In the last active period of his life, Lenin was chiefly absorbed by the problems of the Soviet economy under the New Economic Policy. In 1921, under the pressure of the millions of peasant small proprietors, the workers’ state had been forced to retreat from the path of Socialist planning and industrialisation, in order to procure grain for the starving workers in the cities. The old Civil War practice of requisitioning grain had to be abandoned to placate the peasants, whose support was necessary if the workers’ state was not to succumb to the reaction. A free market in grain was re-established, and concessions were made to the peasants and small traders, while the main levers of economic power (nationalised banks and heavy industries, state monopoly of foreign trade) remained in the hands of the workers’ state.
This retreat which had been forced upon the Bolsheviks was not to create a Socialist, classless society but to save millions from starving to death, to re-build a shattered economy and to provide houses and elementary schools – i.e. to drag Russia into the twentieth century.
The triumph of socialism demands a development of the productive forces to a level unheard of in any previously existing society. Only when the conditions of general want and poverty are obliterated can the thoughts of man be raised to loftier horizons than the grinding, day-to-day struggle to live. The conditions for such a transformation already exist in the world today. For the first time in human history we can say truthfully that there is no longer any need for anyone to starve, to be homeless, to be illiterate.
The potential is there – in the science, technique and industry created by the development of capitalism itself which draws upon all the resources of the planet albeit in an incomplete, anarchic and undeveloped way. Only on the basis of an integrated, harmonious plan of production can this potential be realised. But this can only be carried out on the basis of common ownership of the means of production and a democratic socialist plan.
These elementary truths of Marxism were taken for granted by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. They did not lead the workers to victory in October 1917 with a view to “building Socialism” within the frontiers of the former Tsarist Empire, but to strike the first blow for the international Socialist Revolution:
“We have made the start,” wrote Lenin on the fourth anniversary of the October Revolution. “When, at what date and time, and the proletarians of which nations will complete this process is not important. The important thing is that the ice has been broken; the road is open, the way has been shown.”
For Lenin, the first significance of the Russian Revolution was the example it provided in the eyes of the workers of the world. The failure of the revolutionary wave which swept across Europe in the period 1918-21 was the decisive factor in the subsequent development. On the basis of a victorious European revolution, the enormous potential mineral wealth of Russia, its vast labour force, could have been linked to the science, technique and industry of Germany, Britain and France. A Socialist United States of Europe could have transformed the lives of the peoples of Europe and Asia and opened the way for a Socialist World Federation. Instead, as a result of the cowardice and ineptitude of the labour leaders, the European working classes faced decades of hardship, unemployment, Fascism and a new World War. On the other hand, the isolation of the only workers’ state in the world in a backward, peasant country, opened the door to bureaucratic degeneration and Stalinist reaction.
The defeat of the German working class in March 1921 forced the Soviet Republic to look to its own resources in order to survive. In a speech on October 17, 1921, Lenin spelt out the consequences:
“You must remember that our Soviet land is impoverished after many years of trial and suffering and has no Socialist France or Socialist England as neighbours to keep us with their highly developed technology and highly developed industry. Bear that in mind! We must remember that at present all their highly developed technology and industry belong to the capitalists who are fighting us.”
In order to survive, it was necessary to conciliate the desire of the peasant to make profit, even at the expense of the working class and the building up of industry – the only real basis for a transition to socialism.
The concessions given to the peasants, small businessmen and speculators (“Nepmen”) staved off economic collapse in 1921-22. The trade between town and countryside was restored, but on terms greatly disadvantageous to the former. The reduction of taxes on the peasant cut into the funds necessary for investment in industry. Heavy industry stagnated, while much of light industry was in private hands. Even the revival in agriculture strengthened the capitalist, not the socialist element in Soviet society. Huge profits were made by the “Kulaks” (wealthy peasants), with the largest and most fertile farms and the capital necessary for equipment, horses and fertiliser. In fact, it soon became clear that under NEP, the difference between the rich and poor in the villages was growing at an alarming rate. The Kulaks took to hoarding grain to push up prices, even buying up the grain of the poor peasants to sell it back to them at a later date when prices rose.
