative increase” and the “qualitative improvement of the entire military apparatus”.  According to the data, whereas during the First Five-Year Plan the defence budget amounted to 5.4% of total state spending, by 1941 defence spending had climbed to 43.4% of total state spending.  By the time of the Nazi invasion, Soviet industry had produced 2,700 modern planes and 4,300 armoured cars.  “Judging by this data, we can say that the USSR arrived anything but unprepared for the tragic confrontation” (p.17).

American historian Amy Knight delivered a devastating blow to the myth of despair and abandonment by the Soviet leader of his responsibilities following the start of the Nazi aggression.  She wrote that on the day of the attack Stalin had an 11-hour meeting with the leaders of the Party, government and military, and did the same the following day.

Since then historians have had at their disposal the registry of those who visited Stalin in the Kremlin, discovered in the early 1990s, which shows Stalin immersed in a series of uninterrupted meetings concerned with organising resistance to the barbaric Nazi onslaught.  In the words of Losurdo, these were days and nights characterised by plans for organised resistance.  In essence Khrushchev’s narrative is a complete invention and a falsification of historical truth.  As a matter of fact, from the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Stalin made challenging decisions, ordering the relocation of residents and industrial enterprises from the front line; he also controlled “… everything in a meticulous way, from the size and shape of bayonets to the authors and titles of articles in Pravda” (Simon Montefiore, The red tsar).

There is not a hint of panic or hysteria.  In his diary, Dimitrov recorded that at 7 in the morning he received an urgent call from the Kremlin saying that Germany had attacked the USSR; the war had started, adding that it was surprisingly calm, with resolve and confidence in Stalin and all others.  Even more impressively there was clarity of ideas.  The strategy of the Great Patriotic War, during which the Red Army and the people of the Soviet Union fought not only for their own liberation but also for the liberation of nations already enslaved by the Hitlerites and of others the Hitlerites were trying to enslave – thus combining Soviet patriotism and proletarian internationalism into a powerful, irresistible weapon.  No wonder that Goebbels felt constrained to express his annoyance at Stalin’s radio speech on 3 July 1941 for which he “earned enormous admiration in England and the United States” (Goebbels’ diary entry on 5 July 1941).

Even in the strict realm of military conduct, Khruschev’s Secret Report lacked all credibility.  Khrushchev asserted that Stalin had paid no attention to the “warnings” from many sources concerning the imminent German invasion.  As Losurdo says, even information from a friendly source can be wrong.  In the lead-up to the Hitlerite attack, the USSR was obliged to navigate a great many diversion and disinformation operations – emanating from German and other sources. That the British Intelligence service, through false rumours was intent on fomenting as quickly as possible the German-Soviet conflict is all too understandable and evident.  The situation was further complicated by the mysterious flight by Rudolf Hess to England which obviously had as its sole purpose the effecting of the unity of the West in the struggle against Bolshevism, thus putting into operation the programme outlined in Hitler’s Mein Kampf of an alliance of Germanic nations in their ‘civilising mission’.

All the evidence is that, while acting cautiously in the extremely complicated situation, Stalin took steps to accelerate war preparations.  Operation Barbarossa was launched on 22 June, but between May and June, 800,000 Soviet reservists had been called up, 28 divisions had been relocated to the western districts of the USSR, hand in hand with border fortifications and the camouflaging of sensitive military objects.  On the very eve of the German attack, vast forces were placed on alert and ordered to prepare for a surprise German attack.

Bent upon discrediting Stalin, Khrushchev cited the initial spectacular victories by the German invaders, while ignoring the predictions made by the West at the time: the British intelligence services gave the Soviet 8-10 weeks before being liquidated, while the US expected her to last between 1-3 months.  Besides, the width of the front – 1,800 miles! – and the absence of natural obstacles provided the Germans with enormous advantages for penetration and manoeuvres.

