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We shouldn’t overstate, but surely not dismiss horrors of gulag under Stalin

By Harsh Thakor 

We commemorate the 70th death anniversary of Stalin, who died on March 5th, 1953. Some people suspect that he was poisoned by his enemies It is hard to find words that do justice to the irreparable loss it caused for the International Communist Movement as a whole, creating a sensation of the earth shaking. The International media left no stone unturned in demonising Stalin, heaping the title of ‘butcher’ or ‘tyrant’ on him, clubbing him with Hitler. A counter revolutionary wind was patronised by the West to completely discredit Stalin. After his death the International Communist Movement lost a citadel and path was paved for capitulation of anti-imperialist struggles globally and patronising of reactionary leaders. I can never forget the how personalities like Paul Robeson, George Bernard Shaw or Bertolt Brecht held Stalin .in the highest esteem.
Stalin was born in Georgia on December 18th, 1878 in a seminary. His childhood made significant impact in shaping his life. Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was born on December 18th, 1878 in Georgia, which was an oppressed nation within the Czarist empire at the time. Stalin was born on December 18th, 1878, in Gori, Georgia. Georgia was a country that was located between Eastern Europe and West Asia, but was still part of the Russian Federation. He was born Ioseb Besarionis Dzhugashvili and began using the name Joseph Stalin in his early 20’s.
At an early age, his father struggled with alcoholism and the left Joseph and his mother. Soon after, Stalin gained a scholarship to a seminary school in order to study to become a priest. He didn’t finish with the school and instead became an atheist. After he left the seminary school he began reading the writings of Vladimir Lenin and joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which practised Marxism. The group would eventually form into the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin, which Stalin also joined.
There is absolutely no doubt that Stalin played a great role in the Bolshevik revolution, knitting wounds in setbacks, an paving the path for the Bolsheviks to penetrate power .Stalin most creatively dealt with the ebb and flow within the movement and exhibited political mastery in operating as an underground organiser, welding elements into unified force. Stalin received his first political baptism in Batum.
Stalin moved to the Tiflis Theological Seminary, where he secretly read Karl Marx, and other forbidden texts, being expelled in 1899 for revolutionary activity. In December 1899, Dzhugashvili became, briefly, a clerk in the Tiflis Observatory. In 1900 he joined the political underground, labour demonstrations and strikes in the main industrial centres of the Caucasus. After the Social Democrats (Marxist revolutionaries) of the Russian Empire had split into their two competing wings—Mensheviks and Bolsheviks —in 1903, Dzhugashvili joined the second, more militant, of these factions and became a faithful disciple of its leader. Lenin. Between April 1902 and March 1913, Dzhugashvili was seven times arrested for revolutionary activity, with exile and imprisonment turning into a routine feature. Lenin himself acknowledged the political prowess of Stalin when praising Stalin’s writings in paper ‘Proletraitis Brzola ,which exhibited a most comprehensive grasp of Leninism and sauté understanding of political situation. Stalin’s “Reply to Social –Democrat’ was masterpiece in Lenin’s view. In the first Russian Revolution Stalin left no stone unturned in grounding Leninism, crystallising strategy and tactics of revolution to establish hegemony of the proletariat. None dipped as much ink in support of Lenin.
In Baku in 1907, Stalin organised workers under Lenin’s slogans to propel Bolshevism. Stalin received his 2nd revolutionary baptism in Baku, working amongst workers in the Oil Industry, which steeled him into a great revolutionary organisers. He gave a striking blow to the Mensheviks and was arrested in March, 19808.Eight months later he was released from prison, but exiled to Volgoda.Stalin escaped from exile to undertake illegal work and managed to send liquidators packing.