These tendencies were watched with anxiety by Lenin, who repeatedly warned of the need for the working class to keep a tight rein on the levers of the economy. At the 4th Congress of the Communist International, in November 1922, Lenin put the matter in a nutshell:
“The salvation of Russia lies not only in a good harvest on the peasant farms – that is not enough; and not only in the good condition of light industry, which provides the peasantry with consumer goods – this, too, is not enough; we also need heavy industry. And to put it in good condition will require several years of work. Heavy industry needs state subsidies. If we are not able to provide them, we shall be doomed as a civilised state, let alone a Socialist state.”
At this period Lenin grappled with the problem of electrification as a possible area where a breach could be made in the solid wall of Russian backwardness. Trotsky, on the other hand, was preoccupied with the overall state planning of industry, which had been practically lost sight of under NEP. All along he stressed the need to strengthen “Gosplan”, the state Planning Agency, as a means of encouraging a general planned revival of industry. Lenin, at first, was distrustful of the idea – not because he rejected planning but because of the prevailing scourge of bureaucracy in Soviet institutions, which, he feared, would turn an enlarged and strengthened Gosplan into a paper game.
However different their approaches to this question, Lenin and Trotsky were in complete agreement about the urgent need to strengthen the Socialist elements in the economy and to end backsliding in the direction of “peasant capitalism”. However, such was the pressure of the Kulak interest that even a section of the Bolshevik leadership began to bend. The question of which road the Soviet power would take was posed point-blank by the controversy over the monopoly of foreign trade which broke out in March 1922.
The monopoly of foreign trade, established in April 1918, was a vital measure for ensuring the socialist economy against the threat of penetration and domination by foreign capital. Under NEP the monopoly became even more important as a bulwark against the growing capitalist tendencies. Early in 1922, at Lenin’s request, A.M. Lezhava drafted Theses on Foreign Trade which emphasised the need to strengthen the monopoly and strictly supervise exports and imports. Despite this, the Party Central Committee was split. Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev opposed Lenin’s proposals and advocated the relaxation of the monopoly, while Sokolnikov, Bukharin and Pyatakov actually went so far as to call for its abolition.
On May 15, Lenin wrote the following letter to Stalin:
“In view of this, please get a directive passed through the Politburo by collecting the votes of the members that “The CC reaffirms the monopoly of foreign trade and resolves that a stop be put everywhere to the working up of the question of merging the Supreme Economic Council with the Commissariat for Foreign Trade. All People’s Commissars to sign confidentially and return the original to Stalin. No copies to be made.”
At the same time he wrote to Stalin and to Frumkin (Deputy People’s Commissar for Foreign Trade) stressing that a “formal ban should be put on all talk and negotiations, commissions etc. concerning the relaxation of the foreign trade monopoly.”
Stalin’s reply was evasive: “I have no objections to a ‘formal ban’ on measures to mitigate the foreign trade monopoly at the present stage. All the same, I think that mitigation is becoming indispensable.”
On 26 May, Lenin suffered the first onslaught of his illness, which put him out of activity until September. In the meantime, in spite of Lenin’s request, the question of “mitigating” the monopoly was raised again. On 12 October, Sokolnikov moved a resolution at the plenary session of the Central Committee, for the relaxation of the foreign trade monopoly. Lenin and Trotsky were absent, and the resolution was carried overwhelmingly.
On 13 October, Lenin wrote to the Central Committee through Stalin, with whom he had already discussed the matter. Lenin protested against the decision and demanded that the question should be raised again at the next plenum in December. Subsequently, Stalin wrote to members of the CC:
“Comrade Lenin’s letter has not persuaded me that the decision of the CC was wrong…Nevertheless, in view of Comrade Lenin’s insistence that fulfilment of the CC Plenary Meeting decision be delayed, I shall vote for a postponement so that the question may be again raised for discussion at the next Plenary Meeting which Comrade Lenin will attend.”
On 16 October, it was agreed to postpone the matter till the next plenum. However, as the date of the plenum approached, Lenin became increasingly worried that the state of his health would not permit him to speak. On 12 December, he wrote his first letter to Trotsky asking him to take upon himself “the defence of our common opinion of the unconditional necessity of preserving and reinforcing the monopoly of foreign trade.” The letters written by Lenin clearly indicate the political bloc that existed between Lenin and Trotsky at this time. They demonstrate Lenin’s implicit faith in Trotsky’s political judgements, a faith born of years of common work at the head of the Soviet state. And it is not accidental that at this time Lenin would turn to no-one else to defend his views on the Central Committee. Even his other confidants, Frumkin and Stomoniakov, were non-members of the Central Committee.
