Category Archives: Joseph Stalin

Stalin Society: The Katyn Massacre

Nazi propaganda poster depicting executions of Polish military officers by the Soviets, with caption in Slovak: "Forest of the dead at Katyn"

Nazi propaganda poster depicting executions of Polish military officers by the Soviets, with caption in Slovak: “Forest of the dead at Katyn”

by Ella Rule
July 2002

At the end of the First World War, the boundary between Russia and Poland was settled as being along a line which became known as the Curzon line – Lord Curzon being the British statesman who had proposed it.

This demarcation line was not to the liking of the Poles, who soon went to war against the Soviet Union in order to push their borders further eastward. The Soviet Union counter-attacked and were prepared not only to defend themselves but, against Stalin’s advice, to liberate the whole of Poland. Stalin considered such an aim to be doomed to failure because, he said, Polish nationalism had not yet run its course. The Poles were determined NOT to be liberated so there was no point in trying. Hence the Poles put up fierce resistance to Soviet advances. Ultimately the Soviet Union was forced to retreat and even cede territory to the east of the Curzon line to Poland. The areas in question were Western Byelorussia and the western Ukraine – areas populated overwhelmingly by Byelorussians and Ukrainians respectively rather than by Poles. The whole incident could not but exacerbate the mutual dislike of the Poles and the Russians.

On 1 September 1939, Nazi German invaded Poland. On 17 September, the Soviet Union moved to reoccupy those parts of Poland that lay east of the Curzon line. Having taken over those areas, the Soviet Union set about distributing land to the peasants and bringing about the kind of democratic reforms so popular with the people and so unpopular with the exploiters. During the battle to retake the areas east of the Curzon line, the Soviet Union captured some 10,000 Polish officers, who became prisoners of war. These prisoners were then held in camps in the disputed area and put to work road building, etc.

Two years later, on 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union by surprise. The Red Army was forced hurriedly to retreat and the Ukraine was taken over by the Germans. During this hurried retreat it was not possible to evacuate to the Soviet interior the Polish prisoners of war. The chief of camp no. 1, Major Vetoshnikov gave evidence that he had applied to the chief of traffic of the Smolensk section of the Western Railway to be provided with railway cars for the evacuation of the Polish prisoners but was told it was unlikely to be possible. Engineer Ivanov, who had been the Chief of Traffic in the region at the time, confirmed there had been no railway cars to spare. “Besides, ” he said, “we could not send cars to the Gussino line, where the majority of the Polish prisoners were, since that line was already under fire”. The result was that, following the Soviet retreat from the area, the Polish prisoners became prisoners of the Germans.

In April 1943, the Hitlerites announced that the Germans had found several mass graves in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, containing the bodies of thousands of Polish officers allegedly murdered by the Russians.

This announcement was designed to further undermine the co-operation efforts of Poles and Soviets to defeat the Germans. The Russo-Polish alliance was always difficult because the Polish government in exile, based in London, was obviously a government of the exploiting classes. They had to oppose the Germans because of the latter’s cynical takeover of their country for lebensraum. The Soviet Union’s position was that so long as the Soviet Union could retain the land east of the Curzon line, they had no problem with the re-establishment of a bourgeois government in Poland. But the alliance was already in difficulties because the Polish government in exile, headed by General Sikorski, based in London, would not agree to the return of that land. This is in spite of the fact that in 1941 after Hitler invaded Poland, the Soviet Union and the Polish government in exile had not only established diplomatic relations but had also agreed that the Soviet Union would finance “under the orders of a chief appointed by the Polish government-in-exile but approved by the Soviet government ” the formation of a Polish army – this chief being, in the event, the thoroughly anti-Soviet General Anders (a prisoner of the Soviets from 1939). By 25 October 1941 this Army had 41,000 men including 2,630 officers. General Anders, however, eventually refused to fight on the Soviet-German front because of the border dispute between the Soviet Union and Poland, and the Polish army had to be sent elsewhere to fight – i.e., Iran.

Nevertheless, despite the hostility of the Polish government in exile, there was a significant section of Poles resident in the Soviet Union who were not anti-Soviet and did accept the Soviet claim to the territories east of the Curzon line. Many of them were Jewish. These people formed the Union of Polish Patriots which put together the backbone of an alternative Polish government in exile.

The Nazi propaganda relating to the Katyn massacres was designed to make it impossible for the Soviets to have any dealings with the Poles at all. General Sikorski took up the Nazi propaganda with a vengeance, claiming to Churchill that he had a “wealth of evidence”. How he had obtained this “evidence” simultaneously with the German announcement of this supposed Soviet atrocity is not clear, although it speaks loudly of secret collaboration between Sikorski and the Nazis. The Germans had made public their allegations on 13 April. On 16 April the Soviet government issued an official communiqué denying “the slanderous fabrications about the alleged mass shootings by Soviet organs in the Smolensk area in the spring of 1940”. It added:

“The German statement leaves no doubt about the tragic fate of the former Polish prisoners of war who, in 1941, were engaged in building jobs in areas west of Smolensk and who, together with many Soviet people, fell into the hands of the German hangmen after the withdrawal of Soviet troops.”

The Germans had in fabricating their story decided to embellish it with an anti-Semitic twist by claiming to be able to name Soviet officials in charge of the massacre, all of whom had Jewish names. On 19 April Pravda responded:

“Feeling the indignation of the whole of progressive humanity over their massacre of peaceful citizens and particularly of Jews, the Germans are now trying to arouse the anger of gullible people against the Jews. For this reason they have invented a whole collection of ‘Jewish commissars’ who, they say, took part in the murder of the 10,000 Polish officers. For such experienced fakers it was not difficult to invent a few names of people who never existed – Lev Rybak, Avraam Brodninsky, Chaim Fineberg. No such persons ever existed either in the ‘Smolensk section of the OGPU’ or in any other department of the NLVD…”

The insistence of Sikorski in endorsing the German propaganda led to the complete breakdown in relations between the London Polish government in exile and the Soviet government – as to which Goebbels commented in his diary:

“This break represents a one-hundred-per-cent victory for German propaganda and especially for me personally … we have been able to convert the Katyn incident into a highly political question.”

At the time the British press condemned Sikorski for his intransigence:

The Times of 28 April 1943 wrote:

“Surprise as well as regret will be felt by those who have had so much cause to understand the perfidy and ingenuity of the Goebbels propaganda machine should themselves have fallen into the trap laid by it. Poles will hardly have forgotten a volume widely circulated in the first winter of the war which described with every detail of circumstantial evidence, including that of photography, alleged Polish atrocities against the peaceful German inhabitants of Poland.”

What lay at the basis of Sikorski’s insistence that the massacre had been carried out by the Soviets rather than the Germans was the dispute over the territory east of the Curzon line. Sikorski was trying to use the German propaganda to mobilise western imperialism behind Poland’s claim to that territory, to try to force them out of the position, as he saw it, of taking the Soviet Union’s side on the issue of this border dispute.

If one reads bourgeois sources today, they all assert that the Soviet Union was responsible for the Katyn massacre, and they do so with such assurance and consistency that in trying to argue the contrary one feels like a Nazi revisionist trying to deny Hitler’s slaughter of Jews. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Gorbachov was even enrolled on this disinformation campaign and produced material allegedly from the Soviet archives which ‘proved’ that the Soviets committed the atrocity and, of course, that they did so on Stalin’s orders. Well, we know the interest that the Gorbachovs of this world have in demonising Stalin. Their target is not so much Stalin as socialism. Their purpose in denigrating socialism is to restore capitalism and bring lives of luxurious parasitism to themselves and their hangers-on at the cost of mass suffering among the Soviet peoples. Their cynicism matches that of the German Nazis and it is hardly surprising to find them singing from the same hymn sheet.

Bourgeois sources blithely claim that Soviet evidence in support of blaming the Germans for the atrocity was either totally absent or based purely on hearsay evidence of terrorised inhabitants of the region. They don’t mention one piece of evidence which even Goebbels had to admit was a bit of a bummer from his point of view. He wrote in his diary on 8 May 1943,

“Unfortunately, German ammunition has been found in the graves at Katyn … It is essential that this incident remains a top secret. If it were to come to the knowledge of the enemy the whole Katyn affair would have to be dropped. “

In 1971 there was correspondence in The Times suggesting the Katyn massacres could not have been done by the Germans since they went in for machine gunning and gas chambers rather than despatching prisoners in the way the Katyn victims had been killed, i.e., by a shot in the back of the head. A former German solider then living in Godalming, Surrey, intervened in this correspondence:

“As a German soldier, at that time convinced of the righteousness of our cause, I have taken part in many battles and actions during the Russian campaign. I have not been to Katyn nor to the forest nearby. But I well remember the hullabaloo when the news broke in 1943 about the discovery of the ghastly mass grave near Katyn, which area was then threatened by the Red Army.

“Josef Goebbels, as the historic records show, has fooled many people. After all, that was his job and few would dispute his almost complete mastery of it. What is surprising indeed, however, is that it still shows evidence in the pages of The Times thirty odd years later. Writing from experience I do not think that at that late time of the war Goebbels managed to fool many German soldiers in Russia on the Katyn issue … German soldiers knew about the shot in the back of the head all right … we German soldiers knew that the Polish officers were despatched by none other than our own. “

Moreover, very many witnesses came forward to attest to the presence of Polish prisoners in the region after the Germans had taken it over.

Maria Alexandrovna Sashneva, a local primary school teacher, gave evidence to a Special commission set up by the Soviet Union in September 1943, immediately after the area was liberated from the Germans, to the effect that in August 1941, two months after Soviet withdrawal, she had hidden a Polish war prisoner in her house. His name had been Juzeph Lock, and he had spoken to her of ill-treatment suffered by Polish prisoners under the Germans:

“When the Germans arrived they seized the Polish camp and instituted a strict regime in it. The Germans did not regard the Poles as human beings. They oppressed and outraged them in every way. On some occasions Poles were shot without any reason at all. He decided to escape…”

Several other witnesses gave evidence that they had seen the Poles during August and September 1941 working on the roads.

Moreover, witnesses also testified to round-ups by the Germans of escaped Polish prisoners in the autumn of 1941. Danilenko, a local peasant, was among several witnesses who testified to this.

“Special round ups were held in our place to catch Polish war prisoners who had escaped. Some searches took place in my house 2 or 3 times. After one such search I asked the headman .. whom they were looking for in our village. [He] said that an order had been received from the German Kommandatur according to which searches were to be made in all houses without exception, since Polish war prisoners who had escaped from the camp were hiding in our village. “

Obviously the Germans did not shoot the Poles in full sight of local witnesses, but there is nonetheless significant evidence from local people as to what was happening. One witness was Alexeyeva who had been detailed by the headman of her village to serve the German personnel at a country house in the section of the Katyn Forest known as Kozy Gory, which had been the rest home of the Smolensk administration of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs. This house was situated some 700 metres from where the mass graves were found. Alexeyeva said:

“At the close of August and during most of September 1941 several trucks used to come practically every day to the Kozy Gory country house. At first I paid no attention to that, but later I noticed that each time these trucks arrived at the grounds of the country house they stopped for half an hour, and sometimes for a whole hour, somewhere on the country road connecting the country house with the highway. I drew this conclusion because some time after these trucks reached the grounds of the country house the noise they made would cease.

“Simultaneously with the noise stopping single shots would be heard. The shots followed each other at short but approximately even intervals. Then the shooting would die down and the trucks would drive right up to the country house. German soldiers and NCOs came out of the trucks. Talking noisily they went to wash in the bathhouse, after which they engaged in drunken orgies.

“On days when the trucks arrived more soldiers from some German military units used to arrive at the country house. Special beds were put up for them… Shortly before the trucks reached the country house armed soldiers went to the forest evidently to the spot where the trucks stopped because in half an hour they returned in these trucks, together with the soldiers who lived permanently in the country house.

“…On several occasions I noticed stains of fresh blood on the clothes of two Lance Corporals. From all this I inferred that the Germans brought people in the truck to the country house and shot them.”

Alexeyeva also discovered that the people being shot were Polish prisoners.

“Once I stayed at the country house somewhat later than usual… Before I finished the work which had kept me there, a soldier suddenly entered and told me I could go … He … accompanied me to the highway.

“Standing on the highway 150 or 200 metres from where the road branches off to the country house I saw a group of about 30 Polish war prisoners marching along the highway under heavy German escort… I halted near the roadside to see where they were being led, and I saw that they turned towards our country house at Kozy Gory.

“Since by that time I had begun to watch closely everything going on at the country house, I became interested. I went back some distance along the highway, hid in bushes near the roadside, and waited. In some 20 or 30 minutes I heard the familiar single shots. “

The other two requisitioned maids at the country house, Mikhailova and Konakhovskaya, gave supporting evidence. Other residents of the area gave similar evidence.

Basilevsky, director of the Smolensk observatory, was appointed deputy burgomeister to Menshagin, a Nazi collaborator. Basilevsky was trying to secure the release from German custody of a teacher, Zhiglinsky, and persuaded Menshagin to speak to the German commander of the region, Von Schwetz, about this matter. Menshagin did so but reported back it was impossible to secure this release because “instructions had been received from Berlin prescribing the strictest regime be maintained. “

Basilevsky then recounted his conversation with Menshagin:

“I involuntarily retorted ‘Can anything else be stricter than the regime existing at the camp?’ Menshagin looked at me in a strange way and bending to my ear, answered in a low voice: yes, there can be! The Russians can at least be left to die off, but as to the Polish war prisoners, the orders say they are to be simply exterminated. “

After liberation Menshagin’s notebook was found written in his own handwriting, as confirmed by expert graphologists. Page 10, dated 15 August 1941, notes:

“All fugitive war prisoners are to be detained and delivered to the commandant’s office. “

This in itself proves the Polish prisoners were still alive at that time. On page 15, which is undated, the entry appears: “Are there any rumours among the population concerning the shooting of Polish war prisoners in Kozy Gory (for Umnov) ” (Umnov was the Chief of the Russian police).

A number of witnesses gave evidence that they had been pressured in 1942-43 by the Germans to give false testimony as to the shooting of the Poles by the Russians.

Parfem Gavrilovich Kisselev, a resident of the village closest to Kozy Gory, testified that he had been summonsed in autumn of 1942 to the Gestapo where he was interviewed by a German officer:

“The officer stated that, according to information at the disposal of the Gestapo, in 1940, in the area of Kozy Gory in the Katyn Forest, staff members of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs shot Polish officers, and he asked me what testimony I could give on this score. I answered that I had never heard of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs shooting people at Kozy Gory, and that anyhow it was impossible, I explained to the officer, since Kozy Gory is an absolutely open and much frequented place, and if shootings had gone on there the entire population of the neighbouring villages would have known …

“…The interpreter, however, would not listen to me, but took a handwritten document from the desk and read it to me. It said that I, Kisselev, resident of a hamlet in the Kozy Gory area, personally witnessed the shooting of Polish officers by staff members of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs in 1940.

“Having read the document, the interpreter told me to sign it. I refused to do so… Finally he shouted ‘Either you sign it at once or we shall destroy you. Make your choice.’

“Frightened by these threats, I signed the document and thought that would be the end of the matter. “

But it wasn’t the end of the matter, because the Germans expected Kisselev to give parol evidence of what he had ‘witnessed’ to groups of ‘delegates’ invited by the Germans to come to the area to witness the evidence of supposed Soviet atrocities.

Soon after the German authorities had announced the existence of the mass graves to the world in April 1943,

“the Gestapo interpreter came to my house and took me to the forest in the Kozy Gory area.

“When we had left the house and were alone together, the interpreter warned me that I must tell the people present in the forest everything exactly as I had written it down in the document I had signed at the Gestapo.

“When I came to the forest I saw the open graves and a group of strangers. The interpreter told me that these were Polish delegates who had arrived to inspect the graves. When we approached the graves the delegates started asking me various questions in Russian in connection with the shooting of the Poles, but as more than a month had passed since I had been summoned to the Gestapo I forgot everything that was in the document I had signed, got mixed up, and finally said I didn’t know anything about the shooting of Polish officers.

“The German officer got very angry. The interpreter roughly dragged me away from the ‘delegation’ and chased me off. Next morning a car with a Gestapo officer drove up to my house. He found me in the yard, told me that I was under arrest, put me into the car and took me to Smolensk Prison …

“After my arrest I was interrogated many times, but they beat me more than they questioned me. The first time they summoned me they beat me up heavily and abused me, complaining that I had let them down, and then sent me back to the cell. During the next summons they told me I must state publicly that I had witnessed the shooting of Polish officers by the Bolsheviks, and that until the Gestapo was satisfied I would do this in good faith, I would not be released from prison. I told the officer that I would rather sit in prison than tell people lies to their faces. After that I was badly beaten up.

“There were several such interrogations accompanied by beatings, and as a result I lost all my strength, my hearing became poor and I could not move my right arm. About one month after my arrest a German officer summoned me and said: ‘You see the consequences of your obstinacy, Kisselev. We have decided to execute you. In the morning we shall take you to Katyn Forest and hang you.’ I asked the officer not to do this, and started pleading with them that I was not fit for the part of ‘eye-witness’ of the shooting as I did not know how to tell lies and therefore I would mix everything up again.

“The officer continued to insist. Several minutes later soldiers came into the room and started beating me with rubber clubs. Being unable to stand the beatings and torture, I agreed to appear publicly with a fallacious tale about shooting of Poles by Bolsheviks. After that I was released from prison, on conditions that on the first demand of the Germans I would speak before ‘delegations’ in Katyn Forest…

“On every occasion, before leading me to the graves in the forest, the interpreter used to come to my house, call me out into the yard, take me aside to make sure that no one would hear, and for half an hour make me memorise by heart everything I would have to say about the alleged shooting of Polish officers by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs in 1940.

“I recall that the interpreter told me something like this: ‘I live in a cottage in ‘Kozy Gory’ area not far from the country house of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs. In spring 1940 I saw Poles taken on various nights to the forest and shot there’. And then it was imperative that I must state literally that ‘this was the doing of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs.’ After I had memorised what the interpreter told me he would take me to the open graves in the forest and compel me to repeat all this in the presence of ‘delegations’ which came there.

“My statements were strictly supervised and directed by the Gestapo interpreter. Once when I spoke before some ‘delegation’, I was asked the question: ‘Did you see these Poles personally before they were shot by the Bolsheviks?’ I was not prepared for such a question and answered the way it was in fact, i.e., that I saw Polish war prisoners before the war, as they walked on the roads. Then the interpreter roughly dragged me aside and drove me home.

“Please believe me when I say that all the time I felt pangs of conscience, as I knew that in reality the Polish officers had been shot by the Germans in 1941. I had no other choice, as I was constantly threatened with the repetition of my arrest and torture. “

Numerous people corroborated Kisselev’s testimony, and a medical examination corroborated his story of having been tortured by the Germans.

Pressure was also brought on Ivanov, employed at the local railway station (Gnezdovo) to bear false witness:

“The officer inquired whether I knew that in spring 1940 large parties of captured Polish officers had arrived at Gnezdovo station in several trains. I said that I knew about this. The officer then asked me whether I knew that in the same spring 1940, soon after the arrival of the Polish officers, the Bolsheviks had shot them all in the Katyn Forest. I answered that I did not know anything about that, and that it could not be so, as in the course of 1940-41 up to the occupation of Smolensk by the Germans, I had met captured Polish officers who had arrived in spring 1940 at Gnezdovo station, and who were engaged in road construction work.

“The officer told me that if a German officer said the Poles had been shot by the Bolsheviks it meant that this was a fact. ‘Therefore’, the officer continued, ‘you need not fear anything, and you can sign with a clear conscience a protocol saying that the captured Polish officers were shot by the Bolsheviks and that you witnessed it’.

“I replied that I was already an old man, that I was 61 years old, and did not want to commit a sin in my old age. I could only testify that the captured Poles really arrived at Gnezdovo station in spring 1940. The German officer began to persuade me to give the required testimony promising that if I agreed he would promote me from the position of watchman on a railway crossing to that of stationmaster of Gnezdovo station, which I had held under the Soviet Government, and also to provide for my material needs.

“The interpreter emphasised that my testimony as a former railway official at Gnezdovo station, the nearest station to Katyn Forest, was extremely important for the German Command, and that I would not regret it if I gave such testimony. I understood that I had landed in an extremely difficult situation, and that a sad fate awaited me. However, I again refused to give false testimony to the German officer. He started shouting at me, threatened me with a beating and shooting, and said I did not understand what was good for me. However, I stood my ground. The interpreter then drew up a short protocol in German on one page, and gave me a free translation of its contents. This protocol recorded, as the interpreter told me, only the fact of the arrival of the Polish war prisoners at Gnezdovo station. When I asked that my testimony be recorded not only in German but also in Russian, the officer finally went beside himself with fury, beat me up with a rubber club and drove me off the premises…”.

Savvateyev was another person pressurised by the Germans to give false testimony. He told the Soviet Commission of Inquiry:

“In the Gestapo I testified that in spring 1940 Polish war prisoners arrived at the station of Gnezdovo in several trains and proceeded further in trucks, and I did not know where they went. I also added that I repeatedly met those Poles later on the Moscow-Minsk highway, where they were working on repairs in small groups. The officer told me I was mixing things up, that I could not have met the Poles on the highway, as they had been shot by the Bolsheviks, and demanded that I testify to this.

“I refused. After threatening and cajoling me for a long time, the officer consulted with the interpreter about something in German, and then the interpreter wrote a short protocol and gave it to me to sign. He explained that it was a record of my testimony. I asked the interpreter to let me read the protocol myself, but he interrupted me with abuse, ordering me to sign it immediately and get out. I hesitated a minute. The interpreter seized a rubber club hanging on the wall and made to strike me. After that I signed the protocol shoved at me. The interpreter told me to get out and go home, and not to talk to anyone or I would be shot…”

Others gave similar testimony.

Evidence was also given as to how the Germans ‘doctored’ the graves of the victims to try to eliminate evidence that the massacre took place not in the autumn of 1941 but in the spring of 1940 shortly after the Poles first arrived in the area. Alexandra Mikhailovna had worked during the German occupation in the kitchen of a German military unit. In March 1943 she found a Russian war prisoner hiding in her shed:

“From conversation with him I learned that his name was Nikolai Yegorov, a native of Leningrad. Since the end of 1941 he had been in the German camp No. 126 for war prisoners in the town of Smolensk. At the beginning of March 1943, he was sent with a column of several hundred war prisoners from the camp to Katyn Forest. There they, including Yegorov, were compelled to dig up graves containing bodies in the uniforms of Polish officers, drag these bodies out of the graves and take out of their pockets documents, letters, photographs and all other articles.

“The Germans gave the strictest orders that nothing be left in the pockets on the bodies. Two war prisoners were shot because after they had searched some of the bodies, a German officer discovered some papers on these bodies. Articles, documents and letters extracted from the clothing on the bodies were examined by the German officers, who then compelled the prisoners to put part of the papers back into the pockets on the bodies, while the rest was flung on a heap of articles and documents they had extracted, and later burned.

“Besides this, the Germans made the prisoners put in the pockets of the Polish officers some papers which they took from the cases or suitcases (I don’t remember exactly) which they had brought along. All the war prisoners lived in Katyn Forest in dreadful conditions under the open sky, and were extremely strongly guarded… At the beginning of April 1943, all the work planned by the Germans was apparently completed, as for three days not one of the war prisoners had to do any work…

“Suddenly at night all of them without exception were awakened and led somewhere. The guard was strengthened. Yegorov sensed something was wrong and began to watch very closely everything that was happening. They marched for three or four hours in an unknown direction. They stopped in the forest at a pit in a clearing. He saw how a group of war prisoners were separated from the rest and driven towards the pit and then shot. The war prisoners grew agitated, restless and noisy. Not far from Yegorov several war prisoners attacked the guards. Other guards ran towards the place. Yegorov took advantage of the confusion and ran away into the dark forest, hearing shouts and firing.

“After hearing this terrible story, which is engraved on my memory for the rest of my life, I became very sorry for Yegorov, and told him to come to my room, get warm and hide at my place until he had regained his strength. But Yegorov refused… He said no matter what happened he was going away that very night, and intended to try to get through the front line to the Red Army. In the morning, when I went to make sure whether Yegorov had gone, he was still in the shed. It appeared that in the night he had attempted to set out, but had only taken about 50 steps when he felt so weak that he was forced to return. This exhaustion was caused by the long imprisonment at the camp and the starvation of the last days. We decided he should remain at my place several days longer to regain his strength. After feeding Yegorov I went to work. When I returned home in the evening my neighbours Branova, Mariya Ivanovna, Kabanovskaya, Yekaterina Viktorovna told me that in the afternoon, during a search by the German police, the Red Army war prisoner had been found, and taken away. “

Further corroboration was given by an engineer mechanic called Sukhachev who had worked under the Germans as a mechanic in the Smolensk city mill:

“I was working at the mill in the second half of March, 1943. There I spoke to a German chauffeur who spoke a little Russian, and since he was carrying flour to Savenki village for the troops, and was returning on the next day to Smolensk, I asked him to take me along so that I could buy some fats in the village. My idea was that making the trip in a German truck would get over the risk of being held up at the control stations. The German agreed to take me, at a price.

“On the same day at 10 p.m. we drove on to the Somolensk-Vitebsk highway, just myself and the German driver in the machine. The night was light, and only a low mist over the road reduced the visibility. Approximately 22 or 23 kilometres from Smolensk at a demolished bridge on the highway there is a rather deep descent at the by-pass. We began to go down from the highway, when suddenly a truck appeared out of the fog coming towards us. Either because our brakes were out of order, or because the driver was inexperienced, we were unable to bring our truck to a halt, and since the passage was quite narrow we collided with the truck coming towards us. The impact was not very violent, as the driver of the other truck swerved to the side, as a result of which the trucks bumped and slid alongside each other.

“The right wheel of the other truck, however, landed in the ditch, and the truck fell over on the slope. Our truck remained upright. The driver and I immediately jumped out of the cabin and ran up to the truck which had fallen down. We were met by a heavy stench of putrefying flesh coming evidently from the truck.

“On coming nearer, I saw that the truck was carrying a load covered with a tarpaulin and tied up with ropes. The ropes had snapped with the impact, and part of the load had fallen out on the slope. This was a horrible load – human bodies dressed in military uniforms. As far as I can remember there were some six or seven men near the truck: one German driver, two Germans armed with tommy-guns – the rest were Russian war prisoners, as they spoke Russian and were dressed accordingly.

“The Germans began to abuse my driver and then made some attempts to right the truck. In about two minutes time two more trucks drove up to the place of the accident and pulled up. A group of Germans and Russian war prisoners, about ten men in all, came up to us from these trucks. … By joint efforts we began to raise the truck. Taking advantage of an opportune moment I asked one of the Russian war prisoners in a low voice: ‘What is it?’ He answered very quietly: ‘For many nights already we have been carrying bodies to Katyn Forest’.

“Before the overturned truck had been raised a German NCO came up to me and my driver and ordered us to proceed immediately. As no serious damage had been done to our truck the driver steered it a little to one side and got on to the highway, and we went on. When we were passing the two covered trucks which had come up later I again smelled the horrible stench of dead bodies”.

Various other people also gave testimony of having seen the trucks loaded with dead bodies.

One Zhukhov, a pathologist who actually visited graves in April 1943 at the invitation of the Germans, also gave evidence:

“The clothing of the bodies, particularly the greatcoats, boots and belts, were in a good state of preservation. The metal parts of the clothing – belt buckles, button hooks and spikes on shoe soles, etc. – were not heavily rusted, and in some cases the metal still retained its polish. Sections of the skin of the bodies which could be seen – faces, necks, arms – were chiefly a dirty green colour, and in some cases dirty brown, but there was no complete disintegration of the tissues, no putrefaction. In some cases bared tendons of whitish colour and parts of muscles could be seen.

“While I was at the excavations people were at work sorting and extracting bodies at the bottom of a big pit. For this purpose they used spades and other tools, and also took hold of bodies with their hands and dragged them from place to place by the arms, the legs or the clothing. I did not see a single case of bodies falling apart or any member being torn off.

“Considering all the above, I arrived at the conclusion that the bodies had remained in the earth not three years, as the Germans affirmed, but much less. Knowing that in mass graves, and especially without coffins, putrefaction of bodies progresses more quickly than in single graves, I concluded that the mass shooting of the Poles had taken place about a year and a half ago, and could have occurred in autumn 1941 or in spring 1942. As a result of my visit to the excavation site I became firmly convinced that a monstrous crime had been committed by the Germans. “

Several other people who visited the graves at the time gave like testimony.

Moreover, pathologists who examined the bodies in 1943 concluded that they could not have been dead longer than two years. Furthermore, documents were found on some of the bodies which had obviously been missed by the Germans when they doctored the evidence. These included a letter dated September 1940, a postcard dated 12 November 1940, a pawn ticket receipted 14 March 1941 and another receipted 25 March 1941. Receipts dated 6 April 1941, 5 May 1941, 15 May 1941 and an unmailed postcard in Polish dated 20 June 1941. Although all these dates pre-date Soviet withdrawal, they all postdate the time of the alleged murder of the prisoners by the Soviet authorities in the spring of 1940, the time given as the date of the supposed massacre by all those whom the Germans were able to bully into giving false testimony. If, as is claimed by bourgeois propagandists, these documents are forgeries, it would have been the easiest thing to forge documents which postdated the Soviet departure, but his was not done – and it was not done because the documents found were undoubtedly genuine.


Bill Bland: The “Cult of the Individual” (1934-52)


A paper read by Bill Bland to the Stalin Society in May 1991.


Bland was the founder of the Stalin Society (UK), but was expelled some years later for daring to challenge assumptions (“truths”) about Mao and the Comintern, and only finally re-instated as a member just before his death.

He detested all attempts at refusal to deal honestly with facts.

He put this to good example here, in this speech on the Cult of Personality surrounding Stalin.

Members of the Stalin Society objected to its novel interpretations of how and who had erected this cult.

This talk took many iterations in Bill’s life, but started as a talk to the Youth of the Communist League in 1976. It remains relevant today.

The “Cult of the Individual” (1934-52)

On 14 February 1956 Nikita Khrushchev, (Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet revisionist politician (1894-1971); First Secretary of Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1953-64); Premier (1958-64) then First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, publicly, but obliquely, attacked Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Party:

“It is of paramount importance to re-establish and to strengthen in every way the Leninist principle of collective leadership. . . .The Central Committee . . . vigorously condemns the cult of the individual as being alien to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism.”

(N. S. Khrushchev: Report to the Central Committee, 20th Congress of the CPSU, February 1056; London; 1956; p. 80-81).

In his “secret speech” to the same Congress on 25 February (leaked to the US State Department but not published within the Soviet Union) attacked Stalin more directly, asserting that

“… the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person.”

(Russian Institute, Columbia University (Ed.): ‘The Anti-Stalin Campaign and International Communism’; New York; 1956; p. 69).

Yet many witnesses testify to Stalin’s simplicity and modesty.

The French writer Henri Barbusse (1873-1935) describes the simplicity of Stalin’s life-style:

“One goes up to the first floor, where white curtains hang over three of the windows. These three windows are Stalin’s home. In the tiny hall a long military cloak hangs on a peg beneath a cap. In addition to this hall there are three bedrooms and a dining-room. The bedrooms are as simply furnished as those of a respectable, second-class hotel. . . The eldest son, Jasheka, sleeps at night in the dining room, on a divan which is converted into a bed; the younger sleeps in a tiny recess, a sort of alcove opening out of it. Each month he earns the five hundred roubles which constitute the meagre maximum salary of the officials of the Communist Party (amounting to between £20 and £25 in English money). . . . This frank and brilliant man is a simple man. He does not employ thirty-two secretaries, like Mr. Lloyd George; he has only one. . .

Stalin systematically gives credit for all progress made to Lenin, whereas the credit has been in very large measure his own.”

(H. Barbusse: ‘Stalin: A New World seen through One Man’; London; 1935; p. vii, viii, 291, 294).

True, Stalin had the use of a dacha, or country cottage, but here too his life was equally simple, as his daughter Svetlana relates:

“It was the same with the dacha at Kuntsevo. . . .

My father lived on the ground floor. He lived in one room and made it do for everything. He slept on the sofa, made up at night as a bed.”

(S. Alliluyeva: ‘Letters to a Friend’; London; 1967; p. 28).

The Albanian leader Enver Hoxha (Albanian Marxist-Leninist politician (1908-85); leader of the Communist Party of Albania (later the Party of Labour of Albania)(1941- 85); Prime Minister (1944-54); Minister of Foreign Affairs (1946-54) describes Stalin as “modest” and “considerate”:

“Stalin was no tyrant, no despot. He was a man of principle; he was just, modest and very kindly and considerate towards people, the cadres and his colleagues.”

(E. Hoxha: ‘With Stalin: Memoirs’; Tirana; 1979; p. 14-15).

The British Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb (Sidney Webb, British economist (1859-1947); Beatrice Webb, British economist and sociologist (1858-1943), in their monumental work “Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation,” emphatically reject the notion that Stalin exercised dictatorial power:

“Sometimes it is asserted that the whole state is governed by the will of a single person, Josef Stalin . . First let it be noted that, unlike Mussolini, Hitler and other modern dictators, Stalin is not invested by law with any authority over his fellow-citizens. He has not even the extensive power . . . . .which the American Constitution entrusts for four years to every successive president. . . . .Stalin is not, and never has been, . . . . the President of the USSR. . . . .He is not even a People’s Commissar, or member of the Cabinet.

He is . . . the General Secretary of the Party.

We do not think that the Party is governed by the will of a single person, or that Stalin is the sort of person to claim or desire such a position. He has himself very explicitly denied any such personal dictatorship in terms which certainly accord with our own impression of the facts.

The Communist Party in the USSR has adopted for its own organisation the pattern which we have described. . . . . . In this pattern individual dictatorship has no place. Personal decisions are distrusted, and elaborately guarded against. In order to avoid the mistakes due to bias, anger, jealousy, vanity and other distempers . . . . it is desirable that the individual will should always be controlled by the necessity of gaining the assent of colleagues of equal grade, who have candidly discussed the matter and who have to make themselves jointly responsible for the decision. . . . .Stalin . . . . has . . . . frequently pointed out that he does no more than carry out the decisions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. . . The plain truth is that, surveying the administration of the USSR during the past decade under the alleged dictatorship of Stalin, principal decisions have manifested neither the promptitude nor the timeliness, nor yet the fearless obstinacy that have often been claimed as the merits of a dictatorship. On the contrary, the action of the Party has frequently been taken after consideration-so prolonged, and as the outcome of discussion sometimes so heated and embittered, as to bear upon their formulation the marks of hesitancy and lack of assurance. . . .These policies have borne . . . . the stigmata of committee control.”

(S. & B. Webb: ‘Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation’; London; p.. 4231, 432, 433, 435).

Perhaps Barbusse, Hoxha and the Webbs may be considered biased witnesses. Yet observers who are highly critical of Stalin agree with the testimony of the former.

The American diplomat Joseph Davies (Joseph Davies, American lawyer and diplomat (1876-1958); Chairman (1915-16) and Vice-Chairman (1916-18) of Federal Trade Commission; Ambassador to Moscow (1936-38), to Belgium (1938-39) remarks on Stalin’s simple, kindly manner:

“I was startled to see the door . . . open and Mr. Stalin come into the room alone.. . . . His demeanour is kindly, his manner almost depreciatingly simple. . . .He greeted me cordially with a smile and with great simplicity, but also with a real dignity. . . .His brown eye is exceedingly kindly and gentle. A child would like to sit in his lap and a dog would sidle up to him.”

(J. E. Davies: ‘Mission to Moscow’; London; 1940; p. 222, 230).

Isaac Don Levine (Isaac Don Levine, Russian-born American newspaper correspondent (1892-1981) writes in his hostile biography of Stalin:

“Stalin does not seek honours. He loathes pomp. He is averse to public displays. He could have all the nominal regalia in the chest of a great state. But he prefers the background”

(I. D. Levine: ‘Stalin: A Biography’; London; 1931; p. 248-49).

Another hostile critic, Louis Fischer (Louis Fischer, American writer (1896-1970), testifies to Stalin’s “capacity to listen”:

“Stalin . . . inspires the Party with his will-power and calm. Individuals in contact with him admire his capacity to listen and his skill in improving on the suggestions and drafts of highly intelligent subordinates.”

(L. Fischer: Article in: ‘The Nation’, Volume 137 (9 August 1933); p. 154).

Eugene Lyons (Eugene Lyons, Russian-born American writer (1898-1985), in his biography entitled “Stalin: Czar of All the Russias,” describes Stalin’s simple way of life:

“Stalin lives in a modest apartment of three rooms. . . . In his everyday life his tastes remained simple almost to the point of crudeness. .. Even those who hated him with a desperate hate and blamed him for sadistic cruelties never accused him of excesses in his private life.

Those who measure ‘success’ by millions of dollars, yachts and mistresses find it hard to understand power relished in austerity. . .

There was nothing remotely ogre-like in his looks or conduct, nothing theatrical in his manner. A pleasant, earnest, ageing man — evidently willing to be friendly to the first foreigner whom, he had admitted to his presence in years. ‘He’s a thoroughly likeable person’, I remember thinking as we sat there, and thinking it in astonishment.”

(E. Lyons: ‘Stalin: Czar of All the Russias’; Philadelphia; 1940; p. 196, 200).

Lyons asked Stalin. “Are you a dictator?”:

“Stalin smiled, implying that the question was on the preposterous side.

‘No’, he said slowly, ‘I am no dictator. Those who use the word do not understand the Soviet system of government and the methods of the Soviet system of government and the methods of the Communist Party. No one man or group of men can dictate. Decisions are made by the Party and acted upon by its organs, the Central Committee and the Politburo.”‘

(E. Lyons: ibid.; p. 203).

The Finnish revisionist Arvo Tuominen (Arvo Tuominen, Finnish revisionist politician (1894-1981) — strongly hostile to Stalin — comments in his book “The Bells of the Kremlin” on Stalin’s personal self -effacement:

“In his speeches and writings Stalin always withdrew into the background, speaking only of communism, the Soviet power and the Party, and stressing that he was really a representative of the idea and the organisation, nothing more.. . . . I never noticed any signs of vainglory in Stalin.”

(A. Tuominen: ‘The Bells of the Kremlin’; Hanover (New Hampshire, USA); 1983; p. 155, 163).

and expresses surprise at the contrast between the real Stalin and the propaganda picture spread of him:

“During my many years in Moscow I never stopped marvelling at the contrast between the man and the colossal likenesses that had been made of him. That medium-sized, slightly pock-marked Causasian with a moustache was as far removed as could be from that stereotype of a dictator. But at the same time the propaganda was proclaiming his superhuman abilities.”

(A. Tuominen: ibid.,; p. 155).

The Soviet marshal Georgy Zhukov (Georgy Zhukov, Soviet military officer (1896-1974); Chief of Staff (1941); Marshal (1943); Minister of Defence (1955-57) speaks of Stalin’s “lack of affectation”:

“Free of affectation and mannerisms, he (Stalin — Ed.) won the heart of everyone he talked with.”

(G. K. Zhukov: ‘The Memoirs of Marshal Zhukov’; London; 1971; p. 283).

Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva (Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin’s daughter (1926- ) is gullible enough to accept almost every slander circulated about her father, but even she dismisses the charge that he himself engineered the ‘cult’ of his personality. She describes a train trip with Stalin from the Crimea to Moscow in 1948:

“As we pulled in at the various stations we’d go for a stroll along the platform. My father walked as far as the engine, giving greetings to the railway workers as he went. You couldn’t see a single passenger. It was a special train and no one was allowed on the platform. Who ever thought such a thing up? . . . . Who had contrived all these stratagems? Not he. It was the system of which he himself was a prisoner and in which he suffered from loneliness, emptiness and lack of human companionship. . . Nowadays when I read or hear somewhere that my father used to consider himself practically a god, it amazes me that people who knew him well can even say such a thing.. . . He never thought of himself as a god.”

(S. Alleluyeva: ‘Letters to a Friend’; London; 1968; p. 202-03, 213).

She describes the grief of the servants at the dacha when Stalin died:

“These men and women who were servants of my father loved him. In little things he wasn’t hard to please. On the contrary, he was courteous, unassuming and direct with those who waited on him. . .Men, women, everyone, started crying all over again. . . .

No one was making a show of loyalty or grief. All of them had known one another for years. . . . . .

No one in this room looked on him as a god or a superman, a genius or a demon. They loved and respected him for the most ordinary human qualities, those qualities of which servants are the best judges of all.”

(S. Alliluyeva: ibid,; p. 20, 22).

Furthermore, the facts show that on numerous occasions denounced and ridiculed the “cult of the individual” as contrary to Marxism-Leninism. For example,

June 1926
“I must say in all conscience, comrades, that I do not deserve a good half of the flattering things that have been said here about me. I am, it appears, a hero of the October Revolution, the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet, the leader of the Communist International, a legendary warrior-knight and all the rest of it. This is absurd, comrades, and quite unnecessary exaggeration. It is the sort of thing that is usually said at the graveside of a departed revolutionary. But I have no intention of dying yet. . . . .
I really was, and still am, one of the pupils of the advanced workers of the Tiflis railway workshops.”
(J. V. Stalin: `Works’, Volume 8; Moscow; 1954; p. 182)

October 1927
“And what is Stalin? Stalin is only a minor figure.”
(J. V. Stalin: `Works’. Volume 10; Moscow; Moscow; 1954; p. 177).

December 1929
“Your congratulations and greetings I place to the credit of the great Party of the working class which bore me and reared me in its own image and likeness. And just because I place them to the credit of our glorious Leninist Party, I make bold to tender you my Bolshevik thanks.”
(J. V. Stalin: ‘Works’, Volume 12; Moscow; 1955; p. 146).

April 1930
“There are some who think that the article ‘Dizzy with Success’ was the result of Stalin’s personal initiative. That, of course, is nonsense. It is not in order that personal initiative is a matter like this be taken by anyone, whoever he might be, that we have a Central Committee.”
(J. V. Stalin: ‘Works’, ibid.; p. 218).

August 1930
“You speak of your devotion’ to me.. . . . I would advise you to discard the ‘principle’ of devotion to persons. It is not the Bolshevik way. Be devoted to the working class, its Party, its state. That is a fine and useful thing. But do not confuse it with devotion to persons, this vain and useless bauble of weak-minded intellectuals.”
(J. V. Stalin: ‘Works’, Volume 13; Moscow; 1955; p. 20).

December 1931
“As for myself, I am just a pupil of Lenin’s, and the aim of my life is to be a worthy pupil of his. . . .

Marxism does not deny at all the role played by outstanding individuals or that history is made by people. But great people are worth anything at all only to the extent that they are able correctly to understand these conditions, to understand how to change them. If they fail to understand these conditions and want to alter them according to the promptings of their imagination, they will find themselves in the situation of Don Quixote. . . . .

Individual persons cannot decide. Decisions of individuals are ,always, or nearly always, one-sided decisions. . . . . In every collective body, there are people whose opinion must be reckoned with. . . . . From the experience of three revolutions we know that out of every 100 decisions taken by individual persons without being tested and corrected collectively, approximately 90 are one-sided. . . . . Never under any circumstances would our workers now tolerate power in the hands of one person. With us personages of the greatest authority are reduced to nonentities, become mere ciphers, as soon as the masses of the workers lose confidence in them.”
(J. V. Stalin: ibid.; p. 107-08, 109, 113).

February 1933
“I have received your letter ceding me your second Order as a reward for my work. I thank you very much for your warm words and comradely present. I know what you are depriving yourself of in my favour and appreciate your sentiments.

Nevertheless, I cannot accept your second Order. I cannot and must not accept it, not only because it can only belong to you, as you alone have earned it, but also because I have been amply rewarded as it is by the attention and respect of comrades and, consequently, have no right to rob you. Orders were instituted not for those who are well known as it is, but mainly for heroic people who are little known and who need to be made known to all. Besides, I must tell you that I already have two Orders. That is more than one needs, I assure you.”
(J. V. Stalin: ibid.; p. 241).

May 1933
Robins: I consider it a great honour to have an opportunity of paying you a visit.
Stalin: There is nothing particular in that. You are exaggerating.
Robins: What is most interesting to me is that throughout Russia I have found the names Lenin-Stalin, Lenin-Stalin, Lenin-Stalin, linked together.
Stalin: That, too, is an exaggeration. How can I be compared to Lenin?”
(J. V. Stalin: ibid.; p. 267)

February 1938
“I am absolutely against the publication of ‘Stories of the Childhood of Stalin’.

The book abounds with a mass of inexactitudes of fact, of alterations, of exaggerations and off unmerited praise. . But . . . . the important thing resides it the fact that the book has a tendency to engrave on the minds of Soviet children (and people in general) the personality cult of leaders, of infallible heroes. This is dangerous and detrimental. The theory of ‘heroes’ and the ‘crowd’ is not a Bolshevik, but a Social-Revolutionary (Anarchist) theory. I suggest we burn this book.”
(J. V. Stalin: ibid.; p. 327).

Thus, the “cult of the individual” as built up around Stalin was contrary to Marxism-Leninism and its practice was contrary to the expressed wishes of Stalin”.

This raises an important question.

When I expressed at a previous meeting of the Stalin Society the view that the Marxist-Leninists were in a minority in the Soviet leadership from the late 1920s, there were loud murmurs of dissent from some members.

But we have seen that, although Stalin expressed strong opposition to the “cult of personality,” the “cult of personality” continued.

It therefore follows irrefutably that

1) either Stalin was unable to stop it,
2) or he did not want to stop it and so was a petty-minded, lying, non-Marxist-Leninist, hypocrite.

The Initiators of the “Cult”

But if the “cult of personality” around Stalin was not built up by Stalin, but against his wishes, by whom was it built up?

The facts show that the most fervent exponents of the ‘cult of personality’ around Stalin were revisionists and concealed revisionists like Karl Radek (Soviet revisionist politician (1885-1939); pleaded guilty at his public trial to terrorism and treason (1937); murdered in prison by fellow-prisoner (1939), Nikita Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan (Soviet revisionist politician (1895-1978); Politburo member (1935-78); People’s Commissar for Trade (1926-31), for Supply (1931-34), for Food Industry (1934-38), for Foreign Trade (1938-49) Deputy Premier (1946-64); President (1964-65).

Roy Medvedev (Soviet revisionist historian (1925- ) points out that:

“The first issue of ‘Pravda;’ for 1934 carried a huge two-page article by Radek, heaping orgiastic praise on Stalin. The former Trotskyite, who had led the opposition to Stalin for many years, now called him ‘Lenin’s best pupil, the model of the Leninist Party, bone of its bone, blood of its blood’. . . . He ‘is as far-sighted as Lenin’, and so on and on. This seems to have been the first large article in the press specifically devoted to the adulation of Stalin, and it was quickly reissued as a pamphlet in 225,000 copies, an enormous figure for the time.”

(R. A. Medvedev: ‘Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism’; London; 1972; p. 148).

At his public trial in January 1937 Radek admitted to terrorism and treason:

“Vyshinsky: What did Mrachovsky (Soviet Trotskyist politician (1883-1936); pleaded guilty to terrorism and treason at his public trial in August 1936 and was sentenced to death) reply?

Radek: He replied quite definitely that the struggle had entered the terrorist phase. . . In April 1933 Mrachovsky asked me whether I would mention any Trotskyite in Leningrad who would undertake the organisation of a terrorist group there.

Vyshinsky: Against whom?

Radek: Against Kirov (Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1886-1934); Secretary of CPSU in Azerbaijan (1921-36), in Leningrad (1926-34); Member of Politburo (1930-34); assassinated by terrorist (1934) of course.

Vyshinsky: In 1934-35 your position was that of organised, systematic perpetration of terrorist acts?

Radek: Yes. We would inevitably have to bring the social structure of the USSR into line with the victorious fascist countries . . . a pseudonym for the restoration of capitalism. It was clear to us that this meant fascism. . . serving foreign finance capital. It was planned to surrender the Ukraine to Germany and . . the Maritime province and the Amur region to Japan.”

(Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre; Moscow; 1937; p. 88, 90, 103, 115).

It was Khrushchev who introduced the term “vozhd” (“leader,” corresponding to the German word “Fuhrer”). At the Moscow Party Conference in January 1932, Khrushchev finished his speech by saying:

“The Moscow Bolsheviks, rallied around the Leninist Central Committee as never before, and around the ‘vozhd’ of our Party, Comrade Stalin, are cheerfully and confidently marching toward new victories in the battles for socialism, for world proletarian revolution.”

(‘Rabochaya Moskva’, 26 January 1932, cited in: L. Pistrak: ‘The Grand Tactician: Khrushchev’s Rise to Power’; London; 1961; p. 159).

At the 17th Party Conference in January 1934 it was Khrushchev, and Khrushchev alone, who called Stalin “vozhd of genius.” (XVII s’ezd Vsesoiuznoi Kommunisticheskoi Partii (B.); p, 145, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid.; p. 160).

In August 1936, during the treason trial of Lev Kamenev (Soviet ; sentenced to death and executed (1936) and Grigory Zinoviev (Soviet Trotskyist politician (1883-1936); President of Communist International (1919-26); admitted to treason at his public trial (1936); sentenced to death and executed (1936), Khrushchev, in his capacity as Moscow Party Secretary, said:

“Miserable pygmies! They lifted their hands against the greatest of all men. . . . our wise ‘vozhd’, Comrade Stalin! Thou, Comrade Stalin, hast raised the great banner of Marxism-Leninism high over the entire world and carried it forward. We assure thee, Comrade Stalin, that the Moscow Bolshevik organisation — the faithful supporter of the Stalinist Central Committee — will increase Stalinist vigilance still more, will extirpate the Trotskyite-Zinovievite remnants, and close the ranks of the Party and non-Party Bolsheviks even more around the Stalinist Central Committee and the great Stalin.”

(‘Pravda’, 23 August 1936, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,; p. 162).

At the Eighth All-Union Congress of Soviets in November 1936 it was again Khrushchev who proposed that the new Soviet Constitution, which was before the Congress for approval, should be called the “Stalinist Constitution” because “it was written from beginning to end by Comrade Stalin himself.” (‘Pravda’, 30 November 1936, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid.; p. 161).

It has to be noted that Vyacheslav Molotov (Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1890-1986); Member of Politburo (1926-53); Prime Minister (1930-41); Deputy Prime Minister (1941-57); Minister of Foreign Affairs (1939-49, 1953-56); Ambassador to Mongolia (1957-60), then Prime Minister, and Andrey Zhdanov (Andrey Zhdanov. Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1896-1948); Member of Politburo (1935-48), then Party Secretary in Leningrad) did not mention any special role by Stalin in the drafting of the Constitution.

In the same speech Khrushchev coined the term “Stalinism”:

“Our Constitution is the Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism that has conquered one sixth of the globe.” (Ibid.).

Khrushchev’s speech in Moscow to an audience of 200,000 at the time of the treason trial of Grigori Pyatakov (Grigory Pyatakov, Soviet Trotskyist politician (1890-1937); Assistant People’s Commissar for Heavy Industry (1931-37); admitted to treason at his public trial (1937); sentenced to death and executed (1937) and Karl Radek in January 1937 was in a similar vein:

“By lifting their hands against Comrade Stalin they lifted them against all the best that humanity possesses. For Stalin is hope; he is expectation; he is the beacon that guides all progressive mankind. Stalin is our banner! Stalin is our will! Stalin is our victory!”

(‘Pravda’, 31 January 1937), cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,; p., 162).

Stalin was described by Khrushchev in March 1939 as:

“. . . . our great genius, our beloved Stalin”,

(‘Visti VTsVK’, 3 March 1939, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,; p. 164)

at the 18th Congress of the Party in March 1939 as:

“…the greatest genius of humanity, teacher and ‘vozhd’, who leads us towards Communism, our very own Stalin.”

(XVIII s’ezd Vsesoiueznoi Kommunisticheskoi Partii (B). in: p. 174; cited in L. Pistrak: ibid,; p. 164).

and in May 1945 as

“. . . . great Marshal of the Victory.”

(‘Pravda Ukrainy’, 13 May 1945, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid.; p. 164).

On the occasion of the celebration of Stalin’s fiftieth birthday in December 1929, Anastas Mikoyan accompanied his congratulations with the demand

“that we, meeting the rightful demand of the masses, begin finally to work on his biography and make it available to the Party and to all working people in our country.”

(‘Izvestia’, 21 December 1929, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,;164).

Ten years later, on the occasion of Stalin’s sixtieth birthday in December 1939, Mikoyan was still urging the creation of a “. . . scientific biography” (‘Pravda’, 21 December 1939, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,.; p. 158) of Stalin.

The biography was eventually published in 1947, compiled by “G. F. Alexandrov, M. R. Galaktionov, V. S. Kruzhkov, M. B. Mitin, V. D. Mochalov and P. N. Pospelov” (‘Joseph Stalin: A Short Biography’; Moscow; 1947).

However, in his “secret speech” to the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956, basing himself on the “cult of the individual” which he and his colleagues had built up around Stalin, Khrushchev attributed the authorship of the book to Stalin himself:

“One of the most characteristic examples of Stalin’s self -glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is the edition of his ‘Short Biography’. This book is an example of the most dissolute flattery.”

(Russian Institute, Columbia University (Ed.): op. cit.; p. 69).

Motives for Building up the “Cult of the Individual”

Of course, many Soviet citizens admired Stalin and expressed this admiration. But clearly, the “cult of the individual” around Stalin was built up mainly by the concealed revisionists, against Stalin’s wishes, in order:

Firstly, to disguise the fact that the Party and the Communist International were dominated by concealed revisionists and to present the fiction that these were dominated personally by Stalin; thus blame for breaches of socialist legality and for deviations from Marxist-Leninist principles on their part could later be laid on Stalin;

Secondly, to provide a pretext for attacking Stalin at a later date (under the guise of carrying out a programme of “democratisation,” which was in fact a programme of dismantling socialism.

That Stalin himself was not unaware of the fact that concealed revisionists were the main force behind the “cult of persona lily” was reported by the Finnish revisionist Tuominen in 1935, who describes how, when he was informed that busts of him had been given prominent places in the Moscow’s leading art gallery, the Tretyakov, Stalin exclaimed:

“That’s downright sabotage!” (A. Touminen: op. cit.; p. 164).

The German writer Lion Feuchtwanger (Lion Feuchtwanger, German writer (1884-1958) in 1936 confirms that Stalin suspected that the “cult of personality” was being fostered by “wreckers” with the aim of discrediting him:

“It is manifestly irksome to Stalin to be worshipped as he is, and from time to time he makes fun of it. … Of all the men I know who have power, Stalin is the most unpretentious. I spoke frankly to him about the vulgar and excessive cult made of him, and he replied with equal candour. . . He thinks it is possible even that ‘wreckers’ may be behind it in an attempt to discredit him.”

(L. Feuchtwanger: ‘Moscow 1937’; London; 1937; p., 93, 94-95).

To conclude, the attack made by the revisionists on the ‘cult of personality’ in the Soviet Union was an attack not only upon Stalin personally as a leading Marxist-Leninist, a leading, defender of socialism, but as the first stage in an attack upon Marxism-Leninism and the socialist system in the Soviet Union.

Perhaps the best comment on it is the sarcastic toast which the Finnish revisionist Tuominen records as having been proposed by Stalin at a New Year Party in 1935:

“Comrades! I want to propose a toast to our patriarch, life and sun, liberator of nations, architect of socialism (he rattled off all the appelations applied to him in those days), Josef Vissarionovich Stalin, and I hope this is the first and last speech made to that genius this evening.”

(A. Tuominen: op. cit.; p. 162).


Communist Platform – Gramsci: a Bolshevik


One of the greatest inaccuracies spread by the opportunist politicians and the bourgeois intellectuals about Antonio Gramsci is the alleged distance, or even opposition, between his positions and those supported by Lenin and Stalin, and consequently his closeness to the ideas of Trotsky.

The origins of this legend are remote and well orchestrated, beginning with the fascist “Il Messaggero”, which, on May 12, 1937, announcing Gramsci’s death, spoke in an ignorant and cowardly fashion of “his fidelity to Trotsky”.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Gramsci’s “Trotskyism” was the daily bread of revisionist swindlers, which in this way constructed the unworthy and undeserved myth of the alienation or even aversion between the “good” Gramsci and the “evil” Stalin.

In reality, by examining the texts exactly the opposite emerges, namely a coincidence with the Bolshevik positions and a clear criticism of the positions of Trotsky and other opponents of Stalin. So let us now let Gramsci speak.

In his activity of leader and secretary of the Communist Party of Italy

In 1924 Gramsci, in his address to the “Conference of Como”, for the first time sketched a parallel between Bordiga and Trotsky (who also had differences between them), criticizing both:

“Trotsky’s attitude, initially, can be compared to comrade Bordiga’s at present. Trotsky, although taking part ‘in a disciplined manner’ in the work of the party, had through his attitude of passive opposition – similar to Bordiga’s -created a state of unease throughout the Party, which could not fail to get a whiff of this situation. […] This shows that an opposition – even kept within the limits of a formal discipline – on the part of exceptional personalities in the workers’ movement, can not merely hamper the development of the revolutionary situation, but can put in danger the very conquests of the revolution.”

(“The Building of the Communist Party.” English translation from Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Political Writings, 1921-1926, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1990, pp. 252-3).

In the following year Gramsci, pursuing his struggle for the bolshevization of the Party, asserted that Trotsky’s positions about “American super-capitalism” were dangerous and had to be rejected because,

“postponing the revolution indefinitely would shift the whole tactics of the Communist International […] They would also shift the tactics of the Russian State, since if one postpones the European revolution for an entire historical phase – if in other words, the Russian working class will not for a long time be able to count on the support of the proletariat of other countries – it is evidence that the Russian revolution must be modified.”

(Gramsci, Report to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Italy, February 6, 1925. Ibid., p. 284.)

Gramsci was always aware of the importance of the struggle against the deviations from Leninism and against factionalism. Therefore, in the same report he stated:

“The resolution should also say that Trotsky’s conceptions, and above all his attitude, represent a danger inasmuch as the lack of party unity, in a country in which there is only one party, splits the State. This produces a counter-revolutionary movement; […] Finally, lessons should be drawn from the Trotsky question for our party. Before the last disciplinary measures, Trotsky was in the same position as Bordiga is at present in our party: he played a purely figurative role in the Central Committee. His position created a tendentially factional situation, just as Bordiga’s attitude maintains an objectively factional situation in our party. […] Bordiga’s attitude, like that of Trotsky, has disastrous repercussions.”

(Ibid., p. 284.)

Again in 1925, on the occasion of the Fifth Plenum of the enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International, the Italian delegation, led by Gramsci, sided in favor of Stalin’s positions concerning the criticism of Trotsky without reservations.

For Gramsci, the decision to build socialism in the USSR under the conditions of capitalist encirclement was perfectly consistent with the needs of a period characterized by the relative stabilization of capitalism and the ebbing of the revolutionary wave.

Therefore his intransigent criticism of Trotsky, of his strategy of “permanent revolution”, which he considered incorrect, simplistic and insufficient, and his firm commitment to the strategy and politics of the Bolshevik leadership which, as we shall see, he would confirm in his Prison Notebooks.

Gramsci was always concerned for the cohesion of the Russian party, which was needed by the proletariat at both a national and international level.

In those years, in which the divergent positions between the Soviet party headed by Stalin and the Zinovievist and Trotskyist bloc were become programmatic, Gramsci several times warned about the risks of a split which the international bourgeoisie could take advantage of in order to overthrow proletarian power in Russia.

With regard to the struggle engaged in by the CC of RCP (b) against the opposition bloc of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, Gramsci wrote:

“In fact, one question is of the greatest importance in the measures jointly adopted by the Central Committee and the Control Commission of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.: the defense of the organizational unity of the Party itself. It is evident that, on this ground, no concession or compromise is possible, whoever promotes the work of the disintegration of the Party, whatever the nature and degree of their past merits, whatever the position that they hold at the head of the communist organization. […] So we think that the whole International must gather closely around the Central Committee of the Communist Party of USSR in order to approve of its energy, rigor and resolution in striking implacably at whoever threatens the unity of the Party.”

(Measures of the C.C. of C.P. of the U.S.S.R. in Defence of the Unity of the Party and against the Work of the Faction, in L’Unita, July 27, 1926).

The same concern for the organizational and ideological unity of the Soviet party, and its national and international implications (particularly the struggle that was taking place in Italy for the development of the Party) inspired the famous letter

“To the Central Committee of Soviet Communist Party” written in October of 1926 (published in Antonio Gramsci, Selections…, op. cit. pp. 426-432).

In this letter Gramsci intervened, in the name of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Italy, in the harsh political battle that was developing in the USSR between the Bolshevik leading group and the Trotskyist- Zinovievist opposition, declaring “basically correct the political line of the majority of the Central Committee of the CPSU”. (ibid., p. 430), headed by Stalin.

Although Gramsci was only partially informed about the Russian situation, his siding with the Leninist majority was vigorous and unequivocal. His accusation against the opposition bloc was very harsh and motivated by a main reason, explained by Gramsci in very clear terms:

“We repeat that we are struck by the fact that the attitude of the opposition [Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky] concerns the entire political line of the Central Committee, and touches the very heart of the Leninist doctrine and the political action of our Soviet party. It is the principle and practice of the proletariat s hegemony that are brought into question; the fundamental relations of alliance between workers and peasants that are disturbed and placed in danger: i.e. the pillars of the workers‘ State and the revolution.” (ibid., p. 431).

Being a fierce supporter of Leninist principles, Gramsci in the same letter harshly criticized

“the root of the errors of the Joint Opposition, and the origin of the latent dangers contained in its activities. In the ideology and practice of the Joint Opposition are born again, to the full, the whole tradition of social- democracy and syndicalism which has hitherto prevented the Western proletariat from organizing itself as a leading class.” (ibid., p. 432).

It is a stance that Gramsci further reinforced in the following letter “Gramsci to Togliatti” (October 26, 1926) (ibid., pp. 437-440), in which, thinking about the slowness of the Bolshevization process inside the Western parties, he wrote:

“The Russian discussion and the ideology of the opposition contribute all the more to this halting and slowing down, in that the opposition represents in Russia all the old prejudices of class corporatism and syndicalism which weigh upon the tradition of the Western proletariat, and delay its ideological and political development.” (Ibid., p. 439.)

And he concluded by pointing out:

“Our letter was a whole indictment of the opposition, not made in demagogic terms, but precisely for that reason more effective and more serious.” (ibid., p. 440).

Therefore an interpretation of these letters that aims to strengthen the idea of a “Trotskyist Gramsci” or a vacillating Gramsci is completely without foundation. It is very clear on which side Gramsci stood in the struggle that developed within the Russian party: on the side of the Bolshevik majority of the Party members.


In the Prison Notebooks

As is well-known, the revisionists assert that in his Prison Notebooks Gramsci does not write about Stalin, except indirectly, and that when he mentions Stalin’s USSR, he does it in a critical way (see, for instance, the thesis of G. Vacca in L ‘URSS staliniana nell ‘analisi dei Quaderni del carcere [Stalin’s USSR in the analysis of the Prison Notebooks] in Gorbacev e la sinistra europea [Gorbachev and the European Left], Rome 1989, p. 75).

These are unscrupulous lies and deceptions, because the passages in Prison Notebooks that deal with Soviet socialism are all in favor of Lenin and Stalin and against Trotsky.

There are four questions that Gramsci examines in his Notebooks in order to defend Bolshevism and criticize Trotsky: 1) The theory of the permanent revolution; 2) The stages of the revolution, and the consequent strategy and tactics; 3) The industrialization in the USSR; 4) The relation between internationalism and national policy.

Let us now examine the corresponding notes in the Prison Notebooks, on the basis of the edition prepared by the International Gramsci Society (IGS) (the text corresponds to the critical edition edited by V. Gerratana and published by Einaudi in 1975).

In square brackets we insert the necessary explanations of the pseudonyms (for instance, in the Notebooks Lenin is called Ilyich, Stalin is named Vissarionovich, Trotsky is sometimes called Bronstein, sometimes Leon Davidovich) and rewordings used by Gramsci in order to elude the fascist censorship.

1. Gramsci already wrote about Trotsky in Notebook 1, §44, at the end of an important note entitled “Political class leadership before and after assuming government power”. Inspired by the historic events of the Italian Unification, he referred to the enormous and unprecedented challenges that the Soviet government had to face. In this note Gramsci dealt directly with the Trotskyist slogan of the “permanent revolution”:

“As regards the ‘Jacobin‘ slogan which Marx directed at the Germany of 1848-49 [the idea of uninterrupted revolution], its complex fortunes should be examined. Revived, systematized, elaborated, intellectualized by the Parvus-Bronstein [Helphand-Trotsky] group, it proved inert and ineffective in 1905 and afterward: it was an abstract thing that belonged to the scientific laboratory. The tendency which opposed it [Bolshevism] in this intellectualized form, however, without using it ‘intentionally’, in fact employed it in its historical, concrete, living form adapted to the time and place as something that sprang from all the pores of the society which had to be transformed, as the alliance of two classes [working class and peasants] with the hegemony of the urban class [the working class]”.

(Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, Columbia University Press, 1992-, Vol. 1, p. 151.)

According to Gramsci, modern “Jacobinism” expressed itself above all in a policy of alliance with the peasantry, under the hegemony of the working class. So Gramsci evaluated the correct Bolshevik policy conducted by Stalin against the Trotskyist thesis of the “permanent revolution”. This thesis underestimated the importance of the poor peasants as a revolutionary force, and expressed complete distrust in the ability of the proletariat to lead all the exploited and oppressed people in the revolution, until it arrived at the impossibility of building socialism in one single country.

