As Trotsky said, Stalinism is a very serious social disease, politically speaking, and the sad thing is that, as it was dominant for many years on the left wing of the labour movement worldwide, the virus persisted for a very long time, and still breaks out occasionally.
Many workers and intellectuals, who were converted to the high Stalinist political religion during its period of dominance on the left, found Khrushchev’s exposure of Stalin in 1956 traumatic. Quite a few of those people hung on to the political religion of their youth despite all evidence to the contrary, like Tridentine Catholics such as Mel Gibson hanging on to the Latin mass. I still know some people like that, and respect them despite their Stalinism, because of a lifetime of common activity with them in the labour movement. Such people are sometimes a bit too old to change.
However, anyone who has acquired an education in history since about, say, 1956, and who tries to peddle the exploded Stalinist historical falsifications is either a knave or a fool. Straightfaced attempts to pass off Joseph E Davies’ ignorant bourgeois diplomacy about the Moscow Trials (Mission to Moscow), and the vicious Stalinist piece of pseudo-history, The Great Conspiracy by Sayers and Kahn (about 1946), as historical evidence, is deeply ahistorical in the year 2003. The Sayers and Kahn book is particularly significant, because written in the racy style of a whodunit this pack of historical lies is probably the main piece of pseudo-historical reading that miseducated a large part of a whole generation of communist workers and intellectuals.
The Communist Party of Australia produced an abridge edition of Sayers and Kahn that sold about 25,000 copies, and these copies were certainly read. Someone like me, who spent a part of their life after Khrushchev’s exposure of Stalin in 1956 in the relatively successful activity of dragging out Sayers and Kahn’s lies by their roots from the minds of other socialists, has difficulty being objective when some ignorant Stalinist, who must live in a time warp, belts out a reference to Sayers and Kahn as good historical coin.
A large part of Sayers and Kahn consists of invented accounts of alleged contacts between the murdered oppositionists in the Soviet Union, and of Trotsky, with the Gestapo and Hitler. The Trotskyists of 1946 submitted a brief to the Nuremburg Trials of the Nazi war criminals, demanding that the Soviet prosecutor present any evidence he claimed to have about such contacts at the Nuremburg Trials, and it was available to the Soviet prosecutor at the Nuremburg Trials to do so. The Russians, of course, studiously avoided any discussion of these invented connections at the Nuremburg Trials, which is the most powerful evidence of all that Sayers and Kahn was a pack of lies and inventions.
Since Khrushchev’s exposure of Stalin in 1956 and even more in 1962, and now since the opening of the Soviet archives since about 1987, the overwhelming documentary evidence of the frame-up character of the Moscow Trials, of the lies, falsifications and mass murders, is so overwhelming that anyone who presents Sayers and Kahn as a historical document puts themselves in the same category, politically speaking, as those energetic Christians who pour out literature trying to prove that God created the world in seven days, and that the physical evolution of humankind is untrue. These latter day Stalinists are the political equivalents of physical evolution denialists.
These people, who attempt to deny the truth about the political mass murders of communists, socialists, and ordinary people by the Soviet bureaucray and ultimately by Stalin himself, are in the same category as the Second World War Holocaust denier David Irving. The really macabre aspect of this Stalinist denial phenomenon is that there is an enormous literature about Stalin’s crimes based on eyewitnesses, survivors’ testimonies, and fantastic quantities of documentary evidence out of the Soviet archives.
The Holocaust denier, Irving, tries to base his case on the fact that there aren’t any written documents in which Hitler actually gave direct written instructions to kill the Jews. Hitler’s criminal responsibility has to be inferred from the brutal actions of his government, and careful drawing out of the implications in the documents of the notorious Wansee Conference of Nazi mass murderers.
This is not the case with Stalin’s crimes. There are authentic lists of tens of thousands of murdered communists and socialists, with the scrawled signatures of Stalin, Molotov and other mass murderers, instructing their execution.
The KGB issued a macabre statement in the late 1980s that between 700,000 and 800,000 people had been executed unjustly in the late 1930s. Most of these people were socialists and communists. Stalin was responsible for the deliberate execution of many more communists and socialists than Hitler or any other murderer of communists and socialists in the 20th century, such as Suharto and the other Indonesian generals who murdered around 300,000 communists.
Stanford University Press has published a dozen or so books based on authentic material out of the archives. The Stalinist massacre deniers on Marxmail ought to study those books carefully. Recent books on the subject include documentation of the murder of a large number of the foreign communists who worked for the Comintern, whose murder was acquiesced in by Dimitrov, although he saved a few.
Scholars have documented the sad fate of hundreds of Ukranian communists who went back to the Soviet Union from the US and Canada. They’ve documented the fate of hundreds of Finnish communists who went back to the Soviet Union from the US and Canada to settle in Karelia. German scholars have documented the fate of hundreds of German and Austrian communists, many of whom were murdered in the purges, and a number of whom ended up in the camps. An Italian communist survivor of the Gulag spent the last ten years of his life documenting the fate of more than 500 Italian political emigrants in the Soviet Union who were either murdered or ended up in the Gulag.