Learning of Lenin’s preparations for a struggle and his bloc with Trotsky, the Central Committee backed down without a fight. On 18 December, the October resolution was unconditionally rescinded. The first round in the battle against the pro-Kulak element in the party leadership was won by the Leninist faction. The battle was continued after Lenin’s death by Trotsky and the Left Opposition, who alone held high the banner and programme of Lenin in the teeth of the Stalinist political counter-revolution.
Friedrich Engels long ago explained that in any society in which art, science and government are the preserve of a minority, that minority will use and abuse its position in its own interests. Because of the isolation of the revolution in a backward country the Bolsheviks were obliged to call on the services of a host of former Tsarist officials to keep the state and society running. These elements, who had held the workers’ government to ransom in the first days of the revolution gradually realised that the Soviet power was not going to be crushed by armed force. After the dangers of the Civil War had passed, many former enemies of Bolshevism began to infiltrate the state, the trade unions, and even the party.
The first “purge”, in 1921, had nothing in common with the later grotesque frame-up trials of Stalin, in which the entire Old Bolshevik leadership were murdered. No-one was tried, killed or imprisoned. But special party commissions were set up to expel from the party the thousands of careerists and bourgeois who had joined in order to further their own interests. The offences for which people were expelled were “bureaucratism, careerism, abuse by party members of their party or Soviet status, violation of comradely relations within the party, dissemination of unfounded and unverified rumours, insinuations or other reports reflecting on the party or individual members of it, and destructive of the unity and authority of the party.”
In order to carry out a struggle against bureaucracy, Lenin advocated the setting up of a “Commission on Workers and Peasants Inspection” (RABKRIN), as the highest arbiter and guardian of party morality, and as a weapon against alien elements in the Soviet state apparatus. At the centre of RABKRIN Lenin placed a man whom he respected for his organisational abilities and strong character – Stalin.
Amongst other important functions, RABKRIN scrutinised the selection and appointment of responsible workers in the state and party. Whoever had the power to hold up the promotion of some and advance others obviously held a weapon which could serve their own interests. Stalin did not scruple to use it for his. RABKRIN turned from a weapon against bureaucracy into a hotbed of careerist intrigue. Stalin cynically used his position in RABKRIN, and later his control of the party Secretariat, to gather around himself a bloc of yes-men – nonentities whose only allegiance was to the man who helped them climb into comfortable positions. From the highest arbiter of party morality, RABKRIN sank to the lowest depths of bureaucratic cynicism.
Trotsky noticed what was going on before Lenin, whose illness prevented his close supervision of party work. Trotsky pointed out that “those working in RABKRIN are chiefly workers who have come to grief in other fields,” and drew attention to the “extreme prevalence of intrigue in the organs of RABKRIN which has become a by-word throughout the country.”
Lenin continued to defend RABKRIN against Trotsky’s criticisms. Yet in his last works we see that his eyes were opened to the threat of bureaucracy from this quarter and the role of Stalin who guided it. In his article How we should reorganise the Workers and Peasants Inspectorate, Lenin connected the question to the bureaucratic deformation of the workers’ state apparatus:
“With the exception the Peoples Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, our state apparatus is to a considerable extent a survival of the past and has undergone hardly any serious change. It has only been slightly touched up on the surface, but in all other respects it is a most typical relic of our old state machine.”
However, in Better Fewer, But Better, Lenin’s last article, written on 2 March 1923, he delivered the most scathing attack on RABKRIN:
“Let us say frankly that the Peoples Commissariat of the Workers and Peasants Inspectorate does not at present enjoy the slightest authority. Everybody knows that no other institutions are worse organised than those of our Workers and Peasants Inspection, and that under present conditions nothing can be expected from this People’s Commissariat.”
In the same article, Lenin included a remark directed straight at Stalin: “Let it be said in parentheses that we have bureaucrats in our party offices as well as in other Soviet offices.”
