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Stalin: Why and How

Boris Souvarine

This article originally appeared as "Stalin, pourquoi et comment" in Spartacus March-April 1978. As a member of the French Socialist Party the author took a stand against the First World War, and became a founder member of the Communist Party in 1920. Expelled for Trotskyism, he subsequently underwent a political evolution which led Trotsky to describe him as "ex-pacifist, ex-communist, ex-Trotskyist, ex-democrato-communist, ex-Marxist ... almost ex-Souvarine"! We are grateful to Richard Stephenson for providing a translation, which the editor mangled horribly as is his wont, and to Ted Crawford for checking and correcting it.

THERE ARE already a good number of works on Stalin and his regime, several of which are not without real merit, but none gives an explicit reply to the question asked by any attentive reader: why and how was Stalin able to impose himself as sole master of the pseudo-soviet empire, in spite of the other leaders of the single party and of the supposedly proletarian state – leaders who, in the opinion of all, outclassed him in every respect. For, at the death of Lenin in 1924, hardly anybody even knew Stalin's name, except in top party circles among professional revolutionaries. In the document known under the name of his "Testament",1 Lenin designated five of his closest companions as chosen to succeed him: Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and Pyatakov.2 Five years later Stalin had ousted all of them from the control of affairs, and was waiting to exterminate them. Why and how?

In this famous "Testament", whose existence the Communists denied for over thirty years, and which they denounced as a forgery when Max Eastman and the present historian published it in 1927,3 but whose authenticity was finally admitted by Khrushchev in his secret speech of 1956,4 Lenin said, expressing himself with great circumspection, that Stalin, "having become General Secretary, has concentrated immense power in his hands, and I am not convinced that he will always be capable of using it with sufficient caution". He did not say that Stalin had "become" General Secretary with Lenin's blessing, nor what this "immense power" consisted of, how this power was exercised, and why nothing and no one could limit it, still less oppose it.

Since when has the secretary of a party held such immense power? He was appointed to carry out the decisions of the leading body, to ensure the receipt and dispatch of the post, to file documents, to send out circulars, to supervise the work of the people below him, etc. In succession Elena Stasova, then Sverdlov, then Krestinsky, then the trio of Krestinsky, Preobrazhensky and Serebriakov, and then the trio of Molotov, Yaroslavsky and Mikhailov5 had modestly assumed secretarial functions without encroaching on the authority of the Central Committee. All this was to change in the course of a process which would take several years with Stalin as General Secretary and Molotov and Kuibyshev6 as his acolytes. Lenin's remark is therefore very obscure, except at the time for the initiates among the higher cadres of the party and the state, which were merged together.

Trotsky, for his part, is a bit more explicit, because he is addressing a wider public, whom he wishes to inform, but he no more explains this "immense" and irresistible power of the General Secretary. He does not describe its mechanism, nor does he inform us about the modus operandi of an authority against which all objections, all resistance and all the oppositions had to admit that they were powerless, and beaten in advance. In his book on Stalin, he says that in less than two years the latter's grip on "the political machine" (apparat in Russian, from the German) "had become formidable". This theme of the power of the "apparatus" recurs many times in Trotsky's writings in exile. But why and how did this apparatus, in principle the instrument of the party, in practice transform the party into its instrument? That is the question.

Trotsky still left in the dark precisely what ought to be brought into the light. Ever since declaring his struggle against the leading "troika" that posed as the exclusive guardian of Lenin's thought (1923), he had not ceased criticising, then denouncing and accusing the Communist bureaucracy, bureaucratism, in short the apparatus. Now, since the party was identical with the state, all its members, or nearly all, had become functionaries, hence bureaucrats, and hence part of the apparatus. Consequently, the main division within the party, between the majority and the Opposition, had divided the bureaucracy, the apparatus. All tendencies and factions were made up of functionaries in a very complicated political and economic system of which a detailed description would amount to a doctoral thesis. A schematic sketch will suffice here in order to arrive at the "why and how" of Stalin.