The note ends with a very harsh accusation against Trotsky, who is compared with the reactionary bourgeois Crispi:

“In the one case [Trotsky], a Jacobin temperament without the adequate political content, typified by Crispi; in the second case [Bolshevism], a Jacobin temperament and content in keeping with the new historical relations, rather than adhering to an intellectualistic label.” (Ibid., p. 151.)]

It is interesting to observe that Gramsci took up this same note almost completely in Notebook 19, written in 1934-35, that is, after the definitive break with Trotskyism.

Gramsci returned to the question of the “permanent revolution” in Notebook 7, §16, in a famous note titled “War of position and war of maneuver, or frontal war”:

“One should determine whether Bronstein’s [Trotsky] famous theory about the permanence of movement is not a political reflection of the theory of the war of maneuver (remember the observation by the Cossack general Krasnov); whether it is not, in the final analysis, a reflection of the general-economic-cultural-social conditions of a country in which the structures of national life are embryonic and unsettled and cannot become ‘trench or fortress. ‘In that case one might say that Bronstein, while appearing to be ‘Western,‘ was in fact a cosmopolitan, that is, superficially national and superficially Western or European. Ilyich [Lenin], on the other hand, was profoundly national and profoundly European. In his memoirs, Bronstein recalls somebody saying that his theory had proved true… fifteen years later; he responded to the epigram with another epigram. In reality his theory, as such, was good neither fifteen years earlier nor fifteen years later.” (Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 168.)

After having opposed Lenin to Trotsky, Gramsci added:

“Bronstein’s theory can be compared to that of certain French syndicalists on the general strike and to Rosa’s [Luxemburg] theory in the little book translated by Alessandri. Rosa’s book and theory, moreover, influenced the French syndicalists.” (Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 169.)

2. In his reflections, Gramsci linked the question of the “permanent revolution” to the question of the transition from the “war of maneuver” to the “war of position”. In particular, after the defeat of the revolution in Germany in 1923, and the transition of the worker movement to defensive positions, Gramsci was convinced that the problem of the development of the revolutionary process in Europe had to be redrawn up, understanding the reasons of the temporary ebb and establishing revolutionary tasks appropriate for the new phase.

The observation contained in Notebook 6, §138 is dedicated to this fundamental strategic and tactical question:

“Past and present. Transition from the war of maneuver (and frontal assault) to the war of position – in the political field as well. In my view, this is the most important post-war problem of political theory; it is also the most difficult problem to solve correctly. This is related to the issues raised by Bronstein [Trotsky], who, in one way or another, can be considered the political theorist of frontal assault, at a time when it could only lead to defeat.” (Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 109.)

Facing the complex problem of the alternative, or rather of the combination, between “assault tactics” and “siege tactics”, which had been discussed in the Communist International, Gramsci started from a consideration of extraordinary importance, systematically ignored by the revisionists and reformists: “All this indicates that we have entered into the highest phase in the political-historical situation, since in politics the ‘war of position ‘, once won, is definitively decisive.”

On the basis of this consideration, that Gramsci realized by analyzing the profound crisis of the ability of the bourgeoisie to lead and govern, as well as the greater resistance of the State apparatus in the West and the existence of large intermediate social groups, he added in Notebook 7, §16:

“In my view, Ilyich [Lenin] understood the need for a shift from the war of maneuver that had been applied victoriously in the East in 1917, to a war of position, which was the only viable possibility in the West […] This, I believe, is the meaning of the term ‘united front’ [.] Ilyich, however, never had time to develop his formula. One should also bear in mind that Ilyich could only have developed his formula on a theoretical level, whereas the fundamental task was a national one; in other words, it required a reconnaissance of the terrain and an identification of the elements of trench and fortress represented by the components of civil society, etc.” (Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 168-169.)

We are here in the heart of the research program that Gramsci developed in the Notebooks. But there was another key aspect of the strategic and tactical methods determined by the historically created relations of forces: that of the Soviet Union. Regarding this question, Gramsci wrote (Notebook 6, §138):

“The war of position calls on enormous masses of people to make huge sacrifices; that is why an unprecedented concentration of hegemony is required and hence a more ‘interventionist’ kind of government that will engage more openly in the offensive against the opponents and ensure, once and for all, the ‘impossibility’ of internal disintegration by putting in place controls of all kinds – political, administrative, etc., reinforcement of the hegemonic positions of the dominant group, etc.” (Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 109.)

It is an open support of Stalin’s line, for the reinforcement of the proletarian dictatorship, a political line that “requires exceptional qualities of patience and inventiveness”, but was the only successful one in that concrete historic situation. A political line diametrically opposed to that of Trotsky.

3. As we have seen, a fundamental aspect of the “war of position” was the defense of Soviet power and the building of socialism. In this last case too, acute problems did arise. The criticism expressed by Gramsci at the beginning of a famous note (Notebook 4, §52) is extremely interesting:

“Americanism and Fordism. The tendency exhibited by Leon Davidovich [Trotsky] was related to this problem. Its essential content was based on the ‘will’ to give supremacy to industry and industrial methods, to accelerate the growth of discipline and orderliness in production through coercive means, to adapt customs to the necessities of work. It would have ended up, necessarily, in a form of Bonapartism; hence it was necessary to break it up inexorably.” (Ibid, Vol. 2, p. 215.)

Gramsci here takes into account one of the crucial questions of the harsh debate that involved the RCP(b) and the Communist International in the 1920s: the question of the forms and rhythms of industrialization and the NEP.

According to Gramsci, Trotsky is the highest representative of a harmful tendency, a kind of “Americanism”, based on coercion, command and the military systems.

That is, the forced and accelerated introduction of forms of production, modes of life and culture tied to the needs of private capital (in fact Gramsci recalled “‘Leon Davidovich’s interest in Americanism. His interest, his articles, his studies on “byt” [life, mode of living] and on literature”. (Ibid, Vol. 2, p. 215.)

In the same note Gramsci affirmed that “the principle of coercion in the sphere of work was correct […] but the form it assumed was wrong.” (Ibid, Vol. 2, p. 215.)

Therefore it was a position incompatible with Leninism, a position which contradicted the “temporary retreat” of the NEP and would lead to the breakup of the alliance with the peasantry and to the ruin of Soviet power. So it was a tendency that had to be smashed, as it would have led to the restoration of capitalism.

Gramsci never evinced doubts on this matter. In fact, on two other occasions he explained and approved of the elimination of Trotsky: in Notebook 14 §76, marking the elimination of Trotsky like “‘an episode of the liquidation “also” of the “black” parliamentarism which existed after the abolition of the “legal” parliament” (Selections from the prison notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, International Publisher, New York, 1971, p. 256); and in Notebook 22 (that can be dated to 1934), when, referring to Trotsky’s tendency, he repeated “the inexorable necessity of crushing it”. (Ibid., p. 301).

4. Last but not least, let us look at the note in Notebook 14, §68, in which Gramsci, taking as his starting point the speech of Stalin at Sverdlov University in Moscow (June 9, 1925 – see note at the end of the article), directly contrasting Stalin (Vissarionovich) and Trotsky (Davidovich).

Gramsci writes, deeply examining the question of the relation between internationalism and national policy:

“A work (in the form of questions and answers) by Joseph Vissarionovitch [Stalin] dating from September 1927: it deals with certain key problems of the science and art of politics. The problem which seems to me to need further elaboration is the following: how, according to the philosophy of praxis [Marxism] (as it manifests itself politically) – whether as formulated by its founder [Marx] or particularly as restated by its most recent theoretician [Lenin] – the international situation should be considered in its national aspect. In reality, the internal relations of any nation are the result of a combination which is ‘original’ and (in a certain sense) unique: these relations must be understood and conceived in their originality and uniqueness if one wishes to dominate them and direct them. To be sure, the line of development is towards internationalism, but the point of departure is ‘national‘ – and it is from this point of departure that one must begin. Yet the perspective is international and cannot be otherwise. Consequently, it is necessary to study accurately the combination of national forces which the international class [the proletariat] will have to lead and develop, in accordance with the international perspectives and directives [i.e. those of the Comintern]. [.] It is on this point, in my opinion, that the fundamental disagreement between Leo Davidovich [Trotsky] and Vissarionovitch [Stalin] as interpreter of the majority movement [Bolshevism] really hinges. The accusations of nationalism are inept if they refer to the nucleus of the question. If one studies the majoritarians’ struggle from 1902 up to 1917, one can see that its originality consisted in purging internationalism of every vague and purely ideological (in a pejorative sense) element, to give it a realistic political content.” (Ibid., p. 240-241.)

It is clear as day that Gramsci, tracing the “fundamental disagreement” between Trotsky/Davidovich and Stalin/ Vissarionovitch, shared Stalin’s position, the interpretation of Bolshevism that, in Gramsci’s opinion, correctly put forward and resolved the problem of the combination of national forces that the international class must lead and develop in the perspective of world communism.

One of the best Bolsheviks

In the light of the texts, an interpretation of Gramsci’s thought in a Trotskyist sense is groundless. On the contrary, from Gramsci’s work, including the reflections contained in the Prison Notebooks, there emerges a ruthless criticism of Trotsky.

In all the passages where Gramsci writes about Trotsky the content is always one of a harsh polemic. At the same time, Gramsci positively appraised the positions of Lenin and Stalin; he approved the whole of the Bolshevik policy, including those features that the bourgeoisie and revisionists include in the misleading concept of “totalitarianism”.

There is no text or speech, neither in freedom nor in prison, in which Gramsci expressed a negative opinion much less denigrated the leadership of the Bolshevik Party and comrade Stalin.

The manipulators of modern revisionism, the magicians of “socialism of the 21st century” and all the bourgeois and reactionary intellectuals are completely refuted.

Antonio Gramsci was a great revolutionary leader of the proletariat, a giant of communist thought and action, who always fought against anti-Leninist deviations, who always defended the dictatorship of the proletariat, the system of working-class democracy embodied in the Councils (Soviet), against the false bourgeois democracy and its social-democratic variants (such as today’s “participatory democracy”). He always insisted on the necessity of a revolutionary transformation of the whole of society through the smashing of the bourgeois State, and always remained faithful to Marxism-Leninism and to proletarian socialism, until the last day of his life.

As the Communist International wrote on the occasion of his death, caused by long years of fascist imprisonment and cruelty: “‘Closely linked to the masses, capable of learning in the school of the masses, able to understand all aspects of social life, an unyielding revolutionary, faithful to his last breath to the Communist International and to his own Party, Gramsci leaves to us the memory of one of the best representatives of the generation of Bolsheviks who grew up in the ranks of the Communist International in the spirit of the doctrine of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, in the spirit of Bolshevism.” (Communist International, July, 1937, 435-436.)

To rescue Antonio Gramsci, the great communist leader, from the claws of the bourgeoisie, the revisionists and opportunists is an important task for the revolutionary proletariat.

June 2014
Communist Platform (Italy)

Note: Stalin’s speech, titled Questions and Answers (Works, Vol. 7), was translated into Italian and published in serial form by “L’Unita” in 1926. Gramsci, quoting by memory in jail, by mistake confused the date of that speech with the date (September 1927) of Stalin’s Interview with the First American Labor Delegation, that was also in the form of questions and answers (Works, Vol. 10), of which Gramsci had read an account in a magazine while he was in jail.

The change of dates was not noticed by the editor of the critical edition of Prison Notebooks, Valentino Gerratana, who perpetuated the mistake with a misleading commentary.

Instead it is clear that Gramsci was referring to the Questions and Answers of 1925 (see particularly Stalin’s reply to questions II and IX).


“Theses on Art” from the League of Socialist Artists


Introduction from Alliance for web presentation (Alliance 2000).

The “Theses on Art,” were put forward in 1972, by the “League of Socialist Artists”; and the “Marxist-Leninist Organisation of Britain (MLOB).”

The latter was the progenitor of the Communist League (CL).

This article was first re-printed by Alliance in hard copy with poems of Nazim Hikmet, as illustrated by the Socialist artist Maureen Scott, in issue number 8.

We have still not found a better and more concise and clear expression of Socialist aesthetics and thus offer this in web form.

It is preceded by short introductions to the First and the Second Editons.
After the “Theses,” is a short “Manifesto Of Socialist Arts.”

This, will form the first part of an on-going series on socialist aesthetics.


Of all spheres of Marxist-Leninist science, none has been so neglected, both by its classic founders and subsequent practitioners, as that of aesthetics. So far as the written heritage of Marx, Engels and Lenin is concerned, they were all to one degree or another compelled by the intensity of the struggle to concentrate their attention almost exclusively on problems more directly and closely relevant to the class struggle of the proletariat. In the case of J. V. Stalin an admittedly altogether larger contribution was made, but this again was restricted to certain fundamental theoretical questions largely concerned with the relationship between base and superstructure. (‘Marxism and Linguistics’)

The two names most closely associated with the development of Marxist aesthetics are, without doubt, Andrei Zhdanov and Georg Lukacs (Cf. Speech at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers: A. Zhdanov; and Lukacs’ many works of theory and criticism, of which ‘The Historical Novel’ is perhaps the most important). As regards problems relating more generally to questions of reflective and effective content, it was Zhdanov who took the vitally important initiative, at a crucial moment in the history of the –Soviet Union and the CPSU(B), to combat various manifestations of schematic (mechanical or idealist distortions in the realisation of effective content) and formalism (abdication from the need to develop content through concentration on questions of form, not to illuminate and express an effective content, but for their own sake).

On the other hand, the work of Lukacs – so much lengthier, more complete and systematised than Zhdanov’s speeches – manifests certain tendencies towards over-estimating the value of classical critical realism in the literature of the bourgeoisie, and to evaluate these on an equal level with socialist realism to the detriment of the latter. Furthermore, since the collapse of the international communist movement to modern revisionism subsequent upon the death of J.V. Stalin, Lukacs has been at pains to repudiate his earlier correct, not to say pioneering, work and is now performing yeoman service on behalf of the right-revisionist centre in Moscow. This he is doing by denying in general any validity whatever of aesthetics as a science – thereby negating both his own earlier work and the objective growth and subjective need by the class conscious revolutionary proletariat wherever it may arise, of an art and Literature fully capable of expressing the world view and historical destiny of the proletariat as the prime mover of the socialist revolution.

The experience of past revolutionary movements of the proletariat – in particular in such developed monopoly capitalist countries as Germany, France, Britain and Italy before the rise of modern revisionism – reveals that, whereas revolutionary art may have been considered at that time as very much a secondary matter – as almost a luxury, in fact – today it has become a prime necessity to the building of any revolutionary proletarian mass movement in those countries. The tremendously intensified and wide-spread scale on which fetishistic, sensuously degraded and formalist art is being deployed for the purpose of achieving the more-or-less universal corruption of standards of judgment, sensitivity of emotional response and, ultimately, stultification of intellectual insight and capacity amongst ever more numerous sections of the working people, renders the task of neutralising this poison through the creation of an alternative organised network of centres of collective, proletarian cultural and artistic work of, by and for the class conscious revolutionary proletariat one of the fundamental prerequisites for the growth of the revolutionary mass movement, the mass base of the socialist revolution, to the necessary level of overwhelming superiority of forces which is indispensable if the vastly powerful and predatory state apparatus of monopoly capital is to be smashed and destroyed and the state of the democratic dictatorship of the working class is to achieve final victory. This work of revolutionary creativity and creation will form a vitally important part of the process of growth and the steady consolidation day by day of the structure and cohesive organisation of the revolutionary Red Front.

This great and growing regenerative cultural front, the inspirer and mobiliser of the working masses, the agency for their liberation from the soporific anodyne of culture-reaction, would enable workers and working people at all levels of class consciousness and militancy, each level through its appropriate forms, to contribute to the growth of the new proletarian-socialist culture which, like the socialist revolution itself, must and can only be born and grow strong out of that cleansing and purifying crucible of experience which is the bitter, steely hard, pitilessly uncompromising and all-demanding revolutionary class struggle which will surely arise and develop throughout the coming corporate-fascist era of capitalism, the eleventh hour of capitalism’s doom.

It is for all these reasons, of course, that the concealed representatives of monopoly capital posing within the ranks of the proletariat as “progressive artists,” at the head of which stand those hardened enemies of the working class and socialism, the modern revisionists and trotskyites, have obstructed the development of socialist aesthetics. In two recently published journals in particular – “Artery,” the journal of the revisionist Communist Party’s artists group, and “7 Days,” the latest essay in pop-kitsch produced by the businessmen of the “New Left” – have these reactionary tasks been taken up. Thus, in the October 1971 edition of “Artery,” we read, in an article by the revisionist “theoretician” Mike Steadman:

“Again, whilst the notion of Realism may be a very powerful tool in literary criticism, or in criticism of the visual arts, we are often guilty of quite grandiosely exterpolating and extending this analysis from one sort of art form, where it may be applicable, to other forms where it is not. Correspondingly, I believe that our all too frequent insistence that art is good art which most furthers the class struggle is another and related criterion which collapses before the same objection. My feeling is, that we have failed to develop a Marxist theory of art despite the fact of brilliant work by individual theoreticians in particular fields.” (‘Artery’, page 5).

By propagating this kind of liberal eclecticism, the treacherous revisionists attempt at one and the same time to “destroy” the unity of Marxist-Leninist theory and to give themselves the airs of “learned fools,” as Lenin once called this type of class traitor.

A little further we read:

‘The battle, the class struggle in art, is between the way in which industrial society alienates the human being and what we believe is to be the way in which we should struggle against this. That is, in raising as a political goal, raising in our daily lives, the need to expand, continuously, the art of a free creative labour.”(ibid; p 6).

So, in the place of the struggle to mobilise and build up the revolutionary consciousness of the proletariat stage by stage in preparation for the socialist revolution, we are presented with the misty goal of a mythical struggle –so fine-sounding in words, but devoid of any real class significance – to realise “free creative labour” even whilst capitalist production relations and the dictatorship of the capitalist class through its oppressive state apparatus still exist. The work of the co-partners of, revisionism in this counter-revolutionary task, the trotskyites, complements the encouragement of bourgeois dictatorship in the arts by advocating the “progressive” character of the distorted drug-orientated “underground culture” fanned by ‘capitalism and attacking the genuine struggle for a’ revolutionary culture.

In the coming final stage of growth of the proletarian-socialist revolution which lies ahead, both in the developed countries and on a world scale, the revolutionary proletariat will need its Gorkys, its Ostrovskys, its Anna Seghers. It is as a concise, simple and yet fully comprehensive theoretical guide to action in commencing upon the long and difficult tasks revealed in this guide that the Provisional Committee of the Union of Socialist Artists has prepared and published this outline of socialist principles of aesthetic science. Long and fruitfully may it serve all fighters for a revolutionary art underlying and illuminating the hard road to the victory of the proletarian-socialist revolution!

Provisional Committee,
March 1972.

The LEAGUE OF SOCIALIST ARTISTS pledges themselves:

a) To work for socialism – a society based on the political power of the working people in which production is planned in their interests.

b) To work towards the development of a revolutionary art and to place that art at the service of the working people, in broad affiliation with the Red Front Movement and under the overall leadership of the Marxist–Leninist Organisation of Britain, in such a way that it functions as an inspiration and a weapon to them in the class struggle and in the emerging revolutionary movement to establish and maintain a socialist society.

Printed and published by the League of Socialist Artists.


The appearance of a second and revised edition of the “Theses on Art” requires no lengthy comment. The fact that a first printing of 1,000 copies should have been exhausted in the relatively short space of 12 months alone provides a sufficient indication that the Theses are beginning to find their proper application as a theoretical guide to action for a small but growing number of worker-artists with a developing revolutionary-socialist consciousness and understanding, and who are anxious to place their talents at the service of the historic cause of the working class.

In this connection, it is perhaps not accidental that the publication of the Theses some eighteen months ago should have marked the beginning of a period in which the League of Socialist Artists has undergone a small but significant growth in the scope and quality of its tasks and activities. Typical of these have been the formation of the League of Socialist Artists Film Unit and the initiation of work to produce a series of propaganda films, and also the development of the poster workshop.

Apart from the exhaustion of available stocks and the correction of a few textual errors, the publication of a 2nd Edition has to a large degree been motivated by the need to re-formulate and extend the section on Beauty, in order to bring this hitherto highly esoteric – but in fact fundamentally important question more fully into line with the latest advances made in the infant science of dialectical-materialist revolutionary aesthetics. In particular, the all important psychological component in the formation of subjective responses to and appreciation of beauty – hitherto completely ignored by Marxist-Leninists – is now given its first clear, even if necessarily brief and sketchy outline. The important task of subjecting this germinal thesis to a complete theoretical elaboration in the light of the dialectical-materialist scientific method is one which must and will be taken up and developed further by students of scientific revolutionary aesthetics at the earliest moment consistent with the maintenance of essential priorities in the discharge of work and tasks.

Finally, the appearance of this 2nd Edition will, do doubt, give occasion for still louder and more frenetic accusations of “dogmatism,” “schematism,” “intellectual arrogance” and other allegedly anti-popular sins. That the Theses should have attracted their fair share of such attacks on the part of Trotskyite, Maoist and other disruptors and demagogues of petty-bourgeois class orientation was, of course, only to be expected, and of these there have been not a few, including one from an American Maoist (the subject of a forthcoming pamphlet) – the only one, incidentally, which summoned sufficient critical acumen and courage as to be expressed in written form – which condemns the Theses on the grounds that they attempt to “decide in words all questions of revolutionary aesthetics,” and that this allegedly “leaves the people out.” As Marxist-Leninists, as revolutionary proletarian-socialist artists we naturally treasure such attacks and savour them keenly – not, of course, because we ascribe the slightest objective validity to the ideas they propound, but because they provide us with a clear and reliable guide, by inverse example, that the League Of Socialist Artist cadres are working along fundamentally correct lines and in accordance with theoretical principles which are scientifically true.

However this may be, the experience of the period since the publication of the 1st Edition fully confirms the view that the “Theses” are proving their worth to those who comprehend the role of scientific Marxist-Leninist theory in the task of solving the vastly intricate and many-sided problems associated with the further growth and widespread dissemination of art-works and their corresponding art-forms capable of expressing, in all their conflict-ridden richness and complexity, the life and struggles of the working class in general and the proletarian-socialist revolutionary movement in particular. If we of the League of Socialist Artists have at least made a beginning in working out these essential theoretical principles of scientific revolutionary aesthetics, principles which can then assist tens, later hundreds and ultimately thousands of worker-artists with a proletarian-socialist consciousness and allegiance to master the media in which they work and to fashion them into works of socialist realism, in all art-forms, sufficiently truthful and insighted in content and powerful and sensitive in form as to arouse the respect and deepen the under-standing of at least, under present conditions, the most advanced class-conscious workers, we shall feel justified in the belief that our work has made a small but valuable contribution to the long and difficult task of mobilising and building the philosophically and politically conscious proletarian revolutionary movement and its scientific socialist-Leninist vanguard party.

September 1973



Art is a form of production in which the producer (the artist) endeavours to create, through its product (the work of art), certain thoughts and feelings in the minds of consumers (those who see, hear, read etc. his work of art).

In the words of J.V. Stalin:

“The artist is the engineer of the human soul.”

Clearly, it cannot be a matter of indifference to Socialists what kind of thoughts and feelings works of art create – whether they tend, objectively, to help forward the working class in its historical task of destroying the capitalist state in a socialist revolution, of establishing its own political power and of proceeding to construct a Socialist society; or whether they tend, objectively, to hold back the working class from these fundamental tasks.


The subject of a work of art is simply what it is about – sunflowers, the Marriage of Figaro, Paradise Lost, the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, the construction of the Dnieper dam.


The content of a work of art is the character imparted to its subject. by the artist, a character which reflects the artist’s intellectual and emotional – in short, psychological – attitude towards his subject.

The content of a work of art comprises two inter-related components:
1) the reflective content, and
2) the effective content.

The reflective content of a work of art is the reflection in this work of art of the artist’s world outlook – itself the subjective expression of his whole life experience. This world outlook is essentially that of the social class to which the artist belongs or with which he identifies his interests. The reflective content of a work of art may be described in terms of the social class which holds the particular world outlook reflected in this content, or in terms of the social system in which this class is the ruling class. Thus, we may speak of the capitalist or bourgeois reflective content of a work of art (where this reflects the world outlook of the capitalist class or bourgeoisie), and of the working class, proletarian or socialist reflective content of a work of art (where this reflects the world outlook of the working class or proletariat, which is the ruling class in a socialist society).

The effective content of a work of art consists of the particular thoughts and feelings, which the artist endeavours to create in the minds of consumers through the work of art concerned. The effective content of a work of art is described in terms of the social effects which these thoughts and feelings tend, objectively, to produce: as progressive (where these thoughts and feelings tend, objectively to further the development of society) or as reactionary (where these thoughts and feelings tend, objectively, to hold back or turn back the development of society).

In the period when the bourgeoisie was playing an objectively revolutionary role in leading the mass of the people to break the fetters of feudalism, art with a bourgeois reflective content had a progressive effective content. Today, when the role of the bourgeoisie is to hold back the overthrow of the objectively obsolete capitalist social system, art with a bourgeois reflective content has a reactionary effective content. The inter-relation between the reflective and effective components of the content of a work of art is thus a variable one, dependent on the stage of the development of the society in which the work of art is produced.

The more conscious an artist is of the class basis of the reflective content of his art and of the social effects of its effective content, the closer will the two components of the content of his art be integrated, and the more will the reflective content reinforce the effective content – the more powerful will be the thoughts and feelings created by his art.

Before the development of the scientific materialist conception of history, the basis of which was laid by Karl Marx, an artist could at the most be only partly conscious of the class basis of the reflective content of his art and of the social effects of its effective content.

Today it is possible for an artist who has mastered the scientific materialist conception of history, who has embraced wholeheartedly and from within the innermost core of his psychological make-up the cause of the working class and of Socialism, to be fully conscious of the class basis of the effective content, so that the two components of the content of his art reinforces the progressive effective content to make it a powerful ideological weapon in the service of the working class and of Socialism.


The form of a work of art is the manner in which an artist constructs his work of art in order to express its content. On the form of a work of art depends its capacity to communicate its content to consumers.

The form of a work of art is described in terms of the degree to which it truthfully reflects its subject, that is, in terms of the degree of its realism. The further the form of a work of art departs from realism, the nearer it approaches to abstraction, in which the form of a work of art reflects its subject in no discernible way. An abstract painting is composed of shapes and colours, which reflect reality in no discernible way, an abstract poem is composed of sounds without discernible meaning, and so on.


Questions of quality, of “goodness” and “badness,” in art belong to what is called aesthetics.

To many people aesthetics is a subjective matter, a question of personal taste. To such people a work of art is “good” to one person if he likes it, while the same work of art may be “bad’ to another person if he dislikes it.

To scientific Socialists a work of art is good if its effective content is progressive and its form is such that this effective content is readily communicable to consumers, that is, if its form is realist.

In the period when the bourgeoisie was playing an objectively revolutionary role in leading the mass of the people to break the fetters of feudalism, art with a bourgeois reflective content had a progressive effective content and, to the extent that it was also realist in form, it was aesthetically good.

Today, when the role of the bourgeoisie is to hold back the overthrow of the objectively obsolete capitalist social system, art with a bourgeois reflective content has a reactionary effective content and, irrespective of its form, it was aesthetically bad.

Today, aesthetically good art can only be proletarian socialist in reflective content (and so progressive in effective content) and realist in form – can only, in other words, take the form of socialist realism.


Beauty is that combination of qualities in a work of art, which affects the fundamental psychological and personality attributes of a consumer in positive manner. A work of art, which so affects those attributes, is beautiful to that particular consumer- whilst one which fails to so affect them is either not beautiful to him – i.e. is one to which his psychology and personality are either not able to respond or else-which he finds consciously ugly.

The same work of art may affect the psyche of one consumer in a positive way and the psyche of another consumer in a negative way – that is, it may be beautiful to one consumer and ugly to another. The beauty (or non-beauty, or ugliness) of a work of art is not, therefore, an objective attribute of a work of art; it is a subjective attribute which has meaning only in relation to a particular consumer, or to a particular category of consumers.

Aesthetics is sometimes defined as “the critical appreciation of beauty.” Scientific socialists reject this definition, since the beauty of a work of art is subjective, relative to a particular consumer or to a particular category of consumers, while the aesthetic quality of a work of art is, as has been said, objective, inherent in the work of art itself.

Whether a particular work of art is beautiful (or non-beautiful, or ugly) to a particular consumer depends, therefore, on more than mere sensory perception; it depends on the dialectical interaction and ultimate synthesis in one affective moment of response of all three of the above fundamental psychological attributes of personality:

sensory perception, intellectual judgment and emotional responsiveness.

This response is, in turn, dependent upon a complex of psychological characteristics built up during the consumer’s life experience, which may be called the consumer’s canons of beauty. The closer the content and form of a work of art correspond to the consumer’s canons of beauty, the more beautiful it is to him. As the consumer’s life experience continues, as the external world and his relations with it change, so do his canons of beauty change and develop in and through the psychological processes described above.

Within a particular society at a particular time, there are generally accepted canons of beauty just as there are generally accepted canons of morality, and these are socially determined. These generally accepted canons of beauty are those which best serve the interests of that society at that period – in the case of a class-divided society, those which best serve the interests of the ruling class at that period. As society changes, or as the interests of the ruling class within a particular society change, so do the generally accepted canons of beauty change.

Within a capitalist society in decay, such as that which exists in Britain at the present time, an aesthetically good socialist realist work of art affects, generally speaking, the psychological responsiveness of members of the capitalist class in a negative way; it appears ugly to them. Furthermore, it is in sharp contradiction with the generally accepted canons of beauty imposed on decaying capitalist society by the ruling capitalist class, and so is ugly to all consumers who accept these generally accepted canons of beauty. Here, therefore, there is a contradiction between aesthetic quality and beauty. On the other hand, the same work of art will affect in a positive way the psychological attributes of a consumer who is thoroughly socialist, who has thrown off the generally accepted bourgeois canons of beauty in favour of canons of beauty which serve the interests of the working class; to him it will be beautiful. Here, therefore, there is no contradiction between aesthetic quality and beauty.

In a capitalist society the canons of beauty of the ruling capitalist class are, by and large, accepted by the petty bourgeois intelligentsia – who are, in fact, the main proponents of these canons of beauty within society. But with the increasing decay of capitalist society at the stage of advanced imperialism and the consequent rise to dominance of formalist art, the canons of beauty of the ruling monopoly capitalist class cease to be “generally accepted,” in that they come to be rejected by the working class. The contradiction between aesthetic quality and the canons of beauty of the ruling class is now so great that it cannot be bridged, so far the working class is concerned, even by the use of all the ideological and propaganda resources at the disposal of the ruling class – which naturally, seeks to meet the situation by instilling in the minds of the workers the conception that beauty in art (and even art itself in all but its crudest, merely soporific, narcotic forms) is inappropriate for workers. This leads to the workers becoming largely sealed off from serious art and to the stunting of their sense of beauty, i.e., of the capacity to have their personality attributes in any way affected by serious works of art.

Thus, the awakening of the sense of beauty in the working class is an important part of the work of Socialist artists. It is in itself a potentially revolutionary act, an important aspect of the overall task of generating the revolutionary energies of the working class.


Realism, the true reflection of reality in a work of art, does not mean mere photographic representation.

Scientific Socialists understand that, beneath the surface of something which appears static, the forces of change and development are at work, so that the thing itself is changing and developing, even though we cannot see this process on the surface.

True realism, therefore, penetrates beneath the surface of things to reveal the process of their change. Only scientific Socialism, the world outlook known as dialectical materialism, provides the key to penetrating beneath the surface of things; only a Socialist artist who has made Marxism-Leninism, dialectical materialism, his world outlook, can, therefore, be a complete realist in the form of his art.

Suppose a writer wishes to reflect in a novel the contemporary reality in Britain. On the surface one sees a working class which is far from revolutionary, a youth which has been corrupted on a wider scale than any previous generation, a country in which Marxist-Leninists can almost be counted on the fingers.

But this is a superficial and false picture. Scientific socialists, by their analysis of British contemporary capitalist society, understand that forces are at work which are in process of transforming the working class into an invincible revolutionary force, led by a strong vanguard party.

True realism in art, therefore, means the portrayal not so much of what lies on the surface of things (this is naturalism, not realism), but of what lies beneath the surface. It also involves the selection from all the infinite entities that make up reality of those which are significant in portraying the changing, developing essence of this reality.

Realism differs also from naturalism in that it permits deviation from naturalistic representation where this assists in the fuller expression of the aspect of reality concerned. In satire, in the cartoon, features are exaggerated not to falsify reality, but to heighten it.

If an artist paints the grass in a meadow red merely as a “gimmick,” this falsifies reality. But if he paints the grass in the exercise yard of the Attica State Prison red, to symbolise the massacre which took place there in 1971, this may well serve to heighten the realism of the painting.

Realism differs from naturalism also in that it concentrates the social essence of individuals into the type. As Maxim Gorky expresses it in “Literature and Life”:

“When a writer describes some shopkeeper, official or worker of his acquaintance, he is merely producing some more or less successful likeness of an individual; but such a likeness will remain a mere photograph, without any socially educative significance, and will contribute almost nothing either in breadth or in depth to our knowledge of life and of our fellow men. But if the writer is able to extract from twenty or fifty or a hundred shopkeepers, officials or workers the characteristic traits, habits, tastes, gestures, beliefs, mannerisms typical of them as a class and if he can bring these traits to life in a single shopkeeper, official or worker, he will have created a type and his work will be a work of art.”


The unscientific, metaphysical world outlook of the bourgeois artist – a world outlook which underlies all bourgeois art, whether its effective content be progressive or reactionary – draws the content of his work towards one or other of the apparently opposite poles of mystical idealism, or arid mechanical materialism. It effectively prevents him from achieving that all-round, universalised, penetrating, developmental understanding of his subject which constitutes the hallmark of proletarian-socialist realism.

Since the inherent, objective laws of development of society are a closed book to the bourgeois artist, metaphysics must for him take the place of scientific method. Thus, even when the objective situation of the capitalist class to which the artist belongs is a progressive one, impelling him towards a progressive effective content in his work, this content is necessarily limited in its scope, in its insight, in its treatment of character and society’s processes. He may be capable of revealing the social evils, which are inherent in capitalist society even in its progressive stage of development, but he can discern neither the basic laws of motion of capitalist society nor the true role of the working class as the social force destined by history to resolve the contradictions of capitalist society by abolishing it and replacing it by a socialist society.

This type of progressive bourgeois art is termed by revolutionary Socialists bourgeois critical realism, because it can reveal in a critical way, through a superficial depiction of character and events, much of what is wrong with capitalist society, but can neither probe beneath the surface to reveal the basic causes of those evils nor point the way forward to their solution in a socialist society.

As far as form is concerned, therefore, bourgeois critical realism tends towards naturalism rather than realism (as in the work of such artists as Charles Dickens, Emile Zola and Gustav Flaubert). In the most developed work of bourgeois critical realism, however, (such as those of Ludwig van Beethoven, Thomas Mann, Georg Buchner, Vincent van Gogh and Gustav Mahler) a close approximation to true realism in form is realised.

Socialist realism bases itself upon and further develops the finest achievements of bourgeois critical realism, overcoming in the course of this development the limitations of content and form of the latter in order to achieve a truthful, penetrating, developmental and powerfully moving treatment of reality.


Art which directly serves the interests of the capitalist class in the period of the decay of its social usefulness is at first glance realist in form, in that its images are recognisable reflections of real life in comparison with the abstractions, which make up the greater part of modern painting with a bourgeois content. This must be so in order that its reactionary effective content the thoughts or feelings which serve the interests of the capitalist class may be communicated to consumers. But because, in the period of the decay and disintegration of capitalist society, a truly realistic representation of the world cannot serve the interests of the capitalist class, its images are necessarily distortions of reality.

In a play with a bourgeois content about a strike, the workers may be physically recognisable as workers in that they wear overalls, live in council flats, etc. But they are distorted, in general, into sheep-like figures, easily led by some militant leader, who because of some psychopathological aggressive complex or because he is in the service of a foreign power, “pulls them out” on a futile strike which harms their interests.


But for every hack artist who – is prepared to sell his integrity to the capitalist class for money, there are a dozen honest artists. These artists see the corruption, exploitation and immorality, which are all pervading features of capitalism in decay. Unless, therefore, they are revolutionary Socialists who can portray this reality truthfully with a Socialist content, they find the real world too unpleasant to reflect truthfully in their work. They therefore repudiate content more or less completely, take their stand on the slogan “Art for art’s sake” (which rejects the conception of social content in art) and base their art purely on form: on abstract or semi-abstract images. It is this repudiation of content and concentration on form that revolutionary Socialists call “formalism.”


All art is necessarily the product of a particular community, and the reality of this community is national in substance; it is the reality of a particular nation, the characteristics of which are determined by the language, geography, economic life, psychological make-up and culture of that nation.

Art which is truly realistic in form, therefore, is also national in form. Furthermore, it is built upon and further develops that part of the cultural heritage of the nation which is progressive in its effective content.

Art which repudiates the national in its form in the direction of cosmopolitanism also deviates, therefore, from realism.


In the relation between content and form in art, it is content which – at least in the broad developmental sense – determines the form in and through which this content is realised.

As, within a particular society, the existing mode of production becomes moribund, and the objective and subjective conditions mature for the birth of a new, higher mode of production (in our epoch, Socialism), new, political, ideological and other social factors impinge upon the life experience of the artist. To the extent that he absorbs the world outlook of the rising class whose interests are bound up with the, coming new mode of production (in our epoch, the world outlook of the working class), his art takes on a new reflective content and a new progressive effective content. This ultimately leads him to discard, or at least to modify positively, the existing, dominant art forms and to develop new ones more suited to act as expressions of this new content.

When Ludwig van Beethoven began to compose, he was content to use the classical sonata form he inherited from Mozart and Haydn, But at a certain stage in the maturing of the bourgeois reflective content and the progressive effective content of his music, he became aware that the complexity, power and objective realism of his sound-world was suffering through the attempt to pour new wine into old bottles. He therefore found it necessary to create a new symphonic form, that of the choral symphony, in which the scope, emotional impact and intelligibility of this content was greatly enhanced in complexity and degree of integration, partly through the inclusion of the choral poem, partly through the much greater fluidity and expressive flexibility of the thematic structure and the melodic line itself.

A similar process is to be, observed in the development of the modern novel, in particular in the transition from limited, naturalistically stunted critical realism of the revolutionary bourgeoisie ( e.g., Emile Zola, Thomas Mann) to the socially penetrating insight achieved in the socialist realist literature of the revolutionary working class (e.g., Maxim Gorki).

In the relation between content and form, it is, therefore, content which plays the primary role, while form arises out of and serves content as its vehicle of expression. It is the function of technique to serve content and form equally.

It must be understood, however, that the content of a work of art does not determine its form in any direct, mechanical way, but dialectically – that is to say, by creating the general conditions in and through which a change of form becomes necessary, or in which the adoption of one form as against another becomes preferable. Were this not so, the task of a Marxist-Leninist Party or of such organisations as Socialist Artists in the sphere of art could be confined to political education; an artist who acquired the political outlook of revolutionary Socialism and the desire to make the content of his art Socialist would be unable to create works of art in any but a realist form. In fact, an artist may be a revolutionary Socialist, a Marxist-Leninist, in every sphere but that of aesthetics, determined that every one of his artistic creations shall be imbued with a Socialist content – yet he may produce art which is non-realist in form.

While the content of a work of art is determined by the social outlook of the artist, its form is determined by his aesthetic outlook and his mastery of technique at the moment of its creation. It is, therefore, the task of the Marxist-Leninist Party and of such organisations as Socialist Artists to educate artists not only in the principles of revolutionary Socialism (so that their art may be imbued with Socialist content) but also in Marxist-Leninist aesthetics and in technique, so that this content may be expressed in appropriate realist form.

Content is not primary and form secondary because the former is more important than the latter. A work of art which is Socialist in content but non-realist in form lacks the capacity to communicate its socialist content to consumers; it is of no more value to the working class – and so is of no higher aesthetic quality – than a work of art which is bourgeois in content. Form and content are of equal importance for the Socialist artist. But the primacy of content over form must be recognised if the artist is to achieve the fullest realisation of form in the service of content, and of technique in the service of both.


Revisionism is a perversion of Marxism-Leninism to serve the interests of the capitalist class.

The modern revisionists, for the most part, reject the Marxist-Leninist concepts of progressive and reactionary effective content in art. They hold that aesthetic questions – i.e. questions of quality in art – must be confined to questions of craftsmanship.

On the basis that art which directly serves the interests of the capitalist class is realist in form (as discussed above), they hold that “revolutionary art” must break with the “reactionary” heritage of realist -art and embrace cosmopolitanism.

To the modern revisionists, the changed role of art in a socialist society means no more than the wider availability of art to the working people.

But, clearly, the interests of the working class and of socialism are not served by the wider availability, to the working people of art which serve’s the interests of the capitalist class – the class enemy of the working-class.

In fact, art which serves the interests of the capitalist class is widely available to the working people, within a capitalist society. A worker has little difficulty in obtaining access to the strip cartoons in the “Daily Mirror”; he can watch “Coronation Street” on TV; he can listen to “pop” music almost throughout his spare time; he can visit a “working man’s club”; and watch strip-tease shows every week-end.

The whole educational and propaganda apparatus of the ruling class in capitalist society is directed towards inculcating the idea: that these forms of “art” are appropriate for working people, while ballet and painting are for upper class homosexuals.

But the “art” which the ruling capitalist class directs to the working class is designed not only to make profits for its sponsors, but also to “divert” the working class, to drug them into acceptance of their role as an exploited class.

In the former socialist societies of Eastern Europe, the modern revisionists took the first steps towards the restoration of capitalism in the sphere of art. In the name of “artistic freedom,” they supported the introduction of art with a bourgeois content, declaring that the Marxist-Leninists had no business to seek to “interfere” in artistic questions. The introduction of art with a decadent bourgeois content served as preliminary ideological preparation for the introduction of bourgeois ideas in the sphere of economics and politics.


The battle of ideas in art – between ideas which serve the interests of the working-class and those which serve the interests of the capitalist class, between the ideas of Marxist-Leninist aesthetics and those of revisionist aesthetics – reflects the class struggle in society between the working class and the capitalist class.

It is the task of Socialist artists to take their stand in this battle firmly on the side of the working class, to develop art which is Socialist in content and realist in form, – to make of their art a weapon in the struggle of the working class to destroy the capitalist state and construct a Socialist society.



The epoch in which, as workers and artists, we live and pursue our creative work is one which bears as its fundamental feature the decay of the capitalist system based on exploitation and oppression and the maturing of the objective conditions making possible its final destruction at the hands of the revolutionary working people.

The supreme task of historical creation confronting all workers, of which we artists to an increasing degree are becoming a social part, is, to develop the science of the proletarian socialist revolution, Marxism-Leninism, in theory and in practice;

To organise to carry through that revolution to the end; thereby to destroy the capitalist system, root and branch, in country after country and in every quarter of the globe. . .

The securing of the maximum satisfaction of the constantly rising material and cultural requirements of the whole of society through the continuous expansion and perfection of socialist production on the basis of higher techniques.

It is within this revolutionary historical context that the confines of class dominated society, with its anti-human inheritance of exploitation, poverty and war, will be overcome and the objective social conditions created for the expansion of the boundaries of man’s knowledge and mastery of the natural universe around him.

Within these overall historic tasks of the proletarian-socialist revolution a role of unprecedented importance devolves upon the arts, and hence upon creative artists. For it is precisely through art that science, the knowledge–understanding and experience of the laws of motion of the universe, including particularly of human society, is distilled into generalised, concentrated form, is transmuted into those at one and the same time concrete and typical, images which are capable of arousing the most profound and stirring emotions -of the human soul, even whilst it is developing conscious intellectual awareness of the objective phenomena which those images symbolise and typify.

Thus artists, whether of the visual or the dramatic arts, are no less than “engineers of the human soul” (J.V. Stalin);

and a correspondingly vital significance attaches to their work in furtherance of that highest single creative task of the modern epoch: the carrying through to victory of the world proletarian – socialist revolution.

Taking the above principles as our fundamental guide, we Socialist Artists hold that art is a definite form of social consciousness. Proletarian socialist art is a reflection in artistic form of the class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie, which lies at the heart of all social reality. The method of artistic creation of proletarian-socialist art is therefore proletarian-socialist realism. There can be no art without a fundamental philosophy, a basic world view.

And since all philosophy, all world views, are class philosophy, the world view of a class, there can likewise be no art which is not class art. The philosophical foundation of proletarian-socialist realism is dialectical materialism which provides all forms-of artistic sensibility with the objective scientific tool for cognising truthfully the real world.

Proletarian-socialist realism rests upon the firm foundation of human culture as a whole which has developed historically within class society. It recognises that the working class must utilise the finest and highest products of all previous culture in order to create there from the general basis for the development of its own infinitely more sensible, more dramatically intense and varied art and culture. It recognises that the highest achievement of all past art is critical realism. Proletarian socialist realism begins where this critical realism ends, distils from it all that was revealing of social reality, overcomes its weaknesses and one sided-nesses and thereby elevates art to a new and higher stage.

Proletarian-socialist realism is an active, affirmative realism. It upholds the principle of “being as deed.” Such an affirmative view of human practice is indissolubly fused together with a critical attitude towards the art of the past and a revolutionary-romantic consciousness of contemporary social and class reality in the light of the socialist future. In this sense proletarian-socialist realism anticipates creatively the future.

Proletarian-socialist realism possesses as one of the prime features of its aesthetic the creation of generally valid social characters and figures who express in their innermost being the laws of motion of history and society as a whole. Proletarian-socialist realism requires the delineation of typical characters living and moving in atypical environment and under typical conditions. It requires a historically and socially concrete typicalisation of dramaturgical elements in works of art, but this typicalisation must be combined with, the utmost individuality and qualitative distinctness of characters and figures, and must avoid all tendencies towards stereotyped caricatures.

Proletarian-socialist realism maintains that, for a genuinely progressive, revolutionary art serving the proletarian-socialist revolution, content is primary and plays the definitive role within any one work of art, whilst form, which itself is of vital significance to the artistically and aesthetically affective properties of the work, is secondary and reflects and serves that content. Thus we stand for the unity of form and content based on the primacy of content.

Being aware of the unbridgeable abyss in the cultural superstructure of decaying capitalism, we Socialist Artists declare our aims and work to stand completely apart from and in irreconcilable-opposition to the formalism and commodity fetishism of capitalist art- which serves at one and the same time – to mystify the movement and conflict of social classes, to preach and inculcate the helplessness of man before the “unknowable” universe and the “atomic chaos” of the “existentialist” society, as also to provide the effete, luxury loving ruling class with those soporific, sensationalised and alienated titbits which might, for an hour or a day, provide an anodyne to bring forgetfulness of the moment of doom for their class which the approaching proletarian socialist revolution is bringing ever nearer. In opposition to this we declare our aim to be the pursuit, the active construction and direction of an art which, in all its richness, its myriad fronts and facets; reflects and serves the struggle of the working people for socialism and communism; and which develops for this purpose aesthetic forms of expression which are at one and the same time organically free in relation to their content and yet ordered by the single function of serving to reflect that content; complex and many-sided as the realist stuff itself which they express – -yet unified by a single fundamental principle: to express truthfully the real world of class conflict and revolutionary mobilisation which lies beneath the surface of that average spontaneous activity which is all the vulgar empiricist or idealist mystifier can perceive, and who for that reason is at the mercy of every reactionary wind that blows from out of the vortex of disintegrating capitalism.

In place of the pop art, mobile junk, psychedelic and other fringe lunancy of decaying capitalist art we will erect an art which expresses the dignity of working people, into which life is breathed from out of their very struggles; whether for bread, for peace or for socialism; an art which leads to the growth of a working class culture and which, in the widest and most fundamental sense creates a visual and dramatic image of the socialist future, an assertive art of the revolutionary class in society, the producers of all material and cultural values. Fundamental to our aims, therefore, is that of fulfilling a vanguard role in teaching, educating, organising and raising the cultural values of this only revolutionary class, in a developed capitalist society, the proletariat.

Because we are workers alongside the mass of working people as a whole; because we increasingly sell our labour power firstly in order to live but increasingly also in order to create; and because we can expect no philanthropy from capital, for our art reflects the struggle of workers against
capital and is thus persecuted and outlawed – along with all other revolutionary activity, we Socialist Artists must possess our own collective organisation under the direction of the vanguard Marxist-Leninist party, the overall instrument of the future proletarian-socialist revolution, a revolutionary, democratic union of artists with the clear and simple aim:

“Our art must serve revolutionary politics. We place our art unreservedly at the service of the working class.”

Provisional Committee, The League of Socialist Artists;
August 1973.


Bill Bland: The “Doctor’s Case” and the Death of Stalin

CPSU(B) PoLitburo at Funeral

CPSU(B) Politburo at Funeral

Mourners in Red Square

Mourners in Red Square

Beria, Stalin and Svetlana on a Black Sea Holiday

Beria, Stalin and Svetlana on a Black Sea Holiday

An extended annotated version of a report presented to the Stalin Society in London in October 1991, by Bill Bland, for the Communist League (UK)

INTRODUCTION By Alliance Marxist-Leninist

There have been many requests recently to Alliance for a web-edition of this document.

Comrade Bland often neglected his own writings, even forgetting that he may have researched any topic. Although this article was not printed as an official document of the Communist League (CL), it was a critical part of the corpus of work that Bland performed as the leader of the CL. Against many others, Bland defended the role of Lavrenty Beria, as a Marxist-Leninist. This was and remains, an unpopular stand even amongst those who call themselves Marxist-Leninists.

Bland’s especial expertise was to be able to see behind copious cloaks of words, as spun by revisionists and capitalist agents. This talent of his, is shown with mastery in this analysis. Data coming out from the Archives of the USSR, appears at last to be corroborating Comrade’s Bland’s views. We propose to shortly publish materials that show this.


by Bill Bland 1991.

Table of Contents

Part 1: The ‘Doctor’s Case’

The Initial Preparations for the Revisionist Coup (1943-46);
The First Stage of the ‘Doctors’ Case’ (1948-51)
The Dismissal and Arrest of Abakumov (1951)
The Georgian Feint (1951-52)
The Marxist-Leninists’ Counter-blow in Georgia
The Indictment in the ‘Doctors’ Case’ (1953)
The Destruction of the Defence System around Stalin

Part 2: The Death of Stalin (1953)

The Aborted Coup (1953)
The Exculpation of the Doctors (1953)
The Reversal of the Georgian Feint (1953)
The Dismissal of Leonid Melnikov (1953)
The Military Coup in Moscow (1953)
The Military Coup in Georgia (1953-54)
The ‘Mingrelian Affair’ (1953)
The ‘Trial’ of Beria (1953)
The Re-emergence of Melnikov (1953-57)
The Trial of Abakumov (1954)
The ‘Trial’ of Ryumin (1954)
The ‘Rehabilitation’ of Anna Louise Strong (1955)
The ‘Rehabilitation’ of Tito (1955)
The Rapava-Rukhadze Trial (1955)
The Trial of Bagirov (1956)


Part 1: The “Doctor’s Case”

“Stalin . . . issued orders to arrest a group of eminent medical specialists. . . .
When we examined this ‘case’ after Stalin’s death, we found it to be fabricated from beginning to end.”

(N. S. Khrushchev: Secret Speech to 20th Congress, CPSU, in: Russian Institute, Columbia University (Ed.): ‘The Anti-Stalin Campaign and International Communism: A Selection of Documents’; New York; 1956; p. 64).

The Initial Preparations for the Revisionist Coup (1943-46)

The seizure of power by the Soviet revisionists required certain preliminary measures — the first of these being the weakening of the securitv organs of the socialist state and their later transfer into the hands of the revisionist conspirators.

In April 1943 the organ which had been responsible for state security, the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), which had been headed by the Marxist-Leninist Lavrenti Beria*, was weakened by being split into three parts:

1) the People’s Commisariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), still headed by Beria, but no longer concerned with state security:

“The NKVD, under the leadership of Beria, was thereby relieved of the heavy problems of State security and became more and more an ‘economic’ organisation.”

(B. Levytsky: ‘The Uses of Terror: The Soviet Secret Service: 1917-1970’; London; 1971; p. 160).

2) the People’s Commissariat of State Security (NKGB), headed by the Marxist-Leninist Vsevolod Merkulov*;

3) the Counter-Espionage Department of the People’s Commissariat for Defence (SMERSH), headed by the Marxist-Leninist Viktor Abakumov*.

In 1946, after the conclusion of the Second World War,

1) SMERSH was abolished;

2) the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) was renamed the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and its Marxist-Leninist head Merkulov, who:

” . . . was one of Beria’s closest and most trusted collaborators”

(B. Levytsky: op. cit.; p. 141).

was replaced by the concealed revisionist Sergey Kruglov*; and

3) the People’s Commissariat of State Security (NKGB) was renamed the Ministry of State Security (MGB); for the next six years, however, it continued to be headed by the Marxist-Leninist Abakumov.

The First Stage of the “Doctors’ Case” (1948-51)

In 1948 the plans of the conspirators were interrupted by ‘the case of the Kremlin doctors’. In this year,

” . . . Lvdia Timashuk a rank-and-file doctor at the Kremlin Hospital . . . . discovered intentional distortions in medical conclusions made by major medical experts who served as consultants in the hospital. She exposed their criminal designs and thus opened the eyes of security bodies to the existence of the infamous conspiracy.”

(Y. Rapoport: ‘The Doctors’ Plot: Stalin’s Last Crime’: London; 1991; p. 77).

Dr. Timashuk wrote to

” . . . Stalin a letter in which she declared that doctors were applying supposedly improper methods of medical treatment.”

(N. S. Khrushchev: Secret Speech; op. cit.; p. 63).

As to the date,

“. . . Timashuk’s first report was made while Zhdanov was still alive.”

(P. Deriabin: ‘Watchdogs of Terror: Russian Bodyguards from the Tsars to the Commissars’; n.p. (USA); 1984; p. 311).

and Zhdanov * died in August 1948.

Although Khrushchev later alleged, in his secret speech to the 20th Congress of the CPSU in February 1956, that:

“. . . this ignominious case was set up by Stalin”,

(N. S. Khrushchev: Secret Speech; op. cit.; p. 65).

Ian Grey assures us that, at the outset,

“Stalin had strong doubts about Timashuk’s allegations.”

(I.Grey: ‘Stalin: Man of History’; London; 1979; p. 461).

and Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva* confirms:

“My father’s housekeeper told me not long ago that my father was extremely distressed at the turn events took. . . . She was waiting on table, as usual, when my father remarked that he did not believe the doctors were ‘dishonest’ and that the only evidence against them, after all, were the ‘reports’ of Dr. Timashuk.”

(S. Allilyeva: Twenty Letters to a Friend”; London; 1967; p. 215).

Nevertheless, Stalin passed these allegations to the state security organs, forces, then in the charge of the Marxist-Leninist Minister of State Security Abakumov. As a result,

“. . . Abakumov started an investigation that he directed personally.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 311).

and the investigation of Timashuk’s allegations soon convinced Stalin of their correctness:

“One day Stalin called us to the Kremlin and read us a letter from a woman doctor named Timashuk. She claimed that Zhdanov died because the doctors on the case purportedly administered improper treatment to him, treatment intended to lead to his death.”

(N. S. Khrushchev: ‘Khrushchev Remembers’; London; 1971; p. 283).

The first arrests resulting from this investigation began as early as December 1950, with the arrest of the diagnostician Yakov Etinger, who had headed a clinic at the First Gradskaya Hospital in Moscow. Etinger’s name later (1953) appeared among the accused in the ‘doctors’ case’:

“Yakov Etinger had been arrested in 1950.”

(Y. Rapoport: op. cit.; p. 24).

“The terrorist group includes . . . Professor Y. G. Etinger, a therapeutist.”

(‘Pravda’, 13 January 1953, p. 4, in: ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’, Volume 4, No. 51 (31 January 1953); p. 3).

The Dismissal and Arrest of Abakumov (1951)

By 1951, therefore, the revisionist conspirators had good reason to feel extremely uneasy about their future. Rumours circulated:

“. . that several members of Stalin’s entourage were threatened by the coming purge.”

(G. Bortoli: ‘The Death of Stalin’; London; 1973; p. 151).

Clearly, urgent action was essential to safeguard both the conspiracy and the conspirators.

In late 1951, therefore, the revisionist conspirators brought about the dismissal of the Marxist-Leninist Abakumov as Minister of State Security and his replacement by the concealed revisionist Semyon Ignatiev*:

“Beria’s adversaries in the Party (the opponents of Marxism-Leninism — Ed.) . . . achieved a notable victory in late 1951 with the replacement of V. S. Abakumov, an associate of Beria, by S. P. Ignatiev, a Party official, as head of the MVD.”

(S. Wolin & R. Slusser: ‘The Soviet Secret Police’; London; 1957; p. 20).

Boris Levytsky records that:

“Abakumov, Beria’s intimate friend (= a Marxist-Leninist — Ed.) was removed from his post and replaced by S. D. Ignatiev.”

(B. Levytsky: op. cit.; p. 204).

and sees this move as the:

“. . . first step towards a complete re-staffing of the secret police, towards the removal of Beria and his friends (of the Marxist-Leninists — Ed.). . . . For the assumption that Ignatiev was a man of straw there is. . . plenty of evidence. . . . Ignatiev’s appointment was favoured by the circumstance that he had never had anything to do with Beria and had no experience of the secret police.”

(B. Levytsky: op. cit.; p. 204, 295).

Shortly afterwards, Abakumov and several dozen of his assistants were arrested on charges of ‘lack of vigilance in connection with the ‘Leningrad Affair’ of 1949-50 (already analysed):

“In . . . 1951 . . . Abakumov was arrested. . . . He was taken to the Lubyanka and put in solitary confinement. Seven of his deputies and several dozen state security officers were arrested along with him. . .The charges brought against Abakumov at that time were that he had not recognised the enemy of the people during his handling of the ‘Leningrad Affair’. . . .In September 1951 none other than Khrushchev . . . echoed Stalin’s charge that Abakumov and his officers had failed to recognise the enemy of the people in the northern city’s Party apparatus.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 316-17).

The trumped-up character of the charges against Abakumov and his assistants is obvious from the fact that in December 1954 Abakumov was executed by the same revisionist conspirators on charges which included those of having ‘fabricated the “Leningrad Affair”‘:

“Abakumov falsified the so-called ‘Leningrad Case’, in which a number of Party and Soviet officials were arrested without grounds, having been falsely accused of most serious state crimes.”

(‘Pravda’, 24 December 1954, in: R. Conquest: ‘Power and Policy in the USSR’; London; 1961; (hereafter listed as ‘R. Conquest (1961’); p. 449).

The Georgian Feint (1951-52)

But, as we shall see, the removal and arrest of Abakumov did not put a stop to the danger to the conspirators resulting from investigation into the ‘doctors’ case . They therefore sought to save themselves by making a feint attack on certain Marxist-Leninists.

In military terminology, a ‘feint’ is

“. . a movement made with the object of deceiving the enemy as to a general’s real plans.” (‘Shorter Oxford English Dictionary’; Oxford; 1972; p. 737).

The revisionist conspirators selected Transcaucasia for their feint attack not only because it was a long way from the real objective of their attack, Moscow, but also because it was the birthplace of both Stalin and Beria and was regarded as a Marxist-Leninist stronghold. Charles Fairbanks, junior* speaks of Beria’s:

“. . . territorial fiefdom in the Transcaucasus.”

(C. H. Fairbanks, jr.: ‘National Cadres as a Force in the Soviet System: The Evidence of Beria’s Career: 1949-53’, in: J. R. Azrael (Ed.): ‘Soviet Nationality Policies and Practices’; New York; 1978; p. 155).

and Levytsky notes that at

“. . . the 14th Congress of the Georgian Communist Party in January 1949 . . . two separate greeting messages were sent: one to Stalin and one to Beria.”

(B. Levytsky: op. cit.; p. 208).

The attack on the Georgian Marxist-Leninists could only be seen by Marxist-Leninists elsewhere as a groundless provocative attack on them by concealed enemies. The aim of the feint was, when the time was ripe — that is, when Stalin and his personal secretariat had been rendered powerless to intervene –

1) to admit that the Ministry of State Security had been in the hands of concealed enemies and had committed grave miscarriages of justice (e.g., in Georgia) of which they demanded the correction;

2) to exculpate and release the guilty doctor-conspirators together with the innocent Marxist-Leninists under the general cloak of ‘correcting miscarriages of justice’.

The feint began in January 1951 when, as Robert Conquest* points out, Vilian Zodelava was removed as leader of the Georgian Young Communist League. (R. Conquest (1961); p. 140).

On 24 May 1951:

” . . the ‘Voice of America’ announced it would start broadcasting Saturday in the Georgian language.”

(‘New York Times’, 25 May 1951; p. 21).

In November 1951 the wholesale removal of leading Marxist-Leninists in Georgia began, the offenders being charged with ’embezzlement, car thefts and similar crimes’. The news was leaked to Western diplomats in February 1952:

“A major wave of embezzlements, automobile thefts and similar crimes in Soviet Georgia has resulted in a wholesale purge of top Communist Party and government officials in that area, diplomatic sources report. . . .The removals began last November. The two most important officials purged were Mikhail Baramiya and Rostom Shaduri, secretaries of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party.”

(‘New York Times’, 6 February 1952; p. 12).

David Lang* confirms this:

“Prominent Georgian Communists were accused of embezzling state funds, stealing automobiles and plundering state property.”

(D. M. Lang: ‘A Modern History of Georgia’; London; 1962; p. 261).

as does John Ducoli*:

“The purported reasons for the initial purge were embezzlements of state funds, automobile thefts, the plundering of state property, etc.”

(J. Ducoli: ‘The Georgian Purges (1951-53)’, in: ‘Caucasian Review’, Volume 6 (1958); p. 55).

Within a few days, in November 1951, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia was announcing that the accusations against some former Georgian leaders had been widened to include ‘the protection of criminal officials’:

“‘Recently it has become known that the Second Secretary of the CC of the CP (b) of Georgia, M. I. Baramiya, the Minister of Justice, A. N. Rapava, and the Prosecutor of the Republic, B. Ya. Shoniya, have been extending protection to certain officials who have committed crimes and have been shielding them in every possible way’. . . .All those named were dismissed from their posts.”

(R. Conquest (1961): op. cit.; p. 139).

Later, after the ousting of Beria from the leadership in July 1953, the dismissed officials were described as ‘supporters of Beria’. As the then First Secretary of the Georgian Central Committee, Akaki Mgeladze, reported to the Georgian Party Congress in September 1952:

“‘In 1951 several hundred of Beria’s supporters in Georgia were purged.”‘

(C. H. Fairbanks, junior: op. cit.; p. 161).

All leading Marxist-Leninists in Georgia were removed and replaced by conscious revisionists.

Then, in April 1952, a Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia dismissed Kandida Charkviani as First Secretary, Rostom Shaduri and Mikhail Baramiya as Second Secretaries, Valerian Bakradze as Deputy Premier, Avksenty Rapava as Minister of Justice, and a number of other prominent Georgian leaders.

The Plenum elected a new First Secretary — the concealed revisionist Akak Mgeladze:

“Kandida Charkviani . . . has been relieved, and a new leader, Akaki Mgeladze, former secretary of the important Abkhaz regional party committee, has been installed in his place.”

(‘Pravda’, 6 June 1952, in: ‘New York Times’, 8 June 1952; p. 27).

Mgeladze carried forward on a large scale the process of removing Marxist-Leninists from responsible positions in the Georgian Party:

“Mgeladze set to work to purge the Party and the governmental apparatus from top to bottom. In six months he replaced half the members of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party who had been returned in the election of 1949, and brought about a complete upheaval in the administrative hierarchy of the Republic. . . . Several high officials removed by Mgeladze, notably Valerian Bakradze, Deputy Chairman of the Georgian Council of Ministers (Deputy Premier — Ed.) were personal nominees of Beria.”

(D. M. Lang: op. cit.; p. 261).

“After a mere six months of leadership, Mgeladze purged approximately 55% of the 111 members and candidate members of the Central Committee which had been elected in 1949.”

(J. Ducoli: op. cit.; p. 55).

Beria came from Moscow to attend April 1952 Plenum:

“Beria was present at the plenum in April that formally confirmed the succession. Charkviani’s followers were replaced by men from Abkhazeti, where Mgeladze had been Party chief.”

(R. G. Suny: ‘The Making of the Georgian Nation’; London; 1989; p. 288).

“In April 1952, Beria, now Vice-President of the Soviet Council of Ministers (USSR Deputy Premier — Ed.) came from Moscow to attend a meeting of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party.”

(D. M. Lang: op. cit.; p. 261).

The presence of Beria enabled the concealed revisionists to ‘let it become known’, that is, to spread the completely false story, that the changes in leading personnel which they had brought about in Georgia had been brought about ‘on Stalin’s instructions’:

“At that time (spring 1952 — Ed.) it became known that Mr. Beria himself had gone to Georgia to clean up a situation compounded of widespread graft and other types of corruption. Later it became known that Premier Stalin himself had had to intervene to order the purge in the Georgian Communist Party.”

(‘New York Times’, 3 January 1953; p. 3).