That Lenin singled out Stalin as the potential ringleader of a bureaucrats faction in the party is an example of his far-sightedness. At this particular time, Stalin’s power in the “apparatus” was invisible to the majority even of party members, while most of the leaders did not believe him capable of using it, in view of his notoriously mediocre grasp of politics and theory. Even after Lenin’s death, it was not Stalin, but Zinoviev who headed the “Troika” (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin) which pushed the party on the first, fateful steps away from the traditions of October under the guise of an attack on “Trotskyism”.
It was no accident that Lenin’s last advice to the party was to warn it against Stalin’s “disloyal” and “intolerant” abuse of power and to advocate his removal from the post of General Secretary.
The defeat of the European workers’ revolution gave even more importance to the work of the Communist International for a revolution of the enslaved peoples of the East. The October Revolution gave a mighty impetus to the struggle of the colonies against their imperialist oppressors. In particular, the proud slogan of “The rights of nations to self-determination” emblazoned on the banner of Bolshevism gave heart to the downtrodden millions of Asia and Africa.
Almost the first act of the workers’ government was to recognise the independence of Finland, although that inevitably meant granting independence to a hostile capitalist government. Naturally, Marxists stand firmly for the uniting of all peoples in a World Socialist Federation. But such unity cannot be brought about by force, but only by the free consent of the workers and peasants of the various countries. Above all, when the workers of a former imperialist nation take power, it is their bounden duty to respect the wishes of the peoples in the former colonies – even if they wish to secede. Unification can be brought about later, on the basis of example and persuasion.
In 1921, the Red Army was forced to intervene in Georgia, where the government had been consistently intriguing with Britain and other capitalist powers against the Soviet State. Lenin was extremely anxious that this military action should not be seen as the annexation of Georgia by Russia, thus identifying the Soviet state with the Tsarist oppressors. He wrote letter after letter instructing the Orzhonikidze, the representative of the Central Committee in Georgia, to pursue a “policy of concessions in relation to the Georgian intelligentsia and small traders,” and advocating the setting up of a “coalition with Jordania or similar Georgian Mensheviks.” On the tenth of March, he sent a telegram urging the need to “observe particular respect for the sovereign bodies of Georgia; to display particular attention and caution in regard to the Georgian population.”
However, the activities of Orzhonikidze in Georgia were connected with the Stalin clique in the party. Stalin was working on proposals for the unification of the Russian Soviet Socialist Federation with the other, non-Russian Soviet Republics. In August 1922, while Lenin was out of action, a commission in which Stalin was the leading figure, was set up to work out the terms of unification.
When Stalin’s theses appeared, they were firmly rejected by the Central Committee of the Georgian party. On 22 September, the Georgian Bolshevik leaders passed the following motion:
“The union in the form of the autonomisation of the independent republics, proposed on the basis of Stalin’s theses is premature. A union of economic efforts and a common policy are necessary, but all attributes of independence should be preserved.”
The protests of the Georgians went unheeded. Stalin was bent upon bulldozing through his proposals. The commission met on 23 and 24 September, under the chairmanship of Stalin’s stooge Molotov. It rejected the Georgian resolution with one vote against (Mdivani the Georgian representative). On 25 September, the materials of the Commission were sent to Lenin, who was convalescing at Gorki. Without waiting for Lenin’s views, and without even a discussion in the Politburo, the Secretariat (Stalin’s centre in the party) sent the Commission’s decision to all CC members in preparation for the October Plenum.
On 26 September, Lenin wrote to the Central Committee via Kamenev urging caution on this question and warning against Stalin’s attempt to rush the business through. (“Stalin tends to be somewhat hasty.”) Lenin had arranged to meet him the following day. He did not yet suspect the lengths to which Stalin had gone to force unification through. However, even this letter indicates his opposition to any affront to the national aspirations of a small people and thus strengthen the hold of nationalism.
“The important thing is not to provide material for the ‘pro-independence’ people, not to destroy their independence, but to create another new storey, a federation of equal republics.”