The grinder of human flesh
In a work published in 1959, having revealed the circumstances in which Zinoviev and Kamenev, with Lenin's consent, placed Stalin in the party Secretariat in 1922, the author wrote as follows: "Stalin had begun a secret and unprecedented task in the Secretariat of the party: one by one, he rearranged the personnel of the machine, on mysterious considerations known to himself alone." And then: "As a rule, discipline was a sufficient reason for nominations and transfers."10 In the following pages the author described and commented upon the rise of Stalin to absolute power and his methods of putting an end to all resistance. But at that time, the beginning of the '30s, through lack of sufficient information, the secret of Stalin's omnipotence had not yet been brought into focus with the necessary precision; we might even say – in its living and prosaic reality, in its stupefying vulgarity.

There are therefore grounds for making concrete what this work explained in these terms: "But in so vast a country as Russia, with few means of communication, and a dull provincial life, disgrace or advancement was a matter of a few kilometres. Removal from one institution to another might involve moral and material advantages. Then, at various stages in the hierarchy, the particular employment might offer more or less advantages in the present and prospects for the future."11 To these generalities, reflecting a state of affairs that was still relatively bearable, but would very quickly worsen, it is necessary to dot the i's in order to take account of the harsh conditions of which Stalin was able to take advantage in order to subdue acts of disobedience, and even simple hesitations, in relation to the "discipline of the party".

After the death of Lenin, the party was to become personified, within a few years, in its General Secretary, through the fault of those who, like Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and others, were soon to complain about it. All the leaders Stalin decided to suppress were the creators of the "system" whose fatal harmfulness they were to denounce all too late, the system whose ultima ratio Khrushchev was to call "the meat-mincer", the grinder of human flesh (Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament, Boston, 1971).12

To have recourse to immutable ideas, fixed once and for all from the very start, is to preclude any understanding of the Soviet world, its history and its institutions. In fact, the people and structures of oriental Communism evolved with disconcerting rapidity after the October coup, under the pressure of circumstances, in order to impose themselves upon an entire population which was more and more hostile to the "soviet" regime.

The party that seized power in 1917 was still a Social Democratic party: it changed its name, and not only its name, a few months later. Lenin in power was not the same as Lenin before he exercised power. Until lately a defender of democracy – the texts are there – he was to reprove his companions who, as good socialists, had abolished the death penalty (November 1917). Obsessed by his historical reminiscences, Jacobinism and the Paris Commune, he was to advocate the terror. He and those close to him loudly demanded the convocation of the Constituent Assembly; they suppressed it with a stroke of the pen and manu militari [with military methods]. Etc. Stalin, too, was greatly changed by several years of exercising power.

All this was explained in the six hundred pages of the aforementioned book. Here it is a matter of filling a gap, and revealing the instrument that allowed Stalin to identify himself with the party, the ultimate possessor of historical truth according to Lenin, and according to his disciples now and forever the infallible guide of humanity in its progress towards the golden age after the world-wide revolution.

Lenin justifies Stalin's power
To begin with, it is important to recall that Stalin was at one and the same time a member of the party's Central Committee, its Politbureau, its Orgbureau (Organisation Bureau), People's Commissar of Nationalities, and People's Commissar of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate, when he "became" (as Lenin put it) the party's General Secretary. This outrageous accumulation of positions aroused strong criticisms among the Communist elite, and at the Eleventh Party Congress of 1922 Preobrazhensky became their mouthpiece in saying: "Is it conceivable that one individual is capable of measuring up to the work required by two commissariats, and on top of that the Politbureau, the Orgbureau and ten other commissions of the Central Committee?" Lenin personally replied to Preobrazhensky, justifying the "immense power" that had devolved on Stalin by the "lack of people".13 He had no doubt forgotten this exchange of arguments the following year when he dictated the "testament" that remained for so long under the bushel.

And if this accumulation of positions were not enough, Stalin was also invested with his most "responsible" mission, according to the terminology of the time and place, that of representing the Politbureau on the "college" of the GPU – in other words, the supreme authority as regards the death penalty. Without the least scruple, it was he who gave the party's sanction to the most extreme, indeed unjust, repressive measures, which Lenin and Trotsky regarded as a regrettable necessity while preferring not to get too closely involved in them.

The intellectuals on the Politbureau were capable of theorising the terror; but they needed a hard, insensitive man to put it into effect. In Stalin, teamed up with Dzherzhinsky, the technical expert in policing and bloodletting, they found a politician fit for the tasks that disgusted them. But this still does not explain the secret which transformed the party "of Lenin and Trotsky", as it was called at the time, into the party of Stalin.