In fact, the Georgian leaders who were removed were Marxist-Leninists who were supported by Beria and Stalin, and had been elected on their recommendation:

“Several high officials removed by Mgeladze, notably Valerian Bakradze, Deputy Chairman of the Georgian Council of Ministers (Deputy Premier — Ed.) were personal nominees of Beria.”

(D. M. Lang: op. cit.; p. 261).

“Mr. Beria had to preside at the removal of the men he had installed at the head of the Georgian Party and to permit these charges of corruption to be announced as true.”

(‘New York Times’, 17 April 1953; p. 10).

However, the story that the leadership changes had been brought about at the wishes of Beria and Stalin was useful in quashing opposition to the changes. Mgeladze told the Georgian Party Congress in September 1952:

“These plenary sessions (of November 1951 and April 1952 — Ed.) adopted resolutions based on the decision of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party and upon Comrade Stalin’s personal instructions.”

(A. Mgeladze: Report to Congress of Georgian Communist Party, September 1952, in: R. Conquest (1961): op. cit.; p. 143).

The reasons given as to why Beria and Stalin should have wanted these changes were naturally somewhat nebulous. Mgeladze told the Georgian Young Communist League in May 1952:

“‘Comrade Stalin found deficiencies in the leadership of the Communist Party and Young Communist League of Georgia, which threatened to have serious consequences, and showed ways to correct mistakes.”‘

(A. Mgeladze: Report to Georgian Young Communist League, May 1952, in: R. Conquest (1961): op. cit.; p. 141-42).

This vague allegation was later made more concrete. Later in 1952, someone discovered some critical remarks of Stalin about the danger of nationalism in Georgia.

The dismissed Marxist-Leninists were now accused of criminal nationalism and were said to have been arrested, linked with those critical remarks made by Stalin about the dangers of nationalism:

“In the Georgian purges of 1951-52, his (Beria’s — Ed.) appointees were charged with lenience towards Georgian nationalism.”

(C. H. Fairbanks, Junior: op. cit., p. 154).

Mgeladze told the Georgian Party Congress on September 1952:

“‘The former leadership forgot about the fact that international reactionaries are trying to find in our Republic nationalist elements with hostile attitude in order with their help to carry on diversionist espionage work.”‘

(‘New York Times’, 23 September 1952; p. 3).

A number of the dismissed Marxist-Leninist leaders were charged with criminal manifestations of Georgian nationalism

“Mgeladze and his Minister of State Security, Rukhadze, charged some proteges of Beria with nationalism. They were M. I. Baramiya . . . .Rapava Shoniya. They were arrested and imprisoned.”

(J. Ducoli: op. cit.; p. 56).

“All those named (Baramiya, Rapava and Shoniya — Ed.) were arrested later.”

(R. Conquest (1961): op. cit.; p. 139).

“Charkviani, secretary of the Georgian Central Committee from 1939 to 1952, Rapava, then Minister of Internal Affairs for the Georgian Republic, and others were removed from their posts and arrested, after being accused of nationalism at the Georgian Party conference of April 1952. The blow was struck by Rukhadze, then Minister of State Security in Georgia.”

(Boris Nicolaevsky: ‘Power and the Soviet Elite’; New York; 1965; p. 182).

The Marxist-Leninists’ Counter-blow in Georgia

Meanwhile, the Marxist-Leninists, realising that the security of the socialist state had suffered a severe setback in Georgia, had the affair investigated through Stalin’s ‘special secretariat’, which as we have seen, functioned as a special security force under the control of the Marxist-Leninists. The special secretrariat uncovered sufficient evidence to establish that the Georgian Minister of State Security, Nikolay Rukhadze, had behaved improperly in the case of the Georgian Marxist-Leninists. As a result, in July 1952 the revisionists were compelled to dismiss Rukhadze, although they were able to resist his arrest and any reversal of his actions in ‘the Georgian feint’ until the following April:

“In July 1952, Rukhadze who, as Minister of State Security, was responsible for the Baramiya purge, was removed. . . . Rukhadze’s removal may have been a partial victory for Beria.”

(R. Conquest (1961): op. cit.; p. 142).

The Indictment in the “Doctors’ Case” (1953)

Despite the removal and arrest of Abakumov, the intervention of Stalin’s personal secretariat ensured that investigation into the ‘doctors’ case’ continued. Isaac Deutscher’ confirms that:

“. . . Ignatiev, the Minister of State Security, was a reluctant executant of orders.”

(I.Deutscher: ‘Stalin: A Political Biography’; Harmondsworth; 1968.; p. 605).

Ignatiev, therefore, remained aloof from the investigation into the ‘doctors’ case’, leaving the conduct of this to his Deputy, the Marxist-Leninist Ryumin:

“Ryumin personally supervised the investigation (into the ‘Doctors’ Case’ ‘Ed.).”‘

(Y. Rapoport: op. cit.; p. 10-0).

Ryumin had formerly headed the State Security Section of Stalin’s personal secretariat:

“Ryumin, before being appointed to the post of Deputy Miinister of State Security . . . headed the state security section in Stalin’s personal secretariat.”

(B.Nicolaevsky: op. cit.; p. 155).

As a result of the findings in this investigation,

“. . . in the summer of 1952 many . . . doctors who had, worked in the Kremlin Hospital for many years and treated many statesmen were summarily fired. Among them; were Miron Vovsi and Vladirmir Vinogradov. The former head of the Kremlin Hospital, Aleksey Busalov, Mikhail Yegorov . . . and Sophia Karpai were arrested.”

(Y. Rapoport: op. cit.; p. 72).

On 13 January 1953 ‘Pravda’ carried the report of the arrest of

” . . a terrorist group of doctors who had made it their aim to cut short the lives of active public figures of the Soviet Union through sabotage medical treatment. . . .
The participants in this terrorist group, taking advantage of their position as doctors and abusing the trust of patients, by deliberate evil intent . . . made incorrect diagnoses . . . and then doomed them by wrong treatment.”

(‘Pravda’, 13 January 1953; p. 4, in: ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’, Volume 4, No. 31 (31 January 1953); p. 3).

Nine doctors were named as ‘among the participants in this terrorist group, namely:

“Professor M. S. Vovsi, therapeutist;
Professor V.I. Vinogradov, therapeutist;
Professor M.B. Kogan, therapeutist;
Professor B.B. Kogan, therapeutist;
Professor P. I. Yegorov, therapeutist;
Professor A.I.Feldman, otolaryngologist;
Professor Ya.G.Etinger, therapeutist;
Professor Grinshtein, neuropathologist;
G.I. Maiorov, therapeutist.”

(‘Pravda’, 13 January 1953, in: ibid.; p. 3).

Of the accused persons, Vladimir Vinogradov* was

“. . . Stalin’s personal physician”,

(Y. Rapoport: op. cit.; p. 216).

Mikhail and Boris Kogan were brothers, while Miron Vovsi was a relative of the Jewish actor ‘Solomon Mikhoels’, whose real surname was Vovsi.

The doctors were charged with having murdered in this way Andrey Zhadnov and Alelsandr Scherbakov*, and with attempting to murder Marshals Aleksandr Vasilevsky*, Leonid Covorov*, and Ivan Konev, together with General Sergey Shtemenko* and Admiral Cordey Iavchenko*.

It was alleged that

“. . most of the participants in the terrorist group (M. S. Vovsi, B. B. Kogan, A. I. Feldman, A. M. Grinshtein, Ya. H. Yetinger and others) were connected with -the international Jewish bourgeois nationalist organisation ‘JOINT’, established by American intelligence for the purpose of providing material aid to Jews in other countries. In acxtual fact this organisation, under direction of American intelligebce, conducts extensive espionage, terrorist and other subversive work in many countries, including the Soviet Union. . . . The arrested Vovsi told investigators that he had received orders ‘to wipe out the leading cadres of the USSR’ — received them from the USA through the ‘JOINT’ organisation, via a Moscow doctor, Shimeliovich, and the well known Jewish bourgeois nationalist Mikhoels.

Other participants in the terrorist group (V. N. Vinogradov, M. B, Kogan, P. I. Yegorov) proved to be old agents of British intelligece.”

(‘Pravda’, 13 January 1953, p. 4, in: ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’, Volume 4, No. 51 (3 January 1953); p. 3).

The full name of ‘JOINT’ was the ‘American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’, founded in the United States in November 1914 by the fusion of three committees, ostensibly as an international charity for the assistance of Jews throughout the world.

The announcement concluded:

“The investigation will soon be concluded.”

(‘Pravda’, 13 January 1953, in: ibid.; p. 3).

An editorial in ”Pravda’ on the same day reminded people that in the 1930s a group of doctors involved in a concealed revisionist conspiracy had admitted at their public trial to murdering a number of leading Soviet Marxist-Leninists by administering deliberately incorrect medical treatment to them:

“The agencies of state security did not discover the doctors’ wrecking, terrorist organisation in time. Yet these agencies should have been particularly vigilant, since history already records instances of foul murderers and traitors to the Motherland conducting their machinations in the guise of doctors, such as the ‘doctors’ Levin and Pletnev, who killed t he great Russian writer A. M. Gorky and the outstanding Soviet statesmen V. V. Kuibyshev and V. R. Menzhinsky by deliberate wrong treatment on orders from enemies of the Soviet Union.”

(‘Pravda’, 13 January 1953; p. 1, in: ibid.; p. 4).

The original statement had stated that:

“the criminal doctors confessed.”

(‘Pravda’, 13 January 1953, in: ibid.; p. 3).

and, in his secret speech to the 20th Congress of the CPSU in February 1956, Khrushchev declared:

“Shortly after the doctors were arrested we members of the Political Bureau received protocols with the doctors’ confessions of guilt.”

(N. S. Khrushchev:1956; “Secret Speech to 20th Congress”; of the CPSU; p. 64).

And after their release by the revisionist conspirators following Stalin’s death in March 1953, the doctors admitted that their confessions had been genuine:

“When we were all released, Vovsi and Vinogradov themselves told me that they had admitted all the crimes imparted to them. . . .

The most tragic aspect of these confessions was that the person admitted not only crimes he himself had supposedly committed, but also the existence of a criminal organisation and collective criminal actions. . . . The accused was led to cooperate with the investigation in exposing the crimes of others. This happened to Vovsi and Vinogradov, and perhaps to other people as well.

Sophia Karpai, formerly a doctor at the Kremlin Hospital, told me in the summer of 1953 about her confrontation with Vovsi, Vinogradov and Vasilenko in prison. To her face they asserted that she had executed their criminal orders to administer harmful treatments to her patients. . . .So the people who had broken down became witnesses for the prosecution.”

(Y. Rapoport: op. cit.; p. 137).

Furthermore, the released doctors testified that their confessions had not been brought about as a result of the application of:

“. . torture, of which rumours were rife in the memorable purge years of 1937-1939 . . . Vinogradov told me that he had resolved from the beginning not to wait till they started torturing him, but to admit all the charges, which included one of espionage for France and Great Britain.”

(Y. Rapoport: op. cit.; p. 138).

The determination of the Soviet Marxist-Leninists to proceed with the ‘doctors’ case’ made it an urgent matter of life and death for the revisionist conspirators to halt the proceedings in the case by destroying Stalin’s personal secretariat as a necessary preliminary to destroying Stalin himself.

The Destruction of the Defence System around Stalin

We have noted the role of Stalin’s personal secretariat — also known as the ‘Special Sector’ of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Party — in bringing about the treason trials of the 1930s. But this body also played an important role in defending from terrorist attack the Marxist-Leninist nucleus, headed by Stalin, at the heart of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The special sector had been headed since 1928 by the Marxist-Leninist Aleksandr Poskrebyshev*:

“As head of the ‘Special Sector’ of the Central Committee for many years, he (Poskrebyshev — Ed.) was Stalin’s closest confidant up till 1952.”

(R. Conquest: ‘The Great Terror’; Harmondsworth; 1971; (hereafter listed as ‘R. Conquest (1971)’); p. 37).

while Lieutenant-General Nikolay Vlasik*

“. . . for more than twenty-five years had been Stalin’s chief of personal security; he knew much and was trusted by the boss.”

(D. Volkogonov: ‘Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy’; London; 1991; p. 333).

Dmitri Volkogonov* asserts that Pokrebyshev

“. . . . . to the end of his days remained his master’s devoted servant. . . He was a man with the memory of a computer. You could get an exact reply to any question. He was a walking encyclopaedia. . . .Stalin . . . trusted . . . Vlasik and Poskrebyshev.”

(D. Volkogonov: op. cit.; p. 203-04, 318).

and Levtysky confirms that:

“. . . those who knew the conditions at the summit of the Party after 1945 describe Poskrebyshev as an organising genius with a phenomenal memory.”

(B. Levytsky: op. cit.; p. 177).

Conquest asserts that Poskrebyshev was:

” . . . the man most closely and directly associated with Stalin (later described in Khrushchev’s secret speech as Stalin’s ‘shieldbearer’).”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 156).

Volkogonov says of Vlasik:

“For more than twenty-five years, Vlasik had been Stalin’s chief of personal security; he knew much was trusted by the boss.”

(D. Volkogonov: op. cit.; p. 318, 333).

and Robert McNeal* says that

“. . . Vlasik and Poskrebyshev effectively guarded the approaches to Stalin’s office, one as controller of security, the other of appointments.”

(R. H. McNeal: ‘Stalin: Man and Ruler’; Basingstoke; 1988; p. 301).

It was clear, therefore, that a successful terrorist attack on Stalin required the prior elimination of the faithful Poskrebyshev and Vlasik.

Walter Laqueur* states:

“During the last year of Stalin’s life, Poskrebyshev fell from grace.”

(W. Laqueur: ‘Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations’; London; 1990; p. 176).

and Nikita Khrushchev tells how this ‘fall from grace’ was brought about. He describes how, during the winter of 1952-53, he came under suspicion of leaking secret documents, and how he succeeded in deflecting the blame from himself in such a way that it fell upon Poskrebyshev:

“Stalin . . . complained that secret documents were leaking out through our secretariats. . . . Stalin was coming straight for me: ‘It’s you. Khrushchev! The leak is through your secretrariat!’ . . .
I . . . succeeded in deflecting the blow from myself, but Stalin didn’t let the matter rest. . . . After I’d convinced Stalin that the leak wasn’t through my secretariat, he came to the conclusion that the leak must have been through Poskrebyshev. . . . Poskrebyshev had worked for Stalin for many years. . . .
Stalin removed Poskrebyshev from his post and promoted someone else.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p. 272, 273, 274, 275).

Niels Rosenfeldt confirms that

” . . . Poskrebyshev was removed from his old post at the latest during the winter of 1952-53. . .Stalin ‘s bodyguard, Vlasik, disappeared around that time (the winter of 1952-53 — Ed.).”

(F. E. Rosenfeldt: ‘Knowledge and Power: The Role of Stalin’s Chancellery in the Soviet System of Government’; Copenhagen; 1978; p. 196).

as does Adam Ulam*:

“Poskrebyshev and Vlasik . . . found themselves in disgrace.”

(B. Ulam: ‘Stalin: The Man and His Era’; London; 1989; p. 617).

Volkogonov states that

“. . Poskrebyshev and Vlasik were compromised . . . . shortly before Stalin’s death and were therefore distanced from him.”

(D. Volkogonov: op. cit.; p. 513).

and McNeal confirms that

“. . . both these men (Poskrebyshev and Vlasik — Ed.) were thrown out in 1952.”

(R. H. McNeal: ov. cit.: v. 301).

Deriabin agrees that the charges of disloyalty levelled at Poskrebyshev and Vlasik were completely false:

“The claim about that pair of long time faithful servants was a bald and most complete lie. But . . . Stalin fired them both.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 320).

The revisionist conspirators placed Poskrebyshev under house arrest:

“Poskrebyshev was placed under house arrest in his dacha outside Moscow, with . . . guards posted about it.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 321).

“Poskrebyshev . . . disappeared. He was simply not mentioned again, apart from a brief sneer in Khrushchev’s secret speech.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 208).

while Vlasik was expelled from the Party and sent to Sverdlovsk ts deputy commandant of a labour camp:

“Vlasik . . . was not only fired, he was also expelled from the Party and sent to Sverdlovsk. . . . . as deputy commandant of a . . . labour camp.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 321).

Vlasik came to Moscow and:

” . . . went to the Kremlin in an attempt to see Stalin. . . He was picked up near the Kremlin gates and put into the Lubyanka. Two weeks later he died there of an ‘illness.”‘

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 321).

Volkogonov confirms that Vlasik

” . . . was arrested on 16 December 1952″,

(D. Volkogonov”: op. cit.; p. 570).

and records that, during Vlasik’s interrogation, pressure was exerted on him:

“. . . to make him incriminate Poskrebyshev. He refused.”

(D. Volkogonov: op. cit.; p. 570).

Ulam confirms that

“. . . Vlasik, chief of his (Stalin’s — Ed.) personal security since the Civil War, had been imprisoned. His confidential secretary, Poskrebyshev, was chased away.”

(B. Ulam: op. cit.; p. 737).

and Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva*, tells the same story:

“Shortly before my father died even some of his intimates were disgraced: the perenniel Vlasik was sent to prison in the winter of 1952 and my father’s personal secretary Poskrebyshev, who had been with him for twenty years, was removed.”

(S. Alliluyeva: ‘Twenty Letters to a Friend’; London; 1967; p. 216).

However, the attack on the defence system around Stalin was not confined to the elimination of Poskrebyshev and Vlasik. During 1952 the concealed revisionists set up:

“. . . . a commission to investigate. . . the entire state security apparatus.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 317).

This commission:

” . . . proceeded . . . to cut Stalin’s bodyguards to the bone. . . .
About seven thousand men were dropped from the original Okhrana force of some seventeen thousand. . , .When the slashing was finished, Stalin’s personal bodyguards, Okhrana No. 1, had been cut to half strength.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 317, 318, 319).

This left Stalin

” . . . guarded by . . . only a small group of officers. . . . a group that had little security experience, especially as bodyguards, and one that was headed by a mere major.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 319).

Rosenfeldt adds that about this time the special guard service, whose task was to ensure Stalin’s personal safety, after ‘a thorough purging and a big reduction in personnel’, together with the Kremlin Command and the Kremlin Medical Administration, were all made subordinate to the revisionist controlled Ministry of State Security:

“The special guard service, whose job it was to ensure Stalin’s personal safety, was made subordinate to the Ministry of State Security (MGB) in 1952 after a thorough purging and a big reduction in personnel. At the same time and in the same way the Kremlin Command and the Kremlin Medical Administration were put under MGB control.”

(N. E. Rosenfeldt: op. cit .; p. 196).

Then, on 17 February 1953, two weeks before Stalin himself died, the sudden death was reported of the Major-General Petr Kosynkin, Deputy Commandant of the Kremlin Guards, in charge of the operational arrangements for guarding Stalin:

“On 15 February 1953, shortly before Stalin’s death, the commander of the Kremlin guard, Major-General Pyotr Kosynkin, who was responsible for Stalin’s personal safety, died.”

(B. Levytsky: op. cit.; p. 212).

“The Deputy Commandant of the Kremlin, Major-General Kosynkin, in charge of the operational arrangements for guarding Stalin, died of a heart attack two weeks before Stalin. Or so the announcement said.”

(P. Deriabin & F. Gibney: ‘The Secret World’; New York; 1959; p. 169).

“The Vice-Chief of the Kremlin Command, Major-General Petr Kosynkin, passed away prematurely’ on 15th February 1953.”

(N. E. Rosenfeldt: op. cit.; p. 196).

“On February 17 1953 . . . Major General Petr Kosynkin, the deputy Commander of the Kremlin Guard, suddenly died of a heart attack. That sudden seizure was rather unusual, to say the least. A fanatical admirer of Stalin, Kosynkin had been in the prime of life and health. . . . The extremely careful physical examinations regularly undergone by all such appointees as Kosynkin automatically presuppose that the guard leader was in top condition and certainly not suffering from any heart trouble. . .
On February 17, 1953 there came a report, generally unnoticed at the time, that the Deputy Kremlin Commandant, General Kosynkin, the only remaining guard that Stalin could trust, had suddenly died of a ‘heart attack.”‘

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 239, 325).

Finally, on 21 February 1953

“. . . . a most significant change was made in the Army High Command. General Sergey Shtemenko was replaced by Marshal Vasily Sokolovsky as Chief of Staff of the Soviet armed forces. . . . And concurrently with Shtemenko’s replacement, the Okhrana bodyguards were removed from the general staff.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit,.; p. 325).

“The Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff, Sergey Shtemenko, was removed from his post about the same time (mid-February 1953 — Ed).”

(N. E. Rosenfeldt: op. cit.; p. 196).

Deriabin sums up this ‘process of stripping Stalin of all his personal security’ as ‘a studied and very ably handled business’:

“That completed the process of stripping Stalin of all personal security, except for the comparative window-dressing of the minor Okhrana officers in his office and household. This had been a studied and very ably handled business: the framing of Abakumov, the dismissal of Vlasik, the discrediting of Poskrebyshev, the emasculation of the Okhrana and its enforced subservience to the (revisionist-controlled — Ed.) MGB, Kosynkin’s ‘heart attack’, the replacement of Shtemenko and the removal of the general staff from the last vestiges of Okhrana control. And certainly not to be forgotten at this juncture was the MGB control of the Kremlin medical office.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 325-26).

and one which placed the conspirators finally in the drivers’s seat:

“With state security and the armed forces under their command, the connivers were finally in the driver’s seat.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 326).

Part 2: The Death of Stalin (1953)

On 3 March 1953 a joint statement of the Central Committee of the CPSU and of the USSR Council of Ministers announced

“…a great misfortune which has befallen our Party and our people.”

(Communique, 3 March 1953, in: ‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestia’, 4 March 1953; p. 1, in: ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’, Volume 5, No. 6 (21 March 1953); p. 4).

It reported that:

“. . . during the night of March 1-2 Comrade Stalin, while in his Moscow apartment, had a haemorrhage of the brain, which affected vital parts of his brain. Comrade Stalin lost consciousness.

Paralysis of the right arm and leg developed. Loss of speech occurred. Serious disturbances developed in the functioning of the heart and breathing.

The best medical personnel have been called in to treat Comrade Stalin. . . .

‘Treatment of Comrade Stalin is under the constant supervision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet government.”

(Government Statement, 3 March 1953, in: ‘Pravda ‘ and ‘Izvestia’, 4 March 1953; p. 1, in: ibid.; p. 4).

In the early hours of the following morning, 4 March, a medical bulletin was issued which stated:

“At 2 a.m. 4 March, J. V. Stalin’s conditions remains serious. Considerable disturbances of breathing is observed; frequency of breathing is 36 per minute and the rhythm of breathing is irregular, with periodic prolonged pauses.

It is observed that pulse beats are up to 120 a minute and there is complete arrhythmia. Maximum blood pressure is 220, minimum 120.

Temperature is 38.2 (Centigrade — Ed.). In connection with the disturbed breathing and blood circulation, inadequacy of organs is observed. The degree of disturbance of the function of the brain has increased somewhat.

At the present time a series of therapeutic measures are being applied to restore the vitally important functions of the organism.”

(Medical Bulletin, 4 March 1953, in: ibid.; p. 4).

A second bulletin was issued on the morning of 5 March:

“During the past twenty-four hours the state of health of Josef Vissarionovich Stalin remained grave. Arteriosclerosis, which developed during the night of March 1-2 on the basis of hypotonia and cerebral haemorrhage in his left brain hemisphere, has resulted, apart from the right-side paralysis of limbs and loss of consciousness, in impaired stem section of the brain, accompanied by disturbances of the vital functions of breathing and blood circulation.
During the night of March 3-4, disturbed breathing and blood circulation continued. The greatest changes were observed An the breathing functions.
Instances of periods of so-called Cheyne-Stokes breathing became more frequent. In connection with this, the condition of the blood circulation deteriorated and the degree of lack of oxygen increased.

Systematic introduction of oxygen and of medicines which regulate breathing and the action of the heart vessels gradually somewhat improved the condition and on the morning of March 4 the degree of lack of breathing was somewhat reduced.

Further, during the day of March 4, grave breathing disturbances recommenced. The rate of breathing was 36 per minute. Blood pressure continued to remain high (210 maximum, 110 minimum), with pulse 108-116 per minute, irregular, fluttering and arrhythmic.

The heart is not unduly enlarged. During the past twenty-four hours, fundamental changes in the condition of the lungs and organs of the peritoneal cavity were established. Albumen and red blood corpuscles were found in the normal ratio.

When blood was tested, increase in the number of white corpuscles to the extent of up to 17,000 was observed. Temperature during the morning and afternoon rose to 38.6.

Medical measures taken during March 4 consisted of introducing oxygen, camphor compounds, caffeine and glucose. For the second time, leeches were used to draw blood.

In connection with the raised temperature and high leucocytosis, penicillin therapy, which has been carried out for prophylactic purposes since the beginning of the illness, was intensified.

Towards the end of March 4 the state of health of Josef V. Stalin continues grave.

The patient is in a state of deep unconsciousnness.
Nervous regulation of breathing, as well as cardiac action, continues to be greatly impaired.”

(Medical Bulletin, 2 a.m., 5 March 1953. in: ‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestia’, 5 March 1953; p. 1, in: ibid.; p. 4).

A third medical bulletin was issued in the morning of 5 March 1953 and published in the press on 6 March. It reported the worsening of Stalin’s condition:

“During the night and the first half of March 5, J. V. Stalin’s condition became worse. Acute disturbances in the cardio-vascular system have been added to the impairment of vital functions of the brain. For three hours this morning there was serious respiratory deficiency, which yielded with difficulty to the proper therapeutics.

At eight this morning there developed signs of an acute cardiovascular deficiency, a collapse. The blood pressure dropped, the pulse quickened. There was an increase in pallor. Emergency treatment eliminated these developments.

An electrocardiogram taken at 11 a.m. revealed acute disturbances in the blood circulation in the coronary arteries of the heart with lesions in the back wall of the heart. (The electrocardiogram taken March 2 had not established such changes). At 11.30 a.m. there was a second serious collapse, which was eliminated with difficulty by the proper medical treatment. Later in the day, the cardiovascular disturbances subsided to some extent. but the patient’s general condition remained extremely grave.

At 4 p.m. the blood pressure ranged from a maximum of 160 to a minimum of 100. The pulse was 120 per minute and arrhythmic. The rate of respiration: 36 per minute. Temperature: 37.6. The leucocyte count: 21,000. Treatment at present is aimed primarily at combatting the disturbances in respiration and blood circulation, specifically coronary circulation.”

(Medical Bulletin, 4 p.m., 5 March 1953. in: ‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestia’, 6 March; p. 1; in: ibid.; p. 5).

Finally, on 6 March came the medical report carrying the announcement of Stalin’s death:

“On the afternoon of March 5 the condition of the patent deteriorated especially rapidly; respiration became shallow and much faster, the pulse reached 140-150 beats per minute and pulse pressure dropped.

At 2150 hours , with cardiac failure and growing insufficiency of breathing, J. V. Stalin died.”

(Medical Bulletin, 6 March 1953, in ‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestia’, 6 March 1953. p. 1, in: ibid.; p. 5).

The medical report was published together with a joint tribute from the Central Committee, the government and the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet:

“The heart of Lenin’s comrade-in-arms and the inspired continuer of Lenin’s cause, the wise leader and teacher of the Communist Party and the Soviet people — Josef Vissarionovich STALIN — has stopped beating.

STALIN’s name is boundlessly dear to our Party, to the Soviet people, to the working people of the world. . . . Continuing Lenin’s immortal cause, Comrade STALIN led the Soviet people to the world-historic triumph of socialism in our land. Comrade STALIN led our country to victory over fascism in the second world war, which wrought a radical change in the entire international situation. Comrade STALIN armed the Party and the entire people with a great and clear programme of building communism in the USSR.

The death of Comrade STALIN, who devoted all his life to the great cause of communism, constitutes a great loss to the Party and to the working people of the Soviet land and of the whole world.”

(Joint Statement of CC of CPSU, USSR Council of Ministers and the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, in: ‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestia’, 6 March 1953; p. 1, in: ibid.; p. 5).

On 7 March 1953 the report of the autopsy on Stalin’s body was published. It was stated that it

” . . . entirely confirmed the diagnosis established by the professors of medicine who treated J. V. Stalin.”

(Pathological and Anatomical Examination of the Body of Josef Stalin, in: ‘Pravda’, 7 March 1953. in: G. Bortoli: ‘The Death of Stalin’; London; 1975; p. 209).


“. . . established the irreversible character of J. V. Stalin’s illness since the appearance of the cerebral haemorrhage.”

(Pathological and Anatomical Examination of the Body of Josef Stalin, in: ibid.; p. 209).

The full report stated:

“As the result of a pathological and anatomical examination, an important centre of haemorrhage was discovered in the region of the subcortical centres of the left hemisphere of the brain. This haemorrhage destroyed important areas of the brain and provoked irreversible disturbances of the respiration and circulation. Besides the cerebral haemorrhage, observation was made of a considerable hypertonic disturbance of the left ventricle of the heart, important haemorrhages of the cardiac muscle, and in the mucous of the stomach and intestine, and arteriosclerotic modifications of particularly important vessels in the brain’s arteries. This process was the result of high blood pressure. The results of the pathological and anatomical examination have entirely confirmed the diagnosis establised by the professors of medicine who treated J. V. Stalin.

The facts of the pathologico-anatomical examination have established the irreversible character of J. V. Stalin’s illness since the appearance of the cerebral haemorrhage. That is why the energetic measures of the treatment could not produce positive results, nor prevent the fatal outcome.”

(Ibid.; p. 209).

There are a number of circumstances connected with the death of Stalin which make it, in forensic terms, “a suspicious death”:

Firstly, Stalin appeared to be in excellent health immediately prior to the beginning of March:

“And what of Stalin himself? In the pink of,condition. In the best of spirits. That was the word of three foreigners who saw him in February – Bravo, the Argentine Amassador; Menon, the Indian, and Dr. Kitchlu, an Indian active in the peace movement.”

(H. Salisbury: ‘Stalin’s Russia and After’; London; 1952; p. 157).

Secondly, on the night of 1-2 March there was a long delay in obtaining medical help for Stalin:

“Khrushchev does not mention specific times, but his narrative makes it incredible that the doctors arrived much before 5 a.m. on 2 March. This is many hours, perhaps twelve, after the seizure. . . .
It is not true that he was under medical care soon after the seizure.”

(R. H. McNeal: op. cit ; p. 304).

“There is a mystery about what had happened to Stalin, His guards had become alarmed when he had not asked for his evening snack at 11 p.m. . . . The security men picked him up and put him on a sofa, but doctors were not summoned until the morning.
Stalin lay helpess and untreated for the better part of a day, making recuperative treatment much harder. . . .
Why did the Party leaders prolong the delay? Some historians see evidence of premeditated murder. Abdurakhman Avtorhanov sees the cause in Stalin’s visible preparation of a purge to rival those of the thirties.”

(J. Lewis & P. Whitehead: ‘Stalin: A Time for Judgement’; London; 1990; p. 179).

“Only on the next morning . . . did the first physicians arrive.”

(W. Laqueuer: op. cit.; p. 151).

“Physicians were finally brought in to the comatose leader after a twelve- or fourteen hour interval.”

(D. Volkogonov: op. cit.; p. 513).

Thirdly, there was a deliberate lie in the announcement of his death, which was stated to have taken place “in his Moscow apartment,” whereas it actually occurred in his dacha at Kuntsevo, Adam Ulam asserts that a:

” . . . conspiratorial air coloured the circumstances of Stalin’s death. The belated communique announcing his stroke was emphatic that it had occurred in his quarters in the Kremlin. Yet it was to his country villa . . . that his daughter Svetlana was summoned on March 2 to be by his deathbed. . . . He was stricken away from Moscow. . . .

The official communique’ lied about the place where Stalin had suffered the fatal stroke and died. . . .
There was an obvious reason behind the falsehood; his successors feared that a true statement about where he was at the time of the seizure would lead to rumours . . . that the stroke had occurred while he was being kidnapped or incarcerated by the oligarchs. Crowds might surge on the Kremlin, demanding an accounting of what had been done to their father and protector.”

(A. B. Ulam: op. cit.; p. 4, 700, 739).

Fourthly, as we have seen, the revisionist conspirators had an ample and urgent motive — that of self-preservation — for eliminating Stalin:

“For many leading Soviet statesmen and officials, Stalin’s demise . . . came in the nick of time. Whether or not it was due to natural causes is another matter.”

(D. M. Lang: op. cit,; p. 262).

“What a strange quirk of fate, I thought, that Stalin should lie dying just a few weeks after the Kremlin’s own doctors had been accused of plotting precisely such a death. A very strange and curious quirk of fate.

But was it just a quirk? . . . Was it possible that these powerful and able Soviet leaders, together with their colleagues in the Army, had stood idly by and taken no steps to halt the creeping terror that was certain to destroy almost all of them. . . .While murder cannot be proved, there was no question that motive for murder existed. . . . For . . . if Stalin were dying a natural death. it was the luckiest thing that had ever happened to the men who stood closest to him.”

(H. Salisbury: op. cit.; p. 160-61).

Fifthly, it is necessary to take into account the circumstantial evidence of the series of measures undertaken by the conspirators in the months prior to Stalin’s death to destroy the system of defences that had surrounded him.

It is not surprising, therefore, within weeks of Stalin’s death, rumours should circulate that he had been murdered:

“There were rumours, above all in Georgia, that Stalin had been poisoned.”

(W. Laqueur: op. cit.; p, 151).

Robert Conquest speaks of the:

” . . . possibilities that he was killed.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 172).

As Stalin’s former bodyguard Vlasik was leaving Moscow after his dismissal, Stalin’s son Vasily* is reported to have cried out:

“‘They are going to kill him! They are going to kill him!’. By ‘they’ he meant . . . other members of the Political Bureau, and by ‘him’ he meant his father.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 321).

“Stalin’s son Vasily kept coming in and shouting ‘They’ve killed my father, the bastards!”‘

(D. Volkogonov: op. cit.; p. 774).

Although Vasily was an alcoholic, when he continued to make these accusations publicly, he was arrested in April 1953 in order, as his sister Svetlana puts it, “to isolate him”:

“After my father’s death, he (Vasily — Ed.) . . . was arrested. This happened because he had threatened the government, he talked that ‘my father was killed by his rivals’ and all things like that, and always many people around him — so they decided to isolate him. He stayed in jail till 1961 . . . and soon he died.”

(S. Alliluyeva: ‘Only One Year’; London: 1969 (hereafter listed as ‘S. Alliluyeva (1969); p. 202).

“He (Vasily Ed.) was convinced that our father had been ‘poisoned’ or ‘killed’.
Throughout the period before the funeral . . . he accused the government, the doctors and everybody in sight of using the wrong treatment on my father.. . .
He was arrested on April 18th, 1953. . . .A military collegium sentenced him to eight years in jail. He died on March 19th, 1962.”

(S. Alliluyeva (1967): p. 222-23, 224, 228).

Georges Bortoli* comments:

“Vasily Stalin had said aloud what the others were thinking to themselves. In less than a month, all sorts of rumours would begin to circulate in Moscow, and people would begin speaking of a crime. . . . .Some people said that several members of Stalin’s entourage were threatened by the coming purge. Had they taken steps to forestall it?”

(G. Bortoli: op. cit.; p. 151).

Robert Conquest and other commentators have drawn attention also to the sudden illness and death of the Czechoslovak leader, the Marxist-Leninist Klement Gottwald*, shortly after visiting Moscow to attend Stalin’s funeral, and have suggested that this death too had been induced. Gottwald was succeeded as President of Czechoslovakia by the concealed revisionist Antonin Zapotocky*:

“Many commentators have noted that immediately after Stalin’s death, Gottwald . . . also fell ill while attending Stalin’s funeral in Moscow, and died a few days later; and they have cast doubt on the naturalness of Gottwald’s illness.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 174).

The Albanian leader, the Marxist-Leninist Enver Hoxha* makes the same point:

“Immediately after the death of Stalin, Gottwald died. This was a sudden, surprising death! It had never crossed the mind of those who knew Gottwald that this strong, agile, healthy man would die of a flu or a chill allegedly caught on the day of Stalin’s funeral.”

(E. Hoxha: ‘The Khrushchevites’; Tirana; 1984 (hereafter listed as ‘E. Hoxha (1984)’); p. 153-54).

Hoxha also draws attention to the suspicious death of the Polish leader, the Marxist-Leninist Boleslaw Beirut* on 12 March 1957

” . . . in Moscow where he was attending the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 10; p. 14,767).

and was succeeded by the concealed revisionist Edward Ochab:

“Later came the equally unexpected death of Comrade Beirut. Edward Ochab replaced Beirut in the point of First Secretary of the Party. Thus Khrushchev’s old desire was realised.”

(E. Hoxha (1984): p. 153-65).

It was Ochab who arranged for the release of the imprisoned revisionist Wladyslaw Gomulka in April and his promotion to the post of First Secretary in October.

Hoxha, in fact, explicitly accuses the revisionist conspirators of the murder of Stalin:

“This cosmopolitan huckster (Anastas Mikoyan — Ed.) . . . as history showed, plotted with Nikita Khrushchev against Stalin, whom they had decided to murder. He admitted this with his own mouth in February 1960.”

(E. Hoxha (1984): p. 63-64).

“All this villainy emerged soon after the death, or to be more precise after the murder, of Stalin. I say after the murder of Stalin, because Mikoyan himself told me . . . that they, together with Khrushchev and their associates, had decided . . . to make an attempt on Stalin’s life.”

(E. Hoxha: ‘With Stalin: Memoirs’; Tirana; 1979; p. 31).

The Aborted Coup (1953)

As we have noted, in the years immediately prior to Stalin’s death, the security forces were under the control of concealed revisionists, not of Marxist-Leninists:

“Prior to Stalin’s death the Ministries of State Security and of Interior were not under Beria’s control.”

(R. Conquest, (1961): p. 200).

Clearly, it was a matter of great concern to the revisionist conspirators that, in any readjustment of responsibilities following Stalin’s death, control of the security forces should not pass again under Marxist-Leninist control.

Khrushchev records a discussion with fellow-revisionist Nikolay Bulganin* by Stalin’s death-bed on the danger to their plans if the Marxist-Leninist Lavrenty Beria were to become again Minister in control of the. security services:

“‘Stalin’s not going to pull through. . . . You know what posts Beria will take for himself?’
‘Which one?’
‘He will try and make himself Minister of State Security. No matter what happens, we can’t let him do this. If he becomes Minister of State Security it will be the beginning of the end for us’.
Bulganin said he agreed with me”,

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p. 319).

As we have seen, Stalin died 9. 50 p.m. on 5 March. The revisionists immediately used their control of the security forces to prepare for a coup. The American journalist Harrison Salisbury was an eye-witness of how, shortly before 6 a.m. the next morning:

” . . . smooth and quiet convoys of trucks were slipping into the city. Sitting cross-legged on wooden benches in the green-painted trucks were detachments of blue-and-red-capped MVD troops — twenty-two to a truck — the special troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. . . . The fleeting thought entered my mind that, perhaps, a coup d’etat might be in the making.
By nine o’clock . . . the Internal Affairs troops were everywhere in the centre of the city. . . . In upper Gorky Street columns of tanks made their appearance. . . . All the troops and all the trucks and all the tanks belonged to the special detachments of the MVD. Not a single detachment of regular Army forces was to be seen.
Later I discovered that the MVD had, in fact, isolated almost the whole city of Moscow. . .
By ten or eleven o’clock of the morning of March 6, 1953 no one could enter or leave the heart of Moscow except by leave of the MVD. .
MVD forces had taken over the city. . . .
Could any other troops enter the city? Not unless they had the permission of the MVD or were prepared to fight their way through, street by street, barricade by barricade.”

(H. Salisbury: op. cit.; p. 163-64, 166, 171, 173).

Robert Conquest paints a very similar picture:

“The streets of Moscow were solid with MVD troops when Stalin’s death was announced.” (R. Conquest (1961): p. 200).

as does Peter Deriabin:

“Even before Stalin’s body was cold, . . . MGB troops . . . not only set up controls and halted traffic, including pedestrians, on every principal capital thoroughfare, but had also ringed the Kremlin.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 328).

But the Marxist-Leninists succeeded, for the moment, in foiling the planned coup by mobilising sufficient support to call for the following day, 7 March, a joint emergency meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the Council of Ministers and the USSR Supreme Soviet. In these circumstances the revisionist conspirators lost their nerve and judged it expedient to postpone their planned coup and refrain from opposing the election of Beria as the Minister in charge of state security, an appointment which obviously had majority support among the leadership:

“Beria immediately proposed Malenkov for Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Premier — Ed.). On the spot, Malenkov proposed that Beria be appointed first deputy. He also proposed the merger of the Ministries of State Security and Internal Affairs into a single Ministry of Internal Affairs, with Beria as Minister. . . . I was silent. . . . Bulganin was silent too. I could see what the attitude of the others was. If Bulganin and I objected . . ., we would have been accused of starting a fight in the Party before the corpse was cold.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1961): p. 324).

The Exculpation of the Doctors (1953)

After the death of Stalin, the most urgent and immediate task which faced the revisionist conspirators was to exculpate the doctors — not, of course, because they were innocent but, on the contrary, because they were guilty and because further investigation into the case could well lead to the exposure of the highly-placed ring-leaders of the conspiracy.

As we have said, in order to confuse the Marxist-Leninists and the Soviet public as to the real motives behind a move to exculpate the doctors, this move was taken as part of a blanket action to “correct miscarriages of justice.” In other words, the “doctors’ case” was linked to the 1951-52 Georgian feint, which they themselves had engineered, and this latter genuine miscarriage of justice was now temporarily corrected at the same time as the doctors were exculpated. As further camouflage, the revisionist conspirators temporarily supported moves demanded by, and strengthening the position of, the Marxist-Leninists — notably, the dismissal of the Russian chauvinist Leonid Melnikov* as First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party.

The decision to exculpate the doctors was taken in March 1953, only days after Stalin’s death, since the name of one of the accused doctors (Boris Preobrazhensky) reappeared in the issue of the journal ‘Vestnik Oto-Rino-Laringology’ which was published on 31 March. (R. Conquest (1961): p. 206).

On 3 April 1953, the Soviet press carried a sensational communique issued in the name of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs which announced the exculpation and release from custody of the arrested doctors:

“The USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs has carried out a thorough investigation of all preliminary investigation data and other material in the case of the group of doctors accused of sabotage, espionage and terrorist acts against active leaders of the Soviet state.
The verification has established that the accused in this case . . .
were arrested by the former Ministry of State Security incorrectly and
without any lawful basis. . . .
The . . . accused in this case have been completely exonerated of the accusations against them….. . and have been freed from imprisonment.”

(Communique of USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, in: ‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestia’, 3 April 1953; p. 4, in: ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’, Volume 5 , No. 10 (18 April 1953); p. 3).

The communique went on to explain away the confessions of the accused doctors by implying that they had been procured by means of torture:

“The testimony of the arrested, allegedly confirming the accusations against them, was obtained by the officials of the investigatory department of the former Ministry of State Security through the use of impermissible means of investigation which are strictly forbidden under Soviet law. . . .
The persons accused of incorrect conduct of the investigation have been arrested and held criminally responsible.”

(Communique of USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, in: ibid.; p. 3).

On the same day, the press reported that

” . . . the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet has resolved to annul the decree of January 20, 1953, awarding Dr. Lydia Timashuk the Order of Lenin. The award has been declared invalid in connection with fresh evidence that has since come to light.”

(Decision of Presidium of USSR Supreme Soviet, in: Y. Rapoport: op. cit.; p. 188).

Dr. Timashuk was not, however, prosecuted for attempting to pervert the course of justice, and

” . . . shortly after the April events, she resumed work at the Kremlin Hospital. . . . She reappeared in her office, apparently unperturbed.”

(Y. Rapoport: op. cit.; p. 191-92).

The Reversal of the Georgian Feint (1953)

As we have seen, in the government reorganisation of 7 March which followed the death of Stalin, the Marxist-Leninists temporarily regained control of the state security forces:

“On the morrow of the death (of Stalin — Ed.) . . ., Beria reclaimed control of the organs of state security, which had gradually been wrested from his hand during Stalin’s last years.”

(A. B. Ulam: op. cit.; p. 540).

As part of the strategy of attempting to deceive the Marxist-Leninists and the Soviet public as to the real aims of the revisionist conspirators, the Marxist-Leninists were permitted to bring about the removal of the revisionists from the leading positions they had acquired in Georgia in the feint of 1951-52, that is, temporarily to reverse the feint.

“In April 1953, Beria carried out a counter-purge in Georgia.”

(H. Fairbanks, junior: op. cit.; p. 163).

On 14 April 1953 the Georgian Central Committee dismissed Akaki Mgeladze as First Secretary, and Mgeladze admitted that the charges of ‘nationalist deviation’ which he had levelled against the former Marxist-Leninist leaders had been fabricated:

“Beria now moved with speed. . . . A plenary session of the Georgian Communist Party was held on 14 April 1953, which dismissed the Party Secretariat headed by A. L. Mgeladze and established a new one under an official named Mirtskhulava. Beria’s old protege Valerian Bakradze, whom Mgeladze had dismissed from government office, now became Prime Minister of the Georgian Republic. Several prominent supporters of Beria whom Mgeladze and his faction had imprisoned, were released and given portfolios in the Bakradze administration. The ousted First Secretary, Mgeladze, made an abject confession, declaring that charges of nationalist deviation which he had levelled against high-ranking Georgian Bolsheviks were based on false evidence. . . . N. Rukhadze, Georgian Minister of State Security, who had aided and abetted Mgeladze, was imprisoned.”

(D. M. Lang: op. cit.; p. 263).

On 15 April:

” . . . the Chief Minister of the Georgian Soviet Republic (M. Valerian Bakradze) announced . . . that the Georgian Minister of State Security (M. Rukhadze) and two former secretaries-general of the Georgian Communist Party (MM. Mgeladze and Charkviani) had been dismissed from their posts, arrested and would be ‘severely punished’ for fabricating ‘trumped up’ charges against former leading members of the Georgian Government and Communist Party. . . . At the same time he announced that three former Ministers who had been dismissed at Rukhadze’s instigation would be immediately restored to their former posts; that the Ministries of Internal Security and State Security would be welded into a single Ministry; and that this Ministry would be headed by M. Vladimir Dekanozov. . . .
M. Bakradze, who was addressing a meeting of the Georgian Supreme Soviet, said that . . . a number of innocent persons had fallen victim to baseless charges of ‘bourgeois nationalism.”‘

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 9; p. 13,029).

On 16 April “Zarya Vostoka” reported a speech by Bakradze in which he said:

“‘It has now been fully established by the organs concerned that . . . the enemy of the people and Party, former Minister of State Security N. M. Rukhadze, had cooked up an entirely false and provocative affair concerning a non-existent nationalism whose victims were eminent workers of our republic. . . . Rukhadze and his accomplices have been arrested and will be severely punished.”‘

(‘Zarya Vostoka’, 16 April 1953, in: R. Conquest (1961): p. 145).

On 21 April Vilian Zodelava, released from prison, was made First Deputy Prime Minister and elected to the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Georgian Party:

“Mr. Zodelava was one of three leading Georgian Party members who had been jailed on false charges declared to have been concocted by Mr. Rukhadze. . . 
Released from jail, he has been made First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers (First Deputy Premier –Ed.) and has been elected to the Bureau of the Georgian Communist Party’s Central Committee.”

(‘New York Times’, 22 April 1953; p. 14).

On this date, “Zarya Vostoka” reported that:

“…a plenary session of the Central Committee in Georgia was announced . . . as having established that ‘the former secretary of the Central Committee, Mgeladze, took an active part in the arrest of completely innocent workers in the creation of a provocational case concerning non-existent nationalism fabricated by the enemy of the Party and the people, Rukhadze. . . . Mgeladze admitted that he was one of the instigators of ‘a stupid and provocational story’ about the existence in Georgia of a nationalist group.”

(‘Zarya Vostoka’, 21 April 1953, cited in: R. Conquest (1961); p. 145).

By 13 May the plot of revisionist conspirators to link the coup carried out by Nikolay Rukhadze in Georgia in 1951-52 with the false charges against Mikhail Ryumin in connection with the ‘doctors’ case’ had been consolidated, On that day, the newspaper “Zarya Vostoka”

” . . . declared that the Georgian case had been fabricated by Rukhadze and Ryumin. The latter, a former chief of the Investigatory Division of the former Ministry of State Security, was charged in an announcement of the new Ministry of Internal Affairs. . . .

The Georgian case . . . was in the statement of ‘Zarya Vostoka’ an Vanalogous case’ (to that of the doctors – Ed.) and was falsely fabricated by Ruhhadze.”

(‘New York Times’, 14 May 1953; p. 14).

The Dismissal of Leonid Melnikov (1953)

As the third facet of their plot to deceive the Marxist-Leninists and the Soviet public as to their real aims, the concealed revisionists supported the dismissal (announced on 13 June 1953) of the revisionist First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party, Leonid Melnikov, who had been the target of severe criticism by the Marxist-Leninists and the Ukrainian people for his notorious Russification policies in the Ukraine:

“In June 1953, after Stalin’s death, the Russification policy in the Western Ukrainian provinces underwent a reversal. On June 13, the Kremlin disclosed that Leonid G. Melnikov, at the time First Secretary of the Ukrainian Party, had been ousted from that position for ‘having permitted distortions in the Leninist-Stalinist national policy’. The charges against Melnikov were . . . an indictment of Khrushchev who, in the course of his twelve-year rule in the Ukraine, had vigorously put this policy into practice. Melnikov had worked under Khrushchev in 1939-40 and from 1944 to 1949 and carried out the . . . Russification policy as efficiently as his boss.”

(L. Pistrak: ‘The Grand Tactician: Khrushchev’s Rise to Power’; London; 1961; p. 185).

“L. G. Melnikov was relieved of his post as First Secretary of the (Ukrainian — Ed.) Central Committee as responsible for the Russification policy in the Ukraine.”

(B. Levytsky: op. cit.; p. 216-17).

The Military Coup in Moscow (1953)

But by the end of June 1953, it had become clear that the efforts to convince the Marxist-Leninists that the exculpation of the doctors had been justified had only been temporarily successful. Headed by Beria, the security forces, under Marxist-Leninist control since the readjustment of portfolios after Stalin’s death, were continuing to inestigate the “doctors’ case.”

Clearly, if the revisionist conspirators were to feel safe, Beria and his Marxist-Leninist colleagues in the security forces had to be eliminated as a matter of urgency.

On 10 July 1953, a few days after Beria had been arrested, a leading article in ‘Pravda’ revealed the real reason for that arrest — a reason not disclosed in the report of his “trial” — namely, that he had “deliberately impeded” and “tried to distort” instructions of the Central Committee and the Soviet government designed to clear up “certain illegal and abritary actions” — an obvious reference to the “doctors’ case”:

“Having been charged with carrying out ‘the Instructions of the Party Central Committee and the Soviet Government with a view . . . to clearing up certain illegal and arbitrary actions, Beria deliberately impeded the implementation of these instructions and, in a number of cases, tried to distort them.”

(‘Pravda’, 10 July 1953, in: B. Nicolaevsky: op. cit.; p. 147).

Over several days at the end of June 1953, the revisionist conspirators approached other leading members of the Politburo with the baseless story that Beria was an agent of foreign imperialist powers and was plotting a coup against the Party leadership. Khrushchev has described how he based his allegation on unsubstantiated charges made at a Plenum of the Central Committee in February 1937 by the revisionist Grigory Kaminsky* that Beria had been an agent of the counter-revolutionary Mussavat Party —

“a nationalist party of the bourgeoisie and landlords in Azerbaijan, formed in 1912. . . . supported by the Turkish and later by the British interventionists.”

(Note to: J. V. Stalin: ‘Works’, Volume 5; Moscow; 1953; p.417).

“In 1937, at a Central Committee Plenum, former People’s Commissar of Health Protection, Kaminsky, said that Beria worked for the Mussavat intelligence service.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p. 65).

Khruschev admits:

“I could easily believe that he (Beria – Ed.) had been an agent of the Mussavatists, as Kaminsky had said, but Kaminsky’s charges had never been verified. . . . We had only our intuition to go on.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p. 333).

But he alleges that he enrolled Georgy Malenkov* and Vyacheslav Molotov* into a plot to “detain Beria for investigation”:

“I took Malenkov aside and said: . . . ‘Surely you must see that Beria’s position has an anti-Party character. We must not accept what he is doing. . . ‘Malenkov finally agreed. I was surprised and delighted. . . .Comrade Malenkov and I then agreed that I should talk to Comrade Molotov. . . . I told Molotov what sort of person Beria was and what kind of danger threatened the Party if we didn’t thwart his scheming against the Party leadership. I had earlier told him how Beria had already set his plan in motion for aggravating nationalist tensions in the Republics. . . .I said: . . . ‘You think, maybe, that we should detain him for investigation? I said ‘detain’ rather than ‘arrest’ because there were still no criminal charges against Beria. . . . Molotov and I agreed and parted.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p. 330, 331, 332, 333).

He later describes how he succeeded in winning over Lazar Kaganovich*:

“I said that Malenkov, Bulganin, Saburov and I were of one mind and that without him we had a majority. Kaganovich declared right away: I’m with you too.”‘

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p. 334).

But because the security forces were under the control of the Marxist-Leninists, these could not be relied upon to carry out the task of eliminating Beria and his colleagues. The conspirators therefore decided that the coup had to be carried out by the army:

“The Presidium bodyguard was obedient to him (Beria –Ed.). Therefore we decided to enlist the help of the military.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p. 335-36).

“The army took part in Beria’s arrest.”

(J. Ducoli: op. cit.; p. 58).

Khrushchev describes how the conspirators entrusted the execution of the military coup to a group of revisionist officers which included Kirill Moskalenko* and Georgy Zhukov*:

“First, we entrusted the detention of Beria to Comrade Moskalenko, the air defence commander, and five generals. This was my idea. Then, on the eve of the session, Malenkov widened our circle to include Marshal Zhukov and some others. That meant eleven marshals and generals in all. In those days all military personnel were required to check their weapons when coming into the Kremlin, so Comrade Bulganin was instructed to see that the generals were allowed to bring their guns with them. We arranged for Moskalenko’s group to wait for a summons in a separate room while the session was taking place. When Malenkov gave a signal, they were to come into the room where we were meeting and take Beria into custody.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p. 335-36).

The coup was fixed to take place during a joint meeting of the Presidium of the Party Central Committee and of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers on 24 June 1953. At this meeting Khrushchev reminded those present — including the gullible Marxist-Leninists – of the charges made by Kaminsky in 1937:

“I recalled the Central Committee Plenum of February 1937 at which Comrade Grisha Kaminsky had accused Beria of having worked for the Mussavatist counter-intelligence service, and therefore for the English intelligence service, when he was Secretary of the Baku Party organisation.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p. 339).

Finally, Khrushchev himself moved that Beria should be dismissed from all his posts:

“After the final speech, the session was left hanging. There was a long pause. I saw we were in trouble, so I asked Comrade Malenkov for the floor in order to propose a motion. As we had arranged in advance, I proposed that the Central Committee Presidium should release Beria from his duties. . . . Malenkov was still in a state of panic. As I recall, he didn’t even put my motion to a vote. He pressed a secret button which gave the signal to the generals who were waiting in the next room. Zhukov was the first to appear. Then Moskalenko and the others came in. Malenkov said in a faint voice to Comrade Zhukov: ‘As Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, I request that you take Beria into custody pending investigation of charges made against him’.
‘Hands up!’, Zhukov commanded Beria.
Moskalenko and the others unbuckled their holsters in case Beria tried anything. . . . We checked later and found that he had no gun. . . .
Beria was immediately put under armed guard in the Council of Ministers building next to Malenkov’s office confinement.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p. 337-38).

Strobe Talbott*, the editor of Khrushchev’s memoirs, points out that:

“Khrushchev’s implicit claim to have been the leading spirit in the plot against Beria is no doubt broadly true.”

(S. Talbott: Note to: N. S. Khrushchev (1071): p. 321).

The dismissal of Beria from his state posts was confirmed by the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet on 26 June. Beria was replaced as Minister of Internal Affairs, by the concealed revisionist Sergey Kruglov, who had held the post prior to the government reorganisation following Stalin’s death. (‘Pravda’, 17 December 1953, in: R. Conquest (1961): p. 440).

Before the dismissal was made public, the revisionist conspirators took every precaution to prevent any opposition from those astute enough to see what it portended:

“On the night of June 26 1953, Red Army tanks of the Kantemirovskaya Division rolled into Moscow and took up much the same positions as . . . in March. And the tanks were supported by infantry from the Byelorussian military district.”

(P. Deriabin: op. cit.; p. 332).

On 10 July 1953, it was officially announced

“…that Mr. Lavrenty Beria, First Vice-Chairman and Minister of Internal Affairs, had been expelled from the Communist Party and removed from his Ministerial posts as an ‘enemy of the people.”‘

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 9; p. 13,029).

Three years later, in his secret speech of February 1956, Khrushchev was to tell the 20th Congress of the CPSU that:

” . . . Stalin originated the concept ‘enemy of the people’. . . . This term made possible the usage of the most cruel repression, violating all norms of revolutionary legality.”

(N. S. Khruschchev (1956): p. 12).

In the first few weeks of July several other prominent Marxist-Leninists connected with the state security service, were arrested, or as Lang expresses it:

“Beria fell, dragging down with him many high officials . . . whose familiarity with secrets of state made their survival dangerous to the victors.”

(A.M. Lang: op. cit.; p. 264).

Those arrested with Beria included Vladimir Dekanozov*, Vsevolod Merkulov, Bogdan Kobulov, Sergey Goglidze, Pavel Meshik and Lev Vlodzirmirsky all of whom were Marxist-Leninists having close connection with the state security forces.

To sum up, the revisionist conspirators were able to

“. . . to unite the leaders in a conspiracy in which, with the help of the army, . . . they succeeded in getting rid of him (Beria — Ed.) once and for all.”

(R. Carre’re d’Encausse: ‘Stalin: Order through Terror’; Harlow; 1981; p. 193).

The Military Coup in Georgia (1953-54)

On 14 July 1953, shortly after Beria’s “arrest” on 26 June, the revisionist conspirators moved to carry out a military coup in Georgia in order to reverse the changes made in April 1953 and restore the situation which existed there prior to this date – the situation of revisionist domination brought about by the feint of 1951-52. The leaders of the coup, which was carried out at a joint meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia and of the Tiflis City Committee, were two military officers — General Aleksei Antonov* and Major-General Pavel Efimov:

“A. I. Antonov, General of the Army, Commander of the Transcaucasus Military District and, reputedly, a friend of Zhukov’s . . . . acted soon after the news of Beria’s arrest was announced from Moscow. He attended a joint plenary session of the Georgian Central and Tiflis Party Committees with a fellow-officer, Major-General P. I. Efimov. The latter . . . was then elected to the Central Committee Bureau. Other army officers then took over important posts in the government and Party apparatus.”

(J. Ducoli: op. cit.; p. 58).

In the new political situation, Valerian Bakradze and some other Georgian leaders attempted to save their position by jumping on the revisionist bandwagon. “Zarya Vostoka” of 15 July 1953 reports a speech by Bakradze at the meeting already referred to, in which

“. . . he now, of course, condemns Beria.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 146).

As the “New York Times” commented:

“When Mr. Beria was purged last July, it appeared that Messrs. Bakradze and Mirtakhulava had attempted to jump from the Beria . . . . wagon.
Both of them assailed Mr. Beria at meetings held in the Georgian capital and also at the meeting of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union in Moscow last August.”

(‘New York Times’, 23 September 1953; p. 16).

On 15 July, Tiflis Radio referred to Mgeladze, Rapava, Rukhadze and Shoniya as

” . . . accomplices of Beria.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 146).

“M. Bakradze . . . coupled Beria’s name with those of Rukhadze, Mgeladze and Charkviani as ‘traitors to the Party.”‘

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 9; p. 13,030).

At the Georgian Central Committee meeting on 14 July, the Marxist-Leninist Vladimir Dekanozov was dismissed as Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs and expelled from the Party:

“First the police, or former police, adherents of Beria were removed at high speed.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 146).

“On July 15 . . ., after the announcement of Beria’s arrest, a broadcast from Tiflis announced that M. Dekanozov had been dismissed from the Georgian Government and the Communist Party for collaboration with ‘the traitor Beria.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 9; p. 13,029-30).

“The main action taken (at the CC meeting — Ed.) was the expulsion of Dekanozov . . . from the Party.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p.146)

Dekanozov was:

“arrested immediately after.”

(R.Conquest 1961;. p. 151)

Reporting these events, the “New York Times” forecast that:

“. . . thousands of Georgian Communists face the prospect of being purged as Beria followers.”

(‘New York Times’, 16 July 1953; p. 8).

Aleksei Inauri, another revisionist army officer, was appointed Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs in succession to Dekanozov:

“A. I. Inauri has been named Minister of Internal Affairs for Georgia to succeed Vladimir Dekanozov. . . .Mr. Inauri is a newcomer to high office in Georgia.”

(‘New York Times’, 3 August 1953; p. 6).

The attempt of Bakradze and others to save their positions by transferring their allegiance to the revisionists failed. On 20 September 1953 a Plenum of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party, presided over by Secretary of the USSR Central Committee Nikolay Shatalin from Moscow, removed Bakradze as Georgian Premier and Mirtskhulava as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party:

“Premier Valerian M. Bakradze, who had headed the government since last April, was dismissed in disgrace and G. D. Dzhavakhishvili . . . was named in his place.”

(‘New York Times’, 23 September 1953; p. 1).

and a new First Secretary was elected in the shape of another army officer -Vasily Mzhavanadze*:

“The post of First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party was filled in September 1953 by the election of a new man — Mr. Vasily P. Mzhavanadze, a former Lieutenant-General in the Red Army.”

(D. M. Lang: op. cit.; p. 264).

Ducoli points out the importance of the military in the new Georgian leadership:

“Three representatives of the army were found in the Bureau (of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party — Ed.): First Secretary Mzhavanadze, MVD head Inauri, and Commander of the Transcaucausian Military District Antonov.”

(J. Ducoli: op. cit,; p. 59).

On 25 September 1953 (five days after the dismissal of Bakradze):

“. . . it was announced that three more Georgian Ministers had been dismissed – M. Baramiya (Minister of Agriculture and Procurement), M. Chaureli (Minister of Culture), and M. Tsukulidze (Minister of Education). . . . (M. Baramiya had been dismissed in April 1952 from the post of Second Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, having been accused of ‘bourgeois nationalism’ and ‘ideological deviation’, but had been reinstated in the Government a year later with Beria’s support).”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 9: p. 13,468).

In the following month (October 1953) a new Georgian Prime Minister was elected — the revisionist engineer and geologist Givi Djavakhishvili*:

“On 29 October 1953, a forty-one-year-old engineer and geologist, Mr. Givi D. Djavakhishvili, was elected Prime Minister of the Georgian Republic.”

(D. M. Lang: op. cit.; p. 264).

and on 17 January 1954 a broadcast from Tiflis

“. . announced that M. Vilian Zodelava had been dismissed from the post of First Deputy Premier of the Georgian Soviet Republic.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 9; p. 13,468).

Conquest notes that:

” . . . none of the Beria nominees (of the Marxist-Leninists — Ed.) has reappeared in office.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 147).

The ‘Mingrelian Affair’ (1953)

In Soviet revisionist mythology, the Georgian events of April 1953 have become known as the “Mingrelian Affair.” Mingrelia is that part of Georgia which borders upon the Black Sea, and the name has been apparently coined because the leading individuals involved in it came from Mingrelia:

“It seems plain that the ‘Mingrelian’ conspiracy refers not to this rather small area, but to a group of Mingrelians powerful in Georgia as a whole. . . . Baramiya, Rapava, Shoniya and Zodelava . . . were all Mingrelians, as was Beria himself.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 140).

In describing the “Mingrelian Affair” of April 1953 to the 20th Congress of the CPSU in February 1956 as an instance of miscarriage of justice, Nikita Khrushchev confuses it, no doubt deliberately, with the feint attack of 1953, which was engineered by Khrushchev and his fellow revisionist conspirators and was exposed and corrected by the Marxist-Leninists in April 1953. He states that the (1951-52) affair related to false charges of ‘nationalism’ levelled against Georgian Party leaders, but repeats the false allegation made at the time that these charges were initiated by Stalin:

“Instructive . . . is the case of the Mingrelian nationalist organisations which supposedly existed in Georgia. As is known, resolutions by the Central Committee Communist Party of the Soviet Union were made concerning this case in November 1951 and in March 1952.
Stalin had personally dictated them. They made serious accusations against many loyal Communists. On the basis of falsified documents it was proven that there existed in Georgia a supposedly nationalistic organisation, whose objective was the liquidation of the Soviet power in that Republic with the help of imperialist powers.
In this connection a number of responsible Party and Soviet workers were arrested in Georgia. As was later proven, this was a slander directed against the Georgian Party Organisation.
We know that there have been at times manifestations of local bourgeois nationalism in Georgia, as in several other republics. . . .
As it developed, there was no nationalistic organisation in Georgia.
Thousands of innocent people fell victim of wilfulness and lawlessness.
All of this happened under the ‘genial’ leadership of Stalin, ‘the great son of the Georgian nation’, as Georgians liked to refer to Stalin.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1961): p. 60, 61-62).