Strides in USSR

It was under the guidance and jurisdiction of Stalin that the Soviet Union evolved to modernise at phenomenal pace to become a modern superpower. Under Lenin’s, then Stalin’s, leadership, the Soviet Union transformed t from a fragmented society to becoming one of the most powerful, progressive countries on Earth., Stalin’s regime exhibited heavy handed and ruthless tendencies, because that it was what the very situation demanded. Hard times invite hard measures. Stalin made the necessary moves to defeat the imperialists, especially the fascists. Without Stalin establishing socialism in the Soviet Union, “in one country,” it is likely that Hitler would have won World War 2. Stalin’s creating of infrastructure to propel industrialization at breakneck speed, was imperative for the Soviet Union to possess the resources, the weaponry, and the ideological unity to defeat the fascists. World War 2 claimed the lives of 27 million Soviet people.
Inspite of Stalin traversing tortuous routes ,he relentlessly carried out social revolution. This social revolution included the emancipation of Soviet women fight against national chauvinism and Russo-centrism. Enemies within, Fascists and imperialist invasions. Backward industry and a devastated economy.
The Bolsheviks were left with a country in ruins. They were surrounded on all sides. In order to rebuild the country, Lenin implemented the New Economic Policy, which lasted from 1921 to 1928. This was a limited retreat from communist ideals. It was a policy that allowed limited markets and small-scale private production alongside socialization of major industry. However, problems arose. New capitalist groups were forming. Grain was being exported and sold on international markets while the cities went hungry. In addition, there was not enough grain being sent to the
cities to go forward with industrialization. Originally, the Soviets hoped their revolution would spark a worldwide revolution. When the Soviet revolution did not immediately spread, some advocated capitulation to capitalism. By contrast, Stalin, following Lenin, advocated advancing to build “socialism in one country” instead of capitulating. As a result of the drive to construct socialism, agriculture was collectivized The grain crisis and the problem of modernization were solved together.
The First Five Year Plan, a massive plan to rapidly industrialize, was implemented. This involved a massive social turbulence or re-division.. In the countryside, the remaining capitalists and rich peasants launched counter resistance, slaughtering their cattle. USSR surpassed every nation in the world in Steel production, literacy, health, employment, housing and child –care .One has to respect the peril which the Soviet Union was placed, being besieged by imperialist nations and support of no Socialist country. The Red Army needed tanks and arms. Tanks require industry. In order to create industry, they needed austerity measures. When the Nazis invaded, Stalin was proven right. Over 27 million Soviet peoples died as a result of the terrible war. The Nazis planned to exterminate and enslave all the Soviet peoples in order to clear land for their racist, fascist empire. Stalin’s regime, and the austerity and sacrifice that it entailed, saved the Soviet peoples and the world from fascism. Sometimes there is no perfect choice. Stalin represents the hard choice.
“People’s Democracies” were established in most of Eastern Europe. Germany was divided. Eastern Germany became a client state of the Soviet Union. Stalin had enabled Socialist ideology to engulf beyond “one country” by the end of the war. However, even though the Soviet Union had been reduced to shackles again by a world war, it emerged as a modern superpower. Under the leadership of Lenin, then Stalin, the country was transformed t from a backwater with feudal characteristics, with little industrialization, to being a modern, industrial, atomic superpower with a healthy standard of living.
Socialism had registered public education for all, literacy, doubled life expectancy, gave women political rights, created political autonomy for workers and the poor, gave power to national populations that had been traditionally discriminated against and oppressed. All of this was established in the most hostile scenario and adverse conditions. Industrialisation was carried out amidst the scenario and in the middle of two of the worst wars the world had ever seen. It took the West about 200 years to industrialize and emerge as major powers. The West’s progress was achieved , in part, by plundering indigenous civilizations and enslaving Africans. By contrast, the Soviet Union developed into a modern power in only a few decades without looting any other countries as the imperialists had. And the Soviets accomplished this while they were encircled on all sides by imperialists and fascists.