This year a book called Secrets and Lies was published in Australia by Maria Moustafine, an Australian of Russian, Jewish and Tatar background, a number of whose relatives were unfortunate members of the pro-Soviet Russian community in Harbin, who happened to return to the Soviet Union at the most dangerous possible moment in the mid-1930s, and were killed in the purges, the “Harbinsty”. She has put together the sad story of her relatives’ fate from the Soviet archives. This book has sold about 8000 copies in Australia.
Anne Applebaum has this year published her magisterial and detailed book on the history of the Gulag. These Stalinist massacre deniers should carefully study the statistics that Applebaum assembles. I’ve deliberately left it a few days before responding to this Stalinist material on Marxmail. It seems fantastic to me that I seem to be the only one, other than Jurian, at all concerned to respond to this mad Stalinist revivalism.
In 1938, at the time of the Third Moscow Trial, the Trotsky Defence Committee held a public meeting in New York. One of the speakers was the Lovestoneite, Bertram D. Wolfe. The Lovestoneites, the Right Opposition expelled from the American CP in 1929, had tended to reluctantly accept the First Moscow Trial, but by the time of the Third Moscow Trial, which had framed their intellectual mentor, Nicolai Bukharin, they had concluded that all the trials were frame-ups and that it was necessary to break with Stalinism completely.
(Later, most of them, on the basis of their deep disillusionment with Stalinism, shifted over to the far right. Bertram D Wolfe became a fairly major historian of the Russian Revolution. His book, Three Who Made a Revolution, although marred by his later ex-Communist bias, still remains a primary source book about the Russian Revolution.) Bertram D. Wolfe knew a number of the murdered Bolshevik leaders personally, and he knew Stalin personally.
His speech at a meeting in 1938 is a brief factual statement about the vast sweep of the Moscow Trials, their catastrophic impact on the Soviet Union and the socialist project. His anger and bitterness in this speech is clearly informed by his personal knowledge of the people involved. It is a relatively small historical document, and I am posting it here. I recommend that the latter day Stalinist massacre deniers study this speech carefully.
Bertram D. Wolfe’s speech on the Moscow purge trials, under the auspices of the Trotsky Defence Committee, New York, March 9,1938
I want to begin by thanking the Trotsky Defence Committee for inviting me to participate in this meeting. I regret that it is not being held under much broader auspices. I believe that all labour organisations have been derelict in their duty in not arranging the broadest mass protest meeting under the broadest possible auspices to show that the entire labour movement protests against this infamous and murderous farce.
So far we have had only a meeting under the auspices of the Trotskyists, and this one, with invitations to spokesmen of other organisations, but under the Trotsky Defence Committee. This is unfortunate, in my opinion, because it gives the impression that the issue is Trotsky versus Stalin, or that our protest is primarily for the defence of Leon Trotsky. Nor is that sufficiently offset by the fact that my own organisation [the Independent Labor League of Americaj is holding a meeting of its own on the issues involved in this same hall next Wednesday night. I want to pledge my organisation to work for the calling of a meeting adequate to the issues involved, under the joint auspices of every organisation that is interested in the question.
The Socialist Party has pledged itself to the same end, and leading figures in the Social Democratic Federation and the Socialist Workers’ Party and Anarchists have given similar assurances. To my mind the issues are broader than the controversy between Trotsky and Stalin, or Bukharin and Stalin, broader than the defence of Leon Trotsky, or of the defendants now on trial, or of the hundreds of thousands crowding the jails of the Soviet Union, broader than the redemption of the good name of those who have already met death without trial at Stalin’s hands, or at the hands of his henchmen such as Yezhov.
The Russian purge and the methods it employs concern the very life of the labour movement in the Soviet Union and, by extension, in all the lands of the earth. Any one who fails to raise their voice unequivocally on this question makes themself a guilty accomplice by their silence. .
Those who are indifferent we must brand for their indifference those who excuse this accuses themselves of being willing to introduce the same methods into our own labour movement; those who justify it have bathed their hands, as did the conspirators in Shakespeare’s play, in the blood of the innocent victims. And that blood is the best blood of our generation, the blood of the people who led the opposition to the world war, of those who led in the making of the Russian Revolution, of those who led in the building of the Communist International, of those who risked their lives in the tsarist underground, who exhausted themselves in the civil war and the famine, who performed miracles of socialist reconstruction, who led the Soviet Union in all of its achievements.
If one word of these charges is credited as true, the Russian Revolution must have been made by traitors, bandits, imperialist spies, provocateurs, murderers and counterrevolutionaries. If Trotsky was a spy since 1921, he was conspiring to overthrow himself while he was the leader of the Red Army.
If Bukharin was guilty of conspiring to kill Lenin in 1918, Lenin was a dupe and a moron to have praised him before his death as the “darling of the party”, and the program of the Communist International is the pro-gram of a traitor. The rewriting of history has gone so far that Trotsky’s heroic efforts to build up a Red Army, drive out foreign intervention and crush counter-revolution were all expended and, successfully mind you, at the orders of a Germany that was not yet Fascist, a Japan that was not yet through with its 21 points, an England that bribed these men to build up a mighty Soviet power so that they might later have more work and more fun trying to crush it.