This secret lies in one of the commissions of the Central Committee to which Preobrazhensky referred in his remarks. It is a matter of a commission, or section, which has not passed entirely unnoticed, as several very competent authors have mentioned it, but whose functions remain to be explained concretely, and whose decisive role in the internal struggle remains to be emphasised. In the hands of Stalin it was to be an important cog in the "apparatus" which held the party merged with the state in its grip, and which controlled the fate of every individual, of every family, and the future of everyone. This was not the case at the start of the new regime, but came about in the course of the years following the civil war, and with increasing harshness during Lenin's illness, and above all after his death. It is not sufficient to include it in a description of the apparatus of the Secretariat; it is necessary to show it at work, at the service of the General Secretary, with the moral and human consequences that flowed from it, as well as the political results.

Stalin's accomplices and victims
In his important work How Russia is Ruled (Cambridge Mass., 1953), Professor Merle Fainsod rightly devoted several passages to one of the organs of the Secretariat which had hitherto passed unnoticed: "In 1920 a special section of the Secretariat – Uchraspred, the Account and Assignment Section – was established to control the 'mobilization, transfers and appointments of members of the party'."15 Later: "the Uchraspred concentrated first on filling party posts. Appointments to the highest party positions came under the jurisdiction of the Orgbureau.... The Uchraspredrapidly extended its control down through the guberniya or provincial level. By the beginning of 1923 its controls reached the uezd, or county level. The report of the Uchraspred to the Twelfth Party Congress in April 1923 indicated that more than ten thousand assignments had been made in the preceding year. Stalin, in his organizational report to the congress, made no effort to conceal the range of Uchraspred's activities; indeed, he revealed that it was expanding its jurisdiction into the state apparatus."16

Several of Merle Fainsod's pages ought to be quoted. Here, we have to limit ourselves. Orgraspred, Uchraspred's successor, "operated as another powerful lever of control over local party organisations. Lazar Kaganovich,17 the head of this section in 1922 and 1923, was one of Stalin's most faithful disciples".18 A chapter on the Secretariat explains: "The key section in the Central Committee Secretariat was the Organization-Assignments Section (Orgraspred). It was created in 1924 by a merger of the Uchraspred and the old Organisation-Instruction Section. The Orgraspredfunctioned as the cadre office of the Stalinist machine.... Between the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth Congress, the Orgraspred handled the placement of 8761 Party workers.... at the Sixteenth congress in 1930, L. Kaganovich announced that the Orgraspred had arranged the assignments of approximately eleven thousand Party workers in the preceding two years."19 But the description of the monstrous party "machine", the central apparatus, takes up about twenty-five pages in Fainsod.20

Professor Leonard Schapiro, in his now classic book The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (London, 1960), explains it more briefly, with a categorical conclusion: "the merger in 1924 of the Assignment Department (Uchraspred) and the Department for both Organisation and Assignment (Orgraspred) ... immediately became the key department of the Secretariat, which concentrated in its hands the entire direction of subordinate party organs and the all-important function of making appointments. Its history is the story of Stalin's success in controlling the party."21 This last phrase is particularly memorable, but it is necessary to illustrate it.

A. Avtorkhanov (Stalin and the Soviet Communist Party, New York, 1959) mentions Kaganovich at the head of the Organisation and Instruction Department, then later of the Organisation and Allocation Department, and that's all (the titles Uchraspred and Orgraspred do not allow of more accurate translations). Professor Robert C. Tucker briefly mentions Uchraspred, translated as "Records and Assignments", without according major importance to it (Stalin as Revolutionary, New York, 1973).23 Adam Ulam and other biographers pass over the two raspred in silence.

In a popular article written in 1956, under the title of "Stalin's Accomplices", which was to be published in Est et Ouest (No.171, Paris, 1 April 1957) the author of the present account asked the question: "How was one man, so completely devoid of prestige of any sort at the death of Lenin, able to get hold of this extraordinary power of life and death over a population of some two hundred million souls and particularly over his closest political colleagues, who were his superiors on the intellectual level, and moreover the power to degrade them with torture and dishonour the victims?"

The answer to this question was: "Stalin did not come to power all on his own: he had accomplices." Among the latter "in order of importance it is Lazar Kaganovich who was to be Stalin's principal assistant and accomplice, from 1922, and the chief architect of his extraordinary political fortune. He can be considered as a prototype of Stalinism and, on this account, merits exceptional attention".