All the same, the Third Reich’s plan of repeating on the eastern front its Blitzkrieg victory in the west showed signs of unravelling from the very first weeks of the encounter between the two armies.  In the lead-up to the German attack, Goebbels had stressed that the Nazi attack was unstoppable in its “triumphal march”, and a few months earlier in his conversation with a Bulgarian diplomat Hitler had referred to the Red Army as a “joke”.  It took a mere 10 days of the war for these boastful Hitlerite assertions to be shaken, as is repeatedly clear from Goebbels’ diary.  The Bolsheviks, he wrote, showed a greater resistance than anticipated by the Germans, particularly in the material resources available to the Soviet armed forces which were greater than the Germans had expected. He added: “With … objectivity, we Germans always overestimated the enemy except in this case with the Bolsheviks” (19 August 1941).

Far from breaking down in the first days and weeks of the German attack, the Red Army offered tenacious resistance and was well commanded.  It was the brilliant resistance of the Red Army that convinced Japan to reject the German request for it to join the war against the Soviet Union. The Blitzkrieg plans were already sunk by the middle of July.  Not for nothing did Churchill speak of the Red Army’s “splendid defence” as did Roosevelt on 14 August 1941.

Admiration for the Soviet resistance, skill and armaments reached beyond diplomatic and governing circles.  In Great Britain, according to Beatrice Webb, ordinary citizens, even the conservatively-minded, showed lively interest in the “… courage and initiative, as well as the magnificent equipment of the Russian armed forces, the only sovereign state able to oppose the almost mystical power of Hitler’s Germany” (diary entry of 8 August 1941).

Stalin’s categorical rejection of the request for the massive relocation of troops towards the border, his insistence on the necessity of maintaining large reserves at a considerable distance, was a stroke of genius, thwarting as it did Hitler’s plans for luring the Soviet forces to concentrate on the border, “with the intention of surrounding them and destroying them” (Zhukov).

In view of the fierce resistance by the Red Army, Hitler was obliged to admit that Operation Barbarossa had seriously underestimated the enemy; that the “…military preparations by the Russians must be considered incredible” (10 September 1941).  The Soviet Union was able to mobilise the entire population and all resources for the war. Particularly extraordinary was the Soviet ability in the most difficult situation of the first months of the war to effect a successful evacuation of, and later to convert to military production, a large number of industrial enterprises.  The Evacuation Committee, set up just two days after the German attack, managed to move to the east 1,500 major industrial installations in a titanic feat of great logistic complexity.  What is more, the process of relocation had already begun in the weeks or months before Hitler’s aggression, which is yet another refutation of Khrushchev’s slanderous accusations against Stalin.

In fact, the entire industrialisation of the Soviet Union, aiming at eradicating the country’s backwardness, was proof enough of the Stalin leadership’s concern for the security of the socialist motherland.

On 29 November 1941 Hitler noted with surprise:

How is it possible that such a primitive people can reach such technical objectives in such a short time?” (quoted at p.30).

One must not ignore the great attention devoted by Stalin to the moral-political dimensions of the war.  His courageous decision to celebrate the anniversary of the October Revolution on 7 July 1941 in a Moscow under siege and harassment by the Nazi hordes bears testimony to this.

The response of the Red Army after the devastating blow by the German aggressors was the greatest feat of arms that the world had ever seen.  The attention given to the rear and the front, its economic and political dimensions, as well as to the military aspect of the war, are testimony to Stalin being a great strategist.  In view of the foregoing, Khrushchev’s evaluation of Stalin during this long war loses all credibility.

To their annoyance, German spies were unable to penetrate the Soviet interior: “The Bolsheviks”, wrote Goebbels in his diary on 19 August 1941, “made great effort in fooling us.  Of what kinds of arms they possessed, especially heavy weapons, we didn’t have a clue.  It was the exact opposite to what had taken place in France, where we knew everything in practice and couldn’t be surprised in any way” (quoted on p.32).

Khrushchev was a blatant liar and a capitalist roader who hated most things Stalin stood for.  His goal was “… to transform the great leader – who had decisively contributed to the destruction of the Third Reich – into a foolish amateur who had trouble figuring out a world map; that this eminent theorist of the national question is revealed to have lacked the most elementary ‘common sense’ in that field.  The acknowledgements previously given to Stalin are all blamed on a cult of personality that now must be eliminated once and for all” (p.39).