Stalin’s methods

The Moscow Trials were a series of show trials in the Soviet Union during the 1930s that were used for propaganda purposes. Many powerful counter revolutionaries perished in these high-profile trials, including Bukharin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev. The trials were not the outcome of a bloody power struggle between the Communist Party represented by Stalin and their opponents, but a serious 2 line struggle.
Not all prisons were gulags in the Soviet Union. Gulags were camps in the Soviet Union for hardened criminals (rapists, murderers, etc.) and hardened political enemies (spies, saboteurs, die-hard enemies, fascists, etc.). They were camps where people were forced to do hard labour under difficult conditions. In certain periods and locations, mortality rates in the camps were especially high. Living conditions in the camps deteriorated as conditions worsened for society as a whole. Prisoners in gulags were hit hard by famines in the country and by World War 2. The limited resources were directed to those who were labouring outside in the factories and fields or to the front lines.
The United States incarcerates more people than the Soviet Union or China. And, the United States also forces them to work. In addition, non-whites are disproportionately incarcerated in the United States. In addition, within the imperial system, prisons exist, forced labour exists,
which is far worse than the gulags. The US economy was built on the extermination of indigenous peoples and on the slavery of Africans. Slavery was not abolished in
the US economy; it was just moved halfway around the world to Third World factories where child and slave labour produces goods for First World costumers. Many of the criticisms of the Soviet system are hypocritical.
The most incisive analysis on Stalin has been undertaken by Grover Furr who has most surgically endeavoured into the conspiracies to overthrow USSR by Leon Trotsky and his followers or even Bukharin and the role played by the left opposition in executing many innocent party members.Furr testified that it was imperative for Stalin to have performed many actions he undertook. to safeguard USSR. Furr also historically exposed the lies that Lenin backed Leon Trotsky as his successor and did not vouch for Stalin. He also left no stones in uncovering the lies hatched by Khrushchev on Stalin.