There follows a summary of the career of this personage. Then, in 1922, Kaganovich "was chosen as head of the 'Organisation and Instruction Section' of the Central Committee, which succeeded Uchraspred (the Account and Assignment Section) and became Orgraspred, the Organisation and Assignment Section. In this position, invisible to the uninitiated and known only to those on the inside of the Soviet state, the existence and still less the importance of which were not even suspected by anyone outside, he was to be the decisive instrument of Stalin's 'will to power'.

"In fact, the said section of the Central Committee controlled the fate of all the party's functionaries; it placed, displaced and replaced them in accordance with considerations which discipline did not allow them to question. The position of everyone in the hierarchy depended upon it, as well as how near or how far they were in relation to the capital or the major urban centres. Thus Stalin, supported by Molotov and assisted by Kaganovich, by means of changes, demotions and promotions could render harmless those men of the elite who stood in his way, and favour docile mediocrities who were prepared to follow him blindly. He thus arranged at will the leading committees, regional and local, and then the party conferences and congresses that defeated in succession Trotsky and his supporters, Zinoviev and Kamenev and their supporters, and Bukharin and Rykov24 and their supporters, in order to deliver them to the arbitrary power of the implacable GPU." Etc.

Thus Stalin, on the strength of his many positions and by the apparently legal means of the Uchraspred, and then of the Orgraspred, controlled the conditions of existence of every Communist and their families. Trotsky, justifying the militarisation of labour in his Terrorism and Communism (1920), had written: "For we can have no way to socialism except by the authoritative regulation of the economic forces and resources of the country, and the centralised distribution of labour-power in harmony with the general state plan. The labour state considers itself empowered to send every worker to the place where his work is necessary."25

All the more reason, then, for the party to assume the power to assign to its members, who were subject to additional discipline, the place, nature and conditions of their lives ... and of their deaths. And if it is true, according to the well-known proverb, that "any imbecile can rule with a state of emergency", all the more easily could Stalin, who was utterly devoid of principles, impose the idolatrous cult of his sinister personality, with the monstrous prerogatives that the party-state of Lenin had conferred upon him.

Towards "immense" power
As early as 1920, and therefore under Lenin, clear-thinking and courageous party members had protested against the authoritarian procedures that amounted to a practice of "exile by administrative means" in order to get rid of awkward people. At the Ninth Party Congress (1920) C. Yurenev declared: "one person was sent to Christiania, another to the Urals, and a third to Siberia."26 Y. Yakovlev testified that: "The Ukraine has become a place of exile. Comrades who are unpopular for whatever reason in Moscow are deported there."27

In 1921, when Riazanov and Tomsky28 got the congress of the trades unions to adopt a non-conformist motion, they were soon removed. Tomsky was dispatched to Turkestan, and Riazanov was sent on a mission abroad. The list of people removed in this way in the course of the 1920s would be a very long one. Account was still taken of the quality of the men, the services they had rendered and the abilities that could be used. But in the war to the knife waged by Stalin against all those who stood in his way, after the death of Lenin and above all after the tenth anniversary of October, there was no longer any question of consideration towards even the most respected Communists. Uchraspred, and then Orgraspred, on Stalin's orders, operated with less and less consideration and more and more severity.

In a few years there was an end to gilded exiles – embassies and diverse missions abroad. One could no longer speak of the Ukraine, or even of the Urals, as a "place of exile". The threat of being transferred to Siberia, however legal it may have been, gave cause to reflect to those who might be the most sincere oppositionists, but who were little inclined to useless sacrifice. For there was Siberia and Siberia – habitable places, and deprived regions where a stay for civilised Europeans was equivalent to a slow death.

Uch-ras-pred ... Org-ras-pred ... The three syllables were charged with a dissuasive and persuasive force that could not be countered by any argument from the left or right, at least as far as the majority of the middle cadres were concerned, who moreover could not understand why their traditional leaders had become unworthy of assuming their previous responsibilities and suddenly found themselves demoted, eventually disgraced and punished, and if necessary handed over to the secular arm.29 Expulsion from the party, at the end of an apparently legal persecution, was equivalent to falling into the domain of the GPU, that is, of an arbitrary power without limits.