The “Trial” of Beria (1953)

The “trial” of Lavrenti Beria and six of his fellow-Marxist-Leninists who had been associated with the security forces took place in the USSR Supreme Court on 18-23 December 1953. Those tried with Beria were:

Vladimir Dekanozov, recently Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs;
Sergey Goglidze, former Georgian People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs, and recently an official of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs;
Bogdan Kobulov, former Georgian Deputy Commissar of Internal Affairs;
Vsevolod Merkulov, former USSR Minister of State Security, recently USSR Minister of State Control;
Pavel Meshik, formerly an official of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, recently Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs; and
Lev Vlodzimirsky, former Head of the Section of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs for Investigating Specially Important Cases.

The Presiding Judge at the “trial” was Marshal Ivan Konev, on whose appointment the “New York Times” commented:

“Marshal Ivan Konev’s role as chairman of the tribunal . . . appears to be the clearest indication to date of the greatly enhanced political power now apparently wielded by the highest Soviet military leaders.”

(‘New York Times’, 24 December 1953; p. 1).

and noted a year later:

“Three of the four top judges who tried and sentenced Beria were army men.”

(‘New York Times’, 25 December 1954; p. 3).

Furthermore, a new State Prosecutor was specially appointed by the revisionist conspirators — the Ukrainian revisionist jurist Roman Rudenko*:

“We had no confidence in . . . the State Prosecutor . . .so we sacked him and replaced him with Comrade Rudenko.”

(N. S. Khrushchev (1971): p 339).

It was alleged that Beria:

“. . . in 1919 . . . committed treason by accepting the position of Secret Agent in the Intelligence Service of the counter-revolutionary Mussavat Government in Azerbaijan, which operated under the control of British Intelligence organs.”

(Report of Trial of L. P. Beria, in: ‘Pravda’, 24 December 1953, in: R. Conquest (1961): p. 445).

All the defendants were charged that they

” . . . using their official positions in the organs of the NKVD/MGB/MVD, committed a number of the most serious crimes for the purpose of exterminating honourable cadres.”

(Report of Trial of L. P. Beria, in: ibid,; p. 446).

And with

“. . betraying the Motherland and operating in the interests of foreign capital . . . in order to seize power . . . . restore capitalism and the domination of the bourgeoisie”,

(Report of Trial of L. P. Beria, in: ibid.; p. 444-45).

and with waging

“a criminal struggle of intrigue against . . . Sergo Ordzhonikidze.”

(Report of Trial of L. P. Beria, in: ibid.; p. 442).

The Ordzhonikidze case was discussed in an earlier section.

All the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death by shooting, the sentence being carried out on 23 December 1953.

It was stated that all the accused had

“. . . pleaded guilty”,

(Report of Trial of Beria, in: ibid.; p. 446).

but we have only the conspirators word for this, since

“the trial was closed to the public.”

(‘New York Times’, 24 December 1953; p. 1).

Nicolaevsky, indeed, insists that

“. . . Beria was tried behind closed doors without any confessions.”‘

(Nicolaevsky: op. cit.; p. 120).

and the Albanian leader, the Marxist-Leninist Enver Hoxha, affirms that a Soviet military adviser to Albania informed the Albanians that he had been a witness at Beria’s “trial” and that Beria, far from “confessing” had defended himself very strongly in court and refuted all the charges:

“When a general, who I believe was called Sergatskov, came to Tirana as Soviet military adviser, he also told us something about the trial of Beria. He told us that he had been called as a witness to declare in court that Beria had allegedly behaved arrogantly towards him. On this occasion Sergatskov told our comrades in confidence: ‘Beria defended himself very strongly in court, accepted none of the asccusations and refuted them all.”

(E.Hoxha (1984): p, 31).

Many Western commentators accept that the charges against Beria and his co-defendants were a mere pretext for their judicial murder. Even Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, who disliked Beria and was inclined to believe any story detrimental to him, testifies that:

“Beria’s ‘trial’ was staged . . . without any evidence.”

(S. Alliluyeva (1969): p. 375).

On the allegations that Beria was a “foreign agent,” Nicolaevsky points out that:

” – – not the slightest shred of evidence has even been offered.”

(B. Nicolaevsky: op. cit.; P. 145).

While Lang ridicules the charges that Beria and his Leninists were guilty of “attempting to restore capitalism”:

“These persons and others put to to death with them were accused of conspiring with Beria to liquidate the Soviet workers’ and peasants regime with the aim of restoring capitalism and the power of the bourgeoisie. These charges can hardly be taken seriously.”

(D.M.Lang: op.cit.,; p.264).

The Re-emergence of Melnikov (1953-57)

After the “arrest” of Beria in July 1953, the concealed revisionists felt it safe to “rehabilitate” their colleague Leonid Melnikov:

“Melnikov subsequently re-emerged and rose again. A few weeks after Beria’s fall, Melnikov was appointed Soviet Ambassador to Romania; in April 1955 . . . he was recalled to Moscow and appointed Minister of Construction of Coal Industry Enterprises, and in June 1957 was identified as Chairman of the State Planning Commission and First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers (First Deputy Premier — Ed.) of the Kazakh SSR. Thus Khrushchev moved a notorious Russifier of the Ukraine to a Muslim Republic to replace a prominent local leader.”

(L. Pistrak: op. cit.; p. 185).

The Trial of Abakumov (1954)

On 14-17 December 1954, the Marxist-Leninist former Minister of State Security, Viktor Abakumov, was tried in Leningrad before the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court, presided over by Lieutenant-Colonel E. L. Zeidin. Along with Abakumov, as co-defendants, appeared:

A.G. Leonov, former director of the MGB Investigating Division for Especially Important Cases;
V. I. Komarov and M. T. Likhachev, former Deputy Chairmen of the Investigating Division for Especially Important Cases;
I. A. Chernov and I. M. Broverman, former members of the USSR Ministry of State Security.

The defendants were charged with:

” . . . committing the same crimes as Beria.”

(‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestia’, 24 December 1954, p. 2, in: ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’, Volume 6, No. 49 (19 January 1955); p. 12).

while Abakumov was in particular charged with having:

“. . . fabricated the so-called ‘Leningrad case’, in which many Party and Soviet officials were arrested without grounds and falsely accused of very grave state crimes.”

(‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestia’, in: ibid.; p. 12).

All the accused were found guilty. Chernov was sentenced to 15 years in a labour camp, Broverman to 25 years in a labour camp, while Abakumov, Leonov, Komarov and Likachev were sentenced to death by shooting.

The “Trial” of Ryumin (1954)

As has been said, the Minister of State Security officially responsible for the investigation of the ‘Doctors’ Case’ was Semyon Ignatiev, while Mikhail Ryumin was merely his deputy.

But Ignatiev was a member of the revisionist conspiracy, and so took part in the investigation only reluctantly, while Ryumin was a Marxist-Leninist. In consequence, their fate at the hands of the conspirators was very different.

Ryumin was arrested on 5 April 1953, two days after the doctors had been exculpated. (‘Pravda’, 6 April 1953; p. 1).

As Georges Bortoli comments:

“It was convenient to make him rather than the former Minister Ignatiev shoulder the heaviest responsibility for the affair. Ignatiev was loyal to Khrushchev and Khrushchev defended him tooth and nail.”

(G. Bortoli: op. cit.; p. 186-87).

Nevertheless, it was not until July 1954 — fifteen months after his arrest — that Ryumin came to trial:

“The fact that Ryumin was not tried until fifteen months after his arrest shows that he must have had his defenders. They must have been very influential defenders at that. . . .
A real struggle over the Ryumin case was fought at the June (1954 Ed.) Plenum , and it was there that his execution was decided upon.”

(B. Nicolaevsky: op. cit.; p. 154-55, 156).

Ryumin’s trial lasted six days – from 2 to 7 July 1953:

“On July 2-7 1954, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR examined at a court session the case of M. D. Ryumin.”

(‘Pravda’, 23 July 1954, in: R. Conquest (1961): op. cit.; p. 447).

and the report of the proceedings made it clear that he was charged with “fabricating” the “Doctors’ Case”:

“Ryumin, during the period of his work in the post of Senior Investigator and than as Head of the Section for Investigating Specially Important Cases of the former Ministry of State Security, . . . engaged . . . on the path of forging investigative materials, on the basis of which Provocative cases were engineered and unjustified arrests were carried out of a number of Soviet citizens, including prominent medical workers.”

(‘Pravda’, 23 July 1954. in: ibid.; p. 447).

Somewhat oddly, however, this was defined as

“. . . a crime envisaged by Article 58-7 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR.”

(‘Pravda’, 23 July 1954, in: ibid.; p. 447).

But Article 58, Para. 7, of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR relates to economic sabotage!

“Article 58, Para. 7, is . . . irrelevant to Ryumin’s activity in connection with the arrest of the doctors. . . . It cannot possibly be applied to Ryumin’s role in the doctors’ plot.”

(B. Nicolaevsky: op. cit.; p. 149).

Nicolaevsky points out in explanation that falsification of evidence is punishable under the Criminal Code by only up to five years deprivation of liberty, while “economic sabotage” carries the death penalty. (B. Nicolaevsky: op. cit.; p. 149).

The court:

” . . . sentenced Ryumin to the supreme penalty — death by shooting. The sentence has been carried out.”

(‘Pravda’, 23 July 1954, in: R. Conquest (1961): p. 448).

Adam Ulam sums up this course of events as follows:

“After a secret trial in July 1954, Ryumin was shot.”

(A. B. Ulam: op. cit.; p. 736).

The fate of Ignatiev, the Minister, was very different. He was merely criticised for

” . . . political blindness and negligence.”

(‘Pravda’, 6 April 1953, in: Y. Rapoport: op. cit. .; p. 189-90).

and, as Conquest expresses it,

“. . . was only demoted”,

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 208).

On 7 April (two days after Ryumin’s arrest) it was announced that Ignatiev had been

“. . . . . released from the duties of a Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU.”

(‘Pravda’ and ‘Izvestia’, 7 April 1953; p. 12, in: ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’, Volume 5, No. 11 (25 April 1953); p. 4).

This treatment was because, as a participant in the revisionist conspiracy,

“Ignatiev . . . came under Khushchev’s protection.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 181).

Thus, Ignatiev’s ‘disgrace’ was very temporary. A few months later, in February 1954, Ignatiev

” . . . was appointed First Party Secretary in the Bashkir ASSR.”

(S. Wolin & R. M. Slusser: op. cit.; p. 56).

“Khrushchev . . . took Ignatiev under his wing and gave him an important post in the Party apparatus, albeit in the provinces.”

(B. Nicolaevsky: op. cit.; p. 128).

“Ignatiev was appointed First Secretary of the Bashkir Autonomous Republic. Thus, under the Khrushchev regime, another Muslim republic came under the rule of a Great-Russian whose career had not exactly mirrored sympathy for other nationalities and races.”

(L. Pistrak: op. cit.; p. 187).

The “Rehabilitation” of Anna Louise Strong (1955)

On 14 February 1949

” . . . ‘the notorious intelligence agent, the American journalist Anna Louisa Strong . . . was arrested. . . .Mrs. Strong is accused of espionage and subversive activity directed against the Soviet Union. It is reported that she would be deported in a few days.”

(‘New York Times’, 15 February 1949; p. 1).

When, in 1955, the Soviet revisionists decided to seek a rapprochement with the United States, Beria and Abakumov were used as scapegoats for Strong’s 1949 deportation, the evidence for which they were said to have “fabricated”:

On 4 March 1955

“. . . Anna Louise Strong . . . was formally absolved of the charges that she had spied on the Soviet Union. . .Lavrenti P. Beria . . . and Viktor S. Abakumov . . . were blamed for the false arrest of Miss Strong.”

(‘New York Times’, 5 March 1955; p. 1).

The ‘Rehabilitation’ of Tito (1955)

Similarly, when the Soviet revisionists decided to annul the denunciation of Yugoslav revisionism made in 1948-49 by the Marxist-Leninist Communist Information Bureau, Khrushchev visited Belgrade for this purpose in May 1955:

“He not only apologised for past ‘aggravations’, he attributed them to the ‘fabrication’ of Lavrenty Beria and Viktor Abakumov.”

(‘New York Times’, 27 May 1955; p. 1).

The Rapava-Rukhadze Trial (1955)

In September 1955 the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court, sitting in Tiflis and presided over by Lieutenant-General Chertkev, tried Avksenty Rapava (formerly Georgian People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs), Nikolay Rukhadze (formerly Minister of State Security), and six other defendants formerly connected with the Georgian security forces. They were charged with

” . . . high treason, terroristic acts and participation in counter-revolutionary organisations.”

(Radio Tiflis, 22 November 1955, in: R. Conquest (1961): p. 450).

Rukhadze, of course, had become a victim of the manoeuvres to reverse the Georgian feint of 1951-52 associated with the exculpation of the terrorist doctors, and was sacrificed to those manoevres.

Accused of being “accomplices of Beria,” among the crimes with which the defendants were charged was that of taking an active part

“. . . in the struggle of intrigue which Beria had over a number of years been carrying on against Sergo Ordzhonikidze, the prominent statesman.”

(Radio Tiflis, 22 November 1955, in: R. Conquest (1961): p. 450).

and of committing

“. . . terroristic acts of violence against Mamia Orakhelashvili, former Secretary of the Transcaucasian Party Regional Committee, and his wife, Mariam Orakhelashvili, former People’s Commissar of Education of the Georgian SSR.”

(Radio Tiflis, 22 November 1955, in: R. Conquest (1961): p. 450).

Conquest notes:

“The Rapava-Rukhadze trial in September 1955 again mentioned Ordzhonikidze, and also rehabilitated a number of Georgians headed by Orakhelashvili, who had been shot in the Yenukidze-Karakhan case of December 16, 1937.”

(R. Conquest (1961): p. 274).

The cases of Ordzhonikidze, the Orakhelashvilis, Yenukidze and Karakhan have been discussed in an earlier section.

One of the accused was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, one to twenty-five years’ imprisonment, and the rest — including Rapava and Rukhadze — to death by shooting.

The Trial of Bagirov (1956)

In July 1953, after the ‘arrest’ of Beria, Mir Bagirov*, the Marxist-Leninist Secretary of the Central Committee of the Commnunist Party of Azerbaijan, was removed from his post and, shortly afterwards, arrested.

On 12-26 April 1956 Bagirov and five alleged “accomplices” were tried by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court, sitting in Baku and presided over by Lieutenant-General A. A. Cheptsov for:

“high treason, the commission of acts of terrorism, and participation in a counter-revolutionary organisation.”

(‘Bakinsky Rabochy’, 27 May 1956, p. 2, in: ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’, Volume 8, No. 21 (4 July 1956), p. 12).

Among other charges, it was alleged that

“. . . Bagirov and the other defendants were active in the intrigues that Beria and his accomplices conducted against Sergo Ordzhonikidze.”

(‘Bakinsky Rabochy’, 27 May 1956; p. 2, in: ibid.; p. 12).

The Ordzhonikidze case has been discussed in an earlier section.

The accused were all found guilty. Two of the defendants were sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment, while three (including Bagirov) were sentenced to death by shooting.

The Bagirov “trial” was the last in the series of judicial murders of Marxist-Leninist leaders of the security forces.


*ABAKUMOV, Viktor S., Soviet Marxist-Leninist security official and politician (1894-1954); head of counter-espionage organisation SMERSH (1942-45); Minister of State Security (1946-52); executed by revisionists (1954).

*ALLILUYEVA, Svetlana S., Stalin’s daughter. (1926- )

*ANTONOV, Aleksey I., Soviet revisionist military officer (1895-l962); Commander, Transcaucasia Military District (1949-54); 1st. Deputy Chief of Staff, and Chief of Staff, Warsaw Pact (1955-62).

*BAGIROV, Mir D, A., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1896-1956); 1st Secretary, Azerbaijan (1933-53); executed by revisionists (1956).

*BERIA, Lavrenty P., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1899-1953); USSR Commissar of Internal Affairs (1938-45); USSR Premier (1941-45); Deputy Chairman, USSR Defence Committee (1941-44); marshal (1945); USSR Minister of Internal Affairs and lst Deputy Premier (April-July 1953); executed by revisionists (1953).

*BIERUT, Boleslaw, Polish Marxist-Leninist politician (1892-1956); President (1947-52); General Secretary, Polish Workers’ Party (1948-54); Premier (1952-54); 1st Secretary, Polish United Workers’ Party (1954-56).

*BORTOLI, Georges, Moroccan-born French journalist and TV producer (1923-).

*BULGANIN, Nikolay A., Soviet revisionist politician (1895-1975); USSR Deputy Premier (1938-41); Minister of Armed Forces (1947); USSR Deputy Premier and Minister of Defence (1953-55); USSR Premier (1955-58).

*CONQUEST, Robert, British-born poet and political analyst specialising in the USSR (1917- ); senior research fellow, Hoover Institute (1977- ).

*DEKANOZOV, Vladimir G., Soviet Marxist-Leninist diplomat and politician (1898-1953); USSR Deputy Commissar of Internal Affairs (1939-41); Ambassador to Germany (1940-41); Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs (1953); executed by revisionists (l953).

*DERIABIN, Peter S., Russian-born American writer (1921- ); former officer in Soviet security forces; defected (1954).

*DEUTSCHER, Isaac, Polish-born British journalist and political analyst (190767).

*DZHAVAKHISHVILI, Givi D., Soviet revisionist geologist and politician (1912); Deputy Premier, Georgia (1953); Premier, Georgia (1953).

*DUCOLI, John, American teacher specialising in Transcaucasia (1922-

*FAIRBANKS, Charles H., junior, American political analyst (1944- ); associate professor of political science, Yale University (1979-81); member, Policy Planning Committee, US Dept. of State (1981- 82); research professor, Johns Hopkins University (1982-85); foreign policy adviser, Reagan Committee for Presidency (1980), Bush Committee for Presidency (1988).

*GOMULKA, Wladyslaw, Polish revisionist politician (1905-82); General Secretary, Polish Workers’ Party (1943-48); imprisoned for nationalism (1943-56); 1st Secretary, Polish United Workers’ Party (1966-70).

*GOTTWALD. Klement, Czechoslovak Marxist-Leninist politician (1896-1953); Premier (1946-48); President (1948-53).

*GOVOROV, Leonid A., Soviet revisionist military officer (1897-1955); Marshal (1944); Commander of National Air Defence Forces and USSR Deputy Minister of Armed Forces (1948-54); Commander-in-Chief of Air Defence Forces and USSR Deputy Minister of Defence (1954-55).

*GREY, Ian, New Zealand-born lawyer and historian (1918

*HOXHA, Enver, Albanian Marxist-Leninist leader (1908-85); General/First Secretary, CC, Communist Party of Albania/Party of Labour of Albania (1941-85);Premier and Foreign Minister (1944-54).

*IGNATIEV, Semyon D., Soviet revisionist politician (1908- ); USSR Minister of State Security (1951-53); Secretary, CC (March-April 1953); First Secretary, Bashkiria (1954- ).

*KAGANOVICH, Lazar M., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1893-1991); member, State Defence Committee (1941-45); USSR Minister of Building Materials Industry (l946-47); Ist Secretary, Ukraine (1947-53); USSR Deputy Premier (1953-55); USSR Minister of Building Materials Industry (1956-57).

*KAMINSKY, Grigory N., Soviet revisionist politician (1805-1938).

*KONEV, Ivan S, Soviet revisionist military officer -(1897-1973); marshal (1944); C-in-C, Ground Forces, and USSR Deputy Minister of Armed Forces (1946-50); Chief Inspector of Army (1950-51); Commander, Carpathian Military District and Commander-in-Chief, Ground Forces (1951-55); C-in-C, Warsaw Pact Forces and USSR Ist Deputy Minister of Defence (1956-60); Inspector-General at USSR Ministry of Defence (1960-73).

*KRUGLOV, Sergey, Soviet revisionist security official and politician (190777); USSR Minister of Internal Affairs (1946-March 1953, July 1953-56).

*LANG, David M., British historian (1924- ); Professor of Caucasian Studies, University of London (1964-84).

*LAQUEUR, Walter, German-born American journalist, historian and political analyst (1930- ); Director, Institute of Contemporary History (1964- )

Professor of Government, Georgetown University (1977- ); Chairman, International Research Council, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (1973- ).

*LEVCHENKO, Gordey, Soviet revisionist naval officer (1897-1981); admiral (1944); deputy Commissar of Navy and Commander of Baltic Fleet (1944-60); retired (1960).

*LEVTYSKY, Boris, Austrian-born political analyst (1915- ).

*MALENKOV, Georgi M., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1902-88); Member, State Defence Committee (1941-45); USSR Premier (1953-55); 1st Secretary, CPSU (1953); USSR Minister of Power Stations (1955-57).

*McNEAL, Robert H., American historian (1930- ); Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto (1964-69); Professor of History, University of Massachusetts (1969-).

*MELNIKOV, Leonid G., Soviet revisionist politician (1906- ); 1st Secretary, Ukraine (1949-53);

*MIKHOELS, Solomon (real name: VOVSI), Soviet revisionist actor and director (1890-1948); director of Moscow State Jewish Theatre (1929-48); Chairman, Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (1942-48); accused posthumously of espionage and terrorism (1953).

*MOLOTOV, Vyacheslav M., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1890-1986); USSR Premier (1930-41); USSR Commissar of Foreign Affairs (1939-46); USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs (1946-49, 1953-56); Member, State Defence Committee (1941-45); USSR Minister of State Control (1956-57); Ambassador to Mongolia (1957-60).

*MOSKALENKO, Kirill A., Soviet revisionist military officer (1900-85); commander, Moscow Anti-Aircraft Defence (1945-53); commander, Moscow Military District (1953-60); Marshal (1955); commander-in-chief, USSR Strategic Missile Forces and Deputy Minister’of Defence (1960-62); chief inspector, USSR Ministry of Defence (1962-66); USSR Deputy Minister of Defence (1966-83).

*MZHAVANADZE, Vasily P., Soviet revisionist military officer and politician (1902- ); Lieutenant-General (1944); Ist Secretary, Georgia (1953-72).

*NICOLAEVSKY, Boris I., Russian , born American political analyst (1887-1966).

*ORAKHELASHVILI, Ivan (Mamiya), Soviet revisionist politician (1881-1937).

*ORAKHELASHVILI, Maria P., Soviet revisionist politician (1887-1937).

*POSKREBYSHEV. Aleksandr N.. Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1891-1965):

Head, Special Secretariat. Central Committee. CPSU (1928-52).

*RUDENKO. Roman A.. Soviet revisionist jurist (1907-81): Chief Soviet

Prosecutor*. Nurember2 (1945-46): USSR Procurator-General (1953-81).

*SALISBURY. Harrison E., American Journalist (1908- ‘New York Times’

Moscow correspondent (1949-54).

*SCHERBAKOV. Aleksandr S.. Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician and military.

officer (1901-45): Secretary. CC (1938-44): Chief of Main Political Directorate. head of Soviet Information Bureau. Deputv Commissar of Defence (1942-45).

*SHTEMENKO. Sereev M.. Soviet revisionist military officer (1907- ): Chief of

General Staff and Deputy Minister of Armed Forces (1948-52): Chief of Staff and 1st Deputv C-in-C of Ground Forces (1962-64): USSR Deputy Chief of Staff (1964-68): general (1968): Chief of Staff. Warsaw Pact Forces (1968-90).

*STALIN. Vasilv J.. Stalin’s son (1921-62).

*STRONG. Anna L.. American journalist (1885-1970).

*TALBOTT. Strobe, American journalist (1946- ).

*ULAM. Adam B.. Polish-born American political analyst (1922- ): Professor

Government,. Harvard University (1959-79): Professor of History and Political Science. Harvard University (1979Director. Russian Research Centre. Harvard (1973-76. 1980- ).

*VASILEVSKY. Aleksandr M.. Soviet revisionist military officer (1895-1977):

Chief of General Staff. lst Deputy Minister of Defence (1946-49): USSR Minister of Armed Forces (1949-53): USSR Deputy Minister of Defence (1953-57).

*VINOGRADOV. Vladimir N.. Soviet revisionist medical specialist (1882-1964).

*VOLKOGONOV. Dmitry. Soviet revisionist historian’ (1928- ): on staff of Main

Political Directorate. Red Armv (1970-85): Director. Institute of Militarv Historv (1985- ).

*ZAPOTOCKY. Antonin, Polish revisionist politician (1884-1957): Deputy Premier

(1945-48): Premier (1948-53): President (1953-57).

*ZHDANOV. Andrev A.. Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1896-1948): CPSU

Secretarv (1934-48): CPSU Secretary. Leningrad (1934-48): murdered by revisionists (1948).

*ZHUKOV. Georei K.. Soviet revisionist military officer (1896-1974): Marshal

(1943): commander-in-chief. Soviet occupation forces in Germany (194546): USSR Minister of Defence (1955-57): Member. Presidium of CC. CPSU (1957).


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Salisbury, H. E.: ‘Stalin’s Russia and After’; London; 1955.

Suny, R. G.: ‘The Making of the Georgian Nation’, London; 1989.

Ulam. A.B.: ‘Stalin : The Man and His Era’; London; 1989.

Volkogonov, D.: ‘Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy’; London; 1091. Wolin, S. & Slusser, R.: ‘The Soviet Secret Police’; London; 1957.

: ‘Bakinsky Rabochy’.

: ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’.

: ‘Izvestia’ (News).

: ‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’.

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: ‘Shorter Oxford English Dictionary’; Oxford; 1977.

: ‘Zarya Vostoka’.


Was Stalin’s View on Art Different from that of Marx and Engels?

This article was published by Alliance (Marxist-Leninist) as part of the publication Alliance, issue #53, “Aesthetics and Revolution – Essays and Talks.”

A talk given to commemorate Bill Bland at Conway Hall, London, September 2001


This is not the occasion to dwell on Bill’s enormous contributions to the Marxist-Leninist movement in both theory and practice. That will be history to do. This evening, is to celebrate Bill as a man.

It is well known that he was passionate about the arts, and that he took very seriously, Stalin’s dictum that “art was the engineer of the human soul”. I thought it fitting therefore, to emulate Bill’s approach when answering difficult questions surrounding Stalin. It is even more fitting to attempt this upon a subject he was passionate about.

I regret that this was not done by Bill himself, for several reasons. But one of these is that to answer the question posed, will be impossible for me to do as well as Bill would have done.


Critics and pundits continue to teach incessantly how ‘bad’ art was in Stalin’s lifetime in the Soviet Union. It is commonly asserted that Stalin’s view of art was only for self-glorification or for propaganda.

For example, the popular art historian, Robert Hughes writes this in “Time” in 1994: [Italics-Editor’s emphasis]:

“Throughout his rule, Stalin had sponsored a form of state art officially known as Socialist Realism. Geared to a naive, not to say brutish, mass public barely literate in artistic matters, Soviet Socialist Realism was the most coarsely idealistic kind of art ever foisted on a modern audience – though Capitalist Realism, the never-never land of desire created by American advertising, runs it a close second…As a young man Stalin had been snubbed by the Russian intellectual elite. His revenge was to grind their faces in the ice of miracle, mystery and authority, to make culture into a form of ventriloquism from on high. Socialist Realism was a religious art celebrating the transcendent power of communist ideology, the impending heaven of world socialism and the godlike benignity of its father, Lenin’s successor, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, the man of steel. And like the traditional icons of Christ and the saints it replaced, the stuff was omnipresent. No square or schoolroom in Russia lacked its image of Stalin pointing to the future…

What strikes a modern non-Russian viewer most is Socialist Realism’s unabashed fantasy. Realism in Stalinist terms did not mean painting things as they were or even as they might be: the inevitability of Socialist progress erased that conditional “might,” along with the gap between present and future.

That which will be already is, under the world-sustaining gaze of Comrade Stalin. Ideology ascribed to Stalin the actual role of God, the creation of reality itself…

One sees how Socialist Realism transcends history, with Stalin (who in 1917 was the editor of Pravda but had no role in planning the October Revolution) being painted into the very heart of the first Bolshevik conclaves cheek by jowl with Lenin. One sees Stalin protecting the motherland from the Kremlin ramparts, towering over generals or members of the Politburo who in biological life were considerably taller than he. There he is conducting the defense of Stalingrad (though in fact he prudently avoided going anywhere near a battle), encouraging collective farmers and listening to Maxim Gorky read.

But most of all he is busy being himself: God. Fyodor Shurpin’s Morning of Our Motherland, 1946-48, is a portrait of Stalin in the literal form of the Pantocrator, contemplating a new world he has brought into being. He wears a white coat of radiant purity and is bathed in the light of an early spring morning. Behind him stretch the green pastures of a transfigured Russia, Poussin (as it were) with tractors and electricity pylons, and shy plumes of smoke rising to greet the socialist dawn from far-off factories.”

“Icons Of Stalinism Soviet Socialist Realism Portrayed A Godlike Maximum Leader Reigning Over A Communist Heaven” By Robert Hughes.

But Stalin saw Art as being: “the engineer of the human soul.” But then could Stalin not distinguish between propaganda and art? Was Stalin only interested in Art for the purpose of his own glorification?

This would be quite inconsistent with what we know of Stalin’s own views, which were first highlighted by Bill Bland. Stalin detested the Cult of Personality and recognised that it was being used by enemies to attack him (See for example, “Stalin Myths & Realities”; at

Nonetheless, the prevalent view is that Stalin was a vain-glorious dictator – in the arts as well as all other spheres of life. It is no wonder that any hint of alternative viewpoint is suppressed. So for example the influential New York Review of Books (NYRB), published Isiah Berlin’s article, that was originally written in the 1930’s for the British secret service on the state of arts under Stalin.

Berlin’s article is very convenient for conventional wisdom in that it is generally vituperative of the USSR. But the article applauded in general, the results of the state policies on art. This was most inconvenient for the NYRB. To retain even a tiny fragment that did support the USSR arts policy was anathema. Which fragment was correspondingly cut. This read:

“On the other side it must be said that the childlike eagerness and enthusiasm of Soviet readers and Soviet theatrical audiences is probably without parallel in the world. The existence of State-subsidised theatres and opera, as well as of regional publishing houses, throughout the Soviet Union is not merely a part of a bureaucratic plan, but responds to a very genuine and insufficiently satisfied popular demand. “

Isiah Berlin: ‘The Arts in Russia under Stalin’ ; [Passage Omitted From the New York Review of Books, 19 October 2000, p. 60] at:

Despite the epithet “childlike” – this perspective of a Soviet arts policy that stemmed from and spoke to the masses – was too uncomfortable for the NYRB.

Thus the general view is propagated, that in contrast to Marx and Engels, Stalin was a ‘boor’ – too uncivilized and uninterested to see beyond a propagandist art that glorified him. It is generally argued even by bourgeois critics, that Marx and Engels were men of taste who would not have inflicted “Socialist Realism” on the world. Of course it is well known how erudite Marx and Engels were, and this has been extensively catalogued (See SS Prawer: “Karl marx and World Literature”; Oxford 1978).

Even the bourgeoisie now acknowledge this.

But Marx and Engels did not live in an era when it was possible to build a Socialist state. For that reason, and for the reason that they are now long dead, they are ‘spared’ too much abuse, while more recent enemies of the bourgeoisie like Stalin who could build socialism, are vituperated.

We will ask tonight:

“How far apart were Marx and Engels from Stalin, concerning their views on the arts?”

In general the views of Stalin on the arts have been represented well by Zhdanov in his lectures and writings on art. [See Bland’s own article on “Stalin and the Arts” in this issue of Alliance 53 [At].

This is not here, an examination of the Ultra-leftist deviations in the arts such as Proletkult [See Bland cited before & Alliance 7 at] and AKhRR (The Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia)

Instead, I propose here to examine primarily, whether Stalin’s views substantially varied from those of Marx and Engels.

We will examine FIVE specific questions:

1) How did Marx and Engels view the inter-relationship of the mode of production & society to art ?

2) What did Marx and Engels view as making for ‘good art’?

3) How did Marx and Engels view art that frankly proclaimed the workers cause?

4) What were the favourite pictures of Marx, Engels and Stalin?

5) Was there good art produced in the USSR up to 1953?

State Art, Propaganda and Caricature

But first we should define certain recurrent artistic terms. 

When one sees pictures like this one by Freidin and entitled “Glory To Stalin”; it does appear to be celebrating a state event in the USSR. This could be thought of as being propaganda because it depicts Stalin favourably.


Or at the very least, it may be doubted whether this is “great art.”

But it is in fact a form of art well recognised in every society. It is what we will here call, an “Art of State”; one that helps to form the “myths” and “self-images” of a state.

Such imagery and icons are necessary to each and every state, and indeed ubiquitous in every state.

It would be quite wrong to even suggest that the USSR was unique in having such art.

For instance, this painting, by  Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, American, (1816-1868) is entitled “George Washington Crossing the Delaware”, 1851 (378.5 x 647.7 cm ,  is in the  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


It is a central iconic image that depicts George Washington’s heroic victories over the English colonists in the American War of Independence.

Whether Washington in these battles actually struck such poses or was quite as well dressed and clean is immaterial to the purpose of the artist.

It is meant to focus a nation’s gaze on one of its formers and heroes.


Similarly, the painting in the Tate Gallery Of  “The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781” by John Singleton Copley (1783) was iconic for its time, in England.

It showed a battle between English and French troop in Jersy (the Channel Islands) in a conflict sparked by the American Revolutionary Wars. Peirson’s death for the British flag was revenged by his personal manservant – whose name is not honoured in the title fo the painting.

Or even more well known, is the statue of Boadicea on the banks of the Thames just below the Houses of Parliament.


Propaganda art is at a different level from “State Art” in our view, and is more clearly designed for a day to day persuasion. Propaganda art, in general, carries a negative overtone. However, such art may be both very well done and may serve an extremely useful function. Such is the case for the posters seen here, from the USSR.

Much of the poster art from the USSR, is nowadays recognised as being both technically, but artistically as well, very fine, and is collected for huge amounts of money.


The caption is “Save Books”; by Kupreyanov


The caption is “Anti-bureaucracy” by Mayakovsky


The caption is “Help!” (During the imperislist blockade); by Dimitri Moor.

Caricature should be distinguished from propaganda, and perhaps its’ hallmark is that of an extreme exaggeration of features.

A master of this was Honore Daumier, who here, lampooned the King of France as never-endingly receiving into his vast mouth the people’s wealth:


It is quite true that some posters may be less useful, and sub-serve a true ‘propagandist’ purpose. Such for example are the numerous images of J.V.Stalin, and of V.I.Lenin in these:

Bizukhov’s “Stalin and the Railway”


“Lenin and Stalin”; Anonymous, 1948


But, it should be again reiterated that Stalin is clearly on record as abhorring and trying to prevent the Cult of Personality.

I strongly doubt postes such as these were produced at the behest of Stalin, and his stated preferences in art (See below) are a strong indication of this.

But stronger evidence, comes from the history of the USSR where Stalin at many points attempted to obstruct a Cult of the Personality arising. 

I have argued that all States have an ‘official’ art that serves as a vehicle to reinforce national images.

This was not unique to the USSR.

I have also argued that propaganda and caricature can both be valuable media for different progressive purposes.

(1) The Views of Marx and Engels on Art in Relation to Society

The Inter-relation of Art and the Society in which it is produced

As all who are interested in art will know, the origins of art lie very early on in man’s history:

“Anatomically modern humans had existed for at least the previous 50,000 years, but 50,000 years ago there appear the first signs of art, of versified tools for specific functions, and other clues to enhanced culture.”;

Johnson D & Edgar B: “From Lucy to Language”; New York; 1996; p. 52; .

“If art is an attempt to imitate nature, our Upper Paleolithic ancestors were master artists. It is impossible to visit a cave like Lascaux in south western France or Altamira in Northern Spain and not be moved by the images of horses, bison, deer, and other prehistoric animals. Art painted on the ancient cave walls. Reaching across eons of time, these lifelike yet hauntingly impressionistic paintings immediately connect us with the artists who rendered their world on cave walls nearly 20,000 years ago. When the painted cave of Altamira first came to the attention of researchers, in 1880, the immediate reaction was that such sophisticated and well-executed paintings could not have been made by prehistoric people.”

Johnson D & Edgar B: “From Lucy to Language”; New York; 1996; p. 53.

What more can connect ancient cave art than the common themes of food animals and hunting?


Early discoveries of such cave paintings were initially controversial. Pundits instantly dismissed them as “too sophisticated” to have been drawn by primitive men and women. But it is interesting that Engels did not share the general skepticism of his age, and he also accurately located the first pieces of art as being a very early part of  mankind’s history.

“By the combined functioning of hand, speech organs and brain, not only in each individual but also in society, men became capable of executing more and more complicated operations, and were able to set themselves, and achieve, higher and higher aims. The work of each generation itself became different, more perfect and more diversified. Agriculture was added to hunting and cattle raising; then came spinning, weaving, metalworking, pottery and navigation. Along with trade and industry, art and science finally appeared. Tribes developed into nations and states. Law and politics arose, and with them that fantastic reflection of human things in the human mind — religion.”

‘The Part Played By Labour In The Transition From Ape To Man’ By Frederick Engels;

Elsewhere Engels relates that the essential development needed to enable the advent of Art, was that the hand became free of a need for locomotion:

“At first, therefore, the operations for which our ancestors gradually learned to adapt their hands during the many thousands of years of transition from ape to man can only have been very simple ones. The lowest savages, even those in whom presumably a regression to a more animal-like condition with a simultaneous physical degeneration occurred, are nevertheless far superior to these transitional beings. Before the first flint was fashioned into a knife by the human hand, a period of time must have elapsed in comparison with which the historical period known to us appears insignificant. But the decisive step was taken: the hand had become free and could henceforth attain ever newer skills, and the greater flexibility thus acquired was transmitted and increased from generation to generation.

Thus the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour. Only through labour, through constant adaptation to new operations, through inheritance of the special development thus acquired of muscles, ligaments and, over longer periods of time, bones as well, and by the ever renewed use of this inherited refinement in new, increasingly complicated operations, has the human hand attained that high degree of perfection that has enabled it to conjure into being the paintings of a Raphael, the statues of a Thorwaldsen, the music of a Paganini. “

Frederick Engels: “The Part Played By Labour In The Transition From Ape To Man”;
in “Dialectics of Nature”: ;

Yet, if the physical anatomy of hands that produce art have not substantially changed over historical time, art certainly has.  

What explains the emergence of paintings of a Raphael from the anatomically similar hands that created the art of the Lascaux Paleolithic hand?

What makes the art of one historical period different from that of another period? Marx and Engels recognised that it was the “relations of production.

These will form the “economic structure of society”; which in turn explains all social life – “the social, political and intellectual life-process in general.” When the underlying economic conditions changes, the whole of society undergoes changes. But Marx nonetheless points out that in “the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic, in short, ideological, forms” – the relation is not as exact as in the “material transformation of the economic conditions of production.” This early and central passage from Marx’s writings is as follows:

“In the social production of their existence, men enter into definite, necessary relations, which are independent of their will, namely, relations of production corresponding to a determinate stage of development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation on which there arises a legal and political superstructure and to which there correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life-process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary it is their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — what is merely a legal expression for the same thing — with the property relations within the framework of which they have hitherto operated. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. At that point an era of social revolution begins. With the change in the economic foundation the whole immense superstructure is more slowly or more rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic, in short, ideological, forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such an epoch of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social forces of production and the relations of production.”

Karl Marx: “Preface And Introduction To A Contribution To The Critique Of Political Economy”; 1844;

In so far as the artistic object itself goes (object d’art)  Marx identifies this product as resulting from a specific form of production, centred on “beauty” and its’ appreciation. But this form of production cannot be analysed separately from analyses of a more general production. In early [‘original’] production, the overall state of the finished product is ‘primitively crude’. However, artistic production is part of the overall production in a society.

And its production itself creates a “public with artistic taste” :

“So production creates the consumer.  

3) Production not only provides the material for a need, but it also provides a need for the material. When consumption emerges from its initial natural crudity and immediacy — and its remaining in that state would itself be the result of production being stuck in a state of natural crudity — it itself is mediated as an urge by the object. The need it feels for the object is created by perception of the latter. Like every other product an objet d’art creates a public with artistic taste and a capacity to enjoy beauty. Production accordingly produces not only an object for the subject, but also a subject for the object.”

Karl Marx: “A Contribution To The Critique Of Political Economy”; Appendix I ; I. Production, Consumption, Distribution, Exchange (Circulation). (pages 20, 21).

Moreover, Marx points out that in the era of capital, even art takes place within a production work place in cooperation between a small group of workers who have divided up their labour:

“Sancho … thinks that “no one can compose your music for you, complete the sketches for your paintings. No one can do Raphael’s works for him.” Sancho could surely have known, however, that it was not Mozart himself, but someone else who composed the greater part of Mozart’s Requiem and finished it,”‘ and that Raphael himself completed “only an insignificant part of his own frescoes.

[Sancho].. imagines that the so-called “organisers of labour” wanted to organise the entire activity of each individual, and yet it is precisely they who distinguish between directly productive labour, which has to be organised, and labour which is not directly productive. In regard to the latter, however, it was not their view, as Sancho imagines, that each should do the work of Raphael, but that anyone in whom there is a potential Raphael should be able to develop without hindrance. Sancho imagines that Raphael produced his pictures independently of the division of labour that existed in Rome at the time. If he were to compare Raphael with Leonardo da Vinci and Titian, he would see how greatly Raphael’s works of art depended on the flourishing of Rome at that time, which occurred under Florentine influence, while the works of Leonardo depended on the state of things in Florence, and the works of Titian, at a later period, depended on the totally different development of Venice. Raphael as much as any other artist was determined by the technical advances in art made before him, by the organisation of society and the division of labour in his locality, and, finally, by the division of labour in all the countries with which his locality had intercourse. Whether an individual like Raphael succeeds in developing his talent depends wholly on demand, which in turn depends on the division of labour and the conditions of human culture resulting from it.”

The German Ideology. The Leipzig Council. III. Saint Max 393

Two related matters are often raised as a general criticism of these notions as they are applied to art:  

Firstly is the relationship between the economic times and the art produced an absolute relationship?

Engels made clear that anyone who insisted that “the economic factor is the only determining” factor for any particular aspect of life, was not a Marxist. The subtleties of many other factors would often intervene in an “endless host of accidents,” to make a mechanical and simple equation linking economics to each manifestation of real life – silly. Nonetheless, Engels reiterates that economics is the “ultimately determining factor”:

“According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining factor in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Neither Marx nor I have ever asserted more than this. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic factor is the only determining one, he transforms that expression into a meaningless, abstract, absurd phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure-political forms of the class struggle and its results, such as constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc, juridical forms, and especially the reflections of all these real struggles in the brains of the participants, political legal, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas-also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases determine their form in particular. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent and neglect it) the economic movement is finally bound to assert itself. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier that the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.”

Engels to Joseph Bloch; September 21-22, 1980. Marx and Engels; in Collected Works; 

In addition to this, Marx points out that there is an “unequal development” in both material production and in art. Marx however points out that even in spite of this “unevenness,” there are material and rational explanations  – provided the subject is explored in enough detail. He takes as an example the case of ancient Greek art – that could only arise upon the basis of a Greek mythology. Yet the level of production in Greece a that time was not as high as the “peak” of Greek art might otherwise suggest: 

6. The unequal development of material production and, eg that of art. The concept of progress is on the whole not to be understood in an abstract form. Modern art etc. This disproportion is not as important and difficult to grasp as within concrete social relations e.g. in education. Relations of the United Sates to Europe. However , the really difficult point to be discussed here is how the relations of production as legal relations take part in this uneven development. For example the relation of Roman civil law (this applies in smaller measure to criminal and constitutional law) to modern production. …..

As regards art it is well known that some of its peaks by no means correspond to the general development of society; nor do they therefore to the material substructure, the skeleton as it were of the its organisation. For example, the Greeks compared with modern [nations], or else Shakespeare. It is even acknowledged that certain branches of art, e.g. the epos, can no longer be produced in other epoch making classic form after artistic production as such has begun; in other words that certain important creations within the compass of art are only possible at an early stage in the development of art. If this is the case with regard to certain branches of art within the sphere of art itself, it is not so remarkable that this should also be the case with regard to the entire sphere of art and its relation to the general development of society. The difficulty lies only in the general formulation of these contradiction. As soon as they are reduced to specific questions, they are already explained.

Let us take for example the relation of Greek art, and that of Shakespeare, to the present time. We know that Greek mythology is not only the arsenal of Greek art but also its basis. Is the conception of nature and of socials relations, which underlies Greek imagination and therefore Greek [art] possible when there are self-acting mules, railways, locomotives and electric telegraphs? What is a Vulcan compared with Roberts & Co; Jupiter compared with the lightning conductor, and Hermes compared with the Credit Mobilier? All mythology subdues, controls and fashions the forces of nature in the imagination and through imagination; it disappears therefore when real control over those forces is established… Greek art presupposes Greek mythology, in other words that natural and socials phenomenon are already assimilated in an unintentionally artistic manner by the imagination of the people… Egyptian mythology could never become the basis of or give rise to Greek art… Is Achilles possible when powder and shot have been invented? And is the Iliad possible at all when the printing press and even printing machines exist?”

Marx “Introduction” to Economic Manuscripts of 1857-58; in “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” [“The Grundrisse”]; in Collected Works; Volume 28; Moscow; 1986 p.46-47

Secondly, why does art of an earlier era resonate with us?

After all, if art is “of its’ time” – of what consequence should it be to humans many generations later? Marx also addresses this problem, in the same Introduction to Political Economy cited above, where he so memorably compares Hermes with the Credit Mobilier:

“But the difficulty we are confronted with is not, however, that of understanding how Greek art and epic poetry are associated with certain forms of social development. The difficulty is that still five us aesthetic pleasure and are in certain respects regarded as a standard and unattainable ideal. An adult cannot become a child again, or he becomes childish. But does the naiveté of the child not give him pleasure, and does he not himself endeavour to reproduce the child’s veracity on a higher level? Does not the child in every epoch represent the character of the period in its natural veracity? Why should not the historical childhood of humanity, where it attained its most beautiful form, exert an eternal charm because it is stage that will never recur? There are rude children and precious children. Many of the ancient peoples belong to this category. The Greeks were normal children. The charm their art has for us does not conflict with the immature stage of the society in which it originated. On the contrary it charm is a consequence of this and is inseparably linked with the fact that the immature socials conditions which gave rise, and which alone could give rise, to this art cannot recur.”

Marx “Introduction” to Economic Manuscripts of 1857-58; in “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”; [“The Grundrisse”] in Collected Works. volume 28; Ibid; p. 47-48.

Neither Stalin nor Lenin devoted too much time to a fully integrated view of art and art history. They had to build socialism. Lenin confessed to Anatol Lunarchasky that art was fascinating but that it would take a lifetime to sort out the innumerable problems posed in its history, but that he would have liked to do so.

Even so, it is very easy to demonstrate that Stalin agrees with these fundamental elements of the Marxist world view.

These views expressed summarise the general analysis known as Historical Materialism. Stalin wrote “Dialectical and Historical Materialism,” that forms a chapter in the famous “History of the CPSU(B).” This piece continues to be excoriated by many who see it as “reductionism” and an “over-simplification” of Marx and Engels. Marxist-Leninists however accept that it is a very cogent and clear explanation of Marx’s views:

“Hence, the source of formation of the spiritual life of society, the origin of social ideas, social theories, political views and political institutions, should not be sought for in the ideas, theories, views and political institutions themselves, but in the conditions of the material life of society, in social being, of which these ideas, theories, views, etc., are the reflection. Hence, if in different periods of the history of society different social ideas, theories, views and political institutions are to be observed; if under the slave system we encounter certain social ideas, theories, views and political institutions, under feudalism others, and under capitalism others still, this is not to be explained by the “nature,” the “properties” of the ideas, theories, views and political institutions themselves but by the different conditions of the material life of society at different periods of social development.

Whatever is the being of a society, whatever are the conditions of material life of a society, such are the ideas, theories, political views and political institutions of that society. In this connection, Marx says: 

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” (Marx, Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 269.)”

J. V. Stalin: “Dialectical And Historical Materialism”: September 1938; In “History of the CPSU(B)”; Moscow 1939; p.115; Or in “Problems of Leninism”; Moscow; 1954; p.725. OR at:

If this general postulate of a link between modes of societal production and thought is true, are there at least some examples in art, that they specified? Fortunately as already pointed out in the fragments of Marx and Engels, there are, and we will point out some further examples.

SUMMARY: Marx, Engels and Stalin believed that the mode of production determined human consciousness. This final determinant was qualified by a complex interaction with society, but nonetheless was the starting point for an evaluation of changes in society. This determinant even determined human appreciation of “beauty.”

(2) Did Marx and Engels give us Clues as to what makes for “Good Art?”

Fortunately for us, despite the lack of any single unifying statement, both Marx and Engels were so interested in art that they left many useful analyses on art. At least some of their views are able to be condensed into the statements below. 

(i) Art must be “true” to life: The depiction artistically, of truth must be a complete one – Tomorrow’s world as well as today’s.

Art should express not only what is an apparent and obvious truth now, but also what is a latent and developing truth. This may then take a stance that projects from the world of today into the world of tomorrow.

Not only should the truth be given in all its’ aspects, but in addition true events should be presented so that it can be clear why they have become a reality. These aspects can be seen in the letter (extant only in a draft form now) that Engels sent to Margaret Harkness whose novel “City Girl”  had been sent to me:

“[Draft] [London, beginning of April 1888]  
Dear Miss Harkness, 

I thank you very much for sending me your City Girl. through Messrs. Vizetelly. I have read it with the greatest pleasure and avidity. It is indeed, as my friend Eichhoff your translator calls it, ein k1eines Kunstwerk [Original Footnote A small work of art]; to which he adds, what will be satisfactory to you, that consequently his translation must be all but literal, as any omission or attempted manipulation could only destroy part of the original’s value.  

What strikes me most in your tale besides its realistic truth is that it exhibits the courage of the true artist. Not only in the way you treat the Salvation Army, in the teeth of supercilious respectability, which respectability will perhaps learn from your tale, for the first time, why the Salvation Army has such a hold on the popular masses. But chiefly in the plain unvarnished manner in which you make the old, old story, the proletarian girl seduced by a middle-class man, the pivot of the whole book. Mediocrity would have felt bound to hide the, to it, commonplace character of the plot under heaps of artificial complications and adornments, and yet would not have got rid of the fate of being found out. You felt you could afford to tell an old story, because you could make it a new one by simply telling it truly.

Your Mr. Arthur Grant is a masterpiece. 
If I have anything to criticise, it would be that perhaps, after all, the tale is not quite realistic enough. Realism, to my mind, implies, besides truth of detail, the truth in reproduction of typical characters under typical circumstances. Now your characters are typical enough, as far as they go; but the circumstances which surround them and make them act, are not perhaps equally so. In the City Girl the working class figures as a passive mass, unable to help itself and not even showing (making) any attempt at striving to help itself. 

All attempts to drag it out of its torpid misery come from without, from above. Now if this was a correct description about 1800 or 1810, in the days of Saint-Simon and Robert Owen, it cannot appear so in 1887 to a man who for nearly fifty years has had the honour of sharing in most of the fights of the militant proletariat. The rebellious reaction of the working class against the oppressive medium which surrounds them, their attempts – convulsive, half conscious or conscious-at recovering their status as human beings, belong to history and must therefore lay claim to a place in the domain of realism.” 

Letter to Margaret Harkness; Engels April 1888; Marx and Engels Selected Correspondence, Moscow; 1975; p.379-81. 

(ii) Characterisation must be accurate and represent both an individual and the background of that person – becoming a “type.”

Engels thought that it was important to depict not only a generic “type” in a character, but that the “type” should at the same time be sufficently realistic as to be recognisable as a true single “personality.”

“I have now also read Die Alten und die Neuen [The Old Ones and the New], [Original Footnote: A novel by Minna Kautsky] for which I sincerely thank you. The life of the salt-mine workers is described with as masterly a pen as were the portraits of the peasants in Stefan. [Original Footnote: Stefan von Grillenhof was the first novel written by Minna Kautsky……. the characters exhibit the sharp individualisation. so customary in your work. Each of them is a type but at the same time also a definite individual, a “Dieser,” [Original Footnote “This one”] as old Hegel would say, and that is how it should be.”

Engels To Minna Kautsky, November 2th 1885; From “Marx & Engels: On Literature & Art”; Moscow; 1976; p.87-89; London, November 26, 1885;

It should also reflect the future reality. See earlier quote from Engels.

But to do this in art, is very different from having a simple “cut-out” propagandist “formula.”

(iii) The stylistic presentation of the art must be at the highest level in order to allow the content to come out the clearest.

Numerous citations can be given of Marx and Engels insistence on achieving the highest level of professional stylistic presentation of art. It should not be forgotten that both Marx and Engels had at an early stage considered literature and poetry as a career and had both rejected this path – at least in part because they recognised their own limitations. 

A good illustration of Marx’s view that it is necessary to strike the right balance between form and content is in a letter to Ferdinand Lassalle, where Marx  critiques Lassalle’s play “Franz von Sickingen”: 

“London, April 19, 1859.
Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle, on his drama Franz von Sickingen

I am now coming to Franz von Sickingen. [Original Footnote: A Drama by Lassalle-Ed]

First of all, I must praise the composition and action, and that is more than can be said of any other modern German drama. In the second instance, leaving aside the purely critical attitude to this work, it greatly excited me on first reading and it will therefore produce this effect in a still higher degree on readers who are governed more by their feelings. And this is a second and very important aspect.

Now the other side of the medal: First -this is a purely formal matter – since you have written it in verse, you might have polished up your iambs with a bit more artistry.

But however much professional poets may be shocked by such carelessness, I consider it on the whole as an advantage, since our brood of epigonous poets have nothing left but formal polish.”

Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle; Problems Of Revolutionary Tragedy: Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle On His Drama Franz Von Sickingen Transcribed By Alliance From: “Marx And Engels On Literature And Art”; Moscow; 1976.


Those creative geniuses Marx and Engels therefore recognised a core of aesthetic principles. As can be readily appreciated by a comparison against either Zhdanov’s writings, or of the “Theses of Art,” from the Marxist Leninist Organisation Britain, drafted by Bland, the views of Marx and Engels are very similar to those enunciated by the proponents of what came to be called Socialist Realism.

(3) Should Art be “Committed?”

Whether art should be committed or not – is at the centre of the debate between pure aesthetes (“Art for Art’s Sake”) and those who argue that art has a purpose. But committed art might not art that “wears its’ heart on its sleeve.” Committed art, might be better if it does not fire the viewer’s eye with a blunderbuss. This might be another distinction between high art and propaganda art. In general, we will argue that Marx and Engels both took this line of thought. 

Thus Engels argues to Mina Kautsky, that while art “with a purpose” can well be great art (Such as that of Aeschylus, Schiller, Dante, Cervantes etc), it is not necessary to “serve the reader on a platter the future historical resolution.”

“The novel itself reveals the origins of this shortcoming. You obviously felt a desire to take a public stand in your book, to testify to your convictions before the entire world. This has now been done; it is a stage you have passed through and need not repeat in this form. I am by no means opposed to partisan poetry as such. Both Aeschylus, the father of tragedy, and Aristophanes, the father of comedy, were highly partisan poets, Dante and Cervantes were so no less, and the best thing that can be said about Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe is that it represents the first German political problem drama. The modern Russians and Norwegians, who produce excellent novels, all write with a purpose. I think however that the purpose must become manifest from the situation and the action themselves, without being expressly pointed out and that the author does not have to serve the reader on a platter the future historical resolution of the social conflicts which he describes. To this must be added that under our conditions novels are mostly addressed to readers from bourgeois circles, i.e., circles which are not directly ours. Thus the socialist problem novel in my opinion fully carries out its mission if by a faithful portrayal of the real conditions, it dispels the dominant conventional illusions concerning them, shakes .the optimism of the bourgeois world, and inevitably instils doubt as to the eternal validity of that which exists, without itself offering a direct solution of the problem involved, even without at times ostensibly taking sides. Here your exact knowledge and admirably fresh and lifelike presentation of both the Austrian peasants and Vienna “society” find ample material, and in Stefan you have demonstrated that you are capable of treating your characters with the fine irony which attests to the author’s dominion over the beings he has created.”

Engels To Engels To Minna Kautsky, November 2th 1885; From “Marx & Engels: On Literature & Art”; Moscow; 1976; pp.87-89.

He also points out to Margaret Harkness, that it is often better for the authors true opinions to remain hidden:

“I am far from finding fault with your note having written a point-blank socialist novel, a “tendezroman”, as we Germans call it, to glorify the social and political vies of the authors. That is not at all what I mean. The more the opinions of the author remain hidden, the better for the world of art. The realism I allude to may crop out even in spite of the author’s opinions. Balzac whom I consider a far greater master of realism than all the Zolas, passes, presents et a venire [past present and to come], in La Comedie Humaine gives us a most wonderfully realistic history of French “society”, especially of “le monde parisien”, describing.. almost year by year from 1816-1848 the progressive inroads of the rising bourgeois upon the society of nobles that reconstituted itself after 1815 and that set up again, as far as it could the standard of la veille politesse francaise [Old French Refinement]…. Even in economic details.. I have learned more from [Balzac] than from all the professed historians, economists and statisticians of the period together. Well, Balzac was politically a Legitimist [adherents of the Bourbons overthrown in France in 1792, who represented the interests of the landed aristocracy]; his great work is a constant elegy on the irretrievable decay of good society, his sympathies are all with the class doomed to extinction. … That Balzac was compelled to go against his own class sympathies and political prejudices, that he saw the necessity of the downfall of his favourite nobles, and described them as people deserving no better fate; and that he saw the real men of the future where, for the time being they alone were to be found – that I consider one of the greatest triumphs of Realism, and one of the grandest features in old Balzac.”

Letter to Margaret Harkness; Engels April 1888; Marx and Engels Selected Correspondence, Moscow; 1975; p.379-81;

Similarly, Marx points out to Lassalle that while the content of an art work needs to be historically accurate, it is not necessary – indeed it is often counter-productive – (“Your gravest shortcoming”) – to allow characters to be “transform(ed) [from] individuals into mere mouthpieces of the spirit of the time.”

Art therefore is not a series of speeches, it is a different article from propaganda:

“London, November 26, 1885; Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle, on his drama Franz von Sickingen ;

Hence, if you did not want to reduce the collision to that presented in Gotz von Berlichingen – and that was not your plan – then Sickingen and Hutten had to succumb because they imagined they were revolutionaries (the latter cannot be said of Gotz) and, just like the educated Polish nobility of 1830, on the one hand, made themselves exponents of modern ideas, while, on the other, they actually represented the interests of a reactionary class. The aristocratic representatives of the revolution –behind whose watchwords of unity and liberty there still lurked the dream of the old empire and of club-law — should, in that case, not have absorbed all interest, as they do in your play, but the representatives of the peasants (particularly these) and of the revolutionary elements in the cities ought to have formed a quite significant active background. In that case you could to a much greater extent have allowed them to voice the most modern ideas in their most naive form, whereas now, besides religious freedom, civil unityactually remains the main idea. You would then have been automatically compelled to write more in Shakespeare’s manner whereas I regard as your gravest shortcoming the fact that a la Schiller you transform individuals into mere mouthpieces of the spirit of the time. Did you not yourself to a certain extent fall into the diplomatic error, like your Franz von Sickingen, of placing the, Lutheran-knightly opposition above the plebeian Munzer opposition?  Further, the characters are lacking in character. I exclude Charles V, Balthasar and Richard of Trier. Was there ever a time of more impressive characters than the 16th century? Hutten, I think, is too much just a representative of “inspiration” and this is boring. Was he not at the same time an ingenious person of devilish wit, and have you not therefore done him a great injustice?”

“Marx To Ferdinand Lassalle; Problems Of Revolutionary Tragedy: Marx And Engels To Ferdinand Lassalle On His Drama Franz Von Sickingen Transcribed By Alliance From: “Marx And Engels On Literature And Art”; Moscow; 1976

Both Marx and Engels thought that the best art was distinct from propaganda. The latter depicts people acting as “mouthpieces.” But the best art while being very realistic and true to life, did not need to “itself offer a direct solution of the problem involved” or “even without at times ostensibly taking sides.”

(4) What Paintings  did Engels, Lenin and Stalin Admire?

Some indication has been given of this from the references of Marx and Engels in literature already cited, but there is far less regarding the visual arts.

I have not dealt with Stalin’s literary preferences as Bill has already dealt with this in his article Stalin and the Arts []. 

But since this talk is more about the visual arts, and a picture is worth a thousand words, I would like to show the favourite paintings as far as we know, of Engels and Stalin. We have some indication of their preferences in this regard, but none of either Lenin or Marx.

(i) Frederick Engels: Karl Hubner: “The Silesian Weavers”


The example that we know of for Engels, is vividly described by him in an article.

Engels clearly has absolutely no compunction about highlighting a picture that is both partisan and highly emotional.

These are two of the very elements that bourgeois ideologues find most repugnant about socialist realism:

“Let me on this occasion mention a painting by one of the best German painters, Karl Hubner, which has made a more effectual Socialist agitation than a hundred pamphlets might have done. It represents some Silesian weavers bringing linen cloth to the manufacturer, and contrasts very strikingly cold-hearted wealth on one side, and despairing poverty on the other. The well-fed manufacturer is represented with a face as red and unfeeling as brass, rejecting a piece of cloth which belongs to a woman; the woman, seeing no chance of selling the cloth, is sinking down and fainting, surrounded by her two little children, and hardly kept up by an old Man; a clerk is looking over a piece, the owners of which are with painful anxiety waiting for the result; a young man shows to his desponding mother the scanty wages he has received for his labour; an old man, a girl, and a boy, are sifting on a stone bench, and waiting for their turn; and two men, each with a piece of rejected cloth on his back, are just leaving the room, one of whom is clenching his fist in rage, whilst the other, putting his hand on his neighbour’s arm, points up towards heaven, as if saying: be quiet, there is a judge to punish him. This whole scene is going on in a cold and un-homely-looking lobby, with a stone floor: only the manufacturer stands upon a piece of carpeting; whilst on the other side of the painting, behind a bar, a view is opened into a luxuriously furnished counting-house, with splendid curtains and looking-glasses, where some clerks are writing, undisturbed by what is passing behind them,. and where the manufacturer’s son, a young, dandy-like gentleman, is leaning over the bar, with a horsewhip in his hand, smoking a cigar, and coolly looking at the distressed weavers. The painting has been exhibited in several towns of Germany, and, of course, prepared a good many minds for Social ideas. At the same time, we have had the triumph of seeing the first historical painter of this country, Charles Lessing, become a convert to Socialism.”

Frederick Engels: “Rapid Progress of Communism in Germany”; First Printed In: The New Moral World No. 25, December 13, 1844; In Collected Works; Volume 4; Moscow; 1975; pp. 229-233

(ii) V.I. Lenin

It is not known what Lenin’s favourite painting was. But it is known that he detested “Futurism,” and “incomprehensible art.”

Here is Vladmir Tatlin’s “Model of the Monument to the Third International 1920”:


Everything we do know about Lenin’s views on art, are quite consistent with those of Stalin:

“All Lenin’s recorded utterances on art at this time suggest he approved the traditional and deplored the formally innovative. In February 1921, on a midnight visit to Varya Armand (the daughter of the revolutionary Inessa Armand), who was studying art in Moscow, Lenin became involved in a discussion with a group of art students in their hostel.These students recognised ‘nothing to the right of constructivism’ in art; but among their number was one student (a Siberian whose name, for one reason or another, has not come down to us) who made realistic works:’

“This,” says Lenin, “I understand. This is comprehensible to me, and comprehensible to you, and comprehensible to a worker and to everyone else.”‘

Similarly, in his most extended reported discourse on art, a conversation with Klara Tsetkin, he reportedly called for an art that was ‘comprehensible to the masses’.

This comprehensibility appears to have signified, in Lenin’s mind, a kind of party-oriented reportage; discussing the Soviet cinema, which he regarded as the most important art form (this was, in fact, a prescient and not at all conventional view circa 1920), Lenin emphasised the importance of documentary films, stating that ‘the production of new films, imbued with Communist ideas, reflecting Soviet actuality, should begin with the newsreel’.”

Matthew Cullerne Bown; “Socialist Realist Painting”; New Haven 1998; p. 62.

It was very soon after this time, that Lenin began a counter-attack on the ultra-leftism of the Proletkult (See

(iii) J.V.Stalin: Ilya Repin: “Zaporozhe Cossacks Write a letter to Tartar King”

repin75As described by Brown, Stalin was impressed by Repin, but espeically this picture:

“Picture depicts Cossacks writing a rude and rebellious letter to the Turkish Sultan in reply to his demands for their capitulation. The Cossacks are collectively splitting their sides in anticipation of the Sultan’s reaction…. Stalin wrote modestly leaving the exhibition in the visitor’s book: ”Was at the exhibition. Generally in my opinion good”

Matthew Culhearne Brown; “Art Under Stalin”; New York; 1991; p. 56.

(iv) W.B. Bland: Diego Rodriguez De Silva y Velazquez: “Pope Innocennzo X.”

While not in any way attempting to elevate Bland to the levels of the Marxist-Leninists discussed in this article, it is nonetheless appropriate in a memorial on Bill, to ask what were some of his favourite paintings? Bland’s relation to his leaders, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Hoxha, is a matter for history and deeper analysis.

However – In Bill’s house in Ilford, the walls were hung with a variety of impressionist painting, including Van Gogh’s “Chair and boots”; “Sunflowers.” There was also a small reproduction of Degas’s statuette of the Dancer. He lived by himself, and these articles certainly reflected his own taste.