At the time a frontal attack on socialism – Marxism-Leninism – was out of the question.  So the capitalist roaders had to undermine socialism by attacking Stalin who, through the three decades of his leadership of the Soviet Union and the international communist movement, had become a representative spokesperson for socialist construction, the struggle against imperialism,  the national liberation struggles of the oppressed people, and the destruction of fascism.

By attacking Stalin, in the name of countering the ‘cult of the personality’, the Khrushchevite revisionists defamed socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat; they sullied the flag of Marxism-Leninism and undermined the hitherto deserved prestige enjoyed by the Soviet Union.

Soon after the 20th Party Congress, they started putting into effect ‘reforms’, revised the tenets of Marxism-Leninism on a series of important questions, all of which, over a period of four decades, led to the collapse of the glorious Soviet Union. [For more on this, see Harpal Brar, Perestroika the complete collapse of revisionism].

The cult of personality

Losurdo demolishes this Khrushchev lie by giving a few examples to counter it.  For instance, when Kaganovich suggested substituting the term Marxism-Leninism by Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism, Stalin rejected the suggestion in no uncertain terms.

Following the end of the war, immediately after the victory parade, a group of marshals reached out to Molotov and Malenkov to propose commemorating the victory achieved in the Great Patriotic War by conferring on Stalin the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’. Stalin categorically rejected the offer.

Four years later, on the eve of his 70th birthday, a conversation took place in the Kremlin to this effect: “’He [Stalin] called in Malenkov and warned him: Don’t even think about honouring me again with a star.

“’But Comrade Stalin, on an anniversary like this?  The people would not understand’.

“’It is not up to the people.  I don’t want to argue.  No personal initiative! Understand me.’

“Of course, Comrade Stalin, but the politburo members think …’

“Stalin interrupted Malenkov and declared the discussion closed” (Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin’s Wars,  quoted in Losurdo, p.43).

Losurdo writes that vanity did not win with Stalin, especially when decisions of vital political importance were at stake; during the war, he invited his colleagues to express themselves; he actively argued and even fought with Molotov, who for his part stuck to his views.  Judging by the testimony of Admiral Nikolai Kuznetsov, the leader “particularly appreciated those comrades who didn’t hesitate in frankly expressing their point of view” (ibid. p.43).

On the occasion of the Potsdam Conference, while Churchill and Truman found time to walk among Berlin’s ruins, Stalin showed not the slightest interest.  Without attracting attention, he arrived by train, even instructing Zhukov to cancel any welcoming ceremony with a military band and guard of honour.

One could cite many other examples, but presently these will suffice.  Let it be said in passing that Stalin stands out in glaring contract to American presidents Wilson and Roosevelt, as well as many others in Europe, who gladly accepted the exaggerated accolades of their supporters and admirers.

The assassination of Kirov

On 1 December 1934 Sergei Kirov was shot dead at the front door of his office in Leningrad by a youth called Leonid Nikolaev.  In his Secret Report, Khrushchev had insinuated that the assassination was carried out at Stalin’s behest.  The Moscow Trials revealed clearly that Nikolaev was connected with the Zinovievite opposition.  Even bourgeois scholars with impeccable anti-Stalin credentials have debunked Khrushchev’s lie.  They have shown that Kirov was above intrigues, lies and trickery – qualities which had endeared him to Stalin who cared for and trusted Kirov.

On hearing of Kirov’s assassination, Trotsky, who had reason to seek to connect Kirov’s murder to Stalin, far from showing any sympathy for Kirov, wrote that “Kirov, the brutal satrap, stirs no compassion in us”.  The victim, he stated, was someone who inspired the wrath of the ‘revolutionaries’, i.e., the Trotskyite counter-revolutionary opposition.  Thus, between 1935 and 1936, Kirov’s murder was in no way described as a set-up; instead every sympathy was shown towards the terrorist assassin along with a great deal of satisfaction that “every bureaucrat [i.e., Bolshevik] trembles before the terrorism” emanating from below.  Terrorism, said Trotsky, was the “tragic outcome of Bonapartism [i.e., Bolshevik leadership]”, it is characteristic of the severe antagonism between the bureaucracy and the masses of people, in particular the youth, so Trotsky deluded himself in his counter-revolutionary ravings from exile. An explosion was on its way that was destined to inflict on the “Stalinist regime” the same fate as that suffered by the regime “led by Nicholas” (pp.73-78).