Lenin’s amendments were aimed to soften the tone of Stalin’s original draft to make allowance for the “pro-independence” people, whom he considered, at this point, to be in the wrong. In answer to Lenin’s mild comments, Stalin wrote to members of the Politburo on 27 September a number of abrupt and surly rejoinders, including the following:
“On the subject of paragraph four, in my opinion Comrade Lenin himself ‘hurried’ a little…There is hardly a doubt that his ‘hurriedness’ will supply fuel to the advocates of ‘independence’, to the detriment of the national liberalism of Lenin.”
Stalin’s rude reply was the expression of his unconcealed annoyance at Lenin’s “interference” in what he considered his private domain, accentuated by fear at the outcome of Lenin’s intervention.
Stalin’s fears were well-grounded. Following his discussion with Mdivani, Lenin became convinced that the Georgian business was being mishandled by Stalin, and set to work accumulating evidence. On 6 October, Lenin wrote a memo to the Politburo, On Combatting Dominant National Chauvinism:
“I declare war to the death on dominant nation chauvinism. I shall eat it with all my healthy teeth as soon as I get rid of this accursed bad tooth.”
The full significance of what had happened in Georgia had not yet come home to Lenin. He did not know that Stalin, in order to strengthen his hand had actually carried out a purge of the finest cadres of Georgian Bolshevism, replacing the old central committee with new and more “pliant” elements.
What he did know was sufficient to arouse Lenin’s suspicions. In the following week he began quietly to collect information on the Georgian “affair”, and got the Central Committee to send Rykov and Dzerzhinsky to Tiflis to investigate the complaints of the Georgian Bolsheviks.
On 23 and 24 December, Lenin began to dictate his famous letters to the Congress to his secretary. He stressed that this was to be secret. Lenin’s work proceeded slowly, painfully, interrupted by bouts of illness. But through it all, the idea becomes increasingly clear that the central enemy lay within the bureaucratic “apparat” of the state and party, and the man who stood at its head, Stalin.
In The Real Situation in Russia, Trotsky records his last conversation he had with Lenin shortly before his second stroke. In reply to Lenin’s suggestion that Trotsky should participate in a new commission to fight against bureaucracy (see “How to Reorganise the Workers and Peasants Inepectorate”). Trotsky replied as follows:
“‘Vladimir Ilyich, according to my conviction, in the present struggle with bureaucratism in the Soviet apparatus, we must not forget that there is going on, both in the provinces and in the centre, a special selection of officials and specialists, party, non-party, and half-party, around certain ruling party personalities and groups – in the provinces, in the districts, in the party locals and in the centre – that is, the Central Committee, etc. Attacking the Soviet officials you run into the party leader. The specialist is a member of his suite. In such circumstances I could not undertake this work.’
“Then Vladimir Ilyich reflected for a moment and – here I quote him practically verbatim – said: ‘That is, I propose a struggle with Soviet bureaucratism, and you want to add to that the bureaucratism of the Organisation Bureau of the party.’ I laughed at the unexpectedness of this, because no such finished formulation of the idea was in my head. I answered, ‘I suppose that’s it.’
“Then Vladimir Ilyich said: ‘Well, all right, I propose a bloc.’ and I said: ‘I’m always ready to form a bloc with a good man.'”
This conversation is important for the light it sheds on the content of Lenin’s last works, especially the famous “Testament”, the letters on the national question and Better Fewer, But Better. The tone of his letters gets increasingly sharp, his targets more clearly defined, with every day. No matter what question he deals with, the central thought is the same, the need to combat the pressure of alien class forces in state and party, the rooting out of bureaucracy, the fight against Great-Russian chauvinism, the fight against the Stalin clique in the party.
Despite Lenin’s insistent requests that his notes be kept strictly secret, the first part of the “Testament” found its way into the hands of the Secretariat and Stalin, who immediately realised the danger of Lenin’s intervention and took measures to prevent it from taking place. Severe pressure was put upon Lenin’s secretaries to prevent Lenin from discovering any news which might “upset” him.
Nevertheless, Lenin found out from Dzerzhinsky that, among other outrages perpetrated by the Stalin faction, Orzhonikidze had gone so far as to hit one of the Georgian oppositionists. This may seem a small thing when compared to the later Stalinist terror, but it shocked Lenin profoundly. His secretary noted in her diary for 30 January, 1923 the words of Lenin: “Just before I got ill Dzerzhinsky told me about the work of the Commission and about the ‘incident’ and this had a very painful effect on me.”