Diego Rodriguez De Silva y Velazquez: “Pope Innocennzo X.”

Diego Velazquez-538583

On the back of a postcard sent to me, of this painting Bland wrote: “I think this portrait (on loan here at present) is one of the finest I have ever seen”;

(5) Was Good Art Made in the USSR?

In this format, it is impossible to give a full and comprehensive history of USSR painting.

However we cna give some some indication, that all range of contents dealing with human life was depicted with vivid realism and accuracy. A range of paintings will be presented as examples.

Even Anatol Lunacharskii, who at times wavered in his views, as the Commissar for enlightenment, declared himself in favour of realism; despite his pull towards the futurist leftist tendency.

In 1919 Lunarchaskii appealed in “The Artistic Task of Soviet Power’  that:

‘The central content … is the struggle for socialism and the socialist ideal itself”;
Cited Matthew Cullerne Bown; “Socialist Realist Painting”; New Haven 1998;   p. 54.

How well did the artists respond?  Flipping through the excellent publiction by Matthew Cullerne Bown, “Socialist Realist Painting” published by Yale in 1998, we can readily see some extremely wonderful works. The illustrations below are all drawn from that work.

In terms of the ‘Iconic State Art’ that was discussed earlier, perhaps the first memorable piece was that of Isaak Brodski – who was introduced to Lenin by Lunacharskii as follows:

“From an ethical and political point of view the artist Brodskii merits complete trust’;

Cited Bown M.C. Ibid; p. 57.

Thereafter an immense painting “The Ceremonial Opening of the Second Congress of the Third International” [350×550 cm] was shown in 1924. Of the 218 delegates from 67 parties, Brodski made 125 portraits, combining these into the picutre.  Each individual delegate – including Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin – are recognisable.


In the meantime, while he was working away on this massive scale, he painted Lenin and Trotsky. 

It is not recorded as far as I can find, that Trotsky modestly declined to have his picture painted. Indeed Trotsky urged that Lenin be depicted, as did Krasin (Bown Ibid p. 56).

In a later march of the Ultra-leftists of the AKhR, Brodski was driven out:

“AKhR began a purge of its own ranks in 1928. The bete-noir of the young activists was the arch-traditionalist Brodksi. In a declaration issued at the time of the May 1928 Congress, they called for a struggle with ‘photo-naturalism – Broskiism’. Brodskii was driven out fo the AKhR; soon afterwards he was followed buy the painter of Russian hisotricla scences Gavriil Gorelov – hounded out becassue in 1927 he had aprticiated in the decoration of a church – and by Leningrad apinter Mikhail Avilov.”

Cullerne Bown Ibid; p. 115.

An early example of an artistically exaggerated perspective, one that enhanced an overall realism is that of Kustodiev B.M. “A Bolshevik’; 1920 [101×141 cm].
In my view, tihs illustrates nicely the distinction between “Realism” and “Naturalism.”


Kustodiev was previous to this picture, better known for nudes and portraits. He became a respected member of the arts community, and exhibited both with ultra-leftists from the Protekult and other groups. He remained unaligned.

The difficulties of daily life were portrayed with unflinching realisms as in Savitski’s G,K. “The year 1919’; 63×43 cm].


An example of a “realism” that was quite novel – and “anti-naturalism” – in its depiction of stark cold plain background was Alexander A Deineka’s “The Defence of Petrograd”; 1927 (218×354 cm);


Although not a member of the AKhRR, Deineka was invited to show at the 10th exhibiton of AKh RR, and this painting was “considered the star of the
exhibition” Cullerne Bown Ibid; p. 77.

He studied workers’ movements in the factory for hours at times before a picture, and he was fascinated by “rhythm.” This can be seen above.

As well can seen sharp contrasts – “the struggle of white and black elements in graphics” – as expounded by Vladimir Favorski.

Deineka was a bridge between the graphics of the socialist poster and the canvas art of Socialist Realism.

Later commentators would remark on the multi-spatial dimension (Two lines of soldiers – before and after the revolution) – as a “paradigm of the “dialectical-materialist” approach to painting.”; Cited Culleren Bown Ibid; p. 95.

The new life under sociailism was depicted as being a wide open avenue along which a young lady could drive a car towards the city, by Yuri I Pimenov “New Moscow”; in 1937 [140×170 cm].


The image of “A Partisan” by Sergei V Malyutin 1936 [100×150 cm] is deceptively simple. With intense focus on the man, the rutted snow behind shows how this man will travel on guard for danger.


While George C Nisski’s “Sebastopol – The Meeting”;(1935 77×101 cm) shows with luminescent colouring, an age-old scene of boy meets girl. With the kicker of a bunch of mates in the background no doubt good humouredly – but perhaps slightly jealously? – watching their comrade’s good fortune.


The natural beauty of the world, was not lost on artists in the USSR of socialist realism, as a famous impressionist artist, Aleksandr M Gerasimov shows in “An Orchard in Blossom”; (1935; 124×133 cm).


With the War years of course, the emphasis changed, and the war reality and bravery of the USSR people was shown clearly. Despite the privations of the war, painting went on. Exhibitions were once more held from 1942, and one, “Leningrad in the Days of the Patriotic War,” held ins the still besieged city, drew:

“weak, scarcely moving people .. to our cold exhibition hall .. carrying their most recent works”;
Bown M.C. Cited Ibid; p.216.

To be singled out are perhaps Sergei V. Gerasimov’s “The Mother of  a Partisan” (1943 184×232 cm); 


And once more the work of Alexsandr A Deineka, whose rapid movement in “The Defence of Sebastopol” (1942 200×400 cm) makes the canvas appear cinematic. This is helped by the unusual horizontal canvas shape, a “wide angle” frame. The naked figure on the far left hurling a grenade swirls into the dressed sailor brandishing a piece of fencing as defence, who in turn is thrown into the distant sailor wielding a rifle in hand-to-hand combat.


Naturally again the emphasis would shift after the war, to once more depict the life of the people. “Galya of the Birds” by Pavel F Globa [1950 137×201 cm] is very far from the image that is presented by the bourgeoisie of socialist Realism. As for A.M.Gerasimov, it would not be very far-fetched to think of this in an exhibition of the Impressionists.



Contrary to received wisdom, Stalin’s views, and personal preferences in art were not at all dissimilar to those of Marx and Engels and Lenin.

He was not the moving force behind the plethora of bad propagandist art that was seen in the late period of the USSR. Undoubted distortions occurred, and need further exploration. However, Ultra-leftist trends were supported by a combination of misguided honest elements, and hidden revisionists. 

Nonetheless, the era of Socialist art covered a number of trends over the period 1917-1953, and undoubtedly has left future progressive artists and peoples a lasting legacy of extraordinary art. 

Whether it is to everyone’s taste is another matter. But then – not everyone is a supporter of socialism. I submit, that the art of that era is more consistent with people’s views than the modern art collected by the Saatchi’s of this world.


Bill Bland: Stalin & the Arts – On Marxist-Leninist Aesthetics

Vera Mukhina: Monument to Collectivisation

Vera Mukhina: Monument to Collectivisation

This article was published by Alliance (Marxist-Leninist) as part of the publication Alliance, issue #53, “Aesthetics and Revolution – Essays and Talks.”


This talk was given by Bill Bland to the ‘Stalin Society’ in 1993. He later expanded this talk in some detail, into the manuscript here.

It gives a history of Socialist Realism in the society of its birth – the Soviet Union.
It also depicts leftist-revisionist strands in art policy in the USSR.

In part Alliance has discussed these revisionist elements before (See Alliance 7 on Ultra-leftism in the Communist Academy & Proletkult: at:

But Bill’s analysis goes much further than this, and he comprehensively covers many of the usual controversies as thrown out by liberal aesthetes, who charge Stalin with having “killed the arts and artists.”

As a talk, slide and tape cues are given. This version does not include the musical clips, but does include some slide clips as used by Bland in his talk. Missing segments are indicated. As far as possible, pictures of slides are credited with the web-source from where they were derived.

Editors Alliance Marxist-Leninist (North America)
August 2004


ART is a form of production in which the producer (the artist strives by his product (the work of art) to create certain thoughts or feelings in the minds of its consumers.

A product which is exclusively artistic and has no other significant function is termed fine art. A product which is primarily functional may be secondarily a work of art if its producer has been concerned not merely with its function but also with creating certain thoughts of feelings in the minds of its users. Such art is termed applied art.

The content of a work of art is its subject.

The form of a work of art is the manner or style in which the artist has presented the content of his work of art.

Realism is a trend in art which seeks to represent its subject faithfully and truthfully.

An artist is a member of society, so that the art of a particular time and place cannot but be influenced by the social environment existing in that time and place.

When and where a particular a social system is in harmony with the needs of the mass of the people, the prevailing thought tends to be rational, favourable to science and optimistic, while the prevailing art tends to be realistic.

When and where a particular social system has outlived its usefulness to the majority of the people, the prevailing thought tends to be irrational, unfavourable to science and pessimistic while the prevailing art tends to be unrealistic, tends to degenerate into a greater or lesser degree of abstraction.



Thus, in Europe in the late Middle Ages, when the long-established social system of feudalism was in decline, the prevailing art was typically Byzantine in style — like this altar-piece by Margaritone of Arezzo* in the National Gallery, painted in the late 13th century. Painting from real life had by this time come to be regarded as heretical, and artists tended to confine themselves to making copies of works of art previously approved by the Church. Thus, Byzantine art tended to be flat and lifeless.

Then, in the 14th century, above all in Italy, the embryonic capitalist class began to exert its influence, giving rise to that flowering of science, art and culture we call the Renaissance.



The difference between this picture by Caravaggio* and the previous one by Margaritone is not just a matter of improved technique, the use of light and shade, the mastery of perspective. The main difference is that it is no longer based on previous works of art; it is painted from life and it glows with realism.



This sumptuous portrait of the Doge of Venice, by Giovanni Bellini*, conveys with realism all the pomp and prosperity of the wealthy state of Venice.

Most sitters of the Renaissance and the rising embryonic capitalist class felt self-confident, and did not demand that painters prettified them. Thus, Oliver Cromwell* ordered the painter Peter Lely* to paint him “warts and all.”



And this sitter no doubt gave the same instructions to her painter.



In the 17th century we find Dutch painters like Pieter De Hoochpainting realistically the interiors of bourgeois houses like this, in which he expresses his joy in painting sunlight. The figure standing before the fireplace was an afterthought added to improve the design of the grouping, and that is why the black-and-white tiles of the floor can be seen through the woman’s skirt.

But when a social system ceases to serve the interests of the majority of the people — for example, in France in the years immediately preceding the French Revolution of 1792 sensitive artists, other than conscious revolutionaries, find reality too unpleasant and sordid to portray realistically, so that they tend to reject realism in favour of falsity.



Jean Fragonard* was court painter at Versailles in the years just prior to the French Revolution. This painting, “The Swing,” is typical of the artificiality of his work. The decadent court is concealed in a completely false world of eternal youth and perpetual pleasure, of endless summer filled with laughter and the scent of flowers.

In the twentieth century, capitalism reached the stage of imperialism, where it became ever more clearly contrary to the interests of the mass of the people.

In such a period, revolutionary artists make use of realism to further the revolutionary cause. But the honest, sensitive artist who is not a revolutionary, who sees no way out of existing social problems, finds reality too painful to portray, and consequently moves away from realism.

Even in the 19th century, artists like William Turner* began to sense the poverty and exploitation which lay behind the surface of Victorian prosperity, and to move away from realism.



In this late picture by Turner of a train crossing a viaduct, the train is not the realistic assembly of gleaming pistons which would have brought joy to the heart of George Stephenson*. The train is no more than an impression, lost in the wild rush of colour of the elements and the steam from the engine.

Today capitalism has been in increasing decay for almost a century.

Britain, once the workshop of the world, has been turned into an industrial museum; some four million people are out of work and school-leavers face the prospect of spending all their lives on social security; in the heart of London, thousands of people are forced to sleep in the open air winter and summer . . .

So, with the coming of imperialism, which is capitalism in its final stage, capitalism in decay, reality became uglier still, and honest, sensitive artists who are not socialists reject even the impression of reality.

Among the many non-realistic artistic trends which arose in the 20th century is Cubism, associated particularly with the name of Picasso.



In later Cubism the image is first cut up into geometrical forms, then these are shifted around. In this portrait by Picasso, all we can recognise are fragmentary aspects of the sitter’s waistcoat and face drowned in chaos.



Another 20th century non-realistic artistic trend was Surrealism, allegedly based on the unconscious mind, the dreams of which are declared to be more real than objective reality. The Spanish-born painter Salvador Dali* deserted Cubism for Surrealism. His paintings — like this one, entitled “Suburbs of the Paranoic-Critical Town” — are naturalistic in appearance, but with objects in the weirdest juxtaposition — a temple, an armchair, a horse’s skull and a girl with a bunch of grapes.

Of course, this movement from realism is not confined to the visual arts.

In the theatre, for instance, it has produced a whole trend known as “the Theatre of the Absurd.” Here “absurd” is used in the sense of “incongruous,” “illogical,” “contrary to reason.” It is often humorous, but its humour comes not from satire on real life, but from incongruity. It is the humour of “Monty Python.” It portrays life and the world as senseless and meaningless:

“The Theatre of the Absurd is . . . part of the ‘anti-literary’ movement of our time, which has found its expression in abstract painting.”

(Martin J. Esslin: ‘The Theatre of the Absurd’; Harmondsworth; 1977; p. 26).

A milestone in the development of “the Theatre of the Absurd” was the play “Waiting for Godot,” written in French by the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett*, and first published in Paris in 1952.

The play is set in a country lane where two tramps are waiting for a mysterious person called Godot. As they wait, they converse in the manner of cross-talk comedians on the variety stage. Eventually a boy arrives and tells them that Godot is not coming that day. In the second act, they continue to talk as they wait for Godot, and again the boy comes to tell them that Godot won’t be coming.

As one eminent critic has put it: “Waiting for Godot” is a play in which nothing happens — twice!

Here are the last few lines of the play:


“Vladimir: We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow….. Unless Godot comes. Estragon: And if he comes?
Vladimir: We’ll be saved.
Estragon: Well? Shall we go?
Vladimir: Pull on your trousers.
Estragon: What?
Vladimir: Pull on your trousers.
Estragon: You want me to pull off my trousers?
Vladimir: Pull ON your trousers.
Estragon: True.
Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let’s go”.
(Samuel Beckett: ‘En attendant Godot, piece en deux actes’; London; 1966; p. 88).

They do not move, and the curtain falls.

The American playwright William Saroyan*, who greatly admires the play, says:

“The play is about nothing. All is nothing. All comes to nothing.”

(William Saroyan: ‘A Few Words about Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”‘: Record Sleeve).

In the field of music, the retreat from realism has taken the form of atonality. If you listen to this scale –


— something is clearly missing. We are left hanging in the air, unsatisfied, waiting for ‘the other shoe’ to drop. Tonality is a system of relations between tones having a tonic or central pitch as its most important element. In atonal music, all sense of key or resting place is lost. There are no longer “consonances” and “dissonances,” but only varying degrees of dissonance.

Here is a piece of modern atonal music — “Duo for Two Violins in the Sixth-Tone System,” by the Czech composer Alois Haba*.


Atonal composers say that in rejecting tonality, they are liberating music from restrictions. Yet Bach, Beethoven and Mozart did not feel restricted by tonality.

The fact is that, unlike the music of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, who did not feel themselves restricted by tonality, this kind of music fails to move listeners. It does not do so — it is unloved — because it has rejected melody, it has rejected realism.

What limits modern composers is not tonality, but paucity of ideas.

In some respects, the music of composers like Haba has its counterpart in the junk music of “pop.”

Here is an extract of a group called “The Swirlies” playing a piece called “Blondatonaudiobaton” — whatever that may mean.


It is not accidental that pop concerts have become associated with drugs — for the music itself (if one can call it that) has many of the characteristics of a drug.

Capitalism in decay survives by means of the old Roman policy of “Divide and Rule” — by dividing black from white, office worker from manual worker, Protestant from Catholic, and — as in the case of “pop music” — young from old. Indeed,, in a society where there is hopeless mass unemployment the ideal young person is one who is too stoned to do anything more than stagger down to the chemist’s and collect his methodone.

As George Melly*, puts it, pop is:

“. . . based on the corruption of standards deliberately engineered by skilful vested interests for their own gain. . . .Pop is in many ways an ersatz culture feeding off its own publicity….It draws no conclusions. It makes no comments. It proposes no solutions.”

(George Melly: ‘Revolt into Style: The Pop Arts in Britain’; Harmondsworth; 1972; p. 6, 7).


Aesthetics is the science of quality in art.

Marx, Engels and Lenin did not develop a thoroughgoing theory of aesthetics, and even their passing comments on the subject were not systematically investigated until the 1930s.

After the Russian Socialist Revolution of November 1917, in the absence of any authoritative guidelines, all kinds of artistic trends flowered, including many from the West.

“Proletarian Culture” (1920-24)

There was general agreement in Soviet Russia that culture in a socialist state, a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat, should be “proletarian culture.” But there was no agreement as to what ‘proletarian culture’ should consist of.

One influential view was that put forward by Aleksandr Bogdanov*, who became the leader of the “Proletarian Cultural and Educational Associations,” (Proletkult), formed in September 1917.

The leaders of Proletkult held that “proletarian culture” must be a new, specially created culture:

“Its (Proletkult’s — Ed.) members actually denied the cultural legacy of the past… isolated themselves from life and aimed at setting up a special ‘proletarian culture.'”

(Note to: Vladimir I. Lenin: ‘Collected Works’, Volume 31; Moscow; 1974; p. 567).

They also demanded that there should be no leadership of Proletkult by the Party:

“Proletkult continued to insist on independence, thus setting itself in opposition to the proletarian state.”

(Note to: Vladimir I. Lenin; ‘Collected Works’, Volume 31; ibid.; p. 567)

Lenin was strongly opposed to Bogdanov’s conception of “proletarian culture,” insisting that it should be a natural development of all that was best in previous world culture:

“Marxism . . . has . . . assimilated and refashioned everything of value in the more than two thousand years of the development of human thought and culture. Only further work on this basis and in this direction . . . can be recognised as the development of a genuine proletarian culture.”

(Vladimir I. Lenin: ‘On Proletarian Culture’ (October 1920), in: ‘Collected Works’, Volume 31; ibid.; p. 317).

“Only a precise knowledge and transformation of the culture created by the entire development of mankind will enable us to create a proletarian culture. The latter . . . is not an invention of those who call themselves experts in proletarian culture. That is all nonsense. Proletarian culture must be the logical development of the store of knowledge mankind has accumulated under the yoke of capitalist, landowner and bureaucratic society.”

(Vladimir I. Lenin: ‘The Tasks of the Youth Leagues’ (October 1920), in: ‘Collected Works’, Volume 31; ibid.; p. 287).

Lenin further demanded that:

“. . . all Proletkult organisations . . . accomplish their tasks under the general guidance of the Soviet authorities (specifically of the People’s Commissariat of Education) and of the Russian Communist Party.”

(Vladimir I. Lenin: ‘On Proletarian Culture’ (October 1920), in: ‘Collected Works’, Volume 31; ibid.; p. 317).

The Proletkult organisations declined in the 1920s:

” . . . ceasing to exist in 1932.”

(Note to: Vladimir I. Lenin: ‘Collected Works’, Volume 31; ibid.; p.567).

The Period of Party Neutrality in Aesthetics (1925-1932)

In May 1925 Stalin put forward a view which expressed the basis of an objective Marxist-Leninist aesthetic — that proletarian culture should be socialist in content and national in form:

“Proletarian culture . . . is socialist in content . . . national in form.”

(Josef V. Stalin: ‘The Political Tasks of the University of the Peoples of the East’, in: ‘Works’, Volume 7; Moscow; 1954; p. 140).

However, the leadership of the Party rejected the conception of aesthetics put forward by Stalin, and in June 1925 adopted:

“…a rambling, repetitious, verbose and pompous document.”

(Edward J. Brown: ‘The Proletarian Episode in Russian Literature: 1928-1932’; New York; 1935)(hereafter listed as ‘Edward J. Brown (1935)’); p. 43).

This resolution was entitled “On the Policy of the Party in the Field of Literature,” and declared the Party’s neutrality between aesthetic trends:

“The Party can in no way bind itself in adherence to any one direction in the sphere of artistic form. . . . All attempts to bind the Party to one direction at the present phase of cultural development of the country must be firmly rejected.
Therefore the Party must pronounce in favour of free competition between the various groupings and streams in this sphere. . . .Similarly unacceptable would be the passing of a decree or party decision awarding a legal monopoly in matters of literature and publishing to some group or literary organisation, . . . for this would mean the destruction of proletarian literature.”

(Resolution of CC, RCP, ‘On the Party’s Policy in the Field of Literature’ (July 1925), in: C. Vaughan James: ‘Soviet Socialist Realism’; London; 1973; p;. 118, 119).

Edward J. Brown* comments:

“As a result of that liberal policy, the years from 1921 to 1932 saw the growth of a literature in Russia which is thoroughly congenial to the tastes of Western intellectuals.”

(Edward J. Brown: ‘Russian Literature since the Revolution’; London; 1963 (hereafter listed as ‘Edward J. Brown (1963)’; p. 23).

The adoption of this “liberal” attitude towards aesthetics was due to the fact that the Party leadership at this time was dominated by revisionists, by concealed opponents of socialism. The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party elected after the 13th Congress of the Party in June 1924 consisted of (in alphabetical order):

Nikolay I. Bukharin*,
Lev B. Kamenev*;
Aleksey I. Rykov*;
Josef V. Stalin;
Mikhail P. Tomsky*;
Lev D. Trotsky*;
Grigory E. Zinoviev*.

(Leonard Schapiro: ‘The Communist Party of the Soviet Union’; London; 1960; p. 607).

The revisionist control over literature in the next period was exercised through the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP), founded in 1920, which published the journal “On Literary Guard” from 1926 to 1932. RAPP was headed by the concealed Trotskyist Leopold Averbakh*, who exercised a virtual dictatorship over literature:

“Averbakh exercised a virtual dictatorship over early Soviet Russian literature.”

(Robert H. Stacy: ‘Russian Literary Criticism: A Short History’; New York; 1974; p. 196).

“Averbakh’s first book, published in 1923, had appeared with a preface by Trotsky.”

(Edward J. Brown (1963): op. cit.; p. 217).

“In 1937 Averbakh was unmasked as an agent of Trotsky, one whose errors formed a pattern of subversion in Soviet literature.”‘

(Norah Levin: ‘The Jews in the Soviet Union since 1917: Paradoxes of Survival’, Volume 2; London; 1990; p. 863).

Averbakh was the brother-in-law of Genrikh Yagoda*, at this time Deputy Commissar for Internal Affairs, who later, in 1938, admitted in open court to treason:

“The main figure, Averbakh, had come under the protection of his relative by marriage, Yagoda. . . . Soon after Yagoda’s arrest, he (Averbakh — Ed.) was attacked as a Trotskyite.”

(Robert Conquest: ‘The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties’; Harmondsworth; 1971; p. 446).

“The RAPP leaders . . . were, shortly after the Moscow Trial of 1937, accused of having been themselves Trotskyists.”

(Edward J. Brown (1935): op. cit.; p. 223).

In the absence of any Party guidance on aesthetics, the Trotskyites in the leadership of RAPP caused great harm to Soviet literature during the period of their domination, partly by their sectarianism:

“Averbakh was sectarian and oppressively dogmatic in his treatment of literary questions.”

(Victor Terras: p. 29; ‘Handbook of Russian Literature’; New Haven (USA); 1985;)

For example, during the period of the First Five-Year Plan (1929-34) the leaders of RAPP decreed in 1930 that only literature which directly boosted the Plan should be published:

“‘Literature should help the Five-Year Plan’ was the slogan. . . .The depiction of the Five-Year Plan is the one and only problem of Soviet literature, proclaimed the organ of RAPP in 1930. . . .For about three years, the Five-Year Plan became the only subject of Soviet literature.”

(Gleb Struve: ‘Soviet Russian Literature’; London; 1935; p. 86, 229).

As might have been expected:

” . . . the result was a drying-up of the creative sources of Russian literature and a narrowing-down of its themes.”

(Gleb Struve: ibid.; p. 229).

Even more serious, the leaders of RAPP used their positions to persecute writers who attempted to follow a socialist line in their art — this extending even to such famous and outstanding artists as Maksim Gorky*, Mikhail Sholokhov* and Vladimir Mayakovsky*.

The Case of Maksim Gorky

The persecution of Maksim Gorky by the Soviet revisionists, particularly Grigory Zinoviev, became so serious that in 1921 Gorky was forced to leave Soviet Russia and move to Italy:

“His (Gorky’s –Ed.) relations with Zinoviev, the local dictator at Petrograd, became so strained that he left Russia in the autumn of 1921.”

(Jeanne Vronskaya & Vladimir Chuguev: ‘The Biographical Dictionary of the Former Soviet Union: Prominent People in All Fields from 1917 to the Present’; London; 1992; p. 157).

“Partly on account of his disagreements with the leading Bolsheviks (Zinoviev and Kamenev — Ed.). Gorky went abroad again in 1921.”

(Anthony K. Thorlby (Ed.): ‘Penguin Companion to Literature’, Volume 2; Harmondsworth; 1969; p. 325).

“Gorky did make a dire enemy of one of the new masters: Zinioviev.”

(Dan Levin: ‘Stormy Petrel: The Life and Work of Maksim Gorky’ London; 1967; p. 198).

in whose feud with Gorky:

“Zinoviev was supported by Kamenev. . . . It was the weakening of Gorky’s position in Soviet Russia, a growing sense of disillusionment and helplessness, that finally made him leave in 1921, not his health.”

(Dan Levin: ibid.; p. 210).

In 1928 the attacks on Gorky were taken up by the still concealed revisionists in the leadership of RAPP, headed by Averbakh. For example, in February 1928 Gorky was being depicted in the RAPP journal as:

“a man without class consciousness.”

(‘On Literary Guard’, February 1928; p. 94).

Averbakh’s attacks on Gorky in ‘On Literary Guard’ were echoed in the journal “The Present,” published by the Siberian writers’ association, which had been founded by Semyon Rodov* (formerly of the RAPP triumvirate). This journal described Gorky as:

“…a crafty, disguised enemy.”

(‘The Present’, Nos. 8 & 9, 1929, in: C. Vaughan James: op. cit.; p. 74).

“In tirades of mounting fury, Gorky was called a class enemy and said to be a protector of anti-Soviet elements.”

(C. Vaughan James: ibid.; p 74).

But by this time the exposure of the Opposition had reached the point where these attacks could be countered:

“At this point the Party stepped in with a resolution ‘On the Statement of Part of the Siberian Writers and Literary Organisations against Maksim Gorky.”‘

(C. Vaughan James: ibid.; p. 74).

and administered:

“a firm reprimand to the Communist fraction of the Siberian Proletkult.”

(C. Vaughan James: ibid.; p. 74).

During Gorky’s enforced absence abroad, Stalin continued to support him, writing to him, for example, in Italy in January 1930:

“I am told you need a physician from Russia, Is that so? Whom do you want? Let us know and we shall send him.”

(J. V. Stalin: Letter to Maksim Gorky, January 1930, in: ‘Works’, Volume 12; Moscow; 1955; p. 183).

But by 1931 the revisionists seemed to have been finally defeated, and Gorky felt it safe to return to the Soviet Union. He returned to Moscow in 1931 after the fall of his arch-enemy, Zinoviev. (Jeanne Vronskaya and Vladimir Chuguev: op. cit.; p. 157).


“. . the defeat of the Communist Opposition . . . must have seemed . . to Gorky the harbinger of unity. Zinoviev . . . had been Gorky’s arch-tormentor.”

(Dan Levin: op. cit.; p. 264).

But concealed revisionists continued to plot against Gorky. By utilising the services of medical members of the conspiracy, Genrikh Yagoda — who was Commissar for Internal Affairs from 1934 to 1936 — had arranged the murder of Gorky’s son, Maksim Peshkov, in 1934 and that of Gorky himself in 1936:

YAGODA: Yenukidze “. . . told me that the centre had decided to undertake a number of terrorist acts against members of the Political Bureau and, in addition, against Maksim Gorky personally. . . . Yenukidze explained to me that the ‘bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’ . . . regarded Gorky as a dangerous figure. Gorky was a staunch supporter of Stalin’s leadership, and in case the conspiracy was put into effect, he would undoubtedly raise his voice against us, the conspirators. . . .

VYSHINSKY: Do you admit being guilty of the murder of Alexey Maksimovich Gorky?

YAGODA: I do.”

(Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’; Moscow; 1938; p. 574, 577).

The physician Dmitry Pletnev told the Court:

“PLETNEV: No extraneous poisonous substances were introduced, but he (Gorky — Ed.) was subjected to a regime which was harmful. All the medicines were permissible, but in the individual case of Gorky they were harmful. . . .

VYSHINSKY: Formulate briefly the particulars of the plan which you drew up together with Levin (co-defendant physician Lev Levin — Ed.) for the killing of Aleksey Maksimovich Gorky.

PLETNEV: To tire out the organism and thus lower its power of resistance.

VYSHINSKY: For what purpose?

PLETNEV: To bring about Gorky’s death.”

(Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’; ibid.; p. 591, 593).

The Case of Mikhail Sholokhov

One of the finest Soviet novels is “The Quiet Don,” written in 1928-40 by the Cossack writer Mikhail Sholokhov who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for the work in 1965. An English translation of the novel was published in two parts, entitled respectively “Quiet Flows the Don” and “The Don Flows Home to the Sea.”

“The Quiet Don” is, above all:

“. . . a harsh denunciation of the policy pursued by the Trotskyites.”

(Geir Kjetsaa et al: ‘The Authorship of “The Quiet Don”‘; Oslo; 1984; p. 17).

among the Cossacks.

Almost immediately after the publication of the first volume of the novel in the journal “October” in 1929, rumours began to circulate that “The Quiet Don” was a plagiarism, that it had been written not by Sholokhov, but by someone else — the favourite candidate being another Cossack writer, Fedor Kryukov*:

“Rumours of plagiarism started to circulate as far back as 1928, simultaneously with the appearance of the first volume in the literary journal ‘October.”‘

(Geir Kjetsaa et al: op. cit.; p. 15).

These rumours were, understandably, spread by

“. . . supporters of Trotsky. . . .Even if Trotsky at that time had left the Soviet Union, some of his earlier adherents were still in power. One of them was S. I. Syrtsov* (1893-1938), . . ., an eager supporter of Trotsky’s brutal policy towards the Cossacks.”

(Geir Kjetsaa et al: op. cit.; p. 17).

As a result of these rumours,

“at the beginning of 1929, the editorial board (of ‘October’ — Ed.), decided to discontinue the publication of the novel.”

(Geir Kjetsaa et al: op. cit.; p. 16).

Sholokhov protested to the Party newspaper “Pravda,” which organised a special commission, headed by the writer Aleksandr Serafimovich*, to investigate the allegations. To this body, Sholokhov submitted his manuscripts and notes.

“At the end of March 1929, ‘Pravda’ published a letter in which the charges against Sholokhov were refuted as ‘malicious slander’ spread by enemies of the proletarian dictatorship.”

(‘Pravda’, 29 March 1929; p. 4).

In January 1930 Sholokhov had a meeting with Stalin, on which he (Sholokhov) commented:

“The conversation was very profitable to me and encouraged me to put into practice new creative ideas.”

(Herman Ermolaev: ‘Mikhail Sholokhov and his Art’; Princeton (USA); 1982 (herafter listed as ‘Herman Ermolkav (1982); p. 29).

By 1934, as we have seen [Editor: See prior writings via the Index pages of Alliance], the Soviet state security organs had come under the control of concealed revisionists, and in 1938:

“the NKVD began a large-scale operation against Sholokhov.”

(Herman Ermolaev (1982): ibid.; p. 41).

Sholokhov was accused of:

“preparing an uprising of the . . . Cossacks against the Soviet regime.”

(Herman Ermolaev (1982): op. cit.; p. 41).

In October 1938, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPSU carried out an investigation, in which Stalin played a leading role, into the charges against Sholokhov. These were found to be groundless. Sholokhov said in 1969 that:

” . . . Stalin looked closely into everything, and all the accusations against me were smashed to smithereens.”

(Herman Ermolaev (1982): op. cit.; p;., 42).

In the 1960s the charges of plagiarism against Sholokhov were renewed by the historian Roy Medvedev*, who admitted that:

“. . . it is a fact that Fedor Kryukov’s son was among the Cossacks who emigrated to the west and he never made any claims against Sholokhov. No such claims were made anywhere in emigre Cossack literature.”

(Roy A. Medvedev: ‘Problems in the Literary Biography of Mikhail Sholokhov’; Cambridge; 1966 (hereafter listed as ‘Roy A. Medvedev (1966)’; p. 204).

Nevertheless, Medevedev concluded:

“While we must refrain as yet from any definitive solutions and conclusions, the mass of new data seems to us to speak in favour of the now familiar theory of the double authorship of ‘The Quiet Don.'”

(Roy A. Medvedev (1966): op. cit.; p.

The main reason presented for this conclusion was the view that:

“. . . Sholokhov was too young to have produced such a mature piece of work.”

(Roy A. Medvedev (1966): op. cit.; p. 202).

In 1974 the charges of plagiarism against Sholokhov were revived in an anonymous pamphlet published in Paris, with a foreword by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn*. The pamphlet, in Russian, was entitled ‘The Current of ‘The Quiet Don’: Riddles of the Novel.” Reviving the old, discredited slanders of the 1920s, it claimed that:

“the bulk of ‘The Quiet Don’ had been written not by Mikhail Sholokhov, but by… Fedor Kryukov.”

(Geir Kjetsaa et al: op. cit.; p. 7).

A more recent study, published in 1982 by the American expert Herman Ermolaev*, based on computer textual analysis of the work of Sholokhov and Kryukov, concludes that:

“no evidence has so far been presented to show that Sholokhov utilised someone else’s imaginative work for writing ‘The Quiet Don’. Until there is convincing evidence to the contrary, Sholokhov ought to be treated as the sole author of ‘The Quiet Don.”‘

(Herman Ermolaev (1982): op. cit.; p. 300).

Similar computer textual analysis also compelled Geir Kjetsaa et al. to conclude in 1984 that:

“the use of mathematical statistics permits us to exclude the possibility of Kryukov having written the novel, whereas Sholokhov cannot be excluded as the author.”

(Geir Kjetsaa et al: op. cit. p. 152).

The Case of Vladimir Mayakovsky

The poet Vladimir Mayakovsky is regarded as:

“the real troubadour of the Revolution.”

(Herbert Marshall (Ed.): ‘Mayakovsky’; London; 1965 (henceforth listed as ‘Herbert Marshall (Ed.) (1965)’); p. 18).

He wrote poems on topical matters, in ordinary everyday language, and travelled from town to town and village to village, reciting them.

In April 1930 Mayakovsky committed suicide by shooting himself, leaving a note. The story was widely spread that he had:

“committed suicide because of a romantic and unfortunate love affair.”

(Gleb Struve: op. cit.; p. 167).

Indeed, the official report of the investigation into his death his death (issued less than 24 hours after his death) was at pains to deny that death was connected with his social or literary activity:

“The preliminary data of the investigation show that the suicide was due to causes of a purely personal character, having nothing to do with the social or literary activity of the poet.”

(‘Pravda’, 15 April 1930, in: Herbert Marshall (Ed.) (1965): op. cit.; p. 28-29).

But, as Shakespeare expressed it:

“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”

(William Shakespeare: ‘As You like it’, Act 4, Scene 1, in: ‘The Complete Works’, Feltham; 1979; p. 226).

In fact, it was in October 1929 that Mayakovsky was informed that the girl he thought himself in love with — Tatiana Yalovleva*, the daughter of a White Russian emigrant living in Paris — had married someone else:

“In October Lilya Brik* received a letter from her sister Elsa (Elsa Triolet* — Ed.)…’Tatyana has got married.”‘

(A. D. P. Briggs: ‘Vladimir Mayakovsky: A Tragedy’; Oxford; 1979; p. 114).

His suicide occurred only in April of-the following year — six months later — so that one must agree with Helen Muchnic when she declares:

“It is absurd to think, as some have done, that he ‘died for love’ in the sentimentally romantic sense.”

(Helen Muchnic: ‘From Gorky to Pasternak: Six Writers in Soviet Russia’; New York; 1961; p. 263).

It is clear that some event or events must have occurred in the spring of 1930 which were more immediate causes of his suicide.

In fact. in February 1930, with the aim of bringing himself closer to his audience, Mayakovsky had joined the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP):

“Mayakovsky joined RAPP in order to get closer to his workers’ auditorium.”

(Viktor B. Shklovsky: ‘0 Mayakovskom’ (On Mayakovsky); Moscow; 1940; p. 215).

But, as we have seen, RAPP had fallen under the control of a gang of concealed revisionists, headed by Leopold Averbakh, who exerted a reactionary dictatorship over the arts. Thus, in joining RAPP:

“Mayakovsky . . . fell into a dead sea.”

(Viktor B. Shklovsky: ibid.; p. 215).

Averbakh and his bureaucratic cronies made it clear that Mayakovsky was a far from welcome recruit to RAPP. They insisted that he required ‘re-education in proletarian ideology’, making him feel isolated and depressed:

“There is no doubt that he felt his own increasing isolation and sensed the cloud of disapproval that in fact hung over him….The bureaucrats in control of RAPP…did not very much want him in their organisation.

Mayakovsky was not warmly welcomed in RAPP and…in this mass organisation he felt isolated and alone….From February until April 1930 the secretariat of RAPP constantly hauled Mayakovsky over the coals in a trivial and didactic fashion….From the moment of his entry until his suicide, the ‘secretariat’ of that organisation occupied itself with ‘re-educating’ him in the spirit of proletarian ideology, and literature, a truly depressing experience. Some people recalled that on the eve of his suicide…he was in a state of defenceless misery as a result of his sessions with the talentless dogmatists and petty literary tyrants whose organisation he had joined.”

(Edward J. Brown: ‘Mayakovsky: A Poet in the Revolution’; Princeton (USA): 1973 (hereafter listed as ‘Edward J. Brown; (1973)’); p. 362-63, 366, 367).

“The whole set of vindictive attacks on Mayakovsky, of all people, on the ground of insufficient closeness to and concern for the masses – arguments that read so absurdly at this distance of time, but which then momentarily hounded and isolated him — bear the smell precisely of those methods. Mayakovsky was indirectly the victim of the same hands that later directly slew the great Soviet writer of the generation that preceded him, Gorky.”

(Herbert Marshall (Ed.): ‘Mayakovsky and his Poetry’; London; 1945 (hereafter listed as ‘Herbert Marshall (Ed,): 1945’); p. 6).

When “An Exhibition of the Life and Work of Mayakovsky” took place in Moscow in February and in Leningrad in March, it:

“was boycotted by official and unofficial bodies, poets and critics; more and more bitter and scathing attacks were being made on him.”

(Herbert Marshall (Ed.) (1965); p. 23).

RAPP’s attacks on Mayakovsky continued — intensified — after his death:

“The cloud that had settled over Mayakovsky’s reputation during the last years of his life was not dispelled by his senseless death.”

(Edward J. Brown (Ed.) (1963): op. cit.; p. 369).

“They hounded him also after his death. His works only appeared in restricted editions, no new works published, no research, no production of his plays, his books and portraits were removed from libraries.”

(Herbert Marshall (Ed.) (1965); p. 39).

“For a time after Mayakovsky’s death, RAPP’s clique, by exploiting his suicide, even succeeded in hindering the publication of his works, delaying the opening of his museum, and removing his name from the school curricula.”

(Herbert Marshall (Ed.) (1945); p. 6).

When Elsa Triolet attended the Writers’ Congress in Moscow in 1934, she complained to “one of these petty bureaucrats” about the neglect of Mayakovsky in the Soviet Union and was told:

“There’s a cult of Mayakovsky, and we’re fighting against that cult.”

(Elsa Triolet: ‘Mayakovsky: Poet of Russia’, in: ‘New Writing’, New Series 3; London; 1.939; p. 222-23).

On Stalin’s initiative, as we shall see, RAPP was liquidated in April 1932.
In 1935 Lilya and Osip Brik* wrote to Stalin to complain of the neglect of Mayakovsky in the Soviet Union. (Edward J. Brown (Ed.) (1973); p. 370).

Stalin replied promptly:

“Mayakovsky was and remains the finest, most talented poet of our Soviet age. Indifference to his memory and his works is a crime.”

(J. V. Stalin, in: A. D. P. Briggs: op. cit.; p. 121-22).

As a result of Stalin’s initiative, Mayakovsky’s prestige was immediately restored:

“At once things began to happen, Mayakovsky’s ashes were re-interred in a place of honour alongside the remains of Gogol. Statues of the poet sprang up everywhere. His works were reissued and translated.”

(D. P. Briggs: op. cit.; p. 122).

One final point: the Trotskyist revisionists who drove Mayakovsky to his death plead not guilty to the crime. The American Trotskyist Max Eastman*, for example, cannot deny Mayakovsky’s talent nor the role of Averbakh and his gang in his persecution, so he simply inverts the truth by presenting Averbakh as:

“the young adjutant of Stalin.”

(Max Eastman: ‘Artists in Uniform: A Study of Literature and Bureaucratism’; London; 1934; p. 35).


The Reformation of the Artistic Organisation (1932)

We have seen that in 1924 Stalin was the only Marxist-Leninist on the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This situation was rectified by a carefully planned strategy of cooperating with the less dangerous revisionists in the leadership in order to remove the more dangerous. As a result of this strategy, the Political Bureau elected after the 17th Congress of the CPSU in February 1934 consisted of (in alphabetical order):

Andrey Andreyev*;

Lazar Kaganovich*;

Mikhail Kalinin*;

Sergey Kirov*;

Stanislav Kosior*v

Valerian Kuibyshev*;

Vyacheslav Molotov*;

Grigory Ordzhonikidze*

Josef Stalin;

Kliment Voroshi1ov*.

(Leonard Schapiro: op. cit.; p. 607).

That is, it was composed of eight Marxist-Leninists and two still concealed revisionists. Thus, by the 1930s Marxist-Leninists had won majority of the seats on the Political Bureau.

It is customary for learned professors to present the defeated revisionists as “brilliant intellectuals” and Stalin as “a clod from the Caucasian backwoods.”

The objective history of Stalin’s successful struggle against the Opposition belies such an analysis.

Having liquidated open revisionism in the political field, the Marxist-Leninists now in the leadership of the CPSU turned their attention to the development of a genuine proletarian culture.

The first step was to liquidate the existing cultural organisations under revisionist domination and to form new broad organisations in each field of culture — organisations open to all cultural workers who supported Soviet power and socialist construction, with a Communist Party fraction in each to give Marxist Leninist leadership.

Thus, in April 1932, the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party adopted a Decision “On the Reformation of Literary-Artistic Organisations”:

“The framework of the existing proletarian literary-artistic organisations…appears to be too narrow and to seriously restrict the scope of artistic creativity….Consequently the Central Committee of the ACP (b) resolves:

1) to liquidate the association of proletarian writers.
2) to unite all writers supporting the platform of Soviet power and aspiring to participate in the building of socialism into one union of Soviet, socialist writers with a communist fraction in it;
3) to carry out an analogous changes with regard to the other forms of art.”

(C. Vaughan James: op. cit. p. 120).

The fact that this radical decision was taken on Stalin’s personal initiative was revealed by Lazar Kaganovich at the 17th Congress of the CPSU in January-February 1934:

“A group of Communist writers, taking advantage of RAPP as an organisational instrument, incorrectly utilised the power of their Communist influence on the literary front, and instead of unifying and organising around RAPP the broad masses of writers, held back and impeded the development of the writers’ creative powers. . . .It might have been possible to bring out a resolution on the tasks of the Communists in literature; it might have been possible to suggest that the RAPP people alter their policy. But this might have remained merely a good intention. Comrade Stalin posed the question differently: it is necessary, he said, to alter the situation in an organisational way.”

(Lazar Kaganovich: Speech at 17th Congress, CPSU, in: Edward J. Brown (1935): op. cit.; p. 201).

The American music critic Boris Schwarz* tells us that:

“. . . the Resolution . . . was received with widespread approval.”

(Boris Schwarz: ‘Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia: 1917-1970’; London; 1972; p. 110).

The single organisation created by this decree in the field of literature was the Union of Soviet Writers, in the field of music the Union of Soviet Composers.

It remained to lay down the principles of aesthetics which Soviet artists would be expected to follow — principles which came to be known as ‘the method of socialist realism.

The Origin of the Term “Socialist Realism”

The first known use of the term “socialist realism” was in an article in the “Literary Gazette” in May 1932:

“The basic method of Soviet literature is the method of socialist realism.”

(‘Literary Gazette’, 23 May 1932, in: Herman Ermolaev: ‘Soviet Literary Theories: 1917-1934’; Berkeley (USA); 1963 (hereafter listed as ‘Herman Ermolaev (1963)’); p. 144).

Five months later, in October 1932, at an informal meeting in Gorky’s flat, Stalin gave his support to the term:

“If the artist is going to depict our life correctly, he cannot fail to observe and point out what is leading towards socialism. So this will be . . . socialist realism.”

(Josef V… Stalin, in: C. Vaughan James: op. cit.; p. 86).

The Characteristics of Socialist Realism

Realism, as we have said, is a trend in art which seeks to represent its subject faithfully and truthfully.

It must be distinguished from naturalism, which represents reality only superficially and statically. In fact, the world is in process of constant change, so that a work of art which fails to hint at the forces working beneath the surface of reality is not a realist, but a naturalist, work.

For example, Russia in 1907 lay under the “Stolypin* Reaction”: the organisations of the working class were being destroyed; the prisons were filled with revolutionaries; Black Hundred terror raged unchecked. On the surface, it was a picture of unrelieved, hopeless gloom for the mass of the people. Yet less than ten years later the whole rotten system of Tsarism had been swept away in the October Revolution. Consquently, a novel set in Russia in 1907 which failed to hint at the revolutionary social forces operating beneath the surface would be a work not of realism, but of naturalism.

Marxist-Leninists understand that monopoly capitalism, imperialism, is moribund capitalism, capitalism which has outlived its social usefulness to the mass of the people. Consequently, a 20th-century work of art which fails to suggest the underlying forces of the working class, of socialism, which will bring about the socialist revolution, is not a realist work: 20th century realism must be socialist realism.

The key word here is “suggest”: a socialist realist work of art must not give the impression of being propaganda.

As Engels expressed it in 1888:

“The more the opinions of the author remain hidden, the better the work of art.”

(Friedrich Engels: Letter to Margaret Harkness* (April 1888). in: Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels: ‘On Literature and Art’; Moscow; 1976; p.91).

Thus, the Constitution of the Union of Soviet Writers adopted at the lst All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934 declares:

“Socialist realism demands from the author a true and historically concrete depiction of reality in its revolutionary development.”

(Constitution of Union of Soviet Writers, in: C. Vaughan James: op. cit.; p. 88).

Socialist realist art does not exclude distortion and exaggeration, so long as this departure from naturalism assists in bringing out the truth about the subject. Thus, a caricature of Margaret Thatcher* showing her as a vulture with bloody talons would be much more realistic than a naturalistic portrait showing her as a sweet, silver-haired grandmother.

Socialist realist art is not, however, just a passive reflection of reality; it must play an active role in building socialist consciousness:

“The relationship between art and reality is twofold. . . . Socialist Realism demands a profound and true perception of reality and reflection of its chief and most progressive tendencies ; but it is itself a powerful weapon for changing reality. . . . Artistic truth facilitates the development of communist awareness, and education in the spirit of communism is possible only through a true reflection of life.”

(Vaughan James: ibid.; p. 80).

In Stalin’s famous phrase, socialist realist artists are “engineers of human souls”:

“Comrade Stalin has called our writers engineers of human souls.”

(Andrey A. Zhdanov: ‘Soviet Literature — the Richest in Ideas,* the Most Advanced Literature’ (hereafter listed as ‘Andrey A. Zhdanov (1934)’, in: H. G. Scott (Ed.): ‘Problems of Soviet Literature’; London; 1935; p. 21).

Socialist realist art is, therefore, “tendentious,” “partisan.” Far from pretending to be neutral in the class struggle, it consciously sides with the working people:

“Soviet literature is tendentious, for in an epoch of class struggle there is not and cannot be a literature which is . . . not tendentious.”

(Andrey A. Zhdanov (1934): ibid.; p. 21).

Of course, all art is selective in its subject matter. There may be a millionaire who gives away all his money to the poor; but he would be so exceptional that a work of art with him as subject would give a completely false picture of millionaires. It would not be truly realist. True realism, socialist realism, requires typicality in its selection of subject matter:

“Realism . . . implies, besides truth of detail, the truthful reproduction of typical characters under typical circumstances.”

(Friedrich Engels: Letter to ‘Margaret Harkness’, (April 1888), in: Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels: op. cit.; p. 90).

Romanticism is a form of art expressing intense emotion. However, in the majority of cases romanticism became linked with idealist soarings into metaphysics. Socialist realist art makes use of romanticism, but shorn of its metaphysical tendencies to give revolutionary romanticism:

“Romanticism of the old type . . . depicted a non-existent life and non-existent heroes, leading the reader away from . . . real life into . . . a world of utopian dreams. Our literature . . . cannot be hostile to romanticism, but it must be romanticism of a new type, revolutionary romanticism.”

(Andrey A. Zhdanov (1934): op. cit.; p. 21).

We have seen that the form of a work of art is the manner or style in which the artist has presented the content of his work of art. Where the artist gives priority to form over content, we encounter a deviation from realism known as formalism.

Finally, socialist realist art must be national in form, not cosmopolitan:

“Proletarian culture . . . is . . . national in form.”

(Josef V. Stalin: ‘The Political Tasks of the University of the Peoples of the East’, in: ‘Works’, Volume 7; op. cit.; p. 140).

“Internationalism in art does not spring from depletion and impoverishment of national art; on the contrary, internationalism grows where national culture flourishes. To forget this is . . . to become a cosmopolitan without a country.

Our internationalism . . . is therefore based on the enrichment of our national . . . culture, which we can share with other nations, and is not based on an impoverishment of our national art, blind imitation of foreign styles, and the eradication of all national characteristics.”

(Andrey A. Zhdanov: p. 61, 63).

The First Congress of Soviet Writers (1934)

The First Congress of Soviet Writers, held in Moscow in August 1934 resolved that socialist realism:

“. . . become the officially sponsored method, first in literature and subsequently in the arts in general.”

Vaughan James: op. cit.; p. 87).

Thus, by 1935 it could be reported truthfully:

“The Union of Soviet Writers comprises all those writers, living and writing in Soviet Russia, who adhere to the platform of the Soviet Government, support Socialist construction and accept the method of Socialist Realism.”

(Gleb Struve: op. cit.; p. 231).

However; revisionism in the arts had not been completely defeated. Papers were presented at the congress not only by the Marxist-Leninists Andrey Zhdanov and Maksim Gorky, but also by the still concealed revisionists Nikolay Bukharin, Karl Radek* and Aleksey Stetsky*:

“Bukharin . . . dismissed officially acclaimed ‘agitational poets’ as obsolete, and praised at length disfavoured lyrical poets, particularly the defiantly apolitical Pasternak*.”

(Stephen F. Cohen: ‘Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography: 1888-1938’; London; 1974; p, 356).

Thus, the battle of ideas between Marxist-Leninists and revisionists in the field of the arts did not end in 1934, but continued.

The Case of Dmitry Shostakovich (1936)

In November 1934 a new opera by Dmitry Shostakovich*, “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” had its premiere. The libretto was based on a short story by Nikolay Leskov* entitled “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.” It tells the story of Katerina Ismailova, the wife of a provincial merchant, who has an affair with a clerk in her husband’s office, poisons her father-in-law, then joins her lover in strangling her husband and, finally, murders her little nephew. For Leskov Katerina was a depraved criminal, but Shostakovich presented the story as a tribute to woman’s liberation. While

“… for Leskov, Katerina was a squalid, selfish criminal — deserving of the condemnation which she encountered. Shostakovich, as he later said, intended his music to minimise her own guilt. ‘The musical language of the whole opera is intended to exonerate Katerina1, he declared.”

(Norman Kay: ‘Shostakovich’; London; 1971; p. 26).

The opera caused a sensation in the United States:

“A Western critic coined the word ‘pornophony’ to describe . . . the bedroom scene.”

(Boris Schwarz: op. cit.; p. 371),

And the “New York Sun” agreed:

“Shostakovich is without doubt the foremost composer of pornographic music in the history of the opera.”

(Boris Schwarz: ibid.; p. 120).

In January 1936, however,

” . . . when Stalin finally saw ‘Lady Macbeth’, he did not like it, . . . he walked out before it was over.”

(Victor I. Serov: ‘Dmitry Shostakovich: The Life and Background of a Soviet Composer’; New York; 1943; p. 220).

“For Stalin the opera was a painful experience.”

(Robert Stradling: ‘Shostakovich and the Soviet System’, in: Christopher Norris (Ed.): ‘Shostakovich: The Man and his Music’; London; 1982; p. 197).

A few days later, “Pravda” carried a leading article entitled “Chaos instead of Music” which, as its title indicates, was strongly critical of the opera.

Shostakovich himself insisted that the article

“… actually expressed the opinion of Stalin.”

(Solomon Volkov (Ed.): ‘Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitry Shostakovich1; London; 1981; p. 113).

and the editor of his memoirs, Solomon Volkov, agrees that the article was

“… dictated, in fact, by Stalin.”

(Solomon Volkov: Introduction to: ‘Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitry Shostakovich’; op. cit.; p. xxix).

The article declared:

“From the first moment, the listener is knocked over the head by an incoherent chaotic stream of sounds. The fragments of melody, the germs of musical phrases, are drowned in a sea of bangs, rasping noises and squeals. It is difficult to follow such ‘music’; it is impossible to remember it. … And so it goes on, almost right through the opera. Screams take the place of singing. If, once in a while, the composer finds his way on to a clear melodic path, he immediately dashes aside into the jungle of chaos, which sometimes becomes pure cacophony. . . . Expressiveness … is replaced by a crazy rhythm. Musical noise is supposed to express passion.

All this is not because the composer lacks talent, or because he is incapable of expressing ‘strong and simple emotions’ in musical terms. This music is just deliberately written ‘inside-out1, so that nothing should remind the listener of classical opera . . . and simple, easily accessible musical speech. . . . The danger of this ‘Leftism’ in music comes from .the same source as all ‘Leftist’ ugliness in painting, poetry, education and science. Petit-bourgeois ‘innovation’ produces divorce from real art, from real literature…Shostakovich, in reality, produces nothing but the crudest naturalism.. . . It is crude, primitive and vulgar.”

(Leading Article, in: ‘Pravda’, 28 January 1936, in: Alexander Werth; ‘Musical Uproar in Moscow’; London; 1949 (hereafter listed as ‘Alexander Werth (1949)’; p. 48-49).

A few days later, in February, “Pravda” published another leading article, this time strongly critical of Shostakovich’s ballet “The Limpid Stream”;

“The music is without character; it jingles; it means nothing.”

(Leading Article, ‘Pravda, 6 February 1936, in: Victor I. Serov: op. cit.; p. 208).

Shostakovich did not respond publicly:

“Shostakovich . . . suffered in silence.”

(Stanley Sadie (Ed.): ‘New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians’, Volume 17; London; 1980; p. 265).

but he took note of the criticism:

“In December 1936 he withdrew his 4th Symphony…saying that he was dissatisfied with the finale.”

(James Devlin; ‘Shostakovich’; Sevenoaks; 1983; p. 9).

Most Western musicologists agree with Peter Heyworth*, who holds that the Marxist-Leninist criticism of Shostakovich and other composers

“… did immense damage to the cultural life of the Soviet Union.”

(Peter Heyworth: ‘Shostakovich without Ideology’, in: Gervase Hughes S Herbert Van Thai (Eds.): ‘The Music Lover’s Companion’; London; 1971; p. 201).

In fact, criticism of a work of art by the Marxist-Leninist Party of a socialist state is not criticism by “politicians,” but represents the collective opinion of the most advanced cultural leaders of the country:

“Whereas Western criticism represents the subjective opinion of an individual critic, Soviet criticism is a collective opinion expressed in the words of an individual critic.”

(Boris Schwarz: op. cit.; p. 320).

And the view that the constructive Marxist-Leninist criticism was “harmful” is discounted by the fact that in November 1937 the first performance took place of Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, inscribed:

“…’Creative Reply of a Soviet Artist to Just Criticism.'”

(Peter Ileyvorth: ibid.; p. 202).


Although this inscription did not originate with the composer,

“… Shostakovich . . . accepted it.”

(Stanley Sadie (Ed.): op. cit., Volume 17; p. 265).

And this new symphony, written in the light of the Marxist-Leninist criticism, proved to be his finest work to date:

“The Fifth … to this day remains Shostakovich’s most admired work.”

(Solomon Volkov: op. cit.; p. xxxi).

“Its first movement is Shostakovich at his best . . . and shows a new maturity; this maturity reaches its greatest depth and power in the third movement, the now famous Largo. The entire symphony seems, indeed, to satisfy the demand of the Soviet people that their new music should be ‘powerful and intelligible’. . . . Dmitry’s triumph could be compared only with the comeback of an idol of the prize-ring.”

(Victor I. Serov: op. cit.; p. 231-32).

“The 5th Symphony was received with unanimous praise and the critics rushed to acclaim it.”

(James Devlin: op. cit.; p. 10).

“Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony takes its place amongst the most profound and significant works of world symphonic music. At the same time, all its ethical and aesthetic elements, as well as the underlying idea and its embodiment in music, belong to Soviet art.”

(David Rabinovich: ‘Dmitry Shostakovich1; London; 1959; p. 50).

“It (the 5th Symphony — Ed.) proved to be Shostakovich’s first fully mature work. Naturally enough, the Party’s cultural officials were jubilant. Had not their criticism been admitted by its object as deserved? Better still, had it not yielded fruit in the shape of the finest score that Shostakovich had yet written?”

(Peter Heyworth: op. cit.; p. 202).

As a result, even Peter Heyworth feels compelled to point out:

“If Shostakovich’s weaknesses as a composer are to be attributed to the stultifying dogmas enforced by Zhdanov, why is his Symphony No. 12, written in the full flood of Khrushchev’s thaw, by far his worst.”

(Peter Heyworth: op cit.; p. 199).

Of course, Shostakovich was not sincere in paying tribute to the constructive criticism of the Party. He says in his memoirs:

“Stalin never had any ideology or convictions or ideas or principles…Stalin could definitely be called superstitious. . . . Stalin was half mad.”

(Solomon Volkov (Ed.): op. cit.; p. 187, 192).

The Wartime and Post-War Situation (1941-45)

During the Second World War, when Marxist-Leninists were primarily concerned with victory over the fascist invaders, revisionists were able to spread their ideas, in concealed form, in Soviet society to a considerable extent;

“Two famous decrees, one of August 1941, the other of December 1941, made it possible for any soldier ‘who had distinguished himself in battle’ to join the Party with the minimum of formalities… He could become a candidate member almost automatically and a full member in a much shorter time than usual. No serious ideological training was expected from him — in fact, practically none at all….As the war was nearing its end, there was growing anxiety among the older Party members at the thought that the Party had been diluted by millions of patriotic young soldiers with no ideological training to speak of…The general ‘ideological’ level of these organisations sharply declined in many cases after the war as a result of this influx.”

(Alexander Werth: ‘Russia: The Post-War Years’; London; 1971 (hereafter listed as ‘Alexander Werth (1971)’; p. 100, 102, 103).

In the summer of 1944, the writer Vsevolod Vishnevsky* drew this picture of “cultural coexistence” after the war:

“When the war is over . . . there will be much coming and going, a lot of contacts with the West. Everybody will be allowed to read whatever he likes. There will be exchanges of students, and foreign travel for Soviet citizens will be made easy.”

(Vsevolod Vishnevsky, in: Alexander Werth (1971): op. cit.; p. 99).

and Alexander Werth* himself says:

“All kinds of other ‘Western’ ideas were being toyed with — for instance, a project for publishing ‘escapist’ literature, including a series of hundreds of thrillers and detective stories, translated from the English and published under the general editorship of that great lover of thrillers, Sergey Eisenstein*. A lot of light and entertaining books, plays and films would also be produced. Already in 1944 there were signs of ‘decadence’ in Moscow — amusingly ‘escapist’ films with frivolous songs . . . and even concerts of highly ‘decadent’ songs sung by Aleksandr Vertinsky.*”

(Alexander Werth (1971): op. cit.; p. 99).

In June 1946 a poetry evening was organised in Moscow in honour of the revisionist poets Boris Pasternak* and Anna Akhmatova*.

“The young people of Moscow — above all its students — gave a tremendous ovation to … Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova.”

(Alexander Werth (1971): op. cit. p. 201).

It was following this incident that the Marxist-Leninists launched a determined counter-attack against revisionism in the arts. Or, as Werth expresses it,

“… Zhdanovism blossomed out suddenly in August 1946.”

(Alexander Werth (1971): op. cit.; p. 201).

Incidentally, in 1944 Picasso joined the French Communist Party. But those who imagined that this might influence his art in the direction of socialist realism were sadly disappointed. The French Communist Party was already deep in the mire of revisionism — and not only in the sphere of the arts — and praised Picasso’s art unreservedly. When Stalin died in 1953, the Party commissioned Picasso to do a portrait of him for their literary journal “Les Lettres Francaises”:


Although, unlike many paintings by Picasso, this portrait is recognisably that of a human being, its publication brought a host of angry letters from readers and the editors were compelled to print an apology for having published it



“…reactionary morass in literature….She is one of the standard-bearers of the meaningless, empty-headed, aristocrat-salon school of poetry, which has no place whatever in Soviet literature….Akhmatova’s subject matter is individualistic to the core. The range of her poetry is sadly limited; it is the poetry of a spoiled woman-aristocrat, frenziedly vacillating between boudoir and chapel, Her main emphasis is on erotic love-themes, interwoven with notes of sadness, longing, death, mysticism, fatality… It would be hard to say whether she is a nun or a fallen woman; better, perhaps, say she is a bit of each, her desires and prayers intertwined….Her poetry is far removed from the people, It is the poetry of the ten thousand members of the elite society of the old aristocratic Russia, whose hour has long since struck and left them nothing to do but sigh for ‘the good old days.'”

(Andrey A. Zhdanov: op. cit.; p. 25, 26, 27).

The Soviet journalist David Zaslavsky* told a delegation of British writers in 1947:

“All these thirty years he (Zoshchenko — Ed.) has been writing and rewriting his one theme, portraying always that same petty, ignorant, mercenary character. His wit petered out. Laughter changed into vicious grumbling and the slandering of Soviet life. In latter years he had no success whatever among readers, and instead of writing short stories, he turned to mediocre and vulgar works of an allegedly philosophical nature, having nothing in common with either literature or science.”

(Edgell Rickword (Ed.): ‘Soviet Writers reply to English Writers’ Questions’; London; 1948; p. p. 41-42).

The Strike against Revisionism in the Theatre (1946-52)

In August 1946 the Central Committee of the CPSU adopted a resolution entitled “On the Theatrical Repertory and Measures to improve it.” This resolution strongly criticised the paucity of Soviet plays in the repertory of Soviet theatres and the presentation of British and American bourgeois plays:

“The Committee on Arts and Theatres is guilty of a grave political error in sponsoring the staging and publication of foreign plays such as George S. Kaufman’s* ‘The Man Who came to Dinner’ and Maugham’s* ‘Penelope’, which are examples of bourgeois dramaturgy, bound to poison the minds of the Soviet public and to revive vestiges of capitalist mentality.”

(Avrahro Yarmolinsky: ‘Literature under Communism: The Literary Policy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from the End of World War II to the Death of Stalin’, in: ‘Russian and Eastern European Series’, Volume 20; 1957; p. 18).

The Party placed the principal blame for this situation on the leadership of the Union of Soviet Writers, which:

” . . . has virtually ceased to direct the work of the playwright and does nothing to raise the level of their compositions.”

(Avrahm Yarmolinsky: ibid.; p. 18).


“… acting and writing are poor, and drab, inartistic shows are the outcome.”

(Avrahm Yarmolinsky: ibid.; p, 18).

In January 1949 “Pravda” continued the offensive against revisionism in the theatre by publishing a leading article entitled “Concerning an Anti-Patriotic Group of Theatrical Critics.” It alleged that a group of critics were condemning good socialist realist plays on the false grounds of their alleged technical defects:

“An anti-patriotic group has developed in theatrical criticism. It consists of followers of bourgeois aestheticism….These critics…are bearers of a homeless cosmopolitanism which is deeply repulsive to Soviet man and hostile to him…Such critics attempt to discredit the progressive phenomena of our literature and art, furiously attacking precisely the patriotic and politically purposive works, under the pretext of their alleged artistic imperfection….The sting of aesthetic-formalist criticism is directed not against the really harmful and inferior works, but against the advanced and best ones which depict Soviet patriots. It is precisely this which attests to the fact that aesthetic formalism merely serves as camouflage for anti-patriotic substance.”

(‘Pravda1, 28 January 1949, in ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’, Volume 1, No. 5 (1 March 1949); p. 58, 59).