Major errors of Stalin

Like Mao pointed out, Stalin made mistakes, including his conception of counter-revolution. Stalin analysed the problem of counter-revolution with only criteria of a police paradigm instead of the power paradigm. He overestimated the impact of agents and wreckers and underestimated the role of social forces in shaping counter-revolution. Stalin ruthlessly deployed the police force to deal with counter revolutionaries. His errors include his unscrupulous methods for dealing with counter-revolution, over emphasis placed on the importance of the productive forces, and placing g narrow Soviet interest above the proletariat in foreign policy. Stalin analysed the problem of counter-revolution with only criteria of a police paradigm instead of the power paradigm. He overestimated the impact of agents and wreckers and underestimated the role of social forces in shaping counter-revolution. Stalin ruthlessly deployed the police force to deal with counter revolutionaries. His errors include his unscrupulous methods for dealing with counter-revolution, over emphasis placed on the importance of the productive forces, and placing g narrow Soviet interest above the proletariat in foreign policy.
In the Moscow Trials although many of the fallen leaders were guilty of various crimes, many innocent party members too were eliminated. Some of the confessions were probably based on interrogation and coercion of the defendants. These kinds of trials symbolised the police paradigm approach to line struggle and counter-revolution.
The role of the Communist Party is to guide society to communism. If there is a line within the Communist Party that is reverting society back to capitalism, then it should be eliminated. Either the line should be corrected or the faction should be purged. If a group within the Communist Party is destroying the revolution from within, then it has to be rectified or purged - they should be kicked out. Purging, when done correctly, strengthens the Communist Party. The Soviets over-relied on purges as a way to fight counter-revolution. It failed to adopt a mass approach encourage more education, debate, mass mobilization, and reform through labour or give people who had made mistakes more chances if they came to admit and understand their mistakes. Purging should used as a last resort. Education should be the chief means and not purging to deal with the problem of counter-revolution.
The Soviet approach to socialism was influenced by the Theory of Productive Forces. It overemphasized the role of technology. It visualised society as a kind of mechanism to be organized adhering to a strict central plan. This approach was too mechanical. and tends to deride spontaneity, locality, and the human factor. It also failed to diagnose the problem of counter-revolution scientifically. They perceived the problem through the police paradigm. When the system ran into problems, they did not blame the social machine. They saw preventing counter-revolution as mainly an issue of better policing and owed cause of problems as the result of old class enemies, agents and wreckers. They failed to fully understand that society should not be organized as a machine. They failed to diagnose that socialism itself, as a transitional period, breeds new inequalities in privilege. These inequalities evolve into a new bourgeoisie that will revert socialism. This new bourgeoisie sprouted before the Soviet system could reinvent itself and correct these problems.
In Stalin’s Russia wage differentials for skilled and unskilled workers, hierarchy in party, ranks in army, were predominant features. The dichotomy or diversion from the mass line methods of Lenin (even if only intuitive) to Stalin's method of paternalism, was in fact Stalin's worst error all. It was even worse than his confusion of sections of the people with the enemy, which led to unjust implications and murders on a massive scale. It is the main reason why Stalin must bear much of the responsibility for the restoration of capitalism in the U.S.S.R. after his death, even though he himself did his level best to serve the overall interests of the masses. Those who undervalue the mass line will tend to eulogise Stalin—because they do not understand his recourse into abandoning mass line leadership, which sowed the seeds in the toppling of a Socialist society. Stalin failed to initiate a Cultural Revolution, concluding that the bourgeoisie had been completely eradicated.
A thing to mark about Khrushchev and his successors like Brezhnev and Gorbachev is that they—unlike Stalin, were revisionists in the very thick of the skin, representing a new bourgeois stratum that after 1953 rapidly evolved into a full-fledged ruling class whose interests were at complete crossroads to those of the masses.
Writer Yuri Zhukov described how Stalin criticised the first secretaries of republican, regional and local organizations for creating ‘personal clans’, consisting of people who were devoted to them and flattered them. Stalin also said that whenever these party leaders get new appointments to other republics and provinces, they transfer ‘their personal clans’ with them.
At the same time Stalin said that the Party purges of 1935-1936 resulted in the expulsion of many Party members who were not guilty of any deviations from the Party line. Stalin pointed out that a number of those expelled from the Party by far exceeded the total quantity of those who supported Trotsky, Zinoviev and other leaders of opposition groups. He accused these Party leaders of the high-handed treatment of ordinary Party members and claimed that the purges only caused the anger of those expelled from the Party.
Stalin in 1952 made a strong self criticism on the haphazard manner collectivisation was undertaken .highlighting serious errors in coercion and in massline. in ‘Economic Problems of Socialism. During collectivisation of agriculture, the process could be merciless at times. The human toll was high, being excessively hard on the peasants. The Personality cult of Stalin was used as form of imposing discipline in society. This discipline was over exercised to carry out development at a breakneck pace and it to defeat the fascists. Ranks.
The gulags manifested the ruthlessness and commandism of the Stalin era. Although we should not overstate the horrors of the gulag, we should not dismiss them either. We should, as much as possible, find ways of winning over and neutralizing class enemies so that we do not have to rely on incarceration.
Quoting Fred Engst “Stalin had a chance, but he missed it.. Stalin, as a leader, “might be a bastard, but he was our bastard.” I mean, Stalin made a lot of terrible mistakes. Capitalist roaders were right under his nose. He just banished, killed, executed, but this did not solve the problem. We have to distinguish between conscious and unconscious capitalist roaders. Some people just had a bad style of work. Some people were temperamental; some people tended to be bossy, etc. These people did not intentionally take to capitalist road, but their perception of Marxist dialectics was weak. Therefore, they could not supress capitalist restoration. Stalin was very clear: he did not trust other people, did not follow the mass line. Consequently, he just depended on himself, his own instincts. When he thought somebody was bad, he just killed, physically removed that person.”
Quoting historian Grover Furr “Soviet socialism did not evolve steadily in the direction of communism, even though that is precisely what Stalin wanted and what he believed would happen. Instead, at the time of his death on March 5, 1953, Stalin was politically isolated in the leadership of the CPSU.”
“My research strongly suggests that the Lenin-Stalin concept of socialism retained far too much of the concept of socialism that was developed by the Second International before World War I. That concept of socialism was a confused one. The relations of production remained very similar to what they had been under capitalism. Money – income – still determined the distribution of goods and services. It was not possible to amass private wealth, and workers and peasants still enjoyed vastly more social welfare benefits than in any capitalist state.” Possibly Stalin’s policies were even more defective in the after than the 1930’s, when he took no effective measures to check the bureaucracy. Towards the end Stalin also exhibited chauvinist tendencies towards nations like Yugoslavaia.