Trotsky was deluding himself with the belief that a decisive civil war was on the horizon and that his joke of a “Fourth International [was capable of] supporting a struggle to the death against Stalinism” in a regime “already condemned by history”.  What emerges from these vituperations is the bitterness of a defeated counter-revolutionary at the hands of the Bolshevik Party whose undisputed leader was none other than Stalin.

Losurdo shows, by reference to the research of Trotskyite historians such as Vadim Regouin, Broué and Ruth Fisher who are viscerally opposed to Stalin, that the purges in the Soviet Union, far from being senseless acts of violence, were the only way of defeating the counter-revolutionary opposition that was embarked on a course of Stalin’s physical liquidation; that compared Stalin to Hitler and worked for the defeat of the Soviet Union in the impending war.  Trotsky went so far as to give support to “the liberation of a so-called Soviet Ukraine from the Stalinist yoke” – this at a time when the Third Reich had just carried out the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, and the next target of the Hitlerites was the Soviet Union, especially Ukraine.  Even Kerensky, then living in exile in the US, felt obliged to take a stand against Trotsky’s project (of working for the Soviet defeat) which, according to Kerensky, was decidedly in favour of Hitler’s plans.  There was thus a complete convergence between the Nazi leadership’s plans and those of the Trotskyist opposition.  Not Hitlerite Germany but “Stalin and the oligarchy” led by him were said to represent the principal danger to the Soviet Union (13 April 1940 – see p.95). It is perfectly clear that the Trotskyite counter-revolutionary opposition was at the service of Nazi Germany, ready from the start to follow in the wake of German forces in the event of the latter marching into the USSR.  Not for nothing did the Germans instal a radio station in eastern Prussia which broadcast in Trotsky’s name into the Soviet Union.  Immediately after the start of Operation Barbarossa, Goebbels was pleased to note that Germany was using three clandestine radio stations in Soviet Russia: the first is Trotskyist, the second separatist, the third Russian nationalist – all virulently opposed to Stalin and the Soviet regime.  Referring to the Treaty between the Soviet Union and Great Britain and the joint statement by the two countries, Goebbels’ diary of 14 July 1941 says: “This is an excellent occasion to show the compatibility between capitalism and Bolshevism.  The statement will find scarce acceptance among Leninist circles in Russia” (having in mind that Trotskyists liked to define themselves as Bolshevik-Leninists) in contrast to the Stalinists considered as ‘traitors to Leninism’ (pp.96-97).

Not without reason the Soviet leadership condemned the Trotskyist opposition as a den of enemy agents.

Characterised by the bitterness of a defeated counter-revolutionary, Trotsky did everything in his power to malign Soviet power.  Hence his advocacy of Ukrainian independence, accusing Stalin of repressing the Ukrainian people, precisely when the Soviet Union had successfully carried out the ‘Ukrainisation’ of culture, schools, the press, Party cadres and the state apparatus. Lazar Kaganovich, who became Party secretary in Ukraine in 1925, devoted particular attention to that policy. The policy had achieved dramatic results already by 1931, the year in which the publication of books in Ukrainian reached a peak of 6,218 out of 8,086 titles (77%), while the percentage of Russians in the Party dropped from 72% in 1922 to 52%, not to speak of the development of Ukraine’s industrial apparatus, with Stalin insisting on its importance.

Even a downright reactionary like Robert Conquest, notorious for his hatred of the Soviet Union and Stalin, is obliged to recognise Soviet achievements in the area of culture, language, the arts and the policy of Ukrainisation (see his Harvest of sorrow referenced at p.225).

Does it make sense in view of these developments to seek to separate Ukraine from the USSR? Only a hardened counter-revolutionary such as Trotsky could think so.

TO BE CONTINUED – in the next issue the questions of the gulags and of allegations of anti-Semitism levelled at Stalin will be covered.