This was a process that extended over several years, and was tied to the intimate history of the regime which was concealed by loud polemics and vain pseudo-doctrinal controversies conducted by means of quotations drawn from Marx and Lenin. It was a process that cannot be summarised in a few lines. Stalin's patient and manifold operations unfolded on several planes and under diverse pretexts in order to realise a unique plan: to transform the Leninist oligarchy into a Stalinist oligarchy, composed of parvenus personally indebted to Stalin for their advancement in the apparatus, for their chances of access to the highest levels of the hierarchy in the new social elite, the new class of exploiters, privileged people and profiteers.

In addition to the "immense power" he gained from Lenin, which had disturbed the latter too little and too late, Stalin was inclined to a "police mentality", as Trotsky put it, which provided his vindictive memory with a veritable card index of the political and administrative personnel who had any influence. He could use and abuse it according to his most sordid calculations, without having to take account of the least of the "checks and balances" on which the democratic system of North America prides itself. This card index registered all the information, all the misdemeanours, weaknesses, denunciations, gossip, dangerous liaisons and compromising relations of members of the party "which had no other equal" (as Stalin was to say a little later). With an organ like Orgraspred it was possible to influence and manipulate proven or potential nonconformists in the name of party discipline, to which, by definition, everyone had agreed to submit.

For several years Stalin was obliged to operate under cover of party legality, disposing of the fate of all the recalcitrants by means of the two raspred. The details of these schemes would require too long and moreover too tedious an account. From a certain point, the "father of the people" had no need of any cover, Orgraspred lost the concealed part of its reason for existence, and the secret police operated on the verbal or written instructions of Stalin or his mafia, sometimes on the basis of a telephone call (Svetlana Alliluyeva has provided a striking example).30 But during the phase of transition to the absolute autocracy it was Orgraspred that was charged with translating the wisdom and will of the omniscient party, which possessed innate knowledge of where and to what each Communist must submit himself in order to serve the new idol, the pseudo-proletarian state incarnate in Stalin.

How the bureaucrats were broken
Apart from the texts quoted above, notably those of Merle Fainsod and Leonard Schapiro, the decisive role of the two raspred has passed unnoticed by writers committed to deciphering "the enigma of Stalin". They have also explained the rise and the omnipotence of his person by crediting him with various imaginary talents, without being able to perceive that he above all practised "everything is permitted", as Dostoyevsky31 feared in advance. Bereft of any of the "charismatic" qualities necessary to confer prestige on a dictator, Stalin surpassed all his rivals in his basest capacities, in his trickery, scheming, lying, cruelty, intrinsic depravity and total lack of principles and moral sense. His strength also lay in his absolute contempt for the official doctrine that his opponents still clung to. Consciously without scruple above all, he was able to make use of the apparatus inherited from Lenin and knew how to submit it to his purely personal ambition with the help of the irresistible instrument that Orgraspred became in his hands, whose effectiveness it is time to show other than by abstract concepts.

Let us imagine a middle-ranking party functionary, Ivanov, suspected of wrong thinking, whose typical case will allow us to reveal the hidden reality which the dryness of an organisational diagram would not show. He is married, the father of one or two children. He has survived the civil war, he wants a rest, and it has taken him years finally to obtain a room for himself and his family (the accommodation crisis in the ’20s and ’30s is unimaginable). For some reason or other, or perhaps for no reason at all, Orgraspred has sent him to Turukhansk, in the extreme north of Siberia, where the earth never thaws and the thermometer falls to -40ø in winter. There is no argument about it. The party, the embodiment of divine history, needs Ivanov in Turukhansk. He has to leave, break his attachments to family and friends, and lead his wife and children to vegetate together in misery close to the Arctic Circle, deprived of the slightest comfort, of relations, of intellectual resources. This is almost equivalent to the most rigorous of the deportations under the old regime.

Let us imagine this Ivanov's state of mind. He wonders what point there is to his misfortune. He thinks about the sad fate of his wife, of his children, and perhaps of his parents separated from those close to them. In any case, he can do nothing to change what has happened to him. The leaders of the Opposition are criticising Stalin over a miners' strike in Britain and the revolutionary movement in China. The rank and file of the party understands none of this. Ivanov in Turukhansk, how can he help the British miners or the Shanghai coolies? Wouldn’t it be better to make a show of supporting the leadership, and to recognise the wisdom of Stalin, while waiting for better days?