How Russians view Stalin

Seventy percent of Russian respondents told the Levada Center in 2019 that Stalin played a positive role for Russia. Stalin’s previous record approval rating stood at 54 percent in 2016.A record low of 19 percent viewed Stalin’s role negatively, down from 32 percent in 2016. “Stalin begins to be perceived as a symbol of justice and an alternative to the current government, deemed unfair, cruel and not caring about people,” Academy of Sciences sociologist Leonty Byzov was quoted as saying by the RBC news website.
Of the 51 percent who viewed Stalin favourably as a person, 41 percent said they respect him, followed by 6 percent who sympathized with and 4 percent who admired him. Only a combined 13 percent said they dislike, fear or hate Stalin, while 26 percent had neither positive or negative views of the Soviet leader. Stalin’s positive approval rating stayed consistent across all age groups, with the exception of the 18-24 age groups who were largely indifferent.
Russian society’s perception of Stalin has gone through three transformations in the past two decades, Levada sociologist Karina Pipiya said. Equally positive and negative views dominated the 2000s, followed by more neutral opinions in 2008-2014. Negative and neutral views began to subside in 2015. Levada conducted the survey among 1,600 respondents between March 21-27.


Personally I accept the CPC analysis that Stalin was 70 % correct and 30 % negative. Stalin committed serious errors in violating democratic centralism, failing to encourage mass democracy from below, executed innocent party members and suppressing opposition, failing to eradicate personality cult, suppress dissent etc,However we must honour Stalin for withstanding the gravest odds in constructing and defending a Socialist society and for leading USSR in Wold War defeat the German Nazi fascists.
Stalin’s regime exhibited heavy handed and ruthless tendencies, because that it was what the very situation demanded. Hard times invite hard measures. Even bourgeois historians like E.H.Carr acknowledge this fact. Even anti-Stalinists like Issac Deutscher recognised that Stalin had led creative revolution that built a working class state, which was in complete contrast to fascist state like Hitler’s Germany.
Stalin must be credited with in the main defending Leninism theoretically and in practice. Whatever his serious errors in mass line in my opinion, it is wrong of Marxist intellectuals to concluded that Stalin completely abandoned mass line. There is tendency of Maoist intellectuals to underestimate Stalin’s contribution to Marxist-Leninist theory and practice, deride his achievement in leading the Comintern and brand his writings as ‘mechanical.’ Stalin’s ‘Foundations of Leninism’ and ‘On the National Question ‘, and ‘Economic Problems of Socialism’ are classical works and true manifestations of Marxist ideology.
I disagree with the economic criticism of the CPC on Stalin’s construction of agriculture or placing over emphasis on industry. Infact even CPC could not emulate the five year plans or industrial progress of USSR. The assessment of how phenomena or circumstances that paved way to revisionism of Khrushchev sprouted still has to be investigated .It must be seriously examined how 2 line struggle was curtailed and mass supervision of the party.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has extensively studied International Communist Movement History. Owes gratitude to research of Grover, Furr, Scott Harrison and Leading Light Communist Organisation for this article



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