According to the new Constitution of the Soviet Union, adopted in 1935,

“…Soviet society consists of two friendly classes — the workers and peasants.”

(‘History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): Short Course1; Moscow; 1939; p. 344).

After the Second World War, the revisionists distorted this formulation in the field of aesthetics into the so-called “no-conflict theory” — the theory that, in the realist drama of the new socialist society, no conflict should be shown.

In April 1952 “Pravda” published a leading article sharply critical of the “no-conflict theory,” and of the state of Soviet dramaturgy generally:

“The struggle between the new and old calls forth the most diverse living conflicts, without which there would be no life and hence no art. The chief reason for the feebleness of dramaturgy and the weakness of many plays is that the playwrights do not build their work around the profound conflicts of life, but evade them. If one were to judge by plays of this kind…everything is ideal, there are no conflicts….This approach is wrong. To behave thus is … to sin against truth. Not everything we have is ideal; we have negative types; there is no little evil in our life and no few false people….The play must show living conflict; there can be no play without that. The gross ‘theory’ of the dying out of conflicts . . . has had a harmful effect on the playwrights’ work. . . .The breath of life is lacking in the plays written according to the ‘conflictless dramaturgy’ recipe. . . .Our dramatists must expose and mercilessly scourge the survivals of capitalism, the manifesting of political unconcern, bureaucracy, stagnation, servility, vainglory, arrogance, conceit, graft, an unconscientious approach to duties, a heedless attitude to socialist property; they must expose all that is vulgar and backward and hinders the progress of Soviet society.”

(‘Overcome the Lag in Dramaturgy’, in: ‘Pravda’, 7 April 1952, in: ‘Current Digest of the Soviet Press’, Volume 4, No. 11 (26 April 1952); P. 3, 4).

The Struggle against Revisionism in Historiography (1934-36)

Before 1932, the organisation of historiography in the Soviet Union was, like the organisation of the arts, dominated by revisionists — headed by Mikhail Pokrovsky*, until his death from cancer in 1932;

“The main centres of … historical study and discussion — the History Section of the Institute of Red Professors, the Society of Marxist Historians, and (from 1929) the Institute of History at the Communist Academy — were all directed by him.”

(John D. Barber: ‘Soviet Historians in Crisis: 1928-1932’; London; 1981; p. 21).

“Pokrovsky . . . became the virtual dictator of historical science in the Soviet Union.”

(Jeanne Vronskaya & Vladimir Chuguev: op. cit.; p. 408).

Genuine Marxist-Leninists have always accepted Marx’s view that capitalist colonial expansion in the pre-imperialist period could have a progressive aspect, as Marx pointed out in the case of pre-imperialist British colonial expansion into the Indian sub-continent:

“England . . in causing a social revolution in Hindustan was actuated only by the vilest interests. . . . But that is not the question. The question is: can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental evolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crime of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.”

(Karl Marx: ‘The British Rule in India’, in: ‘Selected Works’, Volume 2; London; 1943; p.656).

“England has had to fulfil a double mission in India: one destructive and the other regenerating — the annihilation of old Asiatic society and the laying of the material foundations of Western society in Asia….

The political unity of India . . . was the first condition of its regeneration. That unity, imposed by the British sword, will now be strengthened and perpetuated by the electric telegraph. The native army, organised and trained by the British drill-sergeant, was the sine qua non of Indian self-emancipation, and of India ceasing to be the prey of the first foreign intruder. The free press, introduced for the first time into Asiatic society and managed principally by the common offspring of Hindus and Europeans, is a new and powerful agent of reconstruction. The Zemindaree and Ryotwar themselves, abominable as they are, involve two distinct forms of private property in land — the great desideratum of Asiatic society. From the Indian natives, . . . under English superintendence, a fresh class is springing, endowed with the requirements for government and imbued with English science. Steam has brought India into regular and rapid communication with Europe, has connected its chief ports with those of the whole south-eastern ocean and has revindicated it from the isolated position which was the prime law of its stagnation.”

(Karl Marx: ‘The Future Results of British Rule in India’, in: ibid., Volume 2; p. 658-59).

Soviet Marxist-Leninists, following Marx, applied Marx’s analysis to pre-revolutionary Russia to hold that Russia’s colonial expansion into Asia had a progressive aspect, so that local chieftains who resisted this expansion — like the famous Shamil* in the Caucasus — played a reactionary role.

Furthermore, genuine Marxist-Leninists hold that, under certain conditions, individuals may play a significant role in history. As Stalin said in his interview with the German writer Emil Ludwig* in December 1931:

“Marxism does not at all deny the role played by outstanding individuals….But…every new generation encounters definite conditions already existing….Great people are worth anything at all only to the extent that they are able correctly to understand these conditions, to understand how to change them. If they fail to understand these conditions and want to alter them according to the promptings of their imagination, they will land themselves in the situation of Don Quixote. . . Marxism has never denied the role of heroes. On the contrary, it admits that they play a considerable role, but with the reservations I have just made.”

(Josef V. Stalin: Talk with the German Author Emil Ludwig, in: ‘Works’, Volume 13; Moscow; 1955; p. 107-08).

However, the historian Pokrovsky and his school took an opposite view. They held that Russian colonial expansion into Asia was wholly reactionary, and that local chieftains who resisted it played a progressive role:

“Pokrovsky’s main reason for denying the validity of the cultural mission (of imperial Russia in Asia — Ed.) was that he considered Russian cultural attainments to be of very low order, inferior in most cases to those of the conquered peoples. . . .Pokrovsky scoffed at the idea, regarding everyone who saw progressive results of tsarist conquests as a Great Russian chauvinist.”

(Lowell Tillett: ‘The Great Friendship: Soviet Historians on the Non-Russian Nationalities’; Chapel Hill (USA); 1969; p. 30, 360).


“… Pokrovsky ignored the role of individual personalities.”

(Konstantin P. Shteppa: ‘Russian Historians and the Soviet State’; New Brunswick (USA); 1962; p. 114).

With the defeat of open revisionism in the Soviet Union,

“… the halcyon days of Pokrovsky’s school faded completely away.”

(Anatole G. Mazour: ‘An Outline of Russian Historiography1; Berkeley (USA); 1939 (hereafter listed as ‘Anatole G. Mazour (1939); p. 91).

In 1931 Stalin intervened with a letter to the magazine ‘Proletarian Revolution’ protesting:

“… against the publication … of Slutsky’s anti-Party and semi-Trotskyist article, ‘The Bolsheviks on German Social-Democracy in the Period of its Pre-War Crisis.'”

(Josef V. Stalin: ‘Some Questions concerning the History of Bolshevism’, in: ‘Works’, Volume 13; Moscow; 1955; p. 86).

“A little more than two years after Stalin’s intervention, official attacks on Pokrovsky’s ideas began, leading to total demolition of his reputation.”

(John D. Barber; op. cit.; p. 142).

In May 1934 the Central Committee of the CPSU and the USSR Council of People’s Commissars adopted a joint decree “Concerning the Teaching of History in the Schools of the USSR,” signed by Molotov and Stalin. This stated that:

“… the teaching of history in the schools of the USSR is not administered satisfactorily. . . . The students are given abstract definitions of social-economic structures, thus substituting obscure schemes for coherent narration of civic history.”

(CC, CPSU & USSR CPC: ‘Concerning the Teaching of History in the Schools of the USSR’, in: Anatole G. Mazour: ‘Modern Russian Historiography1; Princeton (USA); 1958 (hereafter listed as ‘Anatole G. Mazour (1958)’; p. 87).

The decree ordered new textbooks to be prepared for each field of history. It did not mention Pokrovsky by name,

“… but the implied criticism of him was plain.”

(John D. Barber: op. cit.; p. 139).


“… in January 1936, Pokrovsky’s influence was officially attacked.”

(John D. Barber: op. cit.; p. 139).

“Under Kaganovich’s leadership, and with Stalin’s support, a … campaign was launched against . . . M. N. Pokrovsky.”

(Roy A. Medvedev: ‘Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism1; London; 1971 (hereafter listed as ‘Roy A. Medvedev (1971)’; p. 143).

During 1936-37 the Society of Marxist Historians, the Institute of Red Professors and the Institute of History were all closed down. (John D. Barber: op. cit.. p. 139).

“Among the charges made against Pokrovsky was precisely that of having degraded personality to the status of a marionette controlled by the economic process.”

(Klaus Mehnert: ‘Stalin versus Marx: The Stalinist Historical Doctrine’; London; 1952; p. 76).

In November 1938 the Central Committee of the Party adopted a resolution

“… condemning Pokrovsky’s school for ‘anti-Marxist distortions’ and ‘vulgarisation'”

(John D. Barber: op. cit.; p. 140).

“Pokrovsky’s school…began to be associated with the teachings of the opposition. . . . Disciples of Pokrovsky were now proclaimed . , . ‘contemptible Trotskyist-Bukharinist agents of fascism’, who were trying to smuggle anti-Marxist, anti-Leninist ideas of Pokrovsky into historical literature.”

(Anatole G. Mazour (1939): op. cit.; p. 91).

“It is not accidental that the so-called school of Pokrovsky became a base for wrecking, as the NKVD has discovered; a base for enemies of the people, for Trotskyite-Bukharinite hirelings of fascism; for wreckers, spies and terrorists, who cleverly disguised themselves with the harmful anti-Leninist concepts of M. M. Pokrovsky.”

(‘Protiv istoricheskoi kontseptsy M. N. Pokrovskoyo’ , (Against the Historical Conceptions of M. N. Pokrovsky’); Moscow; 1939; p. 5).

This controversy in the field of historiography had important repercussions in fields of the arts — in the fields of historical fiction, historical drama and historical cinema.

The Struggle against Revisionism in the Cinema (1946)

In September 1946 the Central Committee of the CPSU adopted a resolution entitled “On the Film ‘The Great Life.'” The resolution criticised the film named in the resolution, but banned outright another film — “Ivan the Terrible,” Part Two, directed by Sergey Eisenstein — on the grounds of historical inaccuracy:

“Eisenstein . . . exhibited ignorance of historical facts by portraying the progressive army of the Oprichniki as a band of degenerates, similar to the American Ku Klux Klan, and Ivan the Terrible, a man of strong will and character, as weak and spineless, something like Hamlet.”

(Boris Schwarz: op. cit.; p. 208).

The ‘New Encylopaedia Britannica’ notes that

” . . . his nickname, ‘the Terrible’, is actually a mistranslation of the Russian word ‘grozny’, which more properly means ‘awe-inspiring’; Ivan was no more brutal than many of his contemporaries.”

(‘New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia’, Volume 9; Chicago; 1983; p. 1.179).

In October 1946 Eisenstein admitted the justification of the criticism of his film:

“We forgot that the main consideration in art is its ideological content and historical truth. . . . In the second part of ‘Ivan the Terrible’ we permitted a distortion of historical facts which made the film ideologically worthless and vicious.”

(Sergey M. Eisenstein: Article in ‘Kultura i Zhizn’ (Culture and Life), 20 October 1946, in: George S. Counts & Nucia Lodge: ‘The Country of the Blind: The Soviet System of Mind Control’; Boston (USA); 1949; p. 147).

In February 1947 Eisenstein and the actor Nikolay Cherkasov* met Stalin, Molotov and Zhdanov to discuss the film, after which, Cherkasov relates,

“… we were then given full opportunity to correct the second part of ‘Ivan the Terrible’ . . . without any limits as to time or expense. S. M. Eisenstein was positively overjoyed at the prospect and thought about it unceasingly. . . . His premature death prevented him from undertaking the task.”

(Nikolay Cherkasov: Interview with Stalin, in: Sergey Eisenstein: ‘Ivan the Terrible’; London; 1989; p. 19-20).

However, after viewing the film in company with the director Vladimir Petrov*, they agreed that

“… there could be no question of correcting the material we had just seen; we would have to reshoot the whole of the second part”.

(Nikolay Cherkasov: ibid.; p. 20).

The Struggle against Revisionism in Music (1948)

In February 1948 the Central Committee of the CPSU adopted a resolution “On the Opera ‘The Great Friendship,'” which was sharply critical of the opera of that name by Vano Muradeli*, which had been given a private performance to the Central Committee at the New Year.

The decree declared:

“This opera is chaotic and inharmonious, full of continuous discords which hurt one’s ears.

The Central Committee considers that the failure of Muradeli’s opera is the result of his having followed the formalist road — a road that has been so pernicious to the work of Soviet composers.”

(CC Decree: ‘On the Opera “The Great Friendship”‘, in: Alexander Werth (1949): op. cit.; p. 29).

The decree asserted that the Union of Soviet Composers was dominated by a clique of composers who used their influence to foster formalism:

“The Central Committee has … in mind those composers who persistently adhere to the formalist and anti-people school — a school which has found its fullest expression in the work of composers like Comrades Shostakovich, Prokofiev*, Khachaturian*, Shebalin*, Popov*, Myaskovsky* and others. Their works are marked by formalist perversions, anti-democratic tendencies which are alien to the Soviet people and their artistic tastes. . . .

These composers have been indulging in the rotten ‘theory’ that the people are not sufficiently ‘grown up’ to appreciate their music. . . . This is a thoroughly individualist and anti-people theory, and it has encouraged some of our composers to retire into their own shell. . . .

The Organisational Committee of the Union of Soviet Composers became a weapon in the hands of the group of formalist composers and a source of formalist perversions.”

(CC Decree: ‘On the Opera “The Great Friendship'”, in: Alexander Werth (1949): op. cit.; p. 29,30,33).

Zhdanov had already made these points in January 1948 to a conference of music workers:

“Domination (of the Union of Soviet Composers — Ed.) was maintained in the interests of a trend.”

(Andrey A. Zhdanov, in: Alexander Werth (1949): ibid.; p. 57).

Zhdanov insisted that the music of every nation should be developed upon the folk music of that nation:

“The development of music must proceed … by enriching ‘academic’ music from folk music.”

(Andrey A. Zhdanov, in: Alexander Werth (1949): ibid. p. 61).

and cited with approval the saying of the Russian composer Mikhail Glinka*:

“The people create the music — we, the artists, merely arrange.”

(Mikhail I. Glinka, in: Alexander Werth (1949): ibid.; p. 60).

He accused the formalist composers of

“… a rejection of the classical heritage under the banner of innovation, a rejection of the idea of the popular origin of music and of service to the people, in order to gratify the individualistic emotions of a small group of select aesthetes.”

(Andrey A. Zhdanov, in: Alexander Werth (1949): ibid.; p. 57-58).

of imitating Western bourgeois music:

“A certain orientation towards contemporary Western bourgeois music . . represents one of the basic features of the formalist trend in Soviet music….

As regards contemporary bourgeois music, it would be useless to try and profit from it, since it is in a state of decay and degradation and the grovelling attitude towards it is ridiculous.”

(Andrey A. Zhdanov, in: Alexander Werth (1949): ibid.; : op. cit.; p. 61).

and of neglecting melody:

“Melodiousness is beginning to disappear. A passionate emphasis on rhythm at the expense of melody is characteristic of modern music. Yet we know that music can give pleasure only if it contains the essential elements in a specific harmonic combination. One-sided emphasis leads to a violation of the correct interaction of the various elements of music and cannot, of course, be accepted by the normal human ear.”

(Andrey A. Zhdanov, in: Alexander Werth (1948): ibid.; p. 72).

Shostakovich issued a statement expressing his agreement with and gratitude for the Party’s criticism:

“Certain negative characteristics pertaining to my musical thought \ prevented me from making the turn. … I again deviated in the direction of formalism, and began to speak a language incomprehensible to the people. … I know that the Party is right. … I am deeply grateful . . . for all the criticism contained in the Resolution.”

(Dmitry Shostakovich: Statement, in: Boris Schwarz: op. cit.; p. 244).

Muradeli had already admitted:

“Comrades, in the name of the Party and the Government, Andrey Aleksandrovich (Zhdanov — Ed.) rightly and sharply criticised my opera ‘The Great Friendship’….

As a man, as a citizen and as a Communist, I must say that I agree with what he said.”

(Vano Muradeli, in: Alexander Werth (1949): op. cit.; p. 51).

while Prokofiev declared;

“However painful this may be to many composers, including myself, I welcome the Decree, which creates conditions for restoring the health of Soviet music. The Decree is valuable in having demonstrated how alien formalism is to the Soviet peoples.”

(Sergey S. Prokofiev: Statement, in: Alexander Werth (1971): op. cit.; p. 373).

In April 1948 a new directorate of the Union of Soviet Composers was elected, with the composer Tikhon Khrennikov* as General Secretary.


Stalin’s concern for art and artists led him frequently to offer his personal assistance to artists, and to intervene where he became aware that officials were acting in reactionary or stupid ways.

The Case of Ilya Ehrenburg (1941)

After the signing in 1939 of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, Soviet censorship officials prohibited any mention in literature of the words ‘Fascism or “Nazism.” In April 1941 the publication of the second part of the novel ‘The Fall of Paris’ by Ilya Ehrenburg* was held up for this reason. Ehrenburg describes what occurred:

“On 24th April . . . a telephone call came from Stalin’s secretariat. I was told to dial a certain number: ‘Comrade Stalin wishes to speak to you’….

Stalin said that he had read the beginning of my novel and found it interesting; he wanted to send me a manuscript — a translation of Andre Simon’s book — which might be useful to me. …

Stalin asked me whether I intended to denounce the German Fascists. I said that the last part of the novel, on which I was now working, dealt with . . . the invasion of France by the Nazis, … I added that I was afraid the third part would not be passed, for I was not allowed to use the word ‘Fascists’ even where the French were concerned. Stalin said jocularly: ‘Just go on writing; you and I will try to push the third part through.'”

(Ilya Ehrenburg: ‘Men, Years — Life’, Volume 4: ‘Eve of War: 1933-1941’; London; 1963; p. 274-75).

Stalin’s Policy towards Openly Anti-Socialist Artists

Stalin stood firmly on the Marxist-Leninist principle that the maintenance of the dictatorship of the proletariat was essential for the construction of socialism, so that the exhibition and circulation of anti-socialist art must be prohibited by law.

Naturally, anti-socialist artists could not but regard this prohibition as “persecution.” The playwright Mikhail Bulgakov* described it as

” … tantamount to being buried alive.”

(Julie A. E. Curtis: ‘Manuscripts don’t burn: Mikhail Bulgakov; A Life in Letters and Diaries’; London; 1991; p. 109).

and the writer Evgeny Zamyatin* as his

“… death sentence … as a writer.”

(Evgeny. Zamyatin, in: Alex M. Shane: ‘The Life and Works of Evgeny Zamyatin’; Berkeley (USA); 1968; p. 78).

In fact, Stalin’s policy towards openly anti-socialist artists was to try to assist them, where possible, to utilise their artistic talents in ways that would not be harmful to socialist society. For example, anti-socialist authors who were linguistically qualified were assisted to work as translators, rendering the classics of world literature into Russian (as in the case of Boris Pasternak); anti-socialist writers who were not so qualified were permitted, if they so wished, to go abroad (as in the case of Evgeny Zamyatin); anti-socialist playwrights were assisted to work in the theatre as directors (as in the case of Mikhail Bulgakov).

The Case of Marina Tsvetaeva

So widespread is the myth of the “persecution” of artists in the time of Stalin that even when an artist committed suicide for what were clearly domestic or personal reasons — as in the case of the poet Marina Tsvetaeva* in August 1941 — efforts were made by anti-socialist propagandists to attribute the tragedy to “persecution.”

It is clear that Tsvetaeva’s wartime evacuation to the Tartar Republic was at her own request:

“She had already formed the idea of going off to the Tartar region.”

(Elaine Feinstein: ‘A Captive Lion: The Life of Marina Tsvetaeva’; London; 1987; p. 266).

and that she did not lack the material necessities of life:

“She was not without material resources.”

(Elaine Feinstein: ibid.; p. 269).

Her biographers place the blame for the despair that led to her suicide on the attitude of her highly self-centred son:

“It is hard to evaluate the mood of Tsvetaeva on the last day of her life because the key is most likely in her relationship with her son and we don’t know what went on between them in her last days. Dmitry Sezeman, who was Georgy Efron’s (Tsvetaeva’s son — Ed.) friend, describes him as monstrously egotistical, with no concern whatsoever for anyone’s feelings. . . . The Bredelshchikovs (Tsvetaeva’s landlords — Ed.) reported hearing violent arguments between mother and son in French, and his constant reproaches and demands for luxuries she could not provide.”

(Simon Karlinsky: ‘Marina Tsvetaeva: The Woman, her World and her Poetry’; Cambridge; 1985; p. 244).

“It was no longer possible to mistake the hostility that Mur (her son Georgy — Ed.), his face sullen, felt for her. On Saturday, 30 August, he could be heard quarrelling violently with her. He reproached her for a lifetime of irresponsibility.”

(Elaine Feinstein: op. cit.; p. 269).

Miscarriages of Justice

During Stalin’s lifetime there were cases where artists who were in no way involved with counter-revolutionary activity were wrongly sentenced for such crimes. The Soviet revisionist leader Nikita Khrushchev* blames Stalin for these miscarriages of justice, but there is a contradiction in this charge. For Khrushchov admits that

“… all this which we have discussed was done during Stalin’s lifetime under his leadership and with his concurrence; here Stalin was convinced that this was necessary for the defence of the interests of the working classes against the plotting of enemies and against the attack of the imperialist camp.”

(Nikita S. Khrushchev: Secret Speech to 20th Congress, CPSU:, in: Russian Institute, Columbia University (Ed.); ‘The Anti-Stalin Campaign and International Communism’; New York; 1956; p. 85).

But it is impossible to accept the absurd idea that Stalin could believe that the defence of socialism would be assisted by the fabrication of false charges against innocent persons. Since such miscarriages of justice could not fail to arouse the hostility of honest people who became aware of the truth, so weakening socialist society, the only people to benefit from them would be enemies of socialism.

To qualify as a candidate for such a frame-up, an artist had to be innocent of actual links with the counter-revolutionary conspiracy and be regarded as highly unlikely to make such links in the future — for the conspiracy aimed to protect such people as far as was possible. He had, however, to have had a ‘suspicious’ history that would lend at least some degree of credibility to charges of counter-revolutionary activity — for example, a former, terminated association with the Opposition, the production of a work of art expressing hostility to Stalin (this serving particularly that aspect of the conspiracy which aimed to create, and later denounce, a “cult of personality” around Stalin), etc.

Such miscarriages of justice occurred especially during the period from 1934 to 1938, when concealed revisionists were in control of the security forces, as in the cases of the writers Boris Pilnyak* and Osip Mandelshtam*. For obvious reasons, these fabricated cases — unlike the genuine treason cases of the 1930s — were invariably “tried” in camera.

The Case of Boris Pilnyak

The writer Boris Pilnyak was openly anti-socialist. He regarded the leaders of the Soviet Union

“…as barbarians who had let loose the age-old forces of anarchy upon the country.”

(Robert Payne: Introduction to: Boris Pilnyak: ‘The Tale of the Unextinguished Moon and Other Stories;’; New York; 1967; p. xv).

“His true political convictions are best described as unstable, with a strong undercurrent of anti-Soviet feelings. . . .He always remained antagonistic towards the Party and the government,. . . Pilnyak’s apoliticism sprang directly from his antagonism towards the Soviet regime.”

(Vera T. Reck; op. cit.; p. 95, 102, 103).

In October 1925 Milhail Frunze*, the Soviet People’s Commissar of Defence, died in hospital after abdominal surgery, and in May 1926 the literary journal ‘Novy Mir’ (New World) published a story by Boris Pilnyak entitled “The Tale of the Unextinguished Moon”:

“The boldest attempt of the Opposition to use the open press was the publication in the literary journal ‘New World’ of ‘The Tale of the Unextinguished Moon’… was a barely disguised version of the death on 21 October 1926 of Trotsky’s successor in the post of Commissar of Defence, Frunze. He had been operated on for a gastric complaint, began to recover, then died….The rumours that Stalin had murdered Frunze obviously served the Opposition. One plausible theory is that Karl Radek, a friend of Trotsky who had lost his membership in the Central Committee in 1924, inspired the novelist….The offending issue of the journal was withdrawn and apologies for such ‘error’ and ‘slander’, which ‘could play into the hands of the small-minded counter-revolutionary’, were forthcoming from both editors who were involved and the author.”

(Robert H. McNeal: op. cit.; p. 102-03).

“Radek was probably one of Pilnyak’s sources of rumours that surrounded the death of Frunze. Almost certainly these rumours first originated among Stalin’s enemies in the Kremlin.”

(Vera T. Reck: op. cit.; p. 41).

Pilnyak’s disclaiming preface (dated January 1926) reads:

“The plot of this story suggests the idea that the occasion and the material for writing it was provided by the death of M. V. Frunze, I do not know the real circumstances of his death, and they are not very important for me, since reportage about the death of the People’s Commissar for Defence was no part of the purpose of my story. I consider it necessary to inform the reader of all this so that the reader may not look in it for genuine facts and living persons.”

(Boris Pilnyak: Disclaimer, in: Edward H. Carr: ‘Pilnyak and the Death of Frunze’, in: ‘Soviet Studies’, No. 2, 1958; p. 162).

Six months later (in November 1926) the journal ‘Novy Mir’ carried a letter from Pilnyak:

“I never expected that this tale would play into the hands of the small-minded counter-revolutionary and would be used in a disgusting way to harm the Party; I did not for a single moment imagine that I was writing a malicious slander, I now see that I committed grievous errors not perceived by me when I was writing; I now know that much writen by me in the tale consists of malicious invention”.

(Boris Pilnyak: Letter to ‘Novy Mir’, (25 November 1926), in: Edward H. Carr: ibid.; p. 163-64).

It was impossible to take these disclaimers seriously in view of the close and detailed resemblance between the real Frunze and Pilnyak’s “fictitious” “Gavrilov”:

“Gavrilov’s personal history — lightly sketched in by Pilnyak — owes nearly everything to Frunze’s biography.”

(Vera T. Reck: op. cit.; p. 24).

Pilnyak’s biographer, although hostile to Stalin, feels that rumours of foul play in connection Frunze’s death can be dismissed as groundless:

“The question ‘was it murder?’ can probably be answered ‘No’…Stalin highly esteemed Frunze….The physicians were probably blameless in the death of the Commissar.”

(Vera T. Reck: op. cit. p. 17, 18, 19).

Although Pilnyak’s story was clearly a criminal libel under Soviet law, no action was taken against its author:

“Nothing happened at that time to Pilnyak or to the editor. . . . Stalin chose not to react to a libel which . . . would have provided ample grounds for criminal proceedings against its author and publisher.”

(Adam B. Ulam: ‘Stalin: The Man and his Era’; London, 1989; p. 260-261).

“Pilnyak went unpunished. He continued to write and to publish his works, and from time to time to travel abroad.”

(Robert Payne: Introduction to: Boris Pilnyak (1967): op. cit.; p. xviii).

Indeed, when there was a delay in issuing him with an exit permit for one of his foreign trips, it was Stalin who intervened to assist him in obtaining it:

“Pilnyak . . . wrote to Khozain, the Boss himself (Stalin — Eds.) asking him if there was any reasons why he should not be granted a visa. A reply came from Stalin to the effect that, after consulting his colleagues, he saw no reason why a visa should not be granted.”

(Vera T. Reck” op. cit. p. 182).

It is clear that Pilnyak had all the necessary qualifications to be a candidate for ‘frame-up’ by the revisionist conspirators:

“He (Pilnyak — Ed.) had made two trips to the Far East, spent five months in the United States, travelled through much of Europe, and ventured into the Middle East. While in Japan the first time, he was a ‘correspondent’ for ‘Asahi Shimbun’, a giant among Japanese dailies. . . . He had had contacts with the Japanese-Russian Literary Arts Society . . . founded in 1925. His trip to the United States had been sponsored and paid for, in part, by the Hearst’s ‘International Cosmopolitan’. . .For a time Pilnyak was under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a writer and lived in Southern California. He had made many friends in the United States.”

(Vera T. Reck: op. cit.; p. 3-4).

Accordingly, the revisionist conspirators arranged that Pilnyak should be arrested and

“… charged with espionage for Japan.”

(Jeanne Vronskaya & Vladimir Chuguev: op. cit. p. 402).

He was:

“… shot soon afterwards in 1937.”

(Vera T. Reck: op. cit.; p. 2).

“Pilnyak . . . was arrested and shot in 1937.”

(Robert H. McNeal: op. cit.; p. 103).

The Case of Osip Mandelshtam

Another artist who, like Pilnyak, was the victim of a revisionist frame-up was the poet Osip Mandelshtam.

In April 1934 Mandelshtam had recited to presumed friends a slanderous poem he had written about the leaders of the Party, and Stalin in particular, accusing them of being “murderers”:

“And every killing is a treat for the broad chested Ossete.”

(Osip Mandelstam: Poem, in: Olga Ivinskaya: ‘A Captive of Time: My Years with Pasternak’; London; 1978; p. 65).

Under Soviet law, this could have been interpreted as criminal libel:

“Under Article 161 of the Penal Code, libel, i.e., the spreading of false information about another person, is punishable by compulsory labour for a term of up to 6 months or a fine of up to 500 roubles.”

(David Zaslavsky: op. cit. p. 40).

However, it was a minor offence that honest and sensible people would have felt it best to ignore.

But, unfortunately for Mandelshtam, at this time the Soviet security forces were not under the control of honest and sensible people. The Marxist-Leninist Commissar of Internal Affairs, Vyacheslav Menszhinsky*, had been for some time

” . . .no longer responsible, as he was very ill and was now merely the nominal head of OGPU.”

(Boris Levytsky: ‘The Uses of Terror: The Soviet Secret Service: 1917-1970’; London; 1971; p. 72-73).

The man ultimately responsible for security was thus the Deputy Commissar, Genrikh Yagoda, who, as we have seen, was a concealed revisionist. In these circumstances, Mandelshtam was arrested. However, Stalin personally intervened:

“So great was his respect for poetic talent that he dealt personally with the case of Osip Mandelshtam,…who in 1934 had rashly recited to presumed friends a short poem that referred to Stalin as ‘the Kremlin mountaineer’, with fingers ‘fat as worms’, a killer surrounded by ‘half-men’. Stalin phoned Boris Pasternak … to ask if the culprit was really a genius. . . . Stalin at one point said that Mandelshtam would be ‘all right.'”

(Robert H. McNeal: ‘Stalin: Man and Ruler’; Basingstoke; 1988; p. 230).

“Stalin began by telling Pasternak that Mandelshtam’s case had been reviewed and that everything would be all right. This was followed by a strange reproach: why hadn’t Pasternak approached the writers’ organisations or him (Stalin) and why hadn’t he tried to do something for Mandelshtam? ‘If I were a poet and a poet friend of mine were in trouble, I would do anything to help him.”

(Nadezhda Mandelshtam: ‘Hope against Hope: A Memoir’; London; 1971; p. 140).

As a result of Stalin’s intervention,

“… Mandelshtam . . . was released from arrest.”

(Robert H. McNeal: ibid.; p. 230).


“… was given a ‘minus twelve’ exile, i.e., he could reside in’ any but twelve major urban centres.”

(Adam B. Ulam: ‘Stalin: The Man and His Era;’; London; 1989; p.391).

The Mandelshtams chose to live in Voronezh until Mandelshtam’s sentence of exile expired in May 1938, although he suffered a heart attack in the autumn of 1937. But in the month before his release (in April 1938) a new order for Mandelshtam’s arrest had been issued. (Clarence Brown: ‘Mandelstam’; Cambridge; 1973; p. 133).

As a result, in August 1938 Mandelshtam was

“… sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for counter­revolutionary activity.”

(Clarence Brown: ibid. p. 133).

In December 1938 he died of heart failure in the

“… perfectly decent and clean two-storey hospital”

(Nadezhda Mandelshtam: op. cit. p. 396),

of a transit camp in Vladivostok.

His widow was told by the novelist Aleksandr Fadayev* that Mandelshtam’s sentence had been ordered by the concealed revisionist Andrey Andreyev:

“Fadayev during the war whispered to me that it was Andreyev who had signed M’s sentence.”

(Nadezhda Mandelshtam: ibid.; p. 355),

“Mme. Mandelshtam records the inside information that it was Andreyev who ordered the second and fatal imprisonment of her husband.”

(Adam B. Ulam: op. cit.; p. 439).

The Case of Milkail Bulgakov

Let us return now to the question of Stalin’s policy towards anti-socialist artists.

The first novel of Mikhail Bulgakov, ‘The White Guard” (1921-22), adapted for the stage in 1926 as ‘The Days of the Turbins,” presented the. counter­revolutionary Whites as heroes:

“It describes the war from the White side. Its central characters, the Turbin brothers, are members of the White Guard. . . .Bulgakov’s treatment of the Whites as patriots and idealists, his refusal to glamorise the revolutionary proletariat, and the playing on the legendary opening night of the old Russian national anthem …”

(John Wakeman (Ed.): ‘World Authors; 1950-1970’; New York; 1975; p. 239).


“… a storm of controversy.”

(John Wakeman (Ed.): ibid.; p. 239).

Despite this, in July 1929 Stalin wrote to the dramatist Vladimir Bill-Belotserkovsky* to defend the play in that it was objectively progressive in spite of the author’s subjective intentions:

“‘Days of the Turbins’ … is not such a bad play, because it does more good than harm. Don’t forget that the chief impression it leaves with the spectator is one that is favourable to the Bolsheviks, ‘If even such people as the Turbins are compelled to lay down their arms and submit to the will of the people because they realise that their cause is definitely lost, then the Bolsheviks must be invincible and there is nothing to be done about it. ‘Days of the Turbins’ is a demonstration of the all-conquering power of Bolshevism. Of course, the author is altogether ‘innocent1 of this demonstration. But that is not our affair. “

(Josef V. Stalin: Reply to Bill-Belotserkovsky (February 1929), in: ‘Works’, Volume 11: Moscow; 1954; p. 343).

In fact,

“… Stalin was evidently very fond of the play (Bulgakov’s ‘The Days of the Turbins’ — Ed.); the Arts Council’s records indicate that he went to see it no fewer than 15 times.”

(Julie A. E. Curtis: op. cit.; p.70).

However, the revisionists in influential positions in the arts seized upon another passage in Stalin’s letter —

“Why are Bulgakov’s plays staged so often? Presumably because we have not enough of our own plays suitable for staging.”

(Josef V. Stalin: Reply to Bill-Belotserkovsky (February 1929), in: ‘Works’, Volume 11; op. cit.; p. 342-33).

— to force the withdrawal of all Bulgakov’s plays from production.

So, in spite of Stalin’s favourable comments on ‘The Days of the Turbins,”

“… the actual effect of his February 1929 letter was to put an end to all the productions of Bulgakov’s works in Moscow. . . . These developments completed the elimination of Bulgakov from the Soviet stage.”

(Julie A. E. Curtis: op. cit.; p. 70-71).

In the spring of 1930 Bulgakov completed a new play “Moliere,” which used historical events to make an attack on the principle of censorship. It depicted

“. . . the relationship . . . between Moliere and Louis XIV, Bulgakov’s portrayal of which was naturally read by his contemporaries as suggesting analogies to the modern world.”

(Julie A. E. Curtis: ibid.; p. 72).

In March 1930,

” … the Repertory Committee informed him that the play would not be licensed for performance.”

(Julie A. E. Curtis: op. cit.; p. 72).

Later the same month he wrote a letter to the Soviet Government:

“After the banning of all my works, I begin to hear voices among many citizens of my acquaintance, all giving me one and the same piece of advice: that I should write a ‘Communist play’ . . . and that quite apart from that I should address to the Government of the USSR a penitential letter, which should contain a renunciation of my previous opinions, as expressed in my literary works, and assurances that henceforth I was going to work as a fellow-travelling writer loyal to the idea of Communism. . I did not follow that advice. I would scarcely have succeeded in appearing in a favourable light in the eyes of the Government of the USSR by writing a mendacious letter, which would have represented a sordid and indeed naive political somersault. . . .

The entire press of the USSR, together with all the institutions to whom control of the repertory has been entrusted, throughout all the years of my literary career, has unanimously and with EXTRAORDINARY FURY demonstrated that the works of Mikhail Bulgakov cannot exist in the USSR.

I declare that the Soviet press is ABSOLUTELY CORRECT. . . .

For me, not being allowed to write is tantamount to being buried alive.


If, on the other hand, . . . I am to be condemned to lifelong silence in the USSR, then I would request the Soviet Government to give me a job for which I am qualified and to second me to some theatre to work as a director on their staff.”

(Mikhail A. Bulgakov: Letter to Soviet Government (28 March 1930), in: Julie A. E. Curtis: op. cit.; p. 103-04, 105, 109).

Three weeks later (on 18 April 1930), Stalin telephoned Bulgakov at his home:

“Stalin’s first question was whether Bulgakov really wanted to go abroad. Bulgakov, somewhat stunned and unprepared, replied: ‘I have thought a great deal recently about the question of whether a Russian writer can live outside his homeland. And it seems to me he can’t’. . . Stalin . . . next asked him where he would like to work — what about the Moscow Arts Theatre? Bulgakov explained that he had asked about that and had been refused, at which Stalin suggested that he should try applying again. . . .Thirdly, Stalin proposed that he and Bulgakov should meet some time and have a talk. . . .

Stalin’s telephone call . . . was immediately followed by the Moscow Arts Theatre’s taking Bulgakov on its staff as an assistant director.”

(Julie A. E. Curtis: ibid.,; p. 111-12, 113).

The Case of Evgeny Zamyatin

In June 1931 the openly anti-socialist writer Evgeny Zamyatin, who had no experience in translation, wrote to Stalin asking for his intercession to be allowed to go abroad:

“I ask to be permitted to go abroad with my wife . , . with the right to return as soon as it becomes possible to serve the great ideas in literature without fawning on small people. . . I do not wish to conceal that the fundamental reason for my request to go abroad together with my wife is … the death sentence which has been passed on me here as writer.”

(Evgeny Zarayatin: Letter to Josef V. Stalin (June 1931), in: Alex M. Shane: ‘The Life and Works of Evgeny Zamyatin’; Berkeley (USA); 1968; p. 78).

As a result of Stalin’s intervention,

“… Zamyatin and his wife were granted an exit permit and were allowed to go abroad. . . .In November 1931 … he went abroad with the consent of Stalin himself…During his years abroad Zamyatin did not publicly attack the Soviet regime.”

(Alex M. Shane: ibid. p. 78-79, i, 82).

In March 1937

“… Evgeny Zamyatin died in self-imposed exile in Paris”.

(Alex M. Shane: ibid.; p. i).


The principles of Marxist-Leninist aesthetics elaborated by Zhdanov on the basis of theses put forward by Stalin have permanent importance for all societies in the world. Stalin fought to maintain socialist realism as the principled method of Soviet art.

Even Alexander Werth felt compelled to admit:

“There is an incontrovertible basis of truth in the Russian case. . . . The West cannot afford to ignore some of its own weaknesses, and it is not enough to sneer at Zhdanov’s theses and to pretend that all is well with Western art and Western literature.”

(Alexander Werth (1949): op. cit.; p. 16).

It is clear that the picture commonly drawn in anti-socialist writings, of artists in the time of Stalin suffering “persecution” because of their artistic creations, is based only on presenting the non-publication and non-circulation of anti-socialist art, and constructive criticism of other art, as “persecution.” In fact, the artists most strongly criticised — such as the composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich and the writers Akhmatova, Bulgakov, Pasternak and Zoschchenko — all died peacefully in their beds.

The first case in the Soviet Union of criminal proceedings against artists in connection with their work occurred long after Stalin’s death — in 1966, in the time of the revisionist Leonid Brezhnev*, when Audrey Sinyavsky* and Yuli Daniel* faced charges in connection with their writings. The trial of Sinyavsky and Daniel

“… was unique in Russian history. Neither under the tsars nor . . . under Stalin had ever there ever been any proceedings in which the main corpus delicti consisted of the actual contents of works of imaginative literature.”

(Max Hayward: ‘Writers in Russia: 1917-1978’; London; 1983; p. 278).

It was

“… unprecedented in the annals of not only Russian but world literature.”

(Leopold Labedz & Max Hayward (Eds,): ‘On Trial: The Case of Sinyavsky (Tertz) and Daniel (Arzhak)’; London; 1967; p. 17).

“The Sinyavsky-Daniel case . . . was unprecedented in modern Soviet history. . . . None (no intellectual — Ed.) had ever before been held criminally responsible for the political effects of their literary works.”

(Frances C. Locher (Ed.); ‘Contemporary Authors’, Volumes 85-88; Detroit; 1980; p. 550).

“A large part of the attention attracted by the Sinyavsky-Daniel case was due … to its precedent-setting nature.”

(Hal May (Ed.): ‘Contemporary Authors’, Volume 116; Detroit; 1986; p, 100).

In fact, we have seen that Stalin had respect for artists who were honestly anti-socialist, did not regard them as significantly dangerous to socialism, and on many recorded occasions assisted them in ways that would not be harmful to socialist society.

The people for whom he had no respect and whom he regarded as a serious danger to socialism were the concealed enemies of socialism who posed as Marxist-Leninists in order to attain positions of influence.


(This is an extended and annotated version of a lecture given by Bill Bland to the Stalin Society in London in May 1993).


AKHMATOVA, Anna A., Soviet poet (1889-1966).

ANDREYEV, Andrey A., Soviet revisionist politician (1895-1971); USSR Commissar of Transport (1931-35); Member, Political Bureau/Presidium, CPSU (193252, 1956-71); USSR Commissar of Agriculture (1943-46); USSR Deputy Premier (1945-53); Adviser to Presidium of Supreme Soviet (1962-71);

ARAGON, Louis, French novelist and poet (1897-1982).

AVERBAKH, Leopold L., Soviet literary critic (1903-38).

BECKETT, Samuel, Irish-born playwright (1906-89); in Paris (1937-89); awarded Nobel Prize for Literature (1969).

BELLINI, Giovanni, Venetian Renaissance painter (cl420-1516).

BILL-BELOTSERKOVSKY, Vladimir N., Soviet dramatist (1884-1970).

BOGDANOV, Aleksandr A., Soviet philosopher, literary critic and writer (1873-1928).

BREZHNEV, Leonid, Soviet revisionist politician (1906-82); Member, Secretariat, CPSU (1952-53, 1956-60, 1963-82); Member, Politburo/Presidium, CPSU (1957-82); lst. Secretary, CPSU (1964-66); General Secretary, CPSU (1966-82); USSR President (1977-82).

BRIK, Lillya: Russian-born French painter and sculptor (1891-1978).

BRIK, Osip M., Russian-born French critic and playwright (1888-1945).

BROWN, Edward J., American Slavist (1909- ); Associate Professor (1953-55), Professor (1955-65), of Russian, University of Indiana (USA); Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature, Brown University (USA) (1969

BUKHARIN, Nicolay I., Soviet revisionist politician (1888-1938); Chairman, Comintern (1926-29); Member, Politburo (1924-29); arrested (1937); admitted to treason at public trial and executed (1938).

BULGAKOV, Mikhail A., Soviet writer (1891-1940).

‘CARAVAGGIO’ (= Michelangelo Merisi), Italian Renaissance painter (1573-1610).

CHERKASOV, Nicolay K., Soviet film actor (1903-66).

CROMWELL, Oliver, British bourgeois revolutionary soldier and statesman (15991658).

DALI, Salvador, Spanish-born painter (1904-89); to France , then to USA (1940); returned to Spain (1955) and became supporter of Franco regime.

DANIEL, Yuli M. (= ‘ARZHOV, Nikolay”), Soviet poet (1925-88); imprisoned (1966); released (1970).

EASTMAN, Max, American journalist, author and editor (1883-1969).

EHRENBURG, Ilya G., Soviet writer (1891-1967); in France (1921-28); in Germany (1924-28); in Soviet Union (1928-36); in Spain (1936-39); in France (1939-40); in Soviet Union (1940-67).

EISENSTEIN, Sergey M., Soviet film director (1898-1948).,

ERMOLAEV, Herman S., Russian-born American lecturer (1924- instructor (1959-60), assistant professor (1960-66), associate professor (1966-67), professor (1970- ), of Russian Literature, Princeton University.

‘FADAYEV (= BULYGA), Aleksandr A., Soviet novelist (1901-56); committed suicide (1956).

FRAGONARD, Jean-Honore, French painter and engraver (1732-1806).

FRUNZE, Mikhail V., Soviet Marxist-Leninist military officer and politician (1885-1925); Chief of Staff and USSR Commissar of Defence (1924-25).

GLINKA, Mikhail I., Russian composer (1804-57).

GORKY, Maksim’ (= PESHKOV, Aleksey M.) Soviet writer (1868-1936); to Italy (1924); returned to Soviet Union (1931).

HABA, Alois, Czech atonal composer (1893-1973).

HEYWORTH, Peter L. F., American-born British music critic (1921-91); music critic, ‘Times Educational Supplement’ (1950-55), ‘Observer’ (1955-77).

HOOCH, Pieter de, Dutch painter (1629-1685).

KAGANOVICH, Lazar M., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1893-1991); USSR Commissar for Oil Industry (1939-40); Member, State Defence Committee (1941-44); USSR Minister of Building Materials Industry (1946-47, 195657); Ist Secretary, CP Ukraine (1953-55); dismissed from all posts by revisionists (1956).

KALININ, Mikhail I., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1875-1946); Soviet Russia, President (1919-38), USSR (1938-46); Member, Political Bureau/Presidium, CPSU (1925-46).

KAMENEV, Lev B., Soviet revisionist politician (1883-1936); Member of Politburo (1919-25); Ambassador to Italy (1926-27); arrested (1935); admitted to treason at his public trial and executed (1936).

KAUFMAN, George S., American playwright (1880-1961).

KHACHATURIAN, Aram I., Soviet composer (1903-78).

KHRENNIKOV, Tikhon N., Soviet composer (1913- );

KHRUSHCHEV, Nikita S.,, Soviet revisionist politician (1894-1971) Member Political Bureau, CPSU (1939-64); 1st Secretary, CPSU (1953-64); USSR Premier (1958-64).

KIROV, Sergey M., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1886-1934); 1st Secretary, CPSU, Leningrad (1926-34); Member, Political Bureau, CPSU (1934); murdered by revisionists (1934).

KOSIOR, Stanislav V., Soviet revisionist politician (1889-1939); Member, Political Bureau, CPSU (1930-38); Chairman, USSR State Planning Committee (1934-35).

KRYUKOV, Fedor D., Russian (Cossack) author (1870-1920).

KUIBYSHEV, Valerian V., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1888-1935); Chairman, USSR State Planning Committee (1930-35); USSR Deputy Premier (1930-35); murdered by revisionists (1935).

LELY, Peter, German-born British painter (1618-81).

LESKOV, Nikolay S., Russian writer (1831-95).

LEVIN, Dan, Russian-born American journalist (1914- )

LUDWIG, Emil, German playwright and biographer (1881-1948).

MANDELSHTAM, Osip E., Polish-born Soviet poet (1891-1938); victim of charges fabricated by revisionists and died in imprisonment (1938).

MARGARITO OF AREZZO, Italian painter (fl. 1262).

MARSHALL, Herbert, Brtish writer and translator (1906-91).

MAUGHAM, W. Somerset, British playwright and novelist (1874-1965).

MAYAKOVSKY, Vladimir V., Soviet poet (1893-1930).

MAZOUR, Anatole G., Russian-born American historian (1900- ); Professor of Russian history (1946-66), Professor Emeritus (1966- Stanford University.

MEDVEDEV, Roy A., Soviet historian (1925- )

MELLY, George, British singer, musician, journalist and music critic (1926 – )

MENZHINSKY, Vyacheslav R., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1874-1934); Deputy Chairman, OGPU (1926-34); Chairman, OGPU (192-34); murdered by revisionists (1934).

MOLOTOV, Vyacheslav M., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1890-1896); USSR Premier (1930-41); USSR Deputy Premier (1941-57); USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs (1941-49, 1943-56); USSR Ambassador to Mongolia (195760); USSR Representative, International Atomic Agency (1960-62); dismissed from all posts and expelled from Party by revisionists (1962).

MUCHNIC, Helen L., Russian-born American Slavist (1903- ); Professor of Russian (1947-69). Professor Emeritus (1969- ), Smith College ((USA).

MURADELI, Vano I., Soviet composer (1908-70).

MYASKOVSKY, Nicolay Y., Soviet composer (1881-1950).

ORDZHONIKIDZE. Grigory K., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1886-1937); Member, Political Bureau, CPSU (1930-37); USSR Commissar for Heavy Industry (1932-37); committed suicide (1937).

PASTERNAK, Boris L., Soviet poet and novelist (1890-1960); awarded Nobel Prize for Literature for novel ‘Dr. Zhivago’ (1958).

PETROV, Vladimir M., Soviet film director (1896-1966).

PICASSO, Pablo, Spanish painter (1881-1973); worked in Paris (1901-73); founder of Cubism.

‘PILNYAK’ (= VOGAU), Boris A., Soviet novelist (1894-1937); victim of charges fabricated by revisionists; died in imprisonment (1937).

POKROVSKY, Mikhail N., Soviet historian (1868-1932).

POPOV, Gavril N., Soviet pianist and composer (1904-72).

PROKOFIEV, Sergey S., Soviet composer (1891-1953).

RADEK, Karl B., Soviet revisionist politician (1885-1939); expelled from CPSU (1927); readmitted (1930); re-expelled (1937); tried and imprisoned (1937); died in prison (1937).

RODOV, Semyon A., Soviet literary critic (1893-1968).

RYKOV, Aleksey I., Soviet revisionist politician (1881-1938); Member, Politburo (1923); USSR Premier (1924-29); USSR Commissar for Posts and Telegraphs (1931-36); expelled from Party, arrested (1937); convicted of treason,and executed (1938).

SAROYAN, William, American playwright (1908-81).

SCHWARZ, Boris, Russian-born American violinist, conductor and musicologist (1906-83); assistant professor (1947-57), associate professor (1957-58), professor of music (1958-70), City University of New York.

SERAFIMOVICH, Aleksandr, Soviet writer and journalist (1863-1949).

SHAMIL, Caucasian military and religious leader (1798?-1871); Imam of Dagestan (1834-59).

SHEBALIN, Vissarion Y., Soviet composer (1913-63).

SHKLOVSKY, Viktor B., Soviet literary critic (1883-1984).

SHOLOKHOV, Mikhail A., Soviet novelist and journalist (1905-84).

SHOSTAKOVICH, Dmitry D., Soviet composer (1906-75).

SINYAVSKY, Andrey D. (= ‘TERTZ, Abram’) Soviet writer (1925- ); Lecturer, Russian literature, Moscow University (1952-66); imprisoned (1966); released (1971); Professor of Slavic Studies, Sorbonne (1973- ).

SOLZHENITSYN, Aleksandr I., Soviet physicist and author (1918- ); imprisoned for attempting to form rival political party to Communist Party (194553); expelled from Union of Soviet Writers (1969); awarded Nobel Prize for Literature (1970); deported from USSR (1974); to Western Europe, then (1979) to USA.

STEPHENSON, George, British inventor (1781-1848),

STETSKY, Aleksey I., Soviet revisionist politician (1896-1938); died in prison (1838).

STOLYPIN, Pyotr A., Russian politican (1862-1911).

SYRTSOV, Sergey I., Soviet journalist and politician (1893-1938); RSFSR Premier (1929-30); arrested (1938); died in prison (1938).

THATCHER, Margaret H., British Conservative politician (1925- ); Secretary of State for Education and Science (1970-74); Leader of Conservative Party (1975-90); Premier (1979-90).

THORLBY. Anthony K., British lecturer (1928- ); assistant lecturer (1956-57), lecturer in German (1957-61), University College of Swansea; lecturer in German, University of Sussex (1961-63); Reader in Comparative Literature (1963-66), Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Sussex (1966

TOMSKY, Mikhail P., Soviet trade union leader (1880-1930); committed suicide to evade arrest (1936).

TRIOLET, Elsa: Russian-born French novelist and translator (1896-1970).

TROTSKY, Lev D., Soviet revisionist politician (1879-1940); Commissar of Foreign Affairs (1917-58); Commissar of Defence War (1918-25);

Member, Politburo (1920-27); expelled from Party (1928); exiled to Alma Ata (1928); deported from USSR (1929); to Turkey (1929-33); to France (1933-35); to Mexico (1937).

TSVETAEVA, Marina I., Soviet poet (1892-1941); committed suicide (1941).

TURNER, J. M. William, British painter, especially of landscapes (1775-1851).

VERTINSKY, Aleksandr N., Soviet variety artist (1889-1957).

VISHNEVSKY, Vsevolod V., Soviet journalist and playwright (1900-51).

VOROSHILOV, Kliment E., Soviet military officer and Marxist-Leninist politician (1881-1969); Member, Political Bureau (1926-52); USSR Commissar of Defence 1934-40); USSR Deputy Premier (1946-53); USSR President (1953-60); Member, Politburo/Presidium, CPSU (1926-69).

WERTH, Alexander, Russian-born British journalist (1901-69).

YAGODA, Genrikh G., Soviet revisionist politician (1891-1938); USSR Commissar for Internal Affairs (1934-36); arrested (1937); admitted to treason at public trial, executed (1938).

YAKOVLEVA., Tatiana A., Russian-born French (later American) hat designer.

YENUKIDZE, Avel S., Soviet civil servant (1877-1937); Secretary, USSR Central Executive Committee (1923-35); expelled from CPSU (1935); tried and sentenced to death (1937).

ZAMYATIN, Evgeny I., Soviet writer and literary critic (1884-1937); to Western Europe (1931).

ZASLAVSKY, David I., Soviet writer and literary critic (1880-1965).

ZHDANOV, Andrey A., Soviet Marxist-Leninist politician (1896-1948); 1st Secretary, Leningrad, CPSU (1934-44); Secretary, CC,’ CPSU (1944-48); murdered by revisionists (1948).

ZINOVIEV, Grigory E., Soviet revisionist politician (1883-1936); Member, Politburo (1921-26); Chairman, Comintern (1919-26); admitted to treason at public trial and executed (1936).
ZOSHCHENKO, Milhail M., Soviet writer (1895- 1958); expelled from Union of Soviet Writers (1946).


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‘Russian and East European Series’, Volume 20.

‘Soviet Studies’, No: 2, 1958.


Guevaraism: the Theory of the Guerrilla Elite


An analysis of the theories of Regis Debray as propounded in “Revolution in the Revolution?”, and their relevance to the revolutionary struggle in Latin America.

By Cmde MS on behalf of MLOB.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN Red Vanguard Volume 1, 1968

Table of Contents



Regis Debray, a “private student of revolutionary theory and practice,” has written a book which purports to offer a “third way” to revolution. It is a “third way” which all Marxist-Leninists have hitherto failed to perceive, a “scientific truth” awaiting its release at the hands of this roving French philosophy student fresh from the cloisters of the “Ecole Normale Superieure.”

In their introduction to this book, Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy, the American sponsors of Debray, claim that the revolution in Latin America:

“will not and cannot follow one or another of the patterns, traced out by the two great revolutionary upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century. The Latin American revolution is taking a third way, the first stages of which already been revealed in the Cuban experience.”

(“Revolution in the Revolution?” Penguin Books, 1968)

On the basis of this claim for a “third way,” these American liberals with a touch of rouge on their cheeks rush to proclaim the ultimate outcome of this breach in the wall of proletarian hegemony, the anti-Marxist-Leninist content of the loquacious petty-bourgeoisie of our time: that “still other revolutionary patterns may be possible” – ranging from the Yugoslav to the Chinese variants of the new syndicalism.

Debray’s book seeks to lay the basis for such radical revisions by spurning Marxist-Leninist theory in every one of its essential tenets: replacing proletarian hegemony and discipline by petty-bourgeois hegemony and anarchical relations, replacing class by individuals, proletarian parties by “focos” of undisciplined petty bourgeois insurectionists, historical materialism by naïve mechanical materialism, scientific analysis by sweeping presumptiousness.

Like countless other renegade products which attack Marxism-Leninism, this book has been received favourably by the bourgeoisie. In that it offers a way to “make revolution” from scratch, learning by the simple empirical process of trial and error and rejecting the Marxist-Leninist scientific method of the universality of contradiction and the unity of theory and practice, it serves them well. For if the “third way” of Debray were to remain unchallenged and be applied in practice, it would result in the most tragic setbacks and useless losses to the revolutionary cause in Latin America.

Indeed, the Bolivian adventure which cost Debray his liberty and Guevara his life was merely the latest in a long series of defeats and annihilations for which the addicts of spontaneity who exist in the national liberation fronts of many Latin American countries are responsible. It is for this reason that it is essential to deal with Debray’s claims in some detail. On the first page we read:

“One began by identifying the guerrilla struggle (in Cuba – Ed.) with insurrection because the archetype – 1917 – had taken this form, and because Lenin and later Stalin had developed several theoretical formulas (sic) based on it – formulas which have nothing to do with the present situation and which are periodically debated in vain, such as those which refer to conditions for the outbreak of an insurrection, meaning an immediate assault on the central power.”


NOTE: Because Debray’s “theories” have been endorsed by the Cuban leadership and because he uses the term “we” throughout his text, references to Debary and the Cuban leadership are interchangeable, except where otherwise specified.

No doubt we are supposed to be eternally grateful for Mr. Debray’s clarification of Lenin on the “formulas” for an insurrection, i.e, “an immediate assault on the central power.” This statement is to set the tone for disclaiming Leninism by alluding to Lenin as someone who, from 1900 to 1917, contributed nothing to the struggle in Russia but the cry “insurrection” without any of the detailed handiwork which Debray claims as his own discovery.

Unfortunately, of course, Mr Debray has not understood Lenin, or Marxism, on this elementary point. The involved and rich experience, of the tactics and strategy of “making revolution” the Marxist-Leninist way are a closed book to Debray (as a student of bourgeois philosophy still in his early twenties, this is not surprising) who assumes throughout that such wild and unqualified statements, can serve as the starting point for his even wilder flights of innovation around them.

Lenin and Stalin remain (despite the distortions of petty-bourgeois innovators such as Debray who wish not to see that which deflates the balloon of their pretentiousness) the most notable of those few proletarian leaders who have successfully led the working people through to the seizure of state power and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is distinct from that seizure of power by the national bourgeoisie in alliance with the peasantry, usurping the leading role of the proletariat, which masquerades as “the dictatorship of the proletariat” in some corners of the globe – and to the building of socialism. Given this historically unique position, we can assume that the definitions and experiences of Lenin and Stalin, hold important lessons for us in establishing further theoretical and practical bases of proletarian dictatorship without which there can be no socialism – in our respective countries.

In every fundamental essential, Debray betrays not only his divergence from these principles, but his total ignorance of them.


When he deals in detail with the specific conditions in the countries of the Latin American continent, he refers to the divisions existing between the revisionists and trotskyites in the liberation fronts of these countries. These divisions, which have been responsible for many defeats – notably the failure of the Cuban general strike in 1958 – Debray seeks to solve, by going over to the purely military front and brushing ideological and political questions aside. He ignores the fact that leadership involves the clarification of a line in theory and the consolidation of the forces around that theory in action. Lenin subjected anti-Marxist-Leninist theory and practice to a ruthless critique on every front, this struggle bearing fruit in the undisputed leading role of the Bolsheviks at the crucial turning points in the Russian revolution. Debray seeks to cancel out the role of theory and to advocate some kind of idealised and subjectivised “action” as the unfailing panacea guaranteeing victory. He quotes petty detail after petty detail, generalises them to the level of the universal in order to justify his “revolutionary” theories revising a whole arsenal of genuine revolutionary theory painstakingly accumulated throughout a century or so of arduous struggle by valiant proletarian fighters the world over.

Not once does he justify his claims against Marxist-Leninist theory – we are presented merely with surface details and Debray’s own brand of arrogant ignorance of the harsh facts of the struggle against imperialism. Thus, in justification of the “spontaneous inevitable progress of history”:

“The reverses suffered by the Latin American revolutionary movement are truly minor if one measures them in terms of the short period of time which is the prologue to the great struggles of tomorrow, if we take into account the fact that the few years which have passed correspond to that period of ‘takeoff’ and re-adjustment through which all revolutions must go in their early stages. Indeed, what seems surprising is that guerrilla movements have been able to survive so many false starts and so many errors, some inevitable and others not. According to Fidel, that is the astonishing thing, and it proves the extent to which the movement is impelled by history. In fact, we must speak not, so much of defeat as of a certain explicable stagnation and lack of rapid development, the consequences of, among other things the inevitable blunders and errors at this stage of exploration, of revolutionary conceptions and methods which are new, (our emphasis – Ed.) in spite of their deceptive kinship with other international experiences. . . .Of all these false starts, the Latin American is the most, “innocuous.”


This “innocuous” record has involved the annihilation of “half a hundred revolutionary organisations” on the Latin American continent, since the Fidelista upsurge!

On an even more alarming scale, on page 2 the cry of the petty bourgeois intellectual reveals itself in full swing in its justification of spontaneity, taken to the lengths of advocating the pleasures and benefits of a blissful ignorance of theory. In this assertion, Debray is typical of the worst philistine intellectual who steeps himself in book learning but condescends to the “masses” in their ignorance – in such a way he seeks to preserve the prestige of learning which can only stand up when contrasted with the “low level” of the masses. Anathema to Debray are the forces of the organised proletariat with their developed theory:

“One may well consider it a stroke of good luck that Fidel had not read the military writings of Mao Tse-tung before disembarking on the coast of Oriente; he could thus invent, on the spot and out of his own experience, principles of a military doctrine in conformity with the terrain. … all the theoretical works on people’s war do as much harm as good. (This includes General Giap, Lenin! –Ed). They have been called the grammar books of the war. But a foreign language is learned faster in a country where it must be spoken than at home studying a language manual.”


And, when dealing with the dangers of “imitation from past experiences”:

“All the more reason to remain aware of the inversion of which we are victims when we read theoretical works.”


So, we have here the claim that theoretical knowledge is a hindrance and that spontaneous “trial and error” is the only guide to revolutionary action. Likewise, political struggles through programmes, fronts, alliances – the essential and inevitable shifts and deployments of forces in the complex struggle to win the working people for revolution are not necessary. Those who claim they are,

“… believe that revolutionary awareness and organisation must and can in every case precede revolutionary action.”


This is carried to the lengths of noting (we presume with favour – otherwise why point it out?):

“A significant detail: during two years of warfare, Fidel did not hold a single political rally in his zone of operations.”


Thus we are dealing with a defence of spontaneity, (a spontaneity which yet Debray makes a show of criticising in others) where spontaneity takes as its fundamental precept:

“.. the armed struggle of the masses against imperialism is capable of creating by itself, in the long run, a vanguard capable of leading the peoples to socialism.”



In order to justify his anti-Marxist-Leninist theories, Debray has to claim a “unique” class situation in Latin America:

“… the irony of history has willed, by virtue of the social situation of many Latin American countries, the assignment of precisely this vanguard role to students and revolutionary intellectuals, who have had to unleash, or rather to initiate, the highest forms of class struggle.”


No doubt his studies at the Ecole did not include a syllabus on Marxism-Leninism. Debray, is about to proceed upon the unfolding of his “new” theories of revolution, applicable only to Latin America:

Firstly, that the leading instigating role of the intellectuals and students is unique. From this assumption he intends to demonstrate, that a new concept of the vanguard, a “foco” (a small band of guerrillas with allegiance to one “leader”) follows logically, and from this that the normal political channels should be ignored and give place to armed struggle as an end in itself.

However, his claim for uniqueness of situation in Latin America is a red herring raised in order to conceal his anti-proletarian, thoroughly bourgeois thinking. For in Russia the revolutionary students and intellectuals also initiated the struggle against imperialism and capitalism: it was they who formulated the theory of the vanguard party and the strategy of the world’s first proletarian revolution. And it is here that we come to the crux of the difference between those petty-bourgeois forces which, when declassed and pushed into the ranks of the working class, overcome their bourgeois thinking and thoroughly embrace the proletarian world view and its revolutionary struggle; and those who fail to identify themselves with the aims and aspirations of the majority class. These latter merely use their new class position to air their own minority grievances against capitalism, objectively striving to climb back to their former class position, sowing confusion and propagating theories in the process which act against the tide of revolutionary struggle.

There are of course, vast differences between the aims of those intellectuals who led the way in Russia and the aims of those in Latin America who advance Debray to be their spokesman. The intellectuals in Russia worked for the hegemony of the proletariat in the socialist revolution and, as its necessary preliminary, in the bourgeois democratic revolution.

Debray and those he represents, are that section of the petty bourgeoisie which stand for the hegemony of bourgeois ideology and the petty bourgeois forces, not for a socialist revolution and not even for the final victory and, consolidation of the national democratic revolution. For in the epoch of imperialism, this can only be led by the proletariat in alliance with the poor and middle peasantry if it is to be consolidated and is to prepare the around for the transition to the socialist revolution. The petty bourgeois and bourgeois view is for the holding of the revolutionary process at the stage of the national democratic revolution, in order that the groundwork for capitalism may be sown and the path towards the re-incorporation of the nation into the imperialist sphere once again be laid. They seek to prevent that national democratic revolution from being turned into the stream which feeds the proletarian revolution by crying “against dictatorship,” “against bureaucracy,” thus serving the interests of the national bourgeoisie.

And so, Debray’s claims that his “third way” is the new form of worker-peasant revolutionary alliance:

“What gives the guerrilla movement the right to claim this political responsibility as its own and for itself alone? The answer is: that class alliance which it alone can achieve, the alliance that will take and administer power, the alliance whose interests are those of socialism – the alliance between workers and peasants. The guerrilla army is a confirmation in action of this alliance; it is the personification of it alone can guarantee that the people’s power will not be perverted after victory.”