Such bitter reflections haunt the minds of every political exile. Most of the dissidents will end up "capitulating" (that was the expression at the time). Besides, hadn’t Trotsky said at the Fifteenth Party Conference in 1926: "Stalin is the foremost man in our party, the most important member; without him we would not be able to make up the Politbureau"? Ivanov feels his convictions weakening. Soon, one after the other, the leaders of the Opposition will rally to the official "line", in the name of the supreme excellence of the party. We know the outcome. There will be hundred percent party unity. But that will not prevent Stalin, when he decides the time is ripe, from exterminating almost all the members of the party of Lenin.

There are many variants to this schematic survey. Places of exile, under every climate, are not lacking in the vastness of the Soviet Union, where nature offers Orgraspred an infinite range of means for putting pressure on its flock. Transportation to Tadjikistan is preferable to a stay in the Altai. Often good comrades intercede to negotiate a submission that is apparently honourable. A small number of the intractable hold firm, especially those who are not married. Numerous examples could be cited which modify the picture. But the end result remains: we saw Stalin "elected" to the Supreme Soviet with more than a hundred percent of the vote. More than a hundred percent ...

Through the logic of the system, combined with Stalin's homicidal fury, the GPU progressively substituted itself for Orgraspred and the ultima ratio was the "mincer", especially after the assassination of Kirov33 in 1934 and the horrors that followed it. But Roy Medvedev informs us that as early as 1930 Yezhov was appointed as head of Orgraspred, which tells us a great deal about what that organ already fashioned by Kaganovich had been able to accomplish. When he succeeded Yagoda as head of the secret police in 1936, Yezhov surpassed all previous atrocities before being "liquidated" in his turn, and Stalin had the cynicism to say to A.S. Yakovlev, the aircraft designer: "Yezhov was a rat; in 1938 he killed many innocent people. We shot him for that" (quoted from A.S. Yakovlev by Michael Heller and Roy Medvedev).34 Needless to say, Yezhov was only Stalin's obedient instrument, like his predecessor and his successor.

Lenin and Trotsky forged Stalinism
The Soviet state, combining the party and the administration, formed a gigantic pyramid of various cells and multiple bureaux under local and regional executive committees ranked according to a minutely detailed hierarchy from top to bottom under the overall authority of a single centre, the party Central Committee, of which the Politbureau and Secretariat were, in principle, the executive organs. But as George Bernard Shaw said on one occasion, Stalin was confirmed as the secretary of a committee all of whose members he himself had appointed so that they could appoint him as General Secretary.

Under the dominating structure of the party several parallel structures were added and intertwined, those of the pseudo-soviets, the pseudo-trades-unions, the Communist Youth, the economic institutions and the police organisations. These various structures fitted together and were mixed up as in an apparently inextricable labyrinth, but one for which the Secretariat, its Orgbureau and its Orgraspred (while it still existed) held Ariadne's thread.35 Privileges of every sort corresponded to all levels of this bureaucratic network, notably material advantages that encouraged internal rivalries, social climbing and open corruption (housing conditions, cars, holidays, "gifts", and special shops forbidden to the people, reserved for the beneficiaries of the "nomenklatura", sic). An improbable but real superimposition of kom (committees) maintained the system for good or ill, i.e. from top to bottom of the scale the plethora of kom (of places, districts, towns, provinces and regions) and of ispolkom (executive committees) were subordinated to many superior kom that hung over an oligarchy about which Lenin spoke quite openly.

Such was the actual result of the work of the man who, in The State and Revolution in 1917, had affirmed that the state must begin to wither away on the morrow of the socialist revolution.36 It had been created in stages to incorporate a refractory population and subject it to the new regime. For even the minority who had voted for the Bolsheviks in the elections to the Constituent Assembly had not voted for the Cheka and the terror, or even for Communism; they thought they were voting for peace, for the distribution of land, and for free soviets. To this monstrous ‚tatist construction corresponded an aberrant ideology, a verbal pseudo-Marxism, simplistic and caricatural, of which Lenin was equally the theoretical and practical creator. Stalin only carried to extremes what Lenin had invented, though the latter was sincere in his socialist intentions, for which his epigones cared nothing.