To understand the enormity of this crime, it is necessary to know about the relations between the Russian (more correctly Great-Russian) national and the national minorities who, under the Tsars, were treated with the same contempt and the same barbarous arbitrariness as the negroes and Indians were under the British Empire. The historic task of the Russian Revolution was to raise these despised minorities to the stature of full men, with their own rights and dignity. The idea of a representative of the Great-Russian nation abusing or striking a Georgian was a crime against proletarian internationalism, a Tsarist monstrosity which would have been punished in the most drastic matter – by expulsion from the party at the very least. That is why Lenin poured out his wrath against Stalin and Orzhonikidze, demanding “exemplary punishment for those responsible.”
Stalin placed every obstacle in the way of Lenin’s receiving information from Georgia. Numerous passages from the diaries of Lenin’s secretaries give a clear picture of this bureaucratic harassment:
“On Thursday 25 January, he [Lenin] asked whether the materials [of the Georgian committee] had been received. I answered that Dzerzhinsky would not be arriving until Saturday. Therefore I had not been able to ask him.
“On Saturday I asked Dzerzhinsky, he said Stalin had the materials. I sent Stalin a letter, but he was out of town. Yesterday, 29 January, Stalin phoned, saying he could not give the materials without the Politburo. Asked whether I had not been telling Vladimir Ilyich things he was not to be told – how was it he was posted about current affairs? For instance, his article about the WPI (RABKRIN) showed that certain circumstances were known to him, I answered that I had not been telling anything and had no reason to believe he was posted about affairs. Today Vladimir Ilyich sent for me to learn the answer and said that he would fight to get the materials.” (my emphasis – AW)
These few lines starkly reveal the bullying, bureaucratic manner with which Stalin attempted to defend his position against Lenin, whom he mortally feared, even on his death-bed. There can be no clearer illustration of Stalin’s “rudeness” and “disloyalty” to which Lenin refers in his “Testament”.
Lenin’s distrustful attitude to the commission of Dzerzhinsky and the behaviour of the Central Committee is reflected in his instructions to his secretaries:
“1) Why was the old CC of the CP of Georgia accused of deviationism?
“2) What breach of discipline were they blamed for?
“3) Why is the Transcaucasian Committee accused of suppressing the CC of the CP of Georgia?
“4) The physical means of suppression ‘bio-mechanics’.
“5) The line of the CC of the CP (of the RCP(B)) in Vladimir Ilyich’s absence and in his presence.
“6) Attitude of the Commission. Did it examine only the accusations against the CC of the CP of Georgia or also against the Transcaucasian Committee? Did examine the ‘bio-mechanics’ incident?
“7) The present situation (the election campaign, the Mensheviks, suppression, national discord).”
But Lenin’s growing realisation of the disloyal and dishonest methods of elements in the party leadership made him also distrustful of his own secretariat. Were they not also being gagged by Stalin?
“On January 24 Vladimir Ilyich said: ‘First of all about this “secret” job of ours. I know that you are deceiving me.’ To my assurances on the contrary, he answered ‘I have my own opinion about that.'”
With difficulty, the sick Lenin managed to learn that the Politburo had accepted the conclusions of Dzerzhinsky’s Commission. It was at this time (2-6 February) that Lenin dictated Better Fewer, But Better, the most outspoken attack on Stalin and the party bureaucracy yet. The Georgian events had convinced Lenin that the rotten chauvinism of the state was the most dangerous indication of pressure from alien classes:
“Our state apparatus is so deplorable, not to say wretched, that we must first think very carefully how to combat its defects, bearing in mind that these defects are rooted in the past, which, although it has been overthrown, has not yet been overcome…”
In his last public appearance at a political gathering, the Eleventh Congress of the RCP(B), Lenin had warned that the state machine was escaping from the control of the Communists: “The machine refused to obey the hand that guided it. It was like a car that is not responding to the steering, but going in the direction someone else desired as if it were being driven by some mysterious, lawless hand – God knows whose, perhaps of a profiteer, or of a private capitalist, or of both. Be that as it may, the car is not going quite in the direction the man at the wheel imagines, and often it goes in an altogether different direction.”