These mad charges have at last gone so far that Lenin himself is on trial in Moscow. How else shall we interpret the charge that his closest associates were the agents of foreign governments? Is not the charge of German spy levied against the then commissar of war, Trotsky, but a revival of a charge levied in those days against all the Bolsheviks, and first of all against Lenin? Was it not Lenin who passed through Germany in a sealed train? Lenin who was most insistent of all on a separate peace with Germany? Lenin who insisted on the signing of the Brest Litovsk peace while the accused Bukharin and the accused in absentia, Trotsky, were still hesitant?
This trial and this purge involve issues, it seems to me, that are even broader than the labour movement and the issue of honesty and democracy within it. Precisely because the working class is the most significant class in modern society, precisely because it is the main bearer of social progress, destined by its position in society, and its own class needs, to be in the vanguard of every forward-looking movement, therefore must we recognise that if it is lacking in respect for human life and human integrity, humanity itself is doomed to retrogression, rebarbarisation, degeneracy and self-destruction.
When Robert Minor, editor of The Liberator and The Daily Worker, communist periodicals, delivered himself of his famous declaration, “Honesty is a bourgeois virtue,” thereby he calumniated the labour movement, slandered the working class, gave the bourgeoisie, whose rule is based upon devices of hypocrisy, an honour they did not deserve, and by his attack upon the working class, he read himself and the party he speaks for out of its ranks, out of the ranks, too, of decent human beings of any class whatsoever.
Stalin’s bloody deeds against the Communist Party, the Soviet state apparatus, the Red Army, the political police, the party press, the planning commission, the leaders of industry and agriculture, and the Soviet peoples, serve to complement the fearful crimes he committed against the Communist International and the labour movements in all other countries.
Public trials have been mostly directed against those who were former oppositionists. But Stalin uses the men whose names he has already blackened and continues to blacken, the Trotskys and Bukharins, chiefly to frame up those who but yesterday were his closest associates and the leaders of literally every branch of Soviet life: the entire general staff, the admiralty of the navy, the GPU political police, all the apparatus of defence internal and external; the premiers and presidents of every autonomous soviet republic and region, excepting only three; the party secretaries of every district but two; 90 per cent of the editors of party papers, all the apparatus of political leadership of the country; already more than a third of the central committee and two members of the Politburo have been included; two vice-commissars of foreign affairs and all ambassadors but two, virtually the entire apparatus of diplomacy; the authors of the five-year plans, heads of 10 departments of the planning commission, and a score of state trusts, all the apparatus of leadership of industry and agriculture; even doctors, inventors, poets, dramatists, composers, sociologists. The apparatus of cultural life is wrecked by Stalin the arch-wrecker. He has made infinitely harder the task of those of us who love the Soviet Union and would make the world understand its wonders of achievement, of those who would defend it against attack from the ruling class of all lands.
He has murdered his comrades in arms, spewed such filth upon their names and on the fair name of the Russian Revolution that all of us feel unclean even to have to discuss this vileness. Today we can only help the Soviet Union if we succeed in making clear that Stalinism is the very opposite of what we are aiming at and defending. Only by exposing Stalinism, only by wiping out its foul influences, can we redeem the honour of the Russian Revolution and of our class, whose greatest effort in history it so far represents. Time will not permit me to attempt tonight to give a positive exposition of the causes of this frightful phenomenon, or the prospects of overcoming it.
Our organisation is more convinced than ever that we were right in making, as we did, a clean break with the growing system of corruption in the Communist International. In retrospect it is clear that we should have done it earlier. We are more convinced than ever that we were right in denouncing and breaking with the system that made a world party a tail to a faction in the Russian party.
Even the best of the Russians after Lenin’s death, men like Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Bukharin, failed to understand that. Our organisation is more convinced than ever that today the Soviet Union can go forward only if the Russian Communists and the Russian working class throw off the monstrous yoke of Stalinism, that the labour movement elsewhere can flourish only if it repudiates as vile and obscene the gangster methods and the traitorous policies of Stalinism.
If I am asked, “Can Stalinism be overthrown?” I answer: “How can Stalinism possibly continue in power? Has it not taken a path which leads from arrest to arrest, from forgery to forgery, from murder to murder? Is not the Soviet Union for the first time in a decade without a five-year plan? Is not Stalin forced by his policies to destroy his own tools? Has he not been obliged to purge a second layer which replaced the first, and a third replacing the second? Is he not destroying his very base for existence?”
Our task is to make clear what is happening, to redeem the Russian Revolution from its destroyer, to defend and spread what was positive and heroic and progressive, and still is so, in the Russian Revolution, to clean out the seepage of filth that threatens to infect the movement, and to deal with scrupulous cleanliness, clarity, decency, and honesty, and maximum working class democracy, with the problems of our own working class.