As for Trotsky, anxious to obliterate his former disagreements with Lenin, recoiling in the face of the treacherous suspicion of "Bonapartism", and haunted by the historical precedent of "Thermidor", he had to rival the so-called "Bolshevik-Leninist" orthodoxy of his opponents, whilst denouncing to the utmost and quite rightly "the apparatus's system of terror", but in circumstances in which this apparatus, of which he was part, was now capable of stifling all dissident voices and mercilessly punishing any inclination towards dissidence.

Along with Lenin, Trotsky had contributed to forging the baleful myth of the infallibility of the party, in defiance of the real ideas of Marx, which were invoked indiscriminately. Both of them, intoxicated by their doctrinal certainties, and perched at the top of the bureaucratic-soviet pyramid, were ignorant of what was being elaborated in the levels below, evincing a lack of awareness that handed over all the levers of command to Stalin.

Such are, in a hasty and necessarily bare outline, the why and the how of Stalin's enigmatic career. It is a summary that does not allow us to identify, as all too many are inclined to do, the founder of the so-called soviet state with its inheritor, so different in their characters and motives, without mentioning the rest. When Victor Adler,37 teasing Plekhanov,38 said to him "Lenin is your son", he replied tit for tat, "If he is my son, he is an illegitimate one". Lenin could have said the same for Stalin. For the latter was not another Lenin. Those who think so are deceiving themselves. But that is another story.


1. Lenin's "Testament" is the name generally given to the two documents published as additions to his "Letter to the Congress", on 24 December 1922 and 4 January 1923. Cf. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.36, pp.594-6 (translator's note).

2. Gregory Zinoviev (1883-1936) was the President of the Communist International until his removal in 1926. He and Lev Kamenev, (1883-1936), were leaders with Trotsky of the Joint Opposition, but capitulated to Stalin in 1927. They were both shot after the first Moscow trial. Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938) was the author of works on Marxist theory, and head of the Comintern after Stalin ousted Zinoviev. He was the main defendant in the third Moscow trial. Yuri Pyatakov (1890-1937) was an economic specialist, and head of the regional government in the Ukraine. He was one of the defendants in the second Moscow trial (translator's note).

3. Lenin's Testament was in fact first published in the New York Times in October 1926. On the part played by Eastman and Souvarine in disseminating the Testament abroad, cf. Alfred Rosmer, Trotsky and Trotskyism, London, 2001, forthcoming (translator's note).

4. N.S. Khrushchev, "Special Report to the 20th Congress of the CPSU", 24-5 February 1926, in The Moscow Trials: An Anthology, London, 1967, pp.15-16 (translator's note).

5. Elena Stasova (1893-1966) was secretary to the Central Committee in 1917-20. Yakov Sverdlov (1885-1919) was President of the Executive of the Soviets, and de facto party secretary. Nikolai Krestinsky (1883-1938) was party secretary in 1921, and a defendant in the third Moscow trial. Evgeny Preobrazhensky (1886-1937), the author of several works on Marxist economics, was party secretary in 1919. Leonid Serebriakov (1890-1937) was a member of the Bolshevik Secretariat in 1919-1920, and then Deputy Commissar for Communications. He was a defendant in the second Moscow trial. Vyacheslav Molotov (1890-1986) was one of Stalin's oldest and closest allies. Emelyan Yaroslavsky (1878-1943), also an ally of Stalin, as a member of the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Communist International orchestrated Trotsky's expulsion in 1927. Vasili Mikhailov (1894-1937) was secretary to the Central Committee in 1921-2 (translator's note).

6. Valerian Kuibyshev (1888-1935) joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903. As an early supporter of Stalin, he was the Commissar of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate in 1923-6 who came under so much criticism from Lenin (translator's note).

7. L.D. Trotsky, Stalin, Vol.2, London, 1969, p.215 (translator's note).

8. "Troika" was the name commonly used for the alliance of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev against Trotsky in 1923-5. It is sometimes translated as "triumvirate", a mocking allusion to those who shared power in Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar (translator's note).

9. B. Souvarine, Stalin: Aperçu historique du bolchevisme, Paris, 1935; second edition, 1940; expanded edition, 1977 (author's note).

10. English edition, translated by C.L.R. James, Stalin: A Critical Survey of Bolshevism, London, 1939, p.294 (translator's note).