The poison of nationalism, the most characteristic feature of all forms of Stalinism, had its roots in the reaction of the petit-bourgeois, the Kulak, the Nepman and the Soviet official against the revolutionary internationalism of October.
Lenin proposed to fight against this reaction at the forthcoming Congress, in alliance with Trotsky – the only member of the Central Committee he could trust to uphold his point of view.
He proposed to deal personally with the question of RABKRIN and was “preparing a bombshell” for Stalin. His conviction that the Party “apparat” was plotting to keep him out at all costs is illustrated by the remark of his secretary that “apparently, furthermore, Vladimir Ilyich has the impression that it was not the doctors who gave instructions to the Central Committee, but the Central Committee that gave instructions to the doctors.”
Lenin’s suspicions were only too well grounded. One of the ideas seriously canvassed on the Central Committee at this time was the printing of a special, single number of Pravda, especially for Lenin’s consumption, in order to deceive him about the Georgian affair!
The argument that this was all for the good of Lenin’s health does not hold water. As he himself explained, nothing agitated and upset him so much as the disloyal actions of CC members and the tissue of lies with which they were camouflaged. The real attitude of Stalin towards the dying Lenin was revealed in a truly monstrous incident involving Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife – attempting to defend her sick husband from the rude importunings of Stalin, she was rewarded by crude abuse from the “loyal disciple”. Krupskaya describes the incident in a letter to Kamenev dated 23 December 1922:
“Concerning the brief letter written by me at Vladimir Ilyich’s dictation with the doctors’ permission, Stalin phoned me yesterday and addressed himself to me in the crudest fashion. I have not been in the party for just a day. In the whole 30 years I have never heard a single rude word from one comrade. The interests of the Party and Ilyich are not less dear to me than to Stalin. Now I need the maximum self-control. I know better than any doctor what can or cannot be said to Ilyich, because I know what upsets him and what doesn’t, in any case better than Stalin.”
Krupskaya begged Kamenev, a personal friend, to protect her “from rude interference in my personal life, unworthy brawling and threats,” adding that as far as Stalin’s threat of bringing here before a control commission was concerned: “I have no strength and no time to waste on such stupid squabbles. I am also a human being and my nerves are stretched to breaking point.”
Lenin’s threat to break off all comradely relations with Stalin and his accusations of “rudeness” in the “Testament” are often explained away by vague references to this incident. But in the first place, what Stalin did was not a “personal” matter but a grave political offence, punishable by expulsion from the Party. The offence is magnified by the fact that Stalin’s position in the Party made it incumbent on him to root out such behaviour, not to champion it.
However, this “little incident” must be seen in its proper context. It is only the most distasteful and obvious of the manifestations of Stalin’s disloyalty.
Lenin’s last active days were spent organising his fight against the Stalin faction at the Congress. He wrote a letter to Trotsky asking him to take up the defence of the Georgian comrades, and to the Georgian leaders warmly committing himself to their cause. It should be noted that such emphatic expressions as “with all my heart” and “with very best comradely greetings” are very rarely met in the letters of Lenin, who preferred a more restrained style of writing. It was a measure of his commitment to the struggle. It should also be pointed out that Lenin’s bloc constituted a political faction – what was later known by the Stalinists as an “anti-party bloc”. The Stalinists had already organised their faction which controlled the party machine.
Fotieva, Lenin’s secretary, took down Lenin’s last notes on the Georgian question, evidently preparation for a speech at the Congress:
“Vladimir Ilyich’s instructions that a hint be given to Stoltz that he [Lenin] was on the side of the injured party. Someone or other of the injured party to be given to understand that he was on their side. Three moments: 1) One should not fight. 2) Concessions should be made. 3) One cannot compare a large state with a small one. Did Stalin know? Why didn’t he react? The name ‘deviationist’ for a deviation towards chauvinism and Menshevism proves the same deviation with the dominant nation chauvinists. Collected printed matter for Vladimir Ilyich.”
On 9 March, Lenin suffered his third stroke which left him paralysed and helpless. The struggle against bureaucratic degeneration passed to Trotsky and the Left Opposition. But Lenin laid the foundation of the programme of the Opposition, against bureaucracy, against the Kulak menace, for industrialisation and Socialist planning, for Socialist Internationalism and workers’ democracy.
By Alan Woods