“… This progressive petty bourgeoisie must… commit suicide as a class in order to be restored to life as revolutionary workers, totally identified with the deepest aspirations of their people.”


Yet despite these claims, we find that the real picture is very different.

In order to make his thesis workable Debray has to provide the vanguard leadership without which this class alliance cannot be consolidated. He performs this conjuring trick by taking the current “left” revisionist emphasis on the countryside in opposition to the cities, to its most illogical conclusion to date: all who live in cities are bourgeois, all who live in the mountains are proletarian, and hegemony in the struggle belongs to the petty bourgeois rural guerrillas who become the vanguard “proletariat” of Debray’s imagination.

This is one of his more remarkable “additions” to Marxist-Leninist theory:

“….As we know, the mountain proletarianises the bourgeois and peasant elements, and the city can bourgeoisify the proletarians, The tactical conflicts that are bound to arise, the differences in the evaluation and line, conceal a class conflict, in which the interests of the proletariat are not, paradoxically enough, on the side which one would expect. It was possible to resolve these conflicts rapidly in Cuba, and the advance towards socialism was undertaken as quickly as it was after taking power because Fidel, from the first day, demanded, won, and defended hegemony for the rural guerrillas” (our emphasis – Ed; p.75).

He quotes approvingly Guevara’s muddled thesis in the same vein:

“These differences (ie, between the plain (the town) and the sierra (the countryside) – Ed.) go deeper than tactical divergences. The Rebel Army is already ideologically proletarian and, thinks like a dispossessed class; the city remains petty bourgeois, contains future traitors among its leaders, and is very influenced by the milieu in which it develops.”

(Guevara , quoted by Debray on p.77).

In this strange system of Marxism, the city, wherein labour and toil, the wage slaves of capitalism, has thus been conveniently disposed of to make way for leadership by that more revolutionary the petty bourgeoisie!

In further imaginative vein, the “back to nature” aspirations of the dilettante petty-bourgeois fleeing from the terrors of the era of machinofacture and proletarian organisation are eulogised:

“Such are the mental reactions of a bourgeois, and any man, even a comrade, who spends his life in a city is unwittingly bourgeois in comparison with a guerrillero…. Not to have any means of subsistence except what you yourself can produce, with your own hands (? – We read elsewhere in his treatise that equipment and supplies were pilfered in raids on villages – MS-Ed) starting from nature in the raw. … The city dweller lives as a consumer. As, long as he has some cash in his pocket, it suffices for his daily needs.”


“Nothing like getting out to realise to what extent these lukewarm incubators (the cities – Ed.) make one infantile and bourgeois. In the first stages of life in the mountains, in the seclusion of the so-called virgin forest life is simply a daily battle in its smallest detail: especially is it a battle within the guerrillero himself to overcome his old habits, to erase the marks left on his body by the incubator – his weakness.”


Really, Mr Debray – speak for yourself! No doubt it is a delightful element of “free choice” for the coddled petty bourgeois to remove himself temporarily to the more ascetic hardship of the mountains! But even capitalist economists have had to acknowledge that the daily lot of the proletarian is one which requires him to sell his birthright, his freedom, his expectancy of life precisely in order to obtain that little “cash in his pocket” without which he would be too dead to have any “daily needs!”

Also, in magical vein, we are told that:

“Under these conditions (guerrilla experience Ed) class egoism does not long endure.. Petty bourgeois psychology melts like under a summer sun ..”


Would that this were so!

From a reference he makes to Castro on the subject of the inherent qualities of “the people” we can draw only the conclusion that the term refers to the peasantry alone (p.112). And of course this is as it must be, for despite the loud claims, these theories bear absolutely no relation to the proletariat whatsoever.

The fig-leaf cover required to normalise this petty bourgeois leadership and masquerade it under the false cloak of a “worker-peasant alliance” leading to socialism was the verbal trick of claiming that a handful of petty bourgeois guerrillas, through their relationship to their “means of production” in the rural environment – the “dispossessed class” – were the proletariat leading the peasantry.

This makes the formula complete. But no amount of verbal juggling can make these theories any other than what they really are –

Namely, the laying of the foundations of the dictatorship of the national bourgeoisie in Latin America with all the jargon that goes with it:

  • the abstract and classless theory of “armed revolution”;
  • the purely military “foco”;
  • the primacy of spontaneity and,
  • the overall aim of “the happiness of the people” divorced from any concrete class analysis.

A typical petty bourgeois phenomenon is the spurning of class analysis and political theory. The bourgeoisie has its class theory, just as the proletariat has. But the petty bourgeoisie has no independent ideology because it is a transitional class, a virtual hybrid ideologically – part bourgeois and part proletarian in its advocacy of ideology according to the fortunes of which major class appears likely to benefit it most. That is the reason for the sweeping idealist phrases which are utterly classless. It therefore vacillates opportunistically, avoiding the statement of a political position because it does not know at any one stage in the movement of class struggle which side it will need to be on.

Thus the claims of the Debrayists are not new. Always and everywhere they have been part of the arsenal of the petty bourgeoisie in attempting to further their social and class aims – and they are theories which are inimical to the hopes and aspirations of the only truly revolutionary class, the proletariat; theories which at root and beneath the libertarian cover are nothing but a vicious attack on the proletariat and its class mission.


If the character of the theories we have outlined are correct, it will follow that, in place of proletarian discipline and democratic centralism, petty bourgeois individuality will be enthroned. And this is so. We read:

“The city, Fidel says, ‘is a cemetery of revolutionaries and resources’… A leader cannot go down to the city to attend a political meeting: he has the politicos come up to discuss and make decisions in a safe place up above: otherwise he sends an emissary. Which presupposes, in the first place, recognition of his role as responsible leader, the willingness to give him the resources with which to exercise his leadership – if not, he takes them himself. It implies, above all, the adoption of an open and explicit strategy.”


“This reconstitution (of the “party” Ed.) requires the temporary suspension of ‘internal’ party democracy and the temporary abolition of the principles of democratic centralism which guarantee it.”


Furthermore, the conventional party only brings with it “the plethora of commissions, secretariats, congresses, plenary sessions, meetings etc”. These are the cause of “the vice of excessive deliberation” which “hampers executive, centralised and vertical methods, combined with the large measure of tactical independence of subordinate groups which is demanded in the conduct of military operations (p.101).

In other words, discipline and organisation, which are the main manifestations of proletarian organisation, ‘hamper’ the freedoms of the petty bourgeois leaders, who wish to answer to no strata or section of the population – and indeed, by their very hybrid class position, do not directly represent any. To these military adventurists, the primacy of political struggle which is supplemented by military struggle, is the source of all evils. It brings with it the necessity for disciplined leadership, political discussion of strategy, the difficult work of actually involving the working people in struggle. All these tasks are anathema to the Debrayists and their foolhardy bands of “trial and error” revolutionaries.

But we have only proceeded a little way in our analysis.

We have now to deal with the real reason why Debray has thought it necessary to throw all previous historical experience overboard, to decry and reject any lessons from the revolutions of Russia, China and Vietnam, the theories of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin; to throw the leading role of the proletarian party overboard. It is because:

“In Cuba, military (operational) and political leadership have been combined in one man: Fidel Castro.”


It is because of:

“the line of action of which Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban Revolution, is the incarnation.”


Throughout the text is peppered with glowing references to “Fidel says,” rather like the childrens’ nursery rhyme. Thus, speaking again of “the leader” and his qualities:

“In brief, no detail is too small for a politico-military chief: everything rests on details – on a single detail – and he himself must supervise them all.”


What a staggering piece of nonsense! In contradistinction to even the Blanquists, who claimed that a small elite could liberate the people, we have the ridiculous adolescent hero-worship that one man – one “maximum-leader,” the “incarnation,” is our hope for socialism. Mr. Debray claims with pride that this leader, combining all qualities,” is the startling innovation that has been introduced” into the theory of Marxism-Leninism. We must indeed confess ourselves startled at such a turn of events – when the personal feelings of a twenty-year old whose transference to maturity had been stunted inside the portals of a bourgeois temple of philosophy – are put forward as the basis for a world-view involving the fate of millions!

But it would appear that in the sierras under the sway of “Fidelism,” in place of the proletarian party and its healthy collective discipline, that body representing the best qualities of a class, such inverted and ingrown petty bourgeois acts of hero worship are commonplace. For Guevara himself, on the basis of his experiences with Fidel, stated that “the aim is for all qualities to be united if possible, in one person.” This maximum leader,” as the world knows, has not been slow to bask in the limelight of glory and rise to the heights of demagogy which this mystical cult has presented to him.

Thus we are dealing with an idealisation of the petty bourgeoisie, an idealisation which can only finish up in extremely deep water.

And it does, for such baseless hero-worship and unquestioned allegiance to one “leader” is the very essence of bourgeois class thinking, when confronted with the problem of misleading and subjugating vast social forces for its own ends. It represents a crisis in the leadership of a historically obsolescent class when the normal, logical, although unequal, system of maintaining its power is threatened from below. This initial demagogy of the “maximum leader” often appears too ridiculous to take seriously. But beneath it, lies the sabre of a force which is responsible to no constitution, to no labour laws, no checks by the working people, no power other than to itself. All too often it has finally resulted in bloodbaths not only involving the working class but any other strata which have got in the way of a totally destructive and anarchic force.

The seeds of such theories of an independent armed force, are present in the thinking of the Debrayist petty bourgeoisie:

“It has been proved that for the training of revolutionary cadres the people’s war is more decisive than political activity without guerrilla experience. Leaders of vision in Latin America today are young, lacking in long political experience prior to joining up with the guerrillas. It is ridiculous to continue to oppose ‘political cadres’ to ‘military cadres’, ‘political leadership’ to ‘military leadership’. Pure ‘politicians’ who want to remain pure – cannot lead the armed struggle of the people; pure ‘military men’ can do so, and by the experience acquired in leading a guerrilla group, they become ‘politicians’ as well. The experience of Cuba and, more recently, of Venezuela, Guatemala, and other countries demonstrate that people – even petty bourgeois or peasants – are more quickly and more completely moulded by experience of guerrilla warfare than by an equal amount of time spent in a training school for cadres – a consequence, as far as men are concerned, of the essentially and totally political character of guerrilla warfare.”

(p. 88-89).

This dominant military force will be naturally, young – since the old are, well – they are “alas… old” and worn out:

“In Latin America, wherever armed struggle is the order of the day, there is a close tie between biology and ideology. However absurd or shocking this relationship may seem, it is none the less a decisive one. An elderly man, accustomed to city living, (do workers retire at the age of 40? – MS-Ed) moulded by other circumstances and goals, will not easily adjust himself to the mountain nor – though this is less so – to underground activities. In addition to the moral factor – conviction – physical fitness is the most basic of all skills needed for waging guerrilla war; the two factors go hand in hand. A perfect Marxist education is not, at the outset, an imperative condition. That an elderly man should be proven militant – and possess a revolutionary training – is not, alas, sufficient for coping with guerrilla existence, especially in the early stages. Physical aptitude is the prerequisite for all other aptitudes (?? – MS-Ed); a minor point of limited theoretical appeal, but the armed struggle appears to have a rationale of which theory knows nothing”.

(p. 101)

Thus it is brawn, not the creative brain; political ignorance, not understanding; youth and fitness, not experience which constitutes Debray’s “master race” of revolution.

Such is the demagogy which wears the mask of “Marxism.” It is this monstrous deformation which results from the failure to build a vanguard party based firmly on the alliance between the working class and peasantry in the conditions of a national democratic struggle. For with this party denigrated, with the proletarian role usurped and the peasantry dragged in as fodder to back up and strengthen the inherently vacillating national bourgeoisie, the net result can only be, once foreign imperialist domination is overthrown, the imposition of the dictatorship of this national bourgeoisie fully confirmed in its class role – a national bourgeoisie forced to adopt the fascist-type “maximum leader” principle in order to maintain its hold over the vast masses of the people and obtain its surplus value from an underdeveloped economic system by screwing up the rate of exploitation – free from the bugbear of any organised opposition and defence by the working people of their own interests.

This is precisely the same demagogy which we see today stretching from China to Indonesia and Cuba: with the party of the proletariat destroyed, the national bourgeoisie walks into its repressive role, and the proletariat is denigrated viciously as “a bourgeois force” in order to cover up the real bourgeois nature of these leaders. There is an exact parallel with the Chinese national bourgeoisie and its assumed “leftism”: the “‘cultural revolution,” which aims to destroy the proletarian vanguard party.


We have already had a pretty rounded introduction to the theories of Debray.

It comes as no surprise therefore, that for Debray the Marxist-Leninist theory of the vanguard party of the proletariat, must give place to yet another unique contribution to “Marxism-Leninism”; that is, the theory of the immaculate conception, or the spontaneous begetting, of the vanguard nucleus.


“The vanguard party can exist in the form of the guerrilla foco itself. The guerrilla force is this party in embryo. This is the staggering novelty introduced by the Cuban Revolution.”


“The people’s army will be the nucleus of the party, not vice-versa. The guerrilla force is the political vanguard in nuce, and from its development a real party can arise …. That is why at the present juncture, the principal stress must be laid on the development of guerrilla warfare and not on the strengthening of existing parties or the creation of new parties.”


“Eventually the future People’s Army will beget the party of which it is to be, theoretically the instrument: essentially the party is the army.”


Just as a vanguard party is not necessary in the struggle, one can also dispense with political education of the mass of the-working people:

“(the system of political commissars)… does not appear to correspond to Latin American reality. … The people’s army is its own political authority. The guerrilleros play both roles indivisibly. Its commanders are political instructors for the fighters, its political instructors are its’ commanders.”


For in place of the scientific truths of Marxism-Leninism, we are offered a set of maxims mouthed parrot-like by “revolutionaries” whose proudest claim is their rejection of the historical experience of the revolutionary peoples in struggle and their philistine ability to “invent,” on the spot, ‘the great truths, which are hereinafter valid for all time:

“In many countries of America the guerrilla force has frequently been called the ‘armed fist’ of a liberation front, in order to indicate its dependence on a patriotic front or on a party. This expression, copied from models elaborated elsewhere – principally in Asia – is at bottom, contrary to the maxim of Camilo Cienfuegos: ‘The rebel army is the people in uniform’.”


What duplicity. A handful of petty bourgeois adventurers, who are a law unto themselves, constituting a “foco” which preserves its independence from the people because the mass of the people “contain many potential betrayers of the revolution,” are put up as the true representatives of the workers’ and peasants’ best interests, as the substitute for a party of the working masses. Such are the lengths to which these arrogant petty bourgeois will go in their task of attacking the fundamental and only guide to action of the masses, in whatsoever corner of the globe: the scientific principles of Marxism-Leninism.

And, of course, Debray, in addition to his ignorance of Marxism or Leninism, is completely at sea on the facts of the Cuban revolution and its outcome, as we shall see in more detail later. Suffice it here to say that he is under the totally erroneous impression that the “theories” he claims to have unearthed, were actually borne out in practice:

“Around this nucleus, and only because it already had its own politico-military leadership, other political forces have been able to assemble and unite, forming what is today the Communist party of Cuba, of which both the base and the head continue to be made up of comrades from the guerrilla army. The Latin American revolution and its vanguard, the Cuban Revolution, have thus made a decisive contribution to international revolutionary experience and to Marxism-Leninism.”


Obviously no one has told him that so weak, so undisciplined and so politically inept was this guerrilla force when faced with the directly political tasks of managing a “state of the working people” that its first action was to call in the aid of the revisionist Popular Socialist Party, a party which had played a completely traitorous role in the struggle against Batista, to help them man the heights of political power.

Debray devotes a good percentage of his book to attacks on those revisionists (such as of the Popular Socialist Party) – attacks which are justified to a certain extent – but what cannot be justified is his attempt to make of the sell-out which the Cuban revolution was to become a model of “Marxism-Leninism”, every unprincipled turn of which must be copied throughout the Latin American continent.

When the Cuban leadership granted Mr. Debray full facilities to study the Cuban revolution and its history that is, employed him to embroider a myth and bury the facts they chose wisely. They chose a representative of that privileged section of the petty bourgeoisie which devotes all its time and energies to the renegade task of attempting to destroy the only theory and practice which can liberate all the oppressed social classes by a revolution which will end for ever the unequal privilege whereby those who create wealth and culture are robbed by those who make of it a reactionary metaphysical mystique.


We begin, as usual, with a claim of uniqueness for the Latin American situation.

The discovery of this “new” path has led to many errors, but these are inevitable “at this stage of exploration, of revolutionary conceptions and methods which are new in spite of their deceptive kinship with other international experiences” (p.23). The aim of the armed foco is to build up “through guerrilla warfare carried out in suitably chosen rural zones a more mobile strategic force, nucleus of a people’s army and future socialist state” (p.25).

Of course this armed spontaneity diverges radically from all other successful experiences to date – and, naturally, has met with innumerable failures. Therefore, we have to have a scapegoat. Upon this scapegoat are blamed residual “imported” errors, that explain the “inevitable” errors on the “new” path. He makes this scapegoat, the dangerous “imported political conceptions” of Vietnam and elsewhere, with such out-of-context claims as the “subjection of the guerrilla force to the party” (p.25) contentions, which are not applicable to the “historical and social conditions peculiar to Latin America.” (p.56)

He notes that:

“… in Vietnam, the Communist Party was the organisational nucleus from which and around which the people’s army developed.”



“Differences between Vietnam and Latin America lead to the following contrast: whereas in Vietnam the military pyramid of the liberation forces is built from the base up, in Latin America on the other hand, it tends to be built from the apex down; the permanent forces first (the foco), then the semi-regular forces in the vicinity of the foco, and lastly or after victory (Cuba) the militia.”


Of course, such a radical turning on its head is not clarified in any way. It is simply taken for granted.

Another “irrelevant” theory to Debray, employed as it has been in all the successful national liberation struggles of our time, is that the guerrilla forces should aim to be so integrally a part of the people that they remain unnoticed “like a fish in water”;

“The occupation and control of rural areas by reaction or directly by imperialism, their vigilance today greatly increase should rid a given group of armed propagandists of all hope remaining unnoticed like a fish in water’.”


And another “unique” point:

“Let us not forget, that the class enemy carries out selective assassination on a large scale in Latin America – kill the leaders and leave the rest alive.”


Really, Mr Debray, one would think from such a statement that imperialist oppression itself is completely unique to Latin America. Yes this elitist militarist theory is nonsense.

It has been put forward in order to cover up the essential heresy which lies beneath the claims to a “people’s army”; by inventing a uniqueness which prevents the application of the theory of people war, as it is understood by all genuine representatives of the working people, it is hoped to cover up the fact that this was the work of a handful of insurgents who bear no relationship whatsoever to the real aspirations and political requirements of the forces in struggle against imperialism.

In a vulgarisation of the role of the guerrilla we read:

“It must have the support of the masses or disappear; before enlisting them directly, it must convince them that there are valid reasons for its existence so that the ‘rebellion’ will truly be – by the manner of its recruitment and the origins, its fighters a ‘war of the people.”‘



“….. the only conceivable line for a guerrilla group to adopt is the mass line; it can live only with their support, in daily contact with them.”


But behind this thin “mass line” lies the real reason why Debray has found it necessary to reject the experience of people’s war in Vietnam, Laos, etc. It is a reason which completely removes the class basis and pins his theory down as a justification of the individualism, instability and shallowness of the petty bourgeoisie. For Debray rejects the concept of a fixed base of support, i.e. a mass-base amongst the people, for individualistic nomadism, without any social base.

“the guerrilla base is, according to an expression of Fidel, the territory within which the guerrilla happens to be moving; it goes where he goes. In the initial stage the base of support is in the guerrilla fighter’s knapsack.”


“During the first stage (of the guerrilla war Ed.), clearly the hardest to surmount and the most exposed to all sorts of accidents, the initial group experiences at the outset a period of absolute nomadism.”


A fine “people’s war,” one of the main aims of its elitist liberating mission being to achieve independence from the people (as opposed to the Marxist-Leninist thesis of the necessity to build the revolutionary independence of the working people from their exploiters):

“The revolutionary guerrilla force is clandestine. It is born and develops secretly. The fighters themselves use pseudonyms. At the beginning they keep out of sight, and when they allow themselves to be seen it is at a time and place chosen by their chief (sic). The guerrilla force is independent of the civilian population in action as well as in military organisation; consequently it need not assume the direct defence of the peasant population.”


With a further display of arrogant elitism and incredible lack of faith in the forces they claim to represent, we read:

“Constant vigiliance, constant mistrust, constant mobility – the three golden rules. All three are concerned with security. Various considerations of common sense necessitate wariness towards the civilian population and the maintenance of a certain aloofness. By their very situation (? MS-Ed) civilians are exposed to repression and the constant presence and pressure of the enemy, who will attempt to buy them, corrupt them, or to extort from them by violence what cannot be bought… . ‘We hid our intentions from the peasants’, Che relates, and if once of them passed near the scene of an ambush, we held him until the operation was completed. This vigilance does not necessarily imply mistrust: a peasant may easily commit an indiscretion and even more easily, be subjected to torture.”


Thus the claim that these theories are a more highly developed form of “people’s war” begins to look slightly ludicrouswhen the guerilla foco is fighting not only the imperialist enemy but completely isolated from and antagonistic to the mass of the working people, and peasants, the only possible base in a people’s war against imperialism.

In this scheme of things the working people and peasantry serve merely as fodder for the adventurist, personally gratifying, military gambles of the unstable, dissatisfied petty bourgeoisie. We begin to see why the solidarity of the Vietnamese people in their genuine people’s war is anathema to the Debrayists, and why they constantly warn of the dangers of “imitating the Vietnamese experience.”

So Debray has disposed of the class base of a genuine revolutionary movement, of its wholehearted dedication to and identification with the exploited and oppressed classes;

Debray has disposed completely of the alliance of the two major oppressed classes, proletariat and peasantry, which when welded together into an invincible alliance, constitute the only force which can resolutely oppose and defeat imperialism by classing the proletarian forces of the cities as “bourgeoisie”;

Debray has cancelled out the role of political struggle by scorning the tasks of building a revolutionary movement around a programme, forging alliances, educating the people for struggle, organising, agitating propagating in the course of building this powerful force of the working masses, and revealed his thoroughly bourgeois content by ignoring the vital and indispensable role of the general staff of a revolution, its vanguard party;

And at the tail end of this rejection of all that constitutes a genuine revolutionary force, his guerrilla focos resemble nothing more than bandit groups, cut off from the oppressed people to such an extent, that at a certain stage of their reckless ill-conceived adventures they are forced to break the cardinal principle of genuine people’s war – never to steal the property of the workers and peasants by advocating raids – on villages for supplies:

“It is less risky and safer for a guerrilla group to make raids on neighbouring villages from its own base in order to obtain foodstuffs and field equipment.”


It is now quite clear why so many Fidelista focos have floundered and been wiped out. For by elevating guerrilla struggle (or their completely militarist inversion of it) to an end in itself, as opposed to a stage in the struggle which it really is, and by advocating that a handful of “dedicated determined men,” maintaining their aloofness from the vast mass of the working people, ignoring political questions” with the same blindness as mediaeval mystics, can overthrow the considerable might of imperialism, they cut the very ground from under their feet and lead those who follow them to almost certain defeat and massacre.

Debray claims that the great misconceptions which exist concerning the Cuban revolution are the reasons for so many failures in recent years on the Latin American continent. He claims his book is the vehicle which distils the true essence of that revolution and lays down its theory for the edification of all like-minded insurgents. It has been pointed out that the essence he has distilled, besides its dangerous implications, bears very little resemblance to the actual course of the Cuban revolution add the lessons which are to be learned from it.

We must therefore now look at that Cuban experience and distil from it our own essence – one which has been processed according to the scientific principles of Marxism-Leninism.


What is the fundamental malaise which is responsible for such anti-Marxist-Leninist rubbish as the Debray theories being purveyed with some seriousness in Latin America? It lies, surely, in the classic division between right and “left” which has – we now borrow Mr. Debray’s phrase – revealed itself in a very obvious form due to certain more heightened conditions in Latin America.

Debray takes as his point of departure the right revisionist betrayal over many decades in Latin America, and seeks to counter-pose his leftist theories as the way forward.

But whereas the right deviation seeks to tie the class forces of the proletariat and its allies to bourgeois ideology and practice in such a way as to transform the party into an instrument of foreign imperialism, the comprador bourgeoisie and the feudal reactionary classes;

Its leftist counterpart, the “left” revisionist deviation, also reflects, the influence of bourgeois ideology and practice within the class forces of the proletariat, but in this case adapted to the class needs of the national bourgeoisie.

The national bourgeoisie has an objective interest, at least for a time, in the victory of the national democratic revolution, but wishes to achieve that victory under its class leadership and not under that of the proletariat and its allies.

It therefore needs to make use of revolutionary phraseology, the best form of which is provided by the petty bourgeois left distortions of Marxism of which Debray’s teachings are typical.

These deviations are able to take an extreme and clear form within the contradictory framework of political institutions in Latin America. The apparently organic and established character of the state frameworks in most Latin American countries has resulted from the early formal independence won against Spanish colonial rule which resulted in an earlier development of semi-colonial forms of domination by USA imperialism. This has seduced the majority of the revisionist parties in those countries into believing that the doctrine of “peaceful transition” could be applied there without the disguise of leftist phraseology and lip service to guerrilla and other violent forms of struggle. As a consequence, right revisionist policies in Latin America have met with the most abject failure of any in the world, driving those parties, in a number of instances – the best known being that of Batista’s Cuba – to degenerate into direct, tools of foreign imperialism and indigenous comprador reaction.

This history of open right-revisionist betrayal and errors is the main factor determining the current swing to the “left” in a diametrically opposed direction. This history counterposes “peaceful legal advance without violence” and the militarist spontaneity of “military struggle without politics.”

It represents a classic manifestation of the spontaneous division between “left” and right. We say spontaneous, because these extremes occur in the vacuum-left, when genuine scientific analysis and the revolutionary leadership which results from it are lacking. A right deviation delivers the working people and peasantry helpless to the massacre of imperialist guns and without any means of defence. Whilst leftism provokes isolated violence and brings down the full force of imperialist violence on an inadequately steeled and prepared nucleus, divorced from the mass of the people but involving these forces in the bloodshed which accompanies their defeat.

These complementary deviations have wreaked havoc within the national liberation fronts of the Latin American continent and make more essential the return to a class analysis as the basis for a scientific theory of revolution.

Certain countries of the Latin American continent have been viewed by right revisionism as possessing sufficient formal trappings of democracy to justify a full programme based on electoral advance to socialism by peaceful means, such as Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica and Brazil.The remaining long-standing open dictatorships have necessitated right revisionist programmes of a more militant type, albeit singularly lacking in any guide to action to overthrow the repressive regimes, but relying on the hope that “democratic rights” would be established under restrained “mass pressure.” It is therefore to the statements of the Communist Parties of the former category that we should turn for the clearest expression of “parliamentarism” on the Latin American continent.

A reference to the Costa Rican Communist Party’s “competition” some years ago makes the right revisionist position very clear.

Here instead of the vanguard party thriving in a situation of heightened class struggle, we are presented with the novelty of a “vanguard party” which finds itself losing ground; when objective class struggle is seen as a nuisance factor which has interfered with the prime task of the ingrown little organism’s race to achieve a per capita paper representation in some imaginary “democratic institution” – whilst all comprehension of the realities of class remains blissfully outside its scope.

It does not require a very detailed knowledge of the situation Costa Rica to understand that the way to salvation of the Costa Rican working People does not lie through such “struggle” as advocated by the “Costa Rican People’s Vanguard”:

“A competition in the sphere of organisation, education, propaganda and finances has been conducted by the Party in five of the seven Provinces of Costa Rica. … Judging by the results it looked as if the target advanced by the Ninth Congress (doubling the membership) would be realised without much difficulty. However, unforeseen circumstances arose which hampered the work of building Party.

The first was the Caribbean Crisis last October and the wave of repressions that came in its wake. Our newspaper was banned and the activity of the Party was restricted in one way or another . . . .

Owing to the repressions in the Pacifico Sur party membership has shown no increase. However, despite these negative factors and the intensified repressions in connection with the talks between the presidents of the Central American countries and President Kennedy in March 1963, the competition conducted by the five provinces was, on the whole, satisfactory.. . . . .

It is clear to us that when international tension increases and the war danger grows, repressions are intensified and democratic liberties curtailed, and the growth of the Party slows down….Hence we are waging a constant struggle for peace, against the restriction of democratic freedoms.

This, of course, does not lead us to the opportunistic conclusion that we can fight and win only in conditions of legality and extensive utilisation of democratic rights. However, the fact remains that in the present conditions the most favourable climate for Party growth is international detente, since this makes it easier to defend the democratic gains of the working people.”

(Oscar Vargas: World Marxist Review: Oct 196,3; p.61-2).

The trite rejection of opportunism offered by Vargas does not invalidate the charge which any honest militant must make against such a grossly renegade strategy as is offered by the Costa Rican “vanguard.” For of course, such a logic is clear. Imperialism, class struggle, brings the threat of repression which hampers the work of building an electoral party in conditions of class peace. Therefore a status quo of peace between labour and capital is vital if this work of conservation, the buffer preventing class confrontation can go on.

The theme was repeated in Chile, the same reformist dreams of “The British Road to Socialism” being applied to a situation where striking workers were murdered, where any substantiation to the claim to a “democratic facade” had been ripped away a decade ago by the brutal dictatorship of Gonzalez Videla which outlawed the Communist Party and subjected it to persecutions all too familiar under the heel of open reaction, and where any democratic facade exists merely as a perfected weapon for ensuring the continuation of bourgeois dictatorship by drawing to its assistance in this conspiracy the renegade “leaders” of the working people.

Thus the Chilean Communist Party leadership hotly denied any revolutionary intentions ascribed to it:

“What is needed … is to secure a turn to the left in national policy. . . .

Through the medium of parliament, municipal councils and public meetings, the Party constantly advances and supports all projects and measures designed to benefit the people. Reactionaries in the ranks of the Christian Democrats accuse the Communists of seeking bring down the government in order to take its place. But the resolute stand taken by the Communists has demonstrated the baselessness of this and has shown that the Communists are prompted by neither opportunist nor narrow tactical considerations.”

(World Marxist Review: November 1965; p.47)

The whimpering denial of opportunism appears like a Judas mark in the programmes of these guilty men who commit every anti-proletarian crime it is possible to imagine given that they propose and preach class peace in a continent whose peoples subsist in indescribable conditions of brutalising poverty and misery. Yet with every increase in reactionary terror, the subservience of these handmaidens of the bourgeoisie increases in proportion. Each decisive parliamentary defeat, such as occurred in Chile in 1964, is followed by an ever more eager act of grovelling to an ever more contemptuous, corrupt, and confident bourgeoisie.

The Brazilian Communist Party, the leading mouthpiece of right revisionism in Latin America had a carefully mapped out plan for “utilising democratic rights and liberties.” In 1964 it was striving by means of a system of “structural reforms” to win power by:

“. . . establishing a national and democratic government and laying the groundwork for far-reaching changes that would ensure complete political and economic liberation and pave the way for socialism,”

believing that:

“the basic task of the vanguard forces in the struggle for structural reforms now is to build up the national and democratic movements. It is along these lines that we envisage the possibility of a peaceful revolution.”

(World Marxist Review: Jan 1964; p.22)

However, these hopes were not to be realised. The coup which overthrew Goulart in 1964 and installed the rule of the generals smashed the “democratic” illusions of these men of peace, and the naive veneer given to the theoretical estimation of the Party’s errors, attempts to draw attention from the fact that the leaders of the Brazilian Party, especially Prestes, are well versed enough in political manoeuvring not to suffer the lack of experience they claim. Thus, analysing the errors of the Communist Party:

“We ourselves had not been prepared politically and ideologically and had not prepared the masses to repulse the violence of reaction. As a result of a not altogether correct formulation of the Fifth Congress which took as its guidelines the thesis of the 20th Congress of the CPSU, we inaccurately assessed the possibilities of the ‘peaceful path’, seeing revolution as an idyllic process, free of clashes and conflicts.

Due to this incorrect assessment the leadership failed to see the danger signals. Instead of calling on the masses to fight the danger of a rightist coup, it continued to demand the holding of plebiscite.”

(C Prestes: World Marxist Review; June 1968; p-17).

“Although we sensed a certain tension (! Ed) we failed to act accordingly”.

(World Marxist Review, February 1965; p.28)

Despite the “self-criticism” of the above – conducted purely in the realm of the senses though it is – the conclusion of the right revisionists is a remarkable piece of un-dialectical nonsense. For the failure to prepare for violent struggle, to see through the bluff, of parliamentary ‘legality’, were mistakes of a “leftist” character!

“The Sixth Congress rejected the view that the main mistakes made by the Party were the consequence of a right deviation and noted that they were, on the contrary, mistakes of a leftist, putschist and petty bourgeois character.”

(C Prestes: World Marxist Review; June 1968; p.17)

This massacre of the truth is necessary because, despite their “self-criticism,” despite the objective failure of their line, despite the setbacks to which their opportunism has led, they still intend to pursue their “peaceful” cause. The coup which installed a “semi-fascist political regime” will be destroyed through:

“Active opposition and vigorous mass actions (which) will reduce the regime’s socio-political basis and could lead to its defeat by non-violent means. Democratic action can compel the reactionary and defeatist minority to retreat and restore democratic rights.”

(Ibid.; p.18)

Of course, “it may turn out too, that the Party and the people will be compelled to resort to other, more elementary and particular forms of armed struggle.” But we can rest assured that the right revisionist leadership of the Brazilian Communist Party will do everything in its power to be true to the spirit and the letter of the passive “may” and place it far behind in its list of priorities.

Such is the face of right revisionism in Latin America.

It has been against this background of betrayal that the working people and peasant masses have been compelled to resort to spontaneous armed struggle – struggle which was, and largely remains, outside the framework of control of the revisionist parties of the right. In those countries where such armed struggle has already taken root and the masses of the working people are beginning to be drawn into the struggle against semi-colonial dictatorship and foreign imperialist oppression, the further result of this has been that those, communist parties subservient to Soviet right revisionism have been forced to pay lip service to armed struggle and modify their more blatant parliamentary transition formulas in a bid to regain the influence within the armed liberation fronts which previously they were threatened with losing completely.

In its wider context, this pragmatic and opportunist response to the spontaneous growth of armed struggle reflects the shift in policy on the part of the Soviet revisionist leadership which has taken place since Khrushchev’s overthrow – a shift away from “all-round cooperation with US imperialism” to one of striving for the establishment of independent spheres of influence in areas hitherto comprising sectors of the US sphere. Within the overall task of developing this policy, a certain independent sphere of operations in relation to the national liberation movements of the underdeveloped colonial and semi-colonial sectors of the world has been allotted to the so-called “centrist” bloc of revisionist communist parties and “socialist” states, of which Cuba is one, and has given rise to the need for lip-service to armed national liberation struggle to be admitted to the platforms of some, though by no means all, of the Latin American communist parties under the influence of Soviet revisionism.

An example of this is offered by the criticism of the 20th Congress formulations on peaceful transition and peaceful coexistence made by the Brazilian right revisionist leader, Prestes. The alternative to the long discredited right revisionist formulations put forward is the flexibly leftist slogan of “armed struggle as a tactic, democratic constitutional advance as a strategy”. With its perceptible overtones of Kautsky and Bernstein, this formulation neatly solves the dilemma of how to maintain the long-cherished peaceful transitional shibboleths of right revisionism, now becoming so tarnished, simply by reversing Marxist-Leninist theoretical principles and relegating to armed struggle a subordinate tactical role serving the main strategy of seeking to secure minor palliatives to the increasingly oppressive life of the working people through reforms and the ballot box.

The outcome of these opportunist policy manoeuvres has been that, utilising the dominant hold which they exercise over the apostle of “violent struggle” in Latin America, Fidel Castro and the Soviet revisionist leadership has been able to control the transition to support for “centrist” revisionist policies on the part of certain Latin American Communist Parties without loosening in any way their traditional control over the leaderships of those parties – and even in some cases to increase it through the prestige added by the accession of Castroite “centrist” revisionism to the overall force available to Soviet policy needs.

As for “left” revisionism and Trotskyism, these take many forms in Latin America. The case of Guevara and Debray, who take an “ultra-leftist” position themselves, while condemning the trotskyites as revisionists, has already been analysed. The lessons of their position, i.e. of an armed struggle divorced from any political and class organisation of the working people, have been borne home most clearly following the collapse of Guevara’s mission in Bolivia. So much so, that Arguedas, a firm sympathiser of the guerrillas, wrote as his epitaph to Guevara:

“… he failed because he did not have the support of the peasants and because the Bolivian people did not know the action programme of the guerillas.”

A lesson so elementary that it should hardly have required the sacrifice of so many aspiring national liberation fighters to make it known. And indeed, the lessons of this, collapse of “ultra-leftist” method and morale accompanying Guevara’s experiment were not lost on those forces which represent the national bourgeoisie with more perception than Guevara. They can have acted as yet one more forceful argument for Castro strengthening his “centrist”‘ position.

Trotskyism in Latin America – as represented particularly in Guatemala and Peru is “left” opportunism which claims a “theory” of socialist revolution. This “theory” completely denies the national democratic stage of the revolution in a colonial-type country and insists that “socialist revolution”‘ is at any given moment on the order of the day.

Its effect is to isolate the genuine revolutionary forces from class allies who stand objectively for the national democratic revolution, and without whose added weight imperialism cannot be defeated and the national democratic tasks achieved. In practice, however, they resort to all manner of semi-anarchist, syndicalist and outright irridentist ideologies in order to win bases amongst the peasantry and urban poor, purveying such illusions as the direct growth of the village peasant-commune into socialism, the romanticism of the primitive subsistence economy and so on.

In strategy and tactics, their aim is to sow the usual kind of confusion associated with their name, advocating peaceful legal advance in the manner of the right revisionists whenever and wherever an actual revolutionary situation is close at hand, and pressing for ultra-revolutionary forms of struggle whenever and wherever the revolutionary tide is temporarily on the ebb turn. Thus they contribute directly to rendering the more militant vanguard forces an easy and isolated target for imperialist guns. Within these overall perspectives of betrayal, however, the “socialist revolution” for which they aim is, as with the right revisionist communist parties, in essence a peaceful one.

Thus all of these trends, “left” or right, spell defeat and betrayal for the revolutionary aspirations of the working people of Latin America and the decimation of their actual or potential organisations, of struggle.

At the helm of all this confusion and betrayal, seeking to unite the political manifestations of bourgeois and petty bourgeois thinking within the forces of the developing national democratic and socialist revolutions of Latin America under the one “super revolutionary” centre, has stood the Cuban revisionist leadership. They have encouraged every kind of anti-proletarian and anti-Marxist-Leninist theory and practice, inspiring the most infantile forms of petty bourgeois leftism, and nationalist euphoria; and finally, they have resolved the failure of both “left” and right revisionism into the doctrine of a “centrist” revisionism, a position which has emerged as a specific heritage of the Cuban-revolution.

It is to an analysis of the Cuban development itself, therefore, that we must now turn.


The Cuban Revolution represented a phenomenon with two contradictory sides.

One was the fundamentally positive fact that US imperialist domination over Latin America had been breached for the first time, and a nation free of US imperialist oppression and ranged in struggle against it now stood as a symbol of anti-imperialist liberation struggle for the peoples of the continent.

The second and negative side was that, from its inception, the Cuban Revolution was carried through not under the leadership of the working class in alliance with the poor peasantry and urban petty bourgeoisie but under that of forces representing the national bourgeoisie. This epoch is characterised by the onset of a world pre-revolutionary situation and the beginning of the disintegration of the imperialist world system. Therefore, this class basis can only serve its fundamental class interest and achieve, the construction of a form of capitalist society in the newly emerged nations, in as much as it succeeds in manoeuvring with the offer of its neo-colonial and comprador services between the various competing imperialist groups. This is a strategy which leads sooner or later to the incorporation of the newly-independent nation, willy-nilly, into the sphere of influence of another imperialist group, most likely one which is hostile to the imperialist power from which independence had originally been won.

The economic in-viability of Cuba – a fundamental feature inherited from the one-sided development imposed by US imperialist domination in the past – together with its geographically isolated position and economically unbalanced character, placed Cuba in a precarious position which rendered its newly-won independence highly vulnerable.

Debray seeks in his book to paint a glowing and utopian picture of the Castro leadership which completely ignores the historical facts and sets out to enshrine every trite phrase and thought of this leadership as valid “scientific truths.” It remains a quite obvious fact however, that Castro and those who fought with him to overthrow Batista were not Marxist-Leninists. Castro claims that the “Marxism-Leninism” of the Cuban leadership was learned during the course of the struggle. The absence of scientific revolutionary principle guiding a clear strategic perspective – fundamental necessities in any revolutionary process, whether national democratic or socialist in character, in which the working class fulfils the leading role and which is guided by a genuine Marxist-Leninist vanguard party – and the opportunist manoeuvring to which that absence inevitably leads.

These are all explained away by Debray, with the claim that the revolutionary process was undergoing a justifiable period of “trial and error” – not, be it understood, trial and error in the application of Marxist-Leninist science to the revolution but quite abstractly in the search for a “Cuban form of Marxism.”

Castro and the inceptive forces of the guerrilla movement which he led were urban petty bourgeois revolutionists acting objectively as the leading representatives of the Cuban national bourgeoisie. The rebellion based on the Sierra Maestra drew to the ranks of the rebel army recruits from the peasantry, the mass base of the petty bourgeoisie and, in the absence of a leading role fulfilled by the working class, formed the social arsenal of the national bourgeoisie.

The movement claimed to be a liberal alternative to the tyranny of Batista, the stench of whose corruption was believed by Castro to be a constant source of embarrassment to the United States – the diaries of Guevara in his Bolivian campaign imply that, in begging aid from US monopoly interests under the threat that US holdings would be confiscated in the event of victory in Bolivia if support for the insurgents were not forthcoming. In this he was merely repeating methods prominent in the early stage of the Cuban revolution itself. The “left” revisionists of the Castro/Guevara stamp, attempt to explain these away as “tactical” covers for their real “Marxist” aims.

Throughout the course of the struggle Castro increasingly won the support of the urban petty bourgeoisie and middle classes – the involvement of the working class taking place considerably later. The tone of the Castro leadership on the role of the working class, was that the working class should be thankful for its liberation at the hands of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia and peasantry. However, support for the rebels against the tyranny of Batista was sufficiently overwhelming in its scope to cause the United States, refrain from any serious attempt to maintain Batista in power by overt force, and to give only that amount of aid to Batista which would preserve US face with lesser tyrants of the Batista stamp throughout Latin America. Although a covert attempt using Cuban exiles to restore a US colonial-type puppet regime was launched later, with the abortive Bay of Pigs landing. These were the factors which assisted the seizure of power by the Castro leadership in 1959.

The victory of 1959 brought Castro his first lessons in the attempt to carry through reforms of a national and democratic character in the epoch of imperialism.

Whilst at the comparatively early stage of establishing his bases in the Sierras, Castro had approached the lawyer, Urrutia, with an offer that he should form a government when victory was won – an offer which was accepted and implemented in 1959. Urrutia was a representative of the nascent Cuban national bourgeoisie, but nevertheless one of the first acts of his government was to approach US imperialism with assurances that his government intended to continue the semi-colonial status of Cuba, and to maintain the traditional agrarian structure of the economy and economic dependence on the US. It was only the rejection of these assurances by the US and the latter’s refusal to recognise the Castro regime which compelled the subsequent alignment with the Soviet Union.

As for Castro himself, it was a typical and in view of the later developments, an ironic expression of the spirit of the expediently opportunist freebooter that he was ready and willing to place his services at the disposal of the highest bidder, that he did not conceive of taking any initiative in the political and state affairs, of the new government.

All the evidence shows that Castro did not wish to govern on behalf of any defined class. He saw his role as that of a latter-day Garibaldi effecting a purely military liberation on behalf of abstract “liberty, equality and fraternity” and then handing over power to a vague and undefined “liberal intelligentsia”, i.e., to elements of the national bourgeoisie which, at that stage, had no conception of the revolution winning for them full national independence from US imperialism, and who merely wished to extend somewhat the scope of their economic holdings and the degree of their participation in and control over the state and administration.

According to the terms of the Urrutia government’s approach to the US, agrarian landlordism, the security of US holdings in both agriculture and such service industries as existed and the corresponding structure of feudal and comprador relations, were to remain essentially untouched and only subjected to a degree of mild reform. Only the short-sighted rejection by the US of these proposals for the reform of the semi-colonial structure of Cuba as it had existed under the corrupt and brutal reign of Batista finally compelled Castro and his followers both to take up themselves the reigns of state and to implement measures designed to secure independence from the USan independence the only available economic foundation for which was, ultimately alignment with the Soviet neo-imperialist bloc.

Amongst the first measures enacted was the land reform – a step which was essential if the base of peasant support was to be maintained. The confiscation of large holdings, particularly those owned by foreign capital, brought down the wrath of US imperialism.

For Castro the second dilemma and the second lesson had begun.

Despite numerous manoeuvres to outwit the Imperialists and to prevent their hostility and inevitable embargos on trade, the US in traditionally short-sighted fashion, declared its hostility and began to threaten Cuba with economic reprisals. Castro, countering this blackmail as best he could, entered into trade agreements with the Soviet Union, intending to walk the tightrope of a balance between the two blocs which would ensure Cuba’s economic future without drastic political shifts.

However, the breach was forced by US imperialism with the cutting of the quota for the import of Cuban sugar, forcing Castro to look elsewhere for cheaper supplies consequent upon the loss of US dollars. There followed a train of reprisals and counter-reprisals culminating in the Soviet offer to buy Cuban sugar (at an unspecified price) and to meet the Cuban demand for oil. The refusal of the US to refine Soviet oil, was met by Castro’s nationalisation of the key US interests in Cuba as a final and irrevocable reprisal. The course of Castro’s future was now set – a future which had originally never been intended or planned; but which had developed piecemeal out of the course of events. By 1963, according to Castro, the trade balance with the Soviet Union had risen to over one hundred million dollars.

This nationalisation, as we are now informed by the Cuban “Marxist- Leninists”, represented the “socialist revolution.”

However, in reality it represented an inevitable move which Castro, representing the national bourgeoisie, was forced to make given that he was fighting for his economic life and needed to trade with whomsoever would offer these services. But dependence on trade with the Union and being totally at the mercy of the defence protection, of the “nuclear umbrella” brought with it the expected penalty. Castro, the man who had hitherto publicly denounced Marxism-Leninism and denied any affinity with “communists” now began to air his brains in public and to take the first carefully rehearsed steps towards embracing Marxism-Leninism as avidly as he was later to embrace Khruchshev.

The previous emphasis on the role of the intellectuals as the leading force in the revolution, and as the “liberators of the working class” was now dressed up in a more conventional “Marxist-Leninist” disguise to accord with the announcement of the “socialist revolution” albeit a multifarious class definition typical of national bourgeois “socialism”:

“the labouring masses, the farmers, the student masses, the masses of the poor, the underprivileged mass of our nation, significant portions of the middle class, sections of the petty bourgeoisie, intellectual workers, made Marxism-Leninism their own, made the struggle for the Socialist Revolution their own.”

(F Castro: “Castro Denounces Sectarianism”, March 1962, p.13)

One of the penalties for the alignment with the Soviet Union was the loss of middle class support – a section which had supported Castro whole-heartedly during the struggle for power. These now filed in large numbers to Miami, plotting counterrevolution, and thereby weakening considerably the already overstrained technical and administrative cadre force and heightening social tensions. It was, at this point that the other long arm of revisionism, that from within Cuba itself, came into its own.

The history of the Cuban Communist Party offers an appalling record: of opportunism and class betrayal.

Based mainly on the urban working-class and aimed at building a mass social-democratic party, engaged in negotiations for economic improvements to the exclusion of almost all other forms of struggle and bound up with unprincipled agreements and alliances with whatsoever dictator happened to be in power, it was only to be expected that it could play no role in the struggle to overthrow Batista. Denouncing Castro as a mere adventurer, in the early days of the guerrilla struggle, and effectively assisting the sabotage of all attempts by the guerrillas to mobilise urban strikes,it only changed its tactics in the later stages, when the victory of Castro was already clearly inevitable. At this stage, certain leading revisionists were sent to join the guerrillas, with the aim of establishing the first bridgehead within the revolutionary forces in preparation for the later penetration of the right-revisionist party into the anti-imperialist front and the newly-founded national democratic state.

In the period immediately following the seizure of power, the clear anti-communist content of the half-hearted national democratic revolution which was “spontaneously developing,” effectively blocked the entrance of careerist-minded revisionist party members into positions of influence in the state. But this situation changed radically when apathy began to strike the middle class and comprador-orientated bourgeoisie after the confiscation of their property and the establishment of the open alliance with the Soviet Union, and especially after significant numbers of these strata had begun to desert to the Florida mainland. In the chaos of Castro’s “spontaneously developing” revolution the tried and tested organisation men of the revisionist party were drafted in large numbers in an effort to stem the growing confusion and pull together the basis of a workable economic and political system – matters which Castro had formerly considered could be left to merge spontaneously with the passage of time.

Thus arose the third of Castro’s dilemmas.

He had given up the political initiative almost completely. The revisionists, “always intent on mere political questions,” as Debray spurningly pointed, out, had after all played one better than the child of spontaneity, Castro. The price Castro had to pay for a viable political and, administrative apparatus was the achievement by the right-revisionists of an increasingly dominant role in party and state, despite their history of betrayal during the struggles leading to the overthrow of Batista.

Through a combination of external pressure from the Soviet Union, including economic blackmail, and internal penetration by the agents of Soviet revisionism, the indigenous revisionist leaders, Castro and his old guard of insurrectionists were gradually out-manoeuvred and sewn up in a web of inexorable dependence and commitment. No doubt, this was to the horror of the existentialist coterie of sun-seekers of the Sartre ilk who had seen in the Cuban development, the embodiment of their ideas about a liberal spontaneous revolution giving birth to an anarchistic utopia around which they could spin the subject matter for countless bestsellers.

The merciless straitjacket of unequal colonial-type economic relations, together with the necessity for a heavy defence programme in the face of the increasingly aggressive posture of US imperialism in the period prior to the 1962 crisis, represented further pressures inexorably pushing Cuba into dependence on the Soviet Union. The ominous features of the limited crop economy, had once again begun to dominate economic development.

The political counterpart of this situation of dependence, expressed the reciprocal need of the Soviet revisionist world centre to “explain” the obvious contradiction of a successful armed revolution taking place in an epoch the main feature of which was allegedly “the peaceful co-existence of states with differing social systems.” This was reflected in the corresponding determination of the Cuban right-revisionist party leadership to build and maintain the myth of Cuba as an example of “peaceful transition” in line with the precepts of the Khrushchevite international programme as laid down by the infamous 20th Congress Report:

“It was precisely in conditions of peaceful coexistence between states with different social systems that the socialist revolution triumphed in Cuba.”

(Letter of CC of CPSU to CC of CCP, March 30th, 1963. Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1965. p. 507).

From the crisis of 1962, the starting duplicity of Castro in adopting his new subservient position was revealed.

Castro, who was later to announce demagogically:

“We will never make ideological concessions, and we will maintain an unyielding Marxist-Leninist position.”

(F. Castro: “This is our Line Havana 1963; p.79)

Then begins Castro’s remarkable history –

of bear hugs with the chief spokesmen of modern revisionism followed by denunciations of those same spokesmen;

of his statements supporting “peaceful struggle” followed by statements supporting armed struggle;

and his steadily increasing subservient role assisting the propaganda line of the Soviet revisionists in the Great Debate, with the deceptively “principled”, contention that “Division in the face of the enemy was never a revolutionary or intelligent strategy”;

all culminating in the carefully timed attacks on the Chinese government over alleged “cut-backs” in the promised rice quota.

This latter ‘news’ on the rice quotas, was leaked on the eve of the Three Continents Conference in Havana in order to cause the maximum damage to the prestige of the Chinese party and state throughout the national liberation movements. It was intended to act as an ameliorative gesture,  to off-set the criticisms of those aspects of Soviet policy which reflected the residual influence of Khrushchevite doctrine, now inimical to Castro’s new role. It was intended to demonstrate to the Soviet neo-capitalist class in unequivocal terms just where the support and sympathy of the Cuban national bourgeoisie and its “centrist” revisionist representatives lay in regard to the growing struggle between the Soviet and Chinese leadership.

Castro, however, in his attempts to reconcile service to the interests of his indigenous class, the Cuban national bourgeoisie, with the fulfillment of a comprador role on behalf of Soviet neo-imperialism, has often proved a difficult and demanding pawn.

Castro has sought to retain as an essential ingredient of his “centrist” revisionist position, the right to criticism of Soviet policies wherever these tended to conflict with the long-term aims of the Cuban national bourgeoisie.

The Guevara adventure in Bolivia thus represented an attempt to raise the bargaining counter of the Cuban national bourgeoisie with Soviet right revisionism, and its failure merely confirming the inadequacy of “leftist” methods of struggle and the superiority of the “centrist” revisionist disguise. In almost all cases, the crux of these Castroite and Gueverist criticisms has been those aspects of Soviet policy reflecting the continuation of a Khrushchevite stance towards US imperialism or its comprador puppets in Latin America. However the necessity which the Castro leadership feels for the military and economic protection which the Soviet Union alone can provide against US threats of aggression compels them to lend their support to every fundamental policy statement and action of the Soviet leadership, and to place Cuba at its disposal as the base of operations for right revisionism on the Latin American continent.

It was under Castro’s auspices that the OLAS and Tricontinental Conferences were able to serve the policy aims of Soviet neo-imperialism, which envisage not only the building of “anti-imperialist” and, where necessary, armed national liberation movements under “centrist” revisionist leadership, but also the incorporation of existing national bourgeois or even comprador-bourgeois states and governments into its sphere of influence. This has already been effected, for example, with a certain measure of success in Peru. Thereby effecting the reciprocal utilisation of both rightist and “centrist” revisionist policy methods. In this way, the former implements the classical techniques of international diplomacy and “power politics” through the direct agency of the Soviet Union on behalf of its neo-imperialist aims;whilst the latter seeks to mobilise the working people and their movements of struggle in the same neo-imperialist cause by presenting the necessary “left” demagogic appeal.

Thus it is that, under the overall condition of a former semi-colony newly emerged from imperialist domination, with an urban and rural proletariat, labouring peasantry and urban petty bourgeoisie amongst which revolutionary feeling is at a high level, any national capitalist class attempting to build a viable system of state capitalism can only hold out for itself any prospect of success provided that it can utilise to some degree the ideological strength and power for conviction and mobilisation of proletarian ideology and organisation of Marxism-Leninism.

This type of social development may be characterised in general terms as the demagogic abuse of the international working class and communist movement, of its world view, Marxism-Leninism, and of its organised strength and influence in order to bend them to the service of the enemies of the working class and socialism, amongst which the national capitalist classes of colonial-type countries emerging from imperialist domination must ultimately be placed, whatever class alliances may appertain in the period of the national democratic revolution.

In this light, the case of Cuba illustrates with convincing clarity an example of the harnessing of the potential or actual forces of the socialist revolution, the exploited and oppressed proletariat, poor peasantry and urban petty bourgeoisie, to the task of establishing not the socialist system under the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat, but a system of centralised state capitalism of a bureaucratic and comprador type under the dictatorship, albeit concealed by demagogic “left” phraseology, of the national bourgeoisie, and under the conditions of intensified class struggle and heightened inter-imperialist competition typical of the contemporary advanced stage the disintegration of the imperialist world system.


The collaboration between “centrist” and right revisionism which forms the predominant basis of policy amongst a majority of Communist Parties of Latin America, with the “Communist Party” of Cuba acting as a comprador-type overseer on behalf of the Soviet Union, reflects the unsuitability of  a purer “left” revisionism as an ideological mask enabling the national bourgeoisie to gain control of the national democratic revolutions and to determine their development and the class composition of their forces in their own class interest, in at least the majority of states concerned and under the objective conditions as they have shaped themselves up till the present time.

Left revisionism tends to find the appropriate objective conditions for its application and a fertile subjective ground for its dissemination and growth primarily in national and political terrains in which not only the objective conditions for the onset of the national democratic revolution are present – this in itself is also a feature of the situation in many American states – but also where a militant and politically conscious working class and a more or less powerful Marxist-Leninist vanguard are, or at the least have been in the past, to some degree in control of the revolutionary process of at least participants in it.

In view of the progressive undermining and final liquidation of the world communist movement through modern revisionism since approximately 1943-45, the presence of such features in a national democratic revolutionary movement in a colonial or semi-colonial country since World War Two, in spite of a majority of the leadership having long since fallen into the hands of “left” revisionists, must be attributed to the persisting influence of the Communist International and the continuing presence in the leadership of the leading cadres trained by it during the period prior to World War Two.

These features are, of course, typical of the development of the Chinese revolution and of the Communist Party of China. They are almost totally absent from the histories of the national liberation and working class movements of the Latin American states and their communist parties.

Where, however, such a Marxist-Leninist leadership, or at least a Marxist-Leninist contingent within a “left” revisionist led party and movement, is present, its defeat and dismemberment is clearly an absolutely prime necessity if the national bourgeoisie is to succeed in its aim of wresting the leadership out of the hands of the Marxist-Leninists and of consolidating it in the sole hands of their revisionist representatives.

The fact that, in Cuba itself, no Marxist-Leninist party, or even a Marxist-Leninist contingent within the leadership of the party, was present requiring ideological penetration, dismemberment and capture, in order to transform that party as a whole into a tool of national bourgeois aims and aspirations, rendered it easier for the petty bourgeois representatives of the national bourgeoisie to control the direction.

It rendered it possible for the petty bourgeois representatives of the national bourgeoisie to win victory in the national democratic revolution by purely military means, without’ the fusion of political and military forms of struggle and without a political party and an organisational centre for the mobilization of the masses, through the sole agency of a small elitist guerrilla force of predominantly petty bourgeois composition, is also symptomatic of the objective conditions and subjective characteristics of the movements of the oppressed in at least the smaller and weaker states of the Latin American continental mainland.

In spite of the many features specific and peculiar to it, the Cuban revolution, however, was not an isolated, once for all time phenomenon. Still less does it represent an example of “specific national roads to socialism” beloved of Khrushchevian revisionist “theory.” It took place and won victory, on the contrary, precisely within the general context of:

“a world pre-revolutionary situation. As in all pre-revolutionary situations, the primary aim of the class struggles, including national liberation struggles, now beginning to unfold on a world-wide front between the world proletarian forces and the imperialist bourgeoisie is a struggle to determine which of these two fundamentally opposed world class forces shall win the allegiance of the intermediate exploited and oppressed classes and strata, of which the most significant are the peasant masses of the colonial periphery of imperialism and the petty bourgeois and professional middle strata in the developed imperialist countries which are undergoing a process of intensified proletarianisation, and so to achieve on behalf of its class interest the decisive strategic advantage in the coming final stages of the world proletarian socialist revolution.”

(Programmatic Manifesto of the Marxist-Leninist Organisation of Britain; p.22)

The upsurge of national liberation struggles and national democratic revolutions in the colonial and semi-colonial lands, including those of Latin America, forms one of the most prominent features in the process of disintegration of the world imperialist system at the present stage in the development of the general crisis of capitalism.

It is they which are contributing directly to the process of disintegration of the established imperialist power groups and to the break-up of the existing inter-imperialist balance of power, and which are effectively assisting in the formation of new imperialist-type power groups and a new inter-imperialist balance of power centred around the entry of the new neo-imperialist or state capitalist nations – primarily the Soviet Union, but including, at a lower stage of capitalist development, China and India, the total population resources of which alone amount to some 1,400 millions – into the already saturated capitalist world market.

As far as the future development of the world proletarian socialist revolution is concerned, the crucial issue confronting the national liberation movements at the present time is, however, the issue of which class shall lead the revolution, the national bourgeoisie or the working class.

On the outcome of this issue depends the solution to the question, of absolutely fundamental significance, as to:

“Whether or not the working people of the developing nations at present fighting for their liberation from imperialist colonial enslavement, for national independence and democratic rights and liberties, will succeed in bypassing the perspective of a more or less protracted period of capitalist development and will succeed in establishing new socialist states under the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat?”

Such a victory for the world proletarian socialist revolution  would so weaken the already intolerably unstable and crisis-ridden world capitalist system as to render its continued operation virtually impossible.

Alternatively, on the other hand, the victory of the national democratic revolution in the colonial-type lands would merely  lead to the establishment of new independent capitalist states which will thus provide a sorely needed extension to the total area and resources of the world capitalist system and so give it a new lease of life. This latter has already taken place in a whole number of formerly colonial or semi-colonial lands since the end of world war two, including People’s China, India, Egypt and, of course, Cuba.

The entire evidence provided by the experience of the new features in the development of the world proletarian socialist revolution since World War Two indicates strongly that

Only when the working class movements in the developed countries join with the working peoples of the colonial-type lands to form a common world-wide anti-imperialist front,

Only when powerful and influential Marxist-Leninist parties, capable of securing leadership over the entire revolutionary process in both types of countries have been built and are able to wield that decisive ideological and political initiative and influence which can ensure the leading role being fulfilled by the working class in both strategic world sectors, and so laying the basis for the uninterrupted transition of the national democratic to the socialist revolution in the colonial-type lands and for the victory of the latter in both; and, finally,

Only when the world Marxist-Leninist leadership of the world proletarian socialist revolution has developed to a point where a mighty Marxist-Leninist international is forged capable of uniting, integrating and directing the revolutionary struggles in both world sectors against the common imperialist class enemy, of elaborating a world strategic and tactical programme of general offensive on all fronts and in all sectors based on advanced scientific theory –

Then, and only then, will it be possible for the working people of any one sector, in the developed or the under-developed lands, to advance to the victory of the socialist revolution and so to bring the epoch of capitalism to its close and to commence anew, and on an infinitely higher level than previously, the epoch of world-wide socialist construction.

For the present; therefore, and until such time as the revolutionary proletariat in both the developed and the colonial-type lands, realise the primary and indispensable tasks of revolutionary leadership and organisation, particularly as regards the building of the Marxist-Leninist vanguard, the predominant influence in the national democratic movements in the underdeveloped colonial world sector is likely to remain in the hands of the national bourgeoisie and its petty bourgeois revisionist representatives.

But each and every such instance of a national arena of capitalist development being opened up, under the conditions of a congested and saturated capitalist world market, merely serves, in the longer or perhaps the shorter run, to add new components of mounting contradiction to the already unstable situation in the world capitalist system. The monopoly capitalists of the developed imperialist countries, faced with the shrinking of the relative size and resources of the colonial sector relative to the developed sector, are attempting to obtain a significant intensification of the rate of exploitation in both the colonial areas that remain and, in an effort to offset the inevitable decline in super-profits, in the developed countries themselves.

Only provided that Marxist-Leninist vanguard parties are built in both the developed and the colonially subjugated sectors of the world will this intensification of exploitation and oppression result in a qualitative raising of the level of class militancy and capacity for struggle of the working masses, to their revolutionisation.

In other circumstances, including those at present appertaining in which the leading influence is fulfilled by social democratic and right revisionist representatives of monopoly capital in the developed countries and by a combination of right, “centrist” and “left” revisionist representatives of the national or the comprador bourgeoisie in the colonial-type countries, the outcome of the world reactionary offensive now in preparation could equally well be a series of bloody defeats for the working people and their organisations of struggle and the descent of the blackest night of fascist repression that the world has yet seen.

The law of uneven development will undergo and is undergoing an equally profound and far reaching intensification of its mode of operation, thus accelerating the process of break-up of the existing imperialist and capitalist power groups and the formation of new ones anxious to secure a re-division of the total area and resources of maximum exploitation available to the capitalist world system, which are continually shrinking relative to the rapidly increasing rate at which capital tends to be amassed, and which are indispensable for securing that maximum rate of profit so essential if the inherent tendency under state monopoly capitalism for the rate of profit to fall is to be offset. These fundamental contradictions in their turn prepare the conditions for the outbreak of yet another imperialist world war more devastating both in its scope and its revolutionary effect than any previously known, and so also preparing for the transformation of that war, in area after area, country after country, into, socialist revolutions.

These are the profound and climactic contradictions which are even now accumulating under the surface of the world capitalist system, and it is against this background that the teachings of Guevara and Debray relative to the struggle in Latin America must be critically evaluated.

Marxism-Leninism teaches, and all experience of the world’s working class, and oppressed peoples in struggle confirms that only through the unity of the working class of all lands, forged through the exercise of leadership and an overall guiding function on the part of powerful Marxist-Leninist parties, and through the unity of all non-proletarian classes and, strata behind that Marxist-Leninist proletarian vanguard in a mighty world anti-imperialist united front, can victory in the national-democratic revolution in the colonial-type lands be secured in such a way as to ensure that that victory leads:

Not to the development and consolidation, on however temporary or unstable a basis, of new, independent neo-capitalist states (which will merely substitute exploitation by the established imperialist oppressor nations for exploitation by the indigenous national bourgeoisie and so assist in increasing, again on however temporary or unstable a basis, the total arena and resources of the world capitalist system and to lengthen by a span of a few years or decades its bloodthirsty, profit hungry life);

But that that victory will lead instead to the weakening and restricting of its arena, resources and span of life, to the choking of the arteries feeding it with the super profits which are its very life blood, to the formation of a mighty and growing chain of national democratic and socialist revolutions encircling it with a steel ring of proletarian power which steadily suffocates and finally annihilates it.