11. Op. cit. pp.294-5 (translator's note).

12. Khrushchev Remembers, London, 1971, p.83 (translator's note).

13. V.I. Lenin, "Closing Speech on the Political Report of the Central Committee to the Eleventh Congress of the RCP(B)", 28 March 1922, Collected Works, Vol.33, p.315 (translator's note).

14. Felix Dzherzhinsky (1877-1926), a Polish aristocrat, was the head of the Cheka, the Russian secret police (translator's note).

15. Merle Fainsod, How Russia is Ruled, Cambridge, Mass., 1963, p.181 (translator's note).

16. Op. cit., p.182 (translator's note).

17. Lazar Kaganovich (1893-1991) was party secretary in Moscow, and then in the Ukraine, where he carried out a bloody purge (translator's note).

18. Op. cit, n.15 above, p.182 (translator's note).

19. Op. cit, pp.190-2 (translator's note).

20. The two titles are a contraction of the following labels, which resist precise translation: Uchotno-raspredelitelnyi otdiel (the idea of keeping accounts, of accountability, of appointments, of nominations), and Organizatsionno-raspredelitelnyi otdiel (ideas of organisation, demarcation and appointments); otdiel = section (author's note).

21. Leonard Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, London, 1960, p.315 (translator's note).

22. Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov, Stalin and the Soviet Communist Party, London, 1959, p.286 (translator's note).

23. Robert C. Tucker, Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879-1928: A Study in History and Personality, New York, 1973, pp.215-21 (translator's note).

24. Alexei Rykov (1881-1938) was President of the Council of Peoples' Commissars on the death of Lenin, a supporter of Bukharin, and, like him, a defendant in the third Moscow trial (translator's note).

25. L.D. Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism, London, 1975, p.153 (translator's note).

26. Constantine Yurenev (1888-1938) was a supporter of Bukharin, and later ambassador to Japan. He was shot after the third Moscow trial. His remark was made at the Ninth Party Congress in 1920: cf. V.I. Lenin, "Reply to the Discussion on the Report of the Central Committee", 30 March 1920, Collected Works, Vol.30, pp.466-7, 469 (translator's note).

27. Yakov Yakovlev (1896-1939) was a Ukrainian Communist, and later Commissar for Agriculture during the forced collectivisation. This also was a remark made at the Ninth Party Congress: cf. Protokoly: Deviaty sezd RKP(B), Moscow, 1934, p.62 (translator's note).

28. David Riazanov (1870-1938) was Russia's foremost Marxist scholar. Mikhail Tomsky (1880-1936) was an ally of Bukharin, and head of the Soviet trades unions. He committed suicide before he could be brought to trial (translator's note).

29. When the medieval Inquisition or other church courts wished to pass a death sentence, which was considered to be inappropriate for the church, it handed over the prisoner to be executed, generally by burning, by the secular authorities (translator's note).

30. Presumably a reference to Letters to a Friend (London, 1967), the reminiscences of Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva. Possibly Souvarine is alluding to Stalin's use of the secret police to frame and imprison one of his teenage daughter's boyfriends of whom he disapproved (translator's note).

31. Feodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) was one of Russia's foremost novelists, the author of Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, etc (translator's note).

32. The Left Opposition criticised Stalin for his handling of the British General Strike of 1926, and the second Chinese Revolution of 1927: cf. L.D. Trotsky, Collected Writings and Speeches on Britain, Vol.2, London, 1974, pp.187-253; Revolutionary History, Vol.5, No.3, Autumn 1994, pp.54-141 (translator's note).

33. The assassination of Leningrad Party secretary Sergei Kirov (1886-1934) was followed by a wave of reprisals against former oppositionists, notably Zinoviev and Kamenev who were held responsible for Kirov's death, imprisoned and later executed (translator's note).

34. Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge, Nottingham, 1976, p.293; quoted from A.S. Yakovlev, Tsell' zhizni; zapiski konstruktora, Moscow, 1966, p.179 (translator's note).

35. Ariadne was the woman in Greek mythology who provided Theseus with the thread to find his way through the labyrinth and slay the Minotaur (translator's note).

36. V.I. Lenin, "The State and Revolution", August-September 1917, Collected Works, Vol.25, p.474 (translator's note).

37. Victor Adler (1852-1918) was a prominent Austrian Social Democrat (translator's note).

38. Georgi Plekhanov (1856-1918) was the pioneer of Marxism in Russia (translator's note).