In the developed countries, it is bureaucratic social democracy, reformism, revisionism of the right and trotskyism which constitute the chief weapons of the monopoly capitalist class in frustrating and diverting the potential or actual revolutionary energies of the working class and working people.

In the colonial-type lands, it is “left” and, where appropriate, “centrist” revisionism, likewise assisted by trotskyite disruption, which fulfill this function. Within this international apparatus of counter-revolutionary disruption, a certain clearly definable division of labour can be discerned.

It is the function of social democracy and reformism in the developed countries, and of liberal-anarchist ideas of spontaneous revolution in the colonial type areas of maximum exploitation, to act respectively as the instruments for undermining the unity of the class forces themselves, of the mass base, potential or actual, of the developing class struggle and/or revolutionary movements.

On the other hand, it is the function of revisionist teaching – in developed countries mainly of the right, and in colonial-type lands mainly of either “left” or “centrist” varieties – to weaken the struggle waged by the most advanced and class conscious proletarian elements to forge powerful, steeled and united Marxist-Leninist vanguard parties without which the socialist revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat remain mere empty dreams, vistas of mechanical scheming or the subjective projection of idle wishes.

In the relationship between mass base and vanguard, it is the vanguard which must first be establish even if only in embryo, if the whole revolutionary process in a given country is to develop into the structure of proletarian power capable of incepting and carrying through the socialist revolution directly in the case of the developed countries, through the intermediate stage of the national democratic revolution in the case of the colonial-type lands.

In both these types of revolution, a clear kinship exists between the older variants of bourgeois ideology typical of a capitalist class in the period of its youth, represented by liberal spontaneity and anarchistic insurrectionism of the Garibaldist or Blanquist type, and the more sophisticated right, “left” and “centrist”‘ variants of revisionism which form typical anti-proletarian ideological weapons of an aspiring capitalist class in an underdeveloped country which is struggling for ascendancy and independence within a world environment and under the conditions of an epoch in which capitalism is lying mortally sick upon its deathbed.

Both deny the revolutionary historical mission of the proletariat;

Both deny the need for the violent, forcible overthrow of the rule of the capitalist class – “left” revisionism advocating the use of armed force solely against the comprador, imperialist-orientated section of the capitalist class in a colonial-type country;

Both deny the need for the independent revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat armed with scientific Marxist-Leninist theory.

The petty bourgeois insurrectionist theories of Guevara and Debray form the logical inheritance and continuation of the classical ideas of spontaneous revolt first developed by the European bourgeoisie in the 19th century. The characterisation of the bourgeois ideological basis and antecedents of “left” revisionism contained in the Report of the CC of the MLOB, “Proletarian Internationalism: The Key to Victory in Anti-Imperialist Struggle and Socialist Revolution”, is as applicable to the unsuccessful, misapplied and naive variant of “left” revisionism concocted Guevara and Debray out of the historically superceded lees of liberal anarchist theories of spontaneous “uprisings of the freedom loving people” as ever it was to the more astute variant of “left” revisionism devised by Mao Tse-tung:

“When we consider the development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Europe, we find that the petty bourgeoisie , played a generally analogous role to the one it later came to play in the colonial national democratic revolutions of the epoch of imperialism. . .the prime need (of the capitalist class – Ed.) was to hold in check the independent revolutionary class aspirations of the proletariat, and to harness its energies to the task of the bourgeois democratic revolution whilst simultaneously preventing them from leading to the fulfillment of the revolutionary aim of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. In all the developing capitalist nations of Europe to which the bourgeois democratic revolution spread in 1848-9, therefore, the leading role was played by bourgeois or petty bourgeois leaders..

‘Leftist’ phraseology and the rabble-rousing slogans of anarchism are always and everywhere the essential disguise of rightism, of policies designed to assist and strengthen the class position and forces of the capitalist class in the face of the growing or potential offensive of the proletariat. . . . Just as the counterpart in practice of the utopian theories of Proudhon were the state sweatshops for the unemployed workers of Paris established by Louis Blanc, similarly Mao Tse-tung’s leftist battle-cries directed at the emerging and developing, but as yet immature, proletarian classes and their potential petty bourgeois allies in the colonial lands have their essential counterpart in the so-called- “Three-way Revolutionary Committees”, in which the long-discredited.utopia of the “union of capital and labour”, is dragged from the oblivion to which Marx condemned it…”

(Proletarian Internationalism: Report of the CC of the MLOB in “Red Front”, March/April 1968; p.vii)

With the defeat of this peculiarly Latin American revisionist hybrid, the same demagogic mantle of revisionist deception has fallen upon the shoulders of the “centrist” revisionists headed by the Castro clique, acting as a semi-independent “left”-wing of the Soviet neo-imperialism. If this new and perhaps even more, insidious ideological and political weapon of the national bourgeoisies of the Latin American states is to be exposed and defeated and the hegemony of the working class and of scientific Marxist-Leninist theory in the Latin American revolutionary movement secured, a persistent-and wide-ranging struggle must be waged by the Marxist-Leninists of all lands against it.

There are no short cuts to the socialist revolution. The struggle to develop and change man’s social practice, and the thought processes which consciously guide that practice, is a protracted and arduous one. In the course of this struggle, the development of conscious revolutionary thought and practice on the part of the most advanced and consistently revolutionary class produced by history, the proletariat, is characterised at all stages by the close interaction of theory and practice, culminating in the scientific principles of Marxism-Leninism and of its fundamental theoretical guide to action, dialectical-materialism, and their embodiment in the vanguard class party of the new type.

This final embodiment of the science of socialist revolution and of socialist revolution as a science, when theory and practice become so united as to be indivisibly fused together, is precisely what the “social scientists” of the bourgeoisie are most concerned to frustrate and disrupt by whatever means they find to hand inherited from the theories and practice of pre-scientific utopian or reformist schools – and amongst these modern “mystical schoolmen” of piecemeal reform or spontaneous revolt must be included not only such representatives of the right as Khruschev, Togliatti or Gollan, but also such leftist figures as Debray, Guevara and Castro.

The struggle to build the vanguard Leninist party of the proletariat involves such tasks as the inner-movement struggle within the revisionist and reformist parties and organisations, work amongst all sectors of the working population to win them for a common front of struggle, actions at the most basic level to build militant, class-orientated organisations where previously none existed, the achievement of a correct balance between legal and illegal, armed and political, forms of struggle, and so on. At every level, the process is an extremely complex and many-sided one. It is a test which only those who genuinely uphold, the cause of the working class and working people are prepared to stand.

That is why Guevara, Debray and others present such a disillusioned picture to the world once they enter from the realm of their subjective fantasies into the world of class reality. In their “theory” the peasantry existed as an idealised force which could do no wrong; the grim reality of the Bolivian adventure revealed besides Debray’s dilettantism, the fundamental scorn for the peasantry into which Guevara’s earlier idealism was transformed as a consequence of his inability to change that reality. The diaries, with their self-pitying descriptions of ignorant and suspicious peasants threatening to betray the self-styled advance guard of the revolution constitute an elitist petty bourgeois testament which marks a disgaceful end for those who had claimed to aspire so high. And it is perhaps from this last fact that the final lesson of the Guevara-Debray affair can be most clearly drawn: that the subjective desires of any aspiring revolutionary are less than nothing in value to the revolutionary cause and will be cast aside as such if they are not based on Marxist-Leninist scientific theory.

By Cmde M.S. For the MLOB;

Dated 1968


A Few Comments on ‘Critical Notes on Political Economy’ by Che Guevara


Rafael Martinez

On the 40th Anniversary of the Assassination of Che Guevara by US Imperialism

Here we present a brief review of the book ‘Apuntes criticos a la Economia Politica’ (Critical Notes on Political Economy), consisting of various materials written by Ernesto Che Guevara, published by Ocean Press, Melbourne, Australia 2006 (in Spanish). This was published in conjunction with the ‘Centro de Estudios Che Guevara’ in Cuba, where the original documents are located. This book presents a collection of materials, most of which were unpublished and, therefore, represent a very important reference point for further scrutiny of Guevara’s economic thought.

It is convenient to warn the reader about our point of view with regard to the completeness of the materials selected by the editors. It is our firm belief that the published materials offer an incomplete reference point to Guevara’s overall view of political economy and that, if taken in isolation, these texts can help obliterate the essence of his economic thought and his contribution to the early stages of the economic reforms in Cuba. We hold the opinion that this publication does not contain all the available unpublished materials/notes on economic and philosophic topics that Guevara left us before taking off to Bolivia. Last, but not least, we call on the reader to see Guevara’s bare and sketchy language in the concrete historical context and circumstances in which Guevara was forced to scribble his thoughts. We find that a number of statements, especially those written by Guevara as comments to his readings, are not necessarily as clear as one would have hoped, leaving room for misinterpretation and misrepresentation of Guevara’s true intentions.

The book offers the following unpublished materials, which constitute, according to the editors, all the written materials left by Guevara with regard to his unfinished work for the publication of a manual of political economy. This manual of political economy would have been a response to the Soviet textbook of political economy with which he had already polemicised in public discussions:

  • Tentative plan
  • Prologue: the need of this book
  • Biographical sketch of Marx and Engels
  • 10 questions on the teachings of a famous book (referring to the Soviet textbook of Political Economy, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Spanish edition 1963)

These are followed by a lengthy appendix, some materials of which were also unpublished. The appendix starts with a selection of critical notes (unpublished) on economic-philosophic Marxist works, which we believe is a rather incomplete set of notes, given the fact that Guevara presented himself as a rather methodical and critical person who, as we see in the book, loved to scribble his thoughts as he read. We are eager to see the rest of Guevara’s annotations, particularly those related to Lenin’s works on the New Economic Policy, Stalin’s work, ‘Economic Problems…’ and Mao’s ‘On the Correct Handling of Contradiction’ among others. We believe that these materials would be crucial to reconstruct a more cohesive picture of the later stage of Guevara’s economic thought.

In our view, in these unpublished works Guevara does not contradict any of the principles of his economic thoughts formulated earlier in his published articles that have been available to the public for over 40 years. While consistent with the most relevant tenets of ‘Guevarism’ in political economy, this text is a most valuable document that reveals some remaining obscure aspects of Guevara’s economic thought and evolution. This document is particularly revealing and assists us in gaining further insight into the heart of Guevarism and its distinct idiosyncrasy. It most definitely assists us in further refuting the theses of neo-Trotskyism with regard to Guevara’s economic thinking and philosophy, which try to reconcile his criticism of the post-Stalin Soviet economic model with their anti-Stalinism. On the other hand, this new document further corroborates and sheds additional light on the negative aspects of Guevara’s economic thought. As a matter of fact, as will be seen below, these documents help us gain additional insight on Guevara’s interpretation of the dialectical method and how this leads him to commit serious mistakes of principle. In conclusion, this new set of documents sheds very important light on crucial aspects of Guevara’s writings and it will be instrumental in building a more comprehensive picture of the revolutionary’s economic thought, both in its glory and its misery, in its apogee and its defeat. This document is a mandatory source for those who wish to comprehend the intricacies of Guevara’s thought and its implications on questions of political economy of the transitional society in the conditions of Latin America.

In the foreword written as an introduction to the political economy textbook he planned to write he synthesises his point of view with regard to the progress made in the political economy of the transitional society. The essential points put forward in the foreword are consistent with the spirit behind his critical notes, indicating that he had already arrived at the basic tenets of this economic thinking. This paragraph bears witness to Guevara’s overall viewpoint on the state of Marxism-Leninism:

‘The immense amount of writings that he [Lenin – our note] would leave after his death constituted an indispensable complement to the works of the founders [Marx and Engels – our note]. Then the source became weaker and only some isolated works of Stalin and some writings from Mao Tse Tung managed to stand out as a witness to the immense creative power of Marxism. In his last years Stalin sensed the results of this backwardness in theory and ordered the publication of a manual accessible to the masses that would deal with issues of political economy up to our days’ (in ‘The need for this book’, p. 30).

Guevara worked on the manual of political economy in the period 1965-1966 during his stays in Tanzania and Prague, after stepping down from office in Cuba. These materials bear excellent testimony to one of the most complex periods of the thinker in which he finally rejected the model of economic development pursued by the socialist camp at the time and had reached the stage at which he formulated his own interpretation of the theoretical sources of that economic practice. Guevara had reached a point at which he felt ready to formulate a list of theoretical and practical problems that he believed had not been addressed by Marxists at the time, as he had the firm belief that the state of theoretical development was not appropriate to the objective conditions imposed by the revolutionary process. To understand his state of mind it is most relevant to emphasise Guevara’s disillusionment with the economic reforms in Eastern Europe (and the Soviet Union for that matter), which he criticised most of all:

‘The solution that people want to give in Poland is the free development of the law of value, i.e. the return to capitalism. This solution had already been applied in the Polish countryside, where agriculture was de-collectivised; this year, due to drought and other natural adversities, Polish agriculture is in worse shape than before, has had more serious problems, in other words, the place where the economic calculus leads to … is solving the problems using the same system, by enhancing the material stimulus, the dedication of people to their material interest, leading, in a way, to the resurrection of categories that are strictly capitalist. This is something that has been happening for a while, which Poland is now trying and I think it is also being tried in other socialist countries’ (in ‘Annexes’, pp. 321-322).

In addition, Guevara was of the opinion that the reforms in Eastern Europe were of similar quality to those implemented in Yugoslavia, which Guevara refers to as aberrations due to mistakes of principles:

‘Poland is going along the Yugoslav path, of course; collectivisation is reverted, private property inland is reinstated, a new system of exchange is established and contacts are maintained with the United States. In Czechoslovakia and Germany the Yugoslav system is under study in order to apply it’ (in ‘Annexes’, pp. 404-405).

On the other hand, we are inclined to believe that Guevara would have disagreed with the assertion that there was capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies in the sense implied by Marxist-Leninists. On pages 380-381 of the present volume he seems to agree with Sweezy’s rebuttal of the Chinese thesis about the capitalist character of Yugoslavia, indicating that he would rather agree with the statement that ‘Yugoslavia is moving towards capitalism’.

By openly objecting to the essence of the economic reform in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Guevara alienates himself from the mainstream economic thought at the time. In doing so he becomes critical not only of the present but also of the past and as it becomes clearer to us now, he arrived at the belief that at the source of these economic deviations stands Lenin’s attitude towards the economics of the transitional society and the first steps of the construction of socialism:

‘In the course of our practical and theoretical investigation we have a clear suspect, with name and surnames: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’ (in the ‘Prologue’, p. 31).

Guevara is most likely a victim of the ideological confusion of the time in Cuba, which, in conjunction with the lack of materials in Spanish translation, may have created the pre-conditions for arriving at some dreadful conclusions. One of the most shocking pieces revealed by this document is Guevara’s rebuttal of some of Lenin’s theses on the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union. In particular, Guevara does not understand Lenin’s call for the New Economic Policy and its role in the prospective of socialist transformations in a predominantly petty-bourgeois country. To blame Lenin for the restoration, or to be more exact according to Guevara’s reasoning, for the process of restoration of capitalism at the time in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe is a reflection, among other things, of Guevara’s failure to grasp Lenin’s dialectical approach to the solution of contradictions in the transitional society:

‘It is a real fact that all the juridical superstructure of the current Soviet society comes from the New Economic Policy; in this the old capitalist relations are preserved, the old categories of capitalism, i.e., commodities exist, to a certain extent, profit and the interest that the banks appropriate exist and, of course, there exists the direct material interest of the workers’ (ibid., in ‘Some thoughts about the socialist transition’, p. 11).

To blame the New Economic Policy for the right-wing character of the economic reforms of the post-Stalin period shows how little Guevara understood of the essence of the transformation of the economic categories inherited from capitalism that occurred in the Soviet Union during the periods of transition to socialism and communism. This major mistake in Guevara’s economic thought is due to a number of circumstances. We believe that his idealist mistakes are to blame for this blunder. We should also take into account the fact that he was not acquainted with the Soviet materials on political economy and philosophy of the Stalin period. We emphasise this fact also because he was certainly not the only one affected by this shortcoming. As a matter of fact it affects many of those who take Stalin’s Economic Problems in isolation from the economic practice of socialist construction that this crucial work is a generalisation of. Without access to this documentation it is extremely hard to make a case in favour of the qualitative change of the character of the economic categories in the practice of the Soviet Union in the Stalin period. Unfortunately, so far the wealth of economic and philosophical materials published in major Soviet journals of the revolutionary period still remains in Russian only. At the time when the economic discussions under Guevara’s leadership had reached their apogee, a number of various ideological trends were tolerated and even published in the official Cuban press. Needless to say, these trends had institutionalised the fact that their analysis of the economic history of the Soviet Union was based on pseudo-bourgeois if not utterly bourgeois sources and that for them questions of dialectics and the Marxist method are as much abstract notions as they are alien to a bourgeois thinker. With this we do not mean to exonerate or excuse Guevara’s fundamental mistakes; however, we believe that this circumstance, together with preconceptions and ideological prejudices that became overwhelming and ubiquitous in ideological discussions at the time in Cuba, may have played a role in the formation of Guevara’s views on political economy.

What seemed at the time to be a relative obvious statement to many in Cuba, including Guevara himself, that the existence of commodity-money relations in the Soviet Union was inherited from the period of the New Economic Policy, is no more than a reflection of sheer ignorance of the complexity of the economic reality of the transitional society.

Guevara went further when he stated that the New Economic Policy was a requirement particular to the social and economic reality of post-revolutionary Russia and that Cuba, or any other country facing the tasks of revolutionary transformations, does not necessarily need to implement these policies. This statement is in principle correct. However, we think that Guevara may have wanted to make the issue of the disappearance of commodity-money relations a question of socialist education, rather than a question of the maturity of the relations of production and the development of the productive forces. We have certain evidence that Guevara does not necessarily agree with the fundamental principle of the objective character of the economic laws of the transitional society. Guevara’s seemingly correct statement against the absolutisation of the New Economic Policy as an intermediate and necessary step to the transition to socialism, as advocated by modern revisionism, seems to be considered by him from idealist positions. Here lies the core of Guevara’s deviation from the principles of Marxist-Leninist political economy. This does not necessarily deny the value of his fight against the tenets of modern revisionism, but it places severe restrictions on the value of his economic thinking.

It is extremely interesting to note that Guevara is aware of the evolution of the Soviet manual after the death of Stalin. He recognised that the manual changed both in its structure and its orientation as the Soviet economic structure evolved.

‘This manual has been translated into many languages and several editions have been published, undergoing pronounced changes in its structure and orientation as changes took place in the Soviet Union’ (in ‘The need for this book’, p. 30).

Unfortunately, we lack further detail on this reasoning, which would be crucial in evaluating Guevara’s understanding of the history of the political economy of the Soviet Union. We believe we have a fair idea of Guevara’s point of view with regard to the change of orientation (at least along general lines, i.e. Stalin’s line for the suppression of commodity-money relations as opposed to their expansion under the revisionist economic model). But we are not particularly clear about what particular aspects of the economic policies in the 1950s he would refer to as a change in orientation, since the economic reforms of September 1953 onwards affected many aspects of the Soviet economic structure. As discussed above, we believe that Guevara does not necessarily understand the qualitative changes of the economic relations in Stalin’s period and the economic discussions that led to the first draft of the political economy textbook.

Nevertheless, to acknowledge an evolution in Soviet economic thinking at the time is very important in analysing the intricacies of Guevara’s own evolution and for the significance of his economic thought. It certainly reinforces the progressive aspect of his economic thinking with respect to what was widely accepted as a dogma by Trotskyite and neo-Trotskyite ideologists. Guevara does not subscribe to the dogma advocated by those who attacked and still attack the Soviet Union from ‘left’-wing revisionist positions, that allegedly Khrushchevism-Brezhnevism represents a continuation of what is usually referred to as Stalinism. According to this reasoning a rift is established between Leninism and ‘Stalinism’ and the latter is understood as a deviation or even its antithesis, and was perpetuated after Stalin’s death. They do not recognise a qualitative change in the economic policies in the 1960s compared to the political economy embodied in the policies of Stalin’s period. On the contrary, they view the economic evils of Soviet modern revisionism as a result of ‘Stalinist’ thinking. Nothing can be more absurd from the point of view of Marxism-Leninism, and Guevara is not afraid to polemicise with those who imply a rift between Lenin and Stalin, whether explicitly or implicitly, by rebutting the Soviet revisionists’ claims of Stalin’s mistakes:

‘In the alleged mistakes of Stalin lies the difference between a revolutionary attitude and a revisionist one. He sees the danger enclosed in market relations and tries to break with it, while the new leadership is curved by the pressure of the superstructure and promotes the action of market relations by theorising that the use of these economic mechanisms may lead to communism’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 214).

It is well known that Guevara had an overall supportive attitude towards Stalin’s Economic Problems. However, the present text bears witness to the fact that he disagrees with some of the points raised by Stalin in this work. We will not elaborate more on this point since we would not be adding much of substance to what has already been said about the idiosyncrasy of Guevara’s economic thought. Nevertheless, it would probably be helpful to give a quote in which Guevara clearly states his position with regard to Trotsky and Trotskyism:

‘I think that the fundamental stuff that Trotsky was based upon was erroneous and that his ulterior behaviour was wrong and his last years were even dark. The Trotskyites have not contributed anything whatsoever to the revolutionary movement; where they did most was in Peru, but they finally failed there because their methods are bad’ (in ‘Annexes’, p. 402).

We do not want to mislead the reader into believing that ‘Guevarism’ is a form of vindication of ‘Stalinism’. While appreciating the revolutionary character of Stalin’s contribution to political economy and demonising the tenets of modern revisionism, he also appears quite critical of Stalin’s deeds. Guevara concludes the above paragraph by bluntly making a terrible accusation:

‘Few voices oppose him publicly, showing this way the huge historical crime of Stalin: to have despised communist education and to have established a stiff cult of personality’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 214). 

Here Guevara manifests a lack of erudition and originality in perpetuating one of the most common criticisms of Stalin’s legacy. To talk about Stalin’s alleged contempt for communist education reflects a profound lack of knowledge of the history of the Soviet Union. It is factually incorrect and most likely reflects again the lack of translated materials and a general ignorance of everyday life in the Soviet Union. In essence Guevara echoes a rather superficial interpretation of the history of the Soviet Union, which is essentially divorced from the point of view and methodology of historical materialism. Revisionist ideologists, just like bourgeois historians, try to explain the essence of historical periods based on the personality of leaders and ascribe whatever prominent aspect of social life to them. Unfortunately, Guevara mechanically propagates subjective thinking into his economic analysis and discredits his image unnecessarily. It is unlikely that Guevara made a conscious effort to seriously evaluate the essence of such statements and to make a more objective analysis of Stalin’s period. Here, Guevara propagates anti-Marxist reasoning to substantiate one of the central tenets of his economic theory: the inclusion of consciousness into economic relations and therefore to consider consciousness as part of the object of political economy.

This aspect of Guevara’s economic thinking is well known and is repeated in these new materials on numerous occasions. In a letter to Fidel Castro, Guevara explicitly states something that we already expected as a result of the analysis of his published works. We were aware of strong similarities between Guevara’s striving for communist education and the Maoist interpretation of the role of consciousness in the relations of production:

‘Communism is a phenomenon of consciousness, one does not reach it by jumping into the vacuum, by a change in the quality of production, or by the simple clash between the productive forces and the relations of production. Communism is a phenomenon of consciousness and the consciousness of man has to be developed…’ (in ‘Some thoughts about the socialist transition’, p. 11).

It is worth noting that Guevara’s denunciation of Stalin’s alleged contempt for education is quite similar to Mao’s argument in his critique of Stalin’s Economic Problems:

‘Stalin’s book from first to last says nothing about the superstructure. It is not concerned with people; it considers things, not people. Does the kind of supply system for consumer goods help spur economic development or not? He should have touched on this at the least. Is it better to have commodity production or is it better not to? Everyone has to study this. Stalin’s point of view in his last letter [Reply to comrades A. V. Sanina and V. G. Venzher – editor’s note] is almost altogether wrong. The basic error is mistrust of the peasants’ (Mao Tse Tung, A Critique of Soviet Economics, Monthly Review Press, New York and London, 1977, p. 135).

This strongly suggests that this aspect of Guevara’s economic thinking is not original, as some experts of his work insistently argue. It is evident that this aspect of his thinking is the result of the influence of various ideological trends that circulated in Cuba at the time. It is clear to us that Guevara made a serious effort in the course of his investigation to disentangle complex questions of political economy. In doing so the spectrum of literature he was exposed to could not have been as broad as one would have hoped. Unfortunately, Guevara is driven by the prejudice propagated by many different revisionist trends outside the Soviet Union, and within it after Stalin’s death, that allegedly the economic thought at the time was characterised by dogmatism (on the other hand, we are unclear as to what exactly Guevara meant by dogmatism). While being progressive in the main, Guevara uncritically takes for granted what the Bettelheims and Sweezys propagated in Cuba without proof (speaking of dogmatic thinking…).

‘After a long lethargy, characterised by the most outright apologetic, the XXth Congress of the CPSU made a leap, but not forward; constrained by the dead end that the hybrid system led to and pressed by the superstructure, the Soviet leadership took steps backwards that were complemented by the new organisation of industry. The lethargy is followed by repression; both have the same dogmatic character’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 213).

Guevara on Collectivisation

This topic is probably the one in which this document gives us the most additional insight into Guevara’s economic thought. Guevara’s views on collectivisation are not really covered in the published materials available to us. One could only guess that for the sake of internal consistency Guevara would have advocated for a progressive stand with regard to the role of the state and the main relations of production in the countryside and his attitude with regard to modern revisionism on this question. It is fascinating to see confirmed this initial view that Guevara opposed the selling of the machine tractor stations to the collective farms. This policy had become default at the time of the Cuban revolution and was one of the most important aspects of the agrarian program of the revisionists around the world and was very much supported and even imposed by the Soviet revisionists.

It seems probable that Guevara was unaware of the fact that the Chinese leadership also advocated these policies at the time. According to various biographers of Guevara, at some point the contradiction between his economic policies and those instigated by the Soviet revisionists became so acute that the latter started to accuse Guevara of deviationism (Trotskyism, in particular) and that he in turn allegedly rebutted those accusations by arguing that if anything, he was closer to the Chinese with regard to the controversy. We do not want to debate the accuracy of the eyewitness’ accounts on which these authors based their assumptions about Guevara’s Maoism. What is clear to us, however, is that Guevara fundamentally deviates from mainstream Maoism on this question, probably without really knowing it.

Guevara raises one point correctly. It is a well-known fact that the relative weight of strictly private agricultural production of peasants was dropping with respect to the overall output of the collective farms, as reported by the Soviets at that time. This was due to the natural evolution created by the growing disparity of labour productivity between mechanised and manual labour and the fact that capital investment in general favoured the former for obvious reasons. Guevara is right in pointing to the fact that, at some point in the development of the collective system of production, the contradiction between the people’s property and the kolkhoz is not determined by the fraction of the means of production made up of private property of individual peasants.

‘Private property is being eliminated within the kolkhoz and, moreover the relative weight of collective property becomes overwhelming, but even if it was 100% the main issue still remains, the contradiction between the people’s property and the collective property’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 185).

Here Guevara addresses the general problem of the contradiction between collective property and socialised property as a problem per se, which always remains as long as collective property has not merged into the property of the whole people. If put into historical perspective, Guevara’s attitude represents a great step forward with respect to the character of the agrarian reforms fostered by modern revisionism. Here Guevara is aware of a basic element in the Marxist-Leninist approach to the resolution of contradictions between the city and the countryside, contradictions that modern revisionism tried to obliterate and reduce to a question of the different level of development of the forces of production and productivity. Guevara correctly disagrees with such a postulate, thus reinforcing the overall progressive character of his economic thought. This is further strengthened by Guevara’s open rebuttal of one of the biggest attacks on socialism by the Soviet revisionists, namely, the selling of the machine tractor stations from the state to the collective farms in the late 1950s. After a section of the revisionist manual of political economy devoted to substantiating the selling of the machine tractor stations, Guevara writes:

‘This is a concrete example of the contradictions that become antagonistic between the social property and the individual collectivity. The MTS [Machine Tractor Stations – editor’s note] may have had bureaucratic deviations, but the superstructure imposed its solution: more autonomy, more wealth of their own’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 187).

Nevertheless, one must always be careful with Guevara’s formulations. In fact, even though Guevara’s attitude to the revisionist plans for agriculture is overall progressive, one can never be cautious enough when dealing with this writings. Below we find a paragraph that may indicate that Guevara probably made his criticism for the wrong reasons:

‘Before, the need for commodity forms was explained by the existence of different forms of property. In practice the kolkhoz property acts as antagonist to the directly social property and therefore, the double character of labour is similar to that in capitalism. The double character of labour would disappear if this antagonism ceased to exist’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 159).

The first sentence is not controversial. Guevara simple states that under Stalin the persistence of commodity categories in socialism was understood as a result of the presence of two forms of property under socialism: socialised or state property and collective property or the kolkhoz. Unfortunately, Guevara addresses the relationship between the collective property and socialised property as antagonistic. We cannot agree with this as a general statement. In the conditions of the restoration of capitalism the relationship between the state (no more socialised) and collective property is antagonistic and it definitely becomes similar to that in the countries of classical capitalism. However, as long as the state property is socialised, i.e., loosely speaking, the means of production is in the hands of the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat (regardless of the level of the development of the productive forces and the effective level of socialisation of the process of production), the relationship between the former and the kolkhoz system is not antagonistic. This type of statement is equivalent to saying that the relationship between the working class and the peasantry is a relationship of antagonism, which is definitely not true in the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Therefore, the double character of labour in the socialist system or in the transitional society is not driven by a relationship of antagonism.

Here one could argue that Guevara was implying that capitalist relations had been restored in the Soviet Union. He probably would have agreed to some extent with that statement. As a matter of fact, in the text of ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’ he bluntly objects to the concept of the state of the whole people, a concept that was officially supported in the Soviet Union at the time, which clearly implies that he believed the dictatorship of the proletariat had been disbanded for good. Given the extent of Guevara’s criticism of the reforms in Eastern Europe and the fact that he openly talked about these as a regression with respect to earlier practices, one might be inclined to believe that perhaps Guevara was implying that capitalist relations had been restored to some extent in the countries of the former People’s Democracies and the Soviet Union. This might be the case, however, and very unfortunately, Guevara made the statement above in a general sense, as opposed to the case of the revisionist system alone. We are able to disentangle this by means of a short paragraph in the ‘Annexes’ written following a famous quote from Lenin’s On Cooperation that we insert here for the reader’s benefit:

‘By adopting NEP we made a concession to the peasant as a trader, to the principle of private trade; it is precisely for this reason (contrary to what some people think) that the co-operative movement is of such immense importance. All we actually need under NEP is to organise the population of Russia in co-operative societies on a sufficiently large scale, for we have now found that degree of combination of private interest, of private commercial interest, with state supervision and control of this interest, that degree of its subordination to the common interests which was formerly the stumbling-block for very many socialists. Indeed, the power of the state over all large-scale means of production, political power in the hands of the proletariat, the alliance of this proletariat with the many millions of small and very small peasants, the assured proletarian leadership of the peasantry, etc. – is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society out of co-operatives, out of co-operatives alone, which we formerly ridiculed as huckstering and which from a certain aspect we have the right to treat as such now, under NEP? Is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society? It is still not the building of socialist society, but it is all that is necessary and sufficient for it.” (V.I. Lenin, On Cooperation Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966, Vol. 33, pp. 467-468.)

To which Guevara, to our despair, bluntly objects:

‘I think this is a wrong conception. The fundamental mistake is to think that the collective character is above its private character, something that practice has ruled out. The cooperative is the result of an economic need; there is a class force behind it and its consolidation and to acknowledge it is to strengthen the class that Lenin so feared’ (in ‘Annexes’, p. 241).

Unfortunately, this reasoning is far from Marxist and reflects once again Guevara’s shallow understanding of dialectical materialism, without which a consistently Marxist treatment of political economy is simply not possible. Guevara is basically telling us, consciously or unconsciously, that the political union between the working class and the peasantry is not viable, even under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, by asserting that the collective sector acts as a private producer with respect to the socialised system. And if one reads his words literally one would have to conclude that Guevara does not see the progressive character of cooperation, however complex or simple, in the process of construction of the socialist economy. We are not even sure if Guevara thought carefully enough about the implications of such a statement.

Guevara on Mao

The present document sheds some light on the question of Guevara’s attitude towards Mao in a very revealing but brief passage, which touches upon a very important question in dialectical materialism. In particular, and possibly unconsciously, Guevara deals with one of the most distinct characteristics of Mao’s understanding of the interrelation of opposites in dialectical materialism. A more detailed analysis of this question has revealed a lot about the true essence of Mao’s understanding of the role of contradiction and equilibrium. Due to the lack of material the conclusions drawn here with regard to Guevara’s attitude towards Mao in general, and with respect to this aspect in particular, need to be taken with a grain of salt.

The revisionist conception of the role of commodity-money relations is ultimately related to questions of dialectical materialism, such as the role of contradiction and equilibrium. It is no coincidence to see both aspects linked one way or the other in the analysis of the political economy of modern revisionism. Conversely, we would expect that Guevara would have a well-defined attitude toward the question of contradiction and equilibrium in dialectics for consistency sake, due to the progressive character of Guevara’s conception of the political economy of the transitional society. As a matter of fact the analysis of Guevara’s economic thought indicates a well-defined system of thought, not always correct, but at least self-consistent. One excellent example of self-consistency is Guevara’s negative attitude toward selling the machine tractor stations to the collective farms, as discussed in the previous section.

Before moving to the citation per se, it is relevant to emphasise our lack of understanding of Guevara’s attitude towards the Chinese CP at the time of the controversy with the Soviets. The present document confirms accounts by various biographers of Guevara’s positive attitude towards Mao. And rightly so, as already mentioned above:

‘…Then the source became weaker and only … some writings from Mao Tse Tung managed to stand out as a witness to the immense creative power of Marxism’ (in ‘The need for this book’, p. 30).

As pointed out in the section on Guevara’s stand toward collectivisation, he fundamentally departs from the mainstream stand on this question advocated by the Chinese at the time. It is clear that he opposed the selling of the main means of production to the communes and, if he had a chance, he would have probably rejected the policies of self-reliance that Chinese agrarian policies were based upon. We have no evidence at this point whether Guevara had a chance to analyse the Chinese policies in the countryside and whether he had the opportunity to develop a debate with Chinese officials on this matter. We do have accounts of intense discussion with Soviet and Eastern European economists, especially Czechoslovaks, but we do not seem to have accounts of similar contacts with the Chinese. We are also aware of Guevara’s criticism directed at the Polish leadership. We believe that Guevara would have favoured the Chinese in the Sino-Soviet controversy given his critical attitude toward the Soviets in general and the new economic reforms in particular, which he calls revisionist. But it is not clear to what extent Guevara would have supported the economic policies of the Chinese leadership during the post-Stalin period. We simply lack any evidence. In this respect, it is also relevant to bear in mind that the ideological confusion reigning in the international communist movement at the time (the true nature of modern revisionism was not yet fully understood) had a strong impact on Guevara’s reasoning. The analysis of Guevara’s economic thought shows that he was also a victim of this ideological confusion.

The citation under study in this section belongs to a comment of Guevara allegedly written next to a number of paragraphs of Mao’s On Contradiction. This complicated section of the document needs to be understood within a historical context and, of course, within the context of the pamphlet in its entirety, as Mao’s paragraph quoted by the editors is not even necessarily relevant to Guevara’s footnote. The implications of Guevara’s citation go far beyond the particular topic discussed in the paragraphs of On Contradiction that the editors of the book have chosen to publish, for understandable reasons, as will be discussed below. Guevara writes:

‘… For the Chinese the fundamental contradiction lies between imperialism and the oppressed world, because the latter are the basis for the existence of imperialism. Imperialism can exist without socialism but not without the exploitation of the peoples where the main struggle is for the people’s liberation. On the other hand, there can be no equilibrium between antagonistic opposites [our emphasis]; the socialist countries are antagonistic opposites of the imperialist countries; although they represent a solution of an earlier contradiction (exploited and exploiters) on a national scale, they do not solve the contradiction on an international scale’ (in ‘Annexes’, p. 243).

Guevara’s citation is open to all sorts of speculation. Needless to say, our analysis is for obvious reasons not necessarily unbiased. There are two relevant aspects that we deem necessary to comment on here. Firstly, Guevara points out the position of the Chinese with regard to what they believe are the main contradiction in the class struggle. Guevara voices one of the points that Mao insisted on in his work On Contradiction, that of the existence of a principal aspects of the contradiction, which determines the character of the contradiction and its most important manifestations:

‘Of the two contradictory aspects, one must be the principal and the other the secondary. The principal aspect is the one that plays the leading role on the contradiction. The quality of the thing is mainly determined by the principal aspect of the contradiction that has taken the dominant position’ (Mao Tse-Tung, On Contradiction, International Publishers, New York, 1953, p. 36).

While Mao’s analysis of the role of imperialism in China in On Contradiction is overall correct, the exaggeration of the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed nations, between rich and poor, eventually assisted the Chinese leadership in supporting and further developing the anti-Marxist theory of the three worlds (which by the way was not an invention of the Chinese leadership). To argue that the main contradiction is the antagonistic contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed nations, in the historical conditions of China at the time when the pamphlet was written, is correct. However, to exaggerate the dominant role of this contradiction by idealising and absolutising that relationship unavoidably leads revisionism to disregard the antagonistic class relations between the national bourgeoisie and the oppressed people, to disregard the internal contradictions, as secondary and therefore not relevant, following Mao’s stiff attitude toward secondary contradictions. This idealisation leads to the schematic representation of the division of the world into three types of countries, regardless of social formation, which is anti-Marxist in its core. By idealising the relationship between imperialism and the oppressed nations, between rich and poor nations, such relationships are ripped off their class character and turned into classless concepts, as classless as the mechanical division of the world of exploited and exploiters into the three worlds.

It is not clear to us what Guevara is actually implying by his remark. We do not even know if this conclusion is biased by discussions with Chinese comrades at the time or if it is just an overall comment on the pamphlet, written for his own benefit. Most likely Guevara agrees with the statement. Nevertheless and secondly, what is of particular relevant in our analysis is Guevara’s statement that ‘there can be no equilibrium between antagonistic oppositess, which we find truly remarkable, for the lack of a better word.

In order to appreciate the relevance of Guevara’s statement it is necessary to recall the specifics of Mao’s understanding of the role of contradiction and the dynamics that determine the interaction between the opposites in that contradiction. In contrast to the classical Marxist-Leninist understanding of the concept of qualitative and quantitative change, Mao introduces two forms of movement in On Contradiction:

‘The movement of all things assumes two forms: the form of relative rest and the form of conspicuous change. Both forms of movement are caused by the mutual struggle of the two contradictory factors contained in a thing itself. When the movement of a thing assumes the first form, it undergoes only a quantitative but not a qualitative change, and consequently appears in a state of seeming rest… Such unity, solidarity, amalgamation, harmony, balance, stalemate, deadlock, rest, stability, equilibrium, coagulation, attraction, as we see in daily life, are all the appearance of things in the state of quantitative change’ (On Contradiction, p. 48).

According to Mao, there exist two types of motions, through which qualitative and quantitative changes manifest themselves. Qualitative changes take place through more or less violent motions and quantitative changes take place through relatively slow motions. From the point of view of a purely mechanical approach with regard to, for example, the transition of matter from one state into another and vice-versa, this reasoning would not necessarily provoke strong objections. However, Mao’s reasoning does have serious implications generally speaking, and in particular turns the Marxist-Leninist understanding of the dynamics of the opposites of contradictions into a theory of mechanical equilibrium between them, which is broken when antagonistic contradictions are resolved through qualitative changes or upheavals. According to this reasoning, the accumulation of quantitative changes is viewed from the point of view of harmony among the opposites of the contradiction. Harmony is broken when qualitative changes occur; harmony, however, is the form through which the interrelation of the opposites of the contradiction manifests itself between periods of upheavals. This mechanical interpretation of the understanding of the interrelation between quantitative and qualitative changes is not an innovation of Mao. As a matter of fact, this type of thinking had been extensively developed and applied to the theory of class struggle and political economy by Bogdanov and Bukharin in the Soviet Union.

To understand Bogdanovism and how his theory of equilibrium was adapted by Bukharin to questions of the political economy of the transitional society is crucial to comprehend the theories of market socialism advocated by modern revisionism. Bogdanov was one of the objects of criticism by Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism and Stalin fought all this life against remnants of Bukharinism in political economy. In essence, the basic philosophical and theoretical tenets of modern revisionism are inspired by Bogdanov’s postulates formulated in his work Universal Science of Organisation – Tektology (1913-1922). Tektology has been highly praised by bourgeois scholars as a precursor of a whole trend of bourgeois ‘natural philosophy of organisation in complex systems’. As Bogdanov put it, ‘the aim of Tektology is the systematisation of organised complexes’ through the identification of universal organisational principles: ‘all things are organisational, all complexes could only be understood through their organisational character’. The starting point of Bogdanov’s Tektology was that nature has a general, organised character, with one set of laws of organisation for all objects. Two aspects of Bogdanov’s contributions were central in the development of the first theories of right-wing revisionist political economy in the 1920s: first, Bogdanov’s metaphysical concept of the law of organisation of a complex system (i.e. the economy of the transitional society) through the identification of universal organisational principles; secondly, the need for equilibrium of the complex system and the environment. Bogdanov believed he had developed a more complex conception of equilibrium, different from the purely mechanical conception, which considered that any complex system should correspond to its environment and adapt to it. But in practice Bogdanov’s postulates were implemented by a trend of Soviet economists in the 1920s, including Bukharin as the leading member of the future right-wing opposition to the plans for massive collectivisation and the gradual liquidation of commodity-money relations in the Soviet economy. In the 1920s the concept of ‘law of labour expenses’ circulated among wide circles of Soviet economists. This concept was exposed at the time as no more and no less than the law of value, dressed up in the form of the Bogdanovite law of organisation of a complex system. The law of labour expenses, according to Bukharin, would be a general law (applicable to all historical epochs and modes of production) that establishes the proportions of labour. In the modes of production based on commodity-money relations, the law of value would be the manifestation of this general law. Under socialism, according to Bukharin, the law of labour expenses would act ‘naked’ without using the form of the law of value. In the end, the regulator of labour exchange under socialism would be the principle of exchange of equal labour (values in the commodity economy). In essence, Bukharin propagated the use of the law of value as the regulator of the proportions of labour in the socialist economy, which is a mercantilist approach to the questions of political economy of the transitional society. The observation of the ‘law of labour expenses’ provides proportionality and, therefore, the necessary equilibrium of the complex system. Bukharin’s energetic opposition to the policies of collectivisation and massive industrialisation was based on the belief that the economic disproportions created by the systematic violation of the ‘law of labour expenses’ (i.e. the law of value) would disturb this abstract concept of economic equilibrium. The theories of market socialism that emerged after the Great Patriotic War and became the official theoretical foundation of the new regime after Stalin’s death is just a sophisticated version of Bogdanov/Bukharin’s ‘law of labour expenses’.

It is not within the scope of the present article to deal with this question in detail. This topic will be covered in more depth in the near future. Nevertheless what is relevant to the present discussion is to point out that Mao’s On Contradiction opens the way to conceiving the concept of harmony of opposites. These features of Mao’s philosophical thinking blossom further and adopt openly revisionist manifestations in a later work, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People in 1957, in which the harmony of the proletariat and the national bourgeoisie is considered feasible. It is very possible that Guevara was also acquainted with this later work of Mao, as it had become one of Mao’s most publicised works, especially at the time when Maoism was emerging as an ideological trend independent of mainstream revisionist ideology. The fact that Guevara explicitly denies the possibility of harmony of opposites strongly indicates that he was acquainted with this work.

By this we do not want to imply that Guevara had reached a point in his theoretical investigations at which he was in a position to systematically expose the tenets of what’s known today as the theory of Maoism. On the contrary, Guevara agrees with Mao on the role of ideology in the political economy of socialism. Their conceptions of the object of political economy in the transitional society do not differ significantly in their essence. It is in this aspect where Guevara’s economic theory stumbles into serious problems. This central shortcoming of Guevara’s economic thought prevents him from fully and consistently grasping the theory of political economy developed by Lenin and Stalin.

Within the context of the quotation under scrutiny, Guevara is obviously protesting against the theory of peaceful coexistence between what he refers to as socialist countries and imperialism. While internal antagonistic contradictions were in the main resolved by the socialist revolutions, the class contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie continue mainly under the form of the antagonistic relationship between socialism and imperialism. As a matter of fact, internal contradictions are intimately connected to the antagonistic relations with the imperialist world.

The citation presented above is followed by a hopelessly wrong and rather absurd sentence, to say the very least:

‘Finally, the law of uneven development is a law of nature, not of the dominant social system; therefore, the socialist countries also develop unevenly, which transforms itself through commerce into unequal exchange, or in other words, into the exploitation of some socialist countries by others.’

This sentence is not necessarily relevant to the above discussion. However, we bring this quotation up to make more evident the fact that our investigation on the heart of Guevara’s thought is far from understood and is plagued with pitfalls and inconsistencies. This statement is a blemish on the reputation of Guevara’s thought. To state that the uneven development of socialist countries is a necessary economic law is consistent with stating that the development of socialism spontaneously engenders exploitation of man by man, and therefore, the construction of communism is a hopeless illusion and lacks scientific substantiation both philosophically and from the point of view of political economy. Let us hope for the best, that Guevara was just being sarcastic. Unfortunately, whether this was the case or whether he was trying to make a point will probably remain a mystery to us.


Che Guevara and the Political Economy of Socialism

Ernesto Che Guevara visiting the tractor factory in Brno, Czechoslovakia, October 27, 1960.

Rafael Martinez

Che Guevara is widely known to the world as the romantic-idealist revolutionary. The economic thought of Che Guevara has not really been widely publicised as the Argentinean born revolutionary is commonly known for his works on the guerrilla warfare, whose underlying idealist and voluntarist approaches to the struggle of the oppressed masses against capitalism and imperialism have been exposed and rejected altogether by the Marxist-Leninists. It is most appropriate, however, to pay special attention to Guevara’s economic works, as his contribution to the economic transformation of Cuba during the early stages of the revolutionary process was central and was highly criticised by the ideologists of modern revisionism, both within and outside the country.

Che participated in making up the agrarian reform law in 1959. In October 1959 he was appointed director of the Department of Industrialisation, which was created by INRA (Instituto Nacional de la Reforma Agraria or National Institute of the Agrarian Reform). At that time most of the industry was still in the hands of private owners. Guevara undertook the task of studying the economy of the island and establishing the guidelines of building up Cuban industry. According to Orlando Borrego, author of ‘Che el camino del fuego’ (Imagen Contemporanea, Havana 2001), the department started off without a single industry under its jurisdiction nor a ‘budget of its own to finance supplies, investments and other expenses’ to manage the few companies that passed to its jurisdiction later in the year. In November 1959 Guevara was appointed head of the National Bank, although he never stopped overseeing the work of the department of industrialisation to where he returned within the next year.

It is not till October 1960, when the Cuban Government decrees the immediate nationalisation of commercial and industrial enterprises including the sugar cane industry, that the Department of Industrialisation becomes a full-fledged body for the organisation of industrial production on a massive scale. His leadership in the Department of Industrialisation led Guevara to become the Cuban minister of industry in February 1961, which had the task to organise state industry following massive nationalisation.

At this point Guevara faces the challenging task to organise most of the country’s industrial production on the basis of an ill-defined (from the point of view of socialist construction) revolutionary process. Despite the success of the anti-imperialist struggle undertaken by the Cuban Revolution, its leadership lacked knowledge of the political economy of Marxism-Leninism. Che Guevara, without any doubt, is the member of the Cuban leadership who takes most seriously the study of political economy, which he did in parallel to all the administrative and organisational tasks that he was assigned by the Cuban Revolution. The study of Marxist political economy and the economic discussions that were triggered during the process of organisation of the Cuban industry become the central topic in Guevara’s life during the first half of the ‘60s. This period of exploration and creativity comes for the most part to an end when, in 1965 Che renounces his responsibilities as the Minister of Industry, following a heated economic debate, referred to by many as the ‘Great Debate’, which reached its climax in 1963-1964.

Strong divergences between the pro-Soviet economic line and Guevara’s plan of industrialisation brought to an end the participation of the Argentinean revolutionary in the internal affairs of the Cuban revolution. Guevara embarks on a ‘quixotic’ military campaign to aid and create revolutionary processes in Africa and Latin America, which concludes with his assassination in Bolivia, in 1967.

Castro remembers Che in a well-known speech given in 1987, in the midst of the so-called process of rectification, by denouncing a number of gross deformations in the economic life of the island and corruption of moral standards. Castro calls upon the population with an appeal of the highest moral standards embodied by the life of the great revolutionary, and admits to the negative consequences of departing from Che’s economic thought:

‘Che was radically opposed to using and developing capitalist economic laws and categories in building socialism. He advocated something that I have often insisted on: Building socialism and communism is not just a matter of producing and distributing wealth but is also a matter of education and consciousness’ (Fidel Castro in ‘Che Guevara, Economics and politics in the transition to socialism’, Pathfinder, New York, 2003, p. 39).

In the midst of open appeals to revive what many in Cuba call the ‘Che’s dream’ a lot of confusion is fostered about the interpretation and originality of Guevara’s economic thought. Twenty years after his assassination, Cuban scholars Fernando Martinez Heredia, and specially, Carlos Tablada, revived the discussions concerning Guevara’s contribution to the practice of socialist construction in Cuba and to the economic theory of the transitional epoch in general. Unfortunately, most scholars in Cuba consider Guevara’s economic thought in isolation from the theory of political economy of socialism developed before the revisionist political economy became widely accepted in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe in the 1960s.

Outside the country, efforts have been made to reconcile Guevara’s economic thought with Trotskyism and neo-Trotskyite tendencies. Neo-Trotskyite elements around the world, not without encouragement from within Cuba, try to portray Guevara’s economic thought as a reaction to the economic line imposed by the bureaucratic castes in the Soviet Union, by completely ignoring, more correctly suppressing, Guevara’s open support to Stalin in questions of the construction of socialism. It is silenced that Guevara quoted Stalin on multiple occasions in his economic works published in Cuba and the fact that the core of his economic theory, the budgetary finance system, bears strong similarities to the economic ‘model’ of development, which had become ‘standard’ in the former People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe during the post-war period up until Stalin’s death. Trotskyism, neo-Trotskyism and many in Cuba exacerbate Guevara’s idealist mistakes present in both his political and economic thoughts and turn Che into some sort of humanist socialist, who de facto suppressed the weight of the objective character of the economic laws of socialism in favour of a leading role of socialist education and consciousness (which, unfortunately, is true to a considerable degree).

Discussions about the controversial role of Che Guevara in the Cuban revolution during the early stages of the construction of the new economy have been revived in recent years. More and more unpublished documents are slowly coming to light. One of the most significant efforts developed in this direction is led by the Centro de Estudios Che Guevara, based in Havana and located in the house where Guevara and his family used to reside during the first half of the sixties. This association possesses direct access to Guevara’s personal library, which contains numerous volumes in which he used to make annotations. Ambitious plans have been revealed to publish nine volumes with materials covering numerous aspects of the political life of Che Guevara, which hopefully will throw important light on the evolution of Guevara’s thought as a Marxist.

One of the most enlightening documents published in recent years corresponds to a letter sent by Che, while based in Tanzania, to Armando Hart Dávalos on the need to publish in Cuba works on philosophy. The authenticity of this letter does not seem to be controversial as it was published in a Cuban journal and made available to the public. In this letter Guevara outlines a basic plan for the publication of texts in philosophy, subdivided into 8 groups:

In Cuba there is nothing published, if one excludes the Soviet bricks, which bring the inconvenience that they do not let you think; the party did it for you and you should digest it.

It would be necessary to publish the complete works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin [underlined by Che in the original] and other great Marxists.

Here would come to the great revisionists (if you want you can add here Khrushchev), well analyzed, more profoundly than any others and also your friend Trotsky, who existed and apparently wrote something (Che Guevara, Letter to Armando Hart Dávalos published in Contracorriente, Havana, September 1997, No. 9).

In the present article we will try to briefly cover the main elements of Guevara’s economic thought by means of establishing analogies with the Marxist-Leninist economic theory of the transitional society. Further, we will discuss the absurd allegations of Trotskyism that the Soviet revisionist leadership inflicted on Guevara. We will conclude with a brief exposition of what are, in our opinion the two major mistakes committed by Guevara in his economic works: idealism and mechanicism.

Budgetary System versus Financial Self-Management

At the centre of Guevara’s economic thought stands the budgetary system, which Che implemented in the enterprises organised by the ministry of industry between 1961 and 1964. The budgetary system is formulated by Guevara as a reaction against what had been established in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe under the system of economic accounting (usually referred by us as market-like economic accounting, in order to distinguish it from the more generic concept of economic accounting), which the followers of post-Stalin Soviet revisionism posed as a model of development in Cuba. It is within the context of the revision of the Marxist-Leninist principles of the political economy of socialism by the Soviet revisionist leadership that the study of Guevara’s budgetary system needs to be analysed and appreciated.

Despite strong elements of mechanicism and schematism inherent to Guevara’s presentation for a case in favour of the centralisation of industrial production and the establishment of forms of management and interrelations between individual producing subjects and the state, the budgetary system embodies the means, however primitive, which served the purpose for the application and success of the centralised planned principle of the economic development in a backward country. This is the rationale behind Guevara’s formulations, which represents in the main the basic prerequisite for a more or less rapid industrialisation of the island, which he considered to be the highest priority within the process of socialist construction.

Many in Cuba portray Guevara’s budgetary system elaborated for the specific conditions of Cuba, which in a sense Che ‘invents’ a particular model that suits his more or less utopian view of the transition to the socialist society. Thus Guevara’s thinking is studied in isolation from the historical epoch, which corresponds to the epoch of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies. At most, Guevara’s economic thinking is viewed as an alternative to the ‘neo-Stalinist’ command-administrative system undertaken by the Soviet leadership. This view was revitalised in Cuba towards the end of the 1980s when the Soviet economy and the whole so-called ‘socialist’ system showed clear signs of decomposition. It is enlightening, however, to see that some leading economists in the island do admit that Guevara’s economic thought did not come out of the blue:

‘In retrospective, the budgetary system is a contribution of great value. We would not say – and you know it well – that Che invented the budgetary system. It already came from the socialist countries; in the Soviet Union for a period of time the budgetary system ruled many aspects of the economy’. (Carlos Rafael Rodriguez in ‘Che Guevara, Cuba and the Road to Socialism’, New York, 1991, pp. 39-30. Translated from Spanish.)

Needless to say Rodriguez refers to the socialist economic model developed under Stalin. Rodriguez, however, wrongly attributes to Guevara the view that in the transition to higher forms of socialism, or full socialism, the budgetary system could be applied to the entire economy; the entire economy could allegedly function as one big enterprise, with one social fund to meet the needs of production and distribution. Much to the contrary, Guevara formulates the budgetary system as a means to meet the immediate needs posed by the organisation of the State industry and, as will be seen in the next section, admits to the existence of commodity-money relations between the state and other production objects, hence he admits the existence of forms of production other than state owned.

The budgetary system is conceived by Che as an opposite of the model established in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe after Stalin’s death. Guevara exposes the basic differences between the budgetary system and the market-type of economic accounting or so-called financial self-management, as early as in 1961, i.e. the very early stages of the socialisation of industry in the country. Guevara’s thinking in favour of the centralisation of the State industry predates the ‘Great Economic debate’, and it is clear to us that Che had conceived the budgetary system long before he sees himself engulfed in a heated discussion with the numerous supporters of financial self-management in the island. We have every reason to believe that he was in some more or less systematic way acquainted with the history of the Soviet economy and the general elements of the socialist economy during Stalin’s times.

Guevara rejects from the very beginning the concept of free enterprise within the socialist sector, which is embodied by the ability of the individual economic subject to act as a more or less independent producer, since

‘…in the socialist countries, the enterprise possesses a bank credit, acquires money, produces with the money that it receives, sells its production, and then grants to the State part of the profit and part of this profit is preserved for internal needs. The difference is that our company does not sell, but delivers products and workers are awarded through the State’ (Che Guevara, Conference ‘Economy and Plan’ of the People’s University, 1961. Translated from Spanish.)

In Guevara’s system the enterprise does not sell, as the commodity-money becomes effective both in form and content only when the product is alienated by an independent producer or the individual consumer. Guevara understands the retribution of the worker in the socialist enterprise as an operation, in which in essence the socialist toiler establishes an employer-employee relationship with the socialist state, bypassing the enterprise. We believe he considers this relationship from the point of view of the essence of the labour relationship, as in reality this relationship has unavoidably to take the form of employment via the individual enterprise.

As opposed to the revisionist system of financial self-management, labour circulates among the individual enterprises of the state sector and between the enterprises and the State via the form of allocation or assignments according to contracts stipulated by the socialist plan:

‘To elaborate a budget through which the enterprise will be assigned necessary funds by the state to make effective contracts…; and also to transfer to public accounts the revenue from sales.’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Collective Discussion: Unique Decision and Responsibility’, p. 3. Translated from Spanish.)

In Guevara’s system the enterprise functions as an aggregate of a larger enterprise, which does not possess financial resources with which to make its own decisions in terms of production and reproduction. Since the socialist enterprise:

‘The company does not have resources of its own; therefore its income is transferred to the national budget’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 46. Translated from Spanish.)

Guevara is adamantly opposed to any form of exchange among socialist enterprises in the socialist sector other than allocation of resources. The circulation of labour within the socialised sector is viewed by Guevara as an aggregation of labour in a complex productive chain. In this system the enterprises are not able to establish labour exchange independently from the plan, since the entire productive activity of the enterprise is dictated by it. The state, in the form of the State Bank is the beginning and the end of labour flow concerning the productive activity of the socialist enterprise: it acquires the necessary financial means to acquire the means of production and it deposits the revenue in the Central Bank. These resources are then utilised by the socialist planning system to provide for extended reproduction of the individual productive unit, for capital investment or non-productive social needs. In this sense the enterprise does not extract profit per se; it transfers a positive balance between the production cost and the income and it is the socialist state which makes the final decision according to the plan as to the fate of this positive balance.

The concept of socialist planning in Guevara’s system is closely linked to the concept of profitability of the whole productive system. The effectiveness of the socialist economy is not the results of the mechanical summation of individual enterprises. A positive balance in the arithmetic sum of individual profits is possible in the capitalist system during times of expansion, although it becomes negative in times of recession. Regardless of the fact that the socialist productive system does not know recession or crises, the socialist productive system displays the greatest rates of growth not just because the arithmetic aggregation of individual profitability amounts to a positive balance. The advantage of the socialist mode of production over capitalism lies in the planned character of the economy, that the socialist state is in a position to decide at the scale of the whole productive system, not the coordination of individual producers but the regulation of labour flow among socialist enterprises. While it is of paramount importance that the productive unit be most profitable by means of maximum reduction of production costs, the efficiency of the economy needs to be assessed as a whole.

‘Since this system is based on the central control of the economy, the relative efficiency of an enterprise would become just an index; what really matters is the total profitability of the entire productive system’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 48. Translated from Spanish.)

This concept, which is a more complex concept with respect to the profitability of the individual enterprise, had been stated explicitly by Stalin in Economic Problems. In arguing against the right-wing deviationists, the only way to understand that certain sectors of the economy may function without profit or even producing losses over a certain period of time is to introduce a more complex concept of profitability of the whole socialist economy:

‘If profitableness is considered not from the standpoint of individual plants or industries, and not over a period of one year, but from the standpoint of the entire national economy and over a period of, say, ten or fifteen years,… then the temporary and unstable profitableness of some plants and industries is beneath all comparisons with that higher form of stable and permanent profitableness which we get from the operation of the law of balanced development of the national economy and from economic planning…’ (J.V. Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR,Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow 1952, pp. 28-29.)

Many have been led to believe that the establishment of socialised planning in certain areas of the State-owned sector during the transitional economy is a dangerous utopia. The transition to NEP is commonly used as a historical example, which allegedly illustrates that socialised forms of organisation do not correspond to the economic conditions given in a backward, agricultural country. Much to the contrary, not only the implementation of market-like economic accounting in the State industry is a relatively short-lived phenomenon in the economic history of the Soviet Union, it was soon realised that the NEP-style approach could lead to catastrophic consequences if the market-like economic accounting were to be imposed on all the areas of the State sector. Since the first stages of the transition from the economy of War Communism to the liberalisation of the Soviet economy, the Soviet leadership expressed worries that Lenin’s plans for the industrialisation of the country would be jeopardised if market relations were to be made effective in all the State-owned sectors. Already in 1923, the XII Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) expressed ample concerns:

‘On the other hand, heavy industry, which has barely entered in contact with the market and which depends completely on State contracts, needs for its reconstruction large and well-calculated financial resources from the State. This also applies to a great degree to railway and sea transport.’ (Decisions of the Soviet Government on Economic Questions, Moscow 1957, Volume 1, p. 380. Translated from Russian.)

Despite what right-wing revisionism led many to believe, the Soviet government since the early stages of the NEP established a line of demarcation within the sectors I and II of the economy. While light industry displayed significant growth during the early stages of the liberalisation of the economy, mostly due to the revival of market relations, heavy industry showed little or no signs of flourishing under the conditions of market-style economic accounting. If the market-type economic accounting were to be imposed on heavy industry, if the Soviet plan, regardless of the level of development of the forces of production and the correlation of forces within the various sectors of the economy and the weight of non-socialist forms of production, were to deny heavy industry large long-term financial assistance for a sustained process of re-production, this sector would be forced into recession. The plans for the speedy industrialisation of a vast and backward (both technically and culturally) country would be doomed and with it collectivisation and socialist construction.

‘The interrelations between light and heavy industries cannot be resolved by means of the market, as this would threaten to liquidate heavy industry in the next few years; heavy industry could recover, but this time as a result of the anarchic development of the market and on the basis of private property. (Ibid. p. 382. Translated from Russian.)

The socialist law of development, according to which the industry of means of production should develop faster than light industry and agriculture, necessarily leads a more or less significant fraction of the forces of production owned by the socialist state to operate according to laws of labour distribution and organisation different from those inherited from the capitalist form of production. While market relations to a considerable degree were temporarily allowed by the NEP to regulate production and labour distribution among more or less disseminated and independent economic units in the State industry, the Soviet State was forced since the beginning to define the concretisation of this law of socialist production, in a sense breaking with NEP itself. The establishment of socialist planning on the basis of the socialised mode of production in certain sectors of the economy holds absolute character. This principle holds regardless of the level of development of the forces of production in the economy of the country in transition to socialism as a whole. The level of socialisation of the State sector does strongly depend upon the concrete-historical conditions of the country in transition. However, the State is bound since the very beginning to establish a socialist planned principle to operate in a direct, socialised way (not by means of the market) on certain sectors of the economy, primarily on the sector I. This is the basic principle of the transitional economy that Guevara tried his best to uphold by advocating the budgetary system, as a system opposed to the system of market-type economic accounting proposed by the followers of Soviet revisionism in the island.

As will be touched upon in more detail, Guevara’s economic thought, the budgetary system that he advocated is completely opposed to Trotsky’s concealed right-wing economic theories. Trotsky opposed since the early stages of NEP, all the way till the end of his political career the establishment of a genuine planned principle in certain sectors of the State sector, by advocating the absolute and universal character of NEP:

But the New Economic Policy does not flow solely from the interrelations between the city and the village. This policy is a necessary stage in the growth of state-owned industry. Between capitalism, under which the means of production are owned by private individuals and all economic relations are regulated by the market –I say, between capitalism and complete socialism, with its socially planned economy, there are a number of transitional stages; and the NEP is essentially one of these stages.

Let us analyze this question, taking the railways as a case in point. It is precisely railway transportation that provides a field which is prepared in the maximum degree for socialist economy… The railway lines, not only those privately owned, but also the state-owned lines, settled their accounts with all the other economic enterprises through the medium of the market. Under the particular system this was economically unavoidable and necessary because the equipment and development of a particular line depends upon how far it justifies itself economically. Whether a particular railway is beneficial to the economy can be ascertained only through the medium of the market.’ (L.D. Trotsky, ‘The First Five Years of the Communist International’, Volume 2, New Park Publications, London, 1953, pp. 233-4.)

Guevara’s budgetary system is the means for the industrialisation of Cuba. One of the fundamental principles of the socialist economy is based on the development of industrial production, mainly heavy industry, as the basis and engine of the development of the socialist economy. Imperialist domination is based upon the concentration of industry and technology in the hands of imperialist corporations. Exploited countries are deprived of the means and necessary knowledge to secure the development of labour productivity, a key element to sustained development of the forces of production.

In order to overcome economic backwardness and the relations of dependence on the imperialist countries, i.e. the ultimate goal of a genuine process of national-liberation, it is imperative to turn around the character of economic relations with the outside world. This implies a deep re-structuring of the economies, which for long years have been geared towards fitting the economic needs of the imperialist countries, and to turn these countries into self-sufficient and prosperous socialist industrial ones. Genuine independence, true anti-imperialism is no more than rhetorical statements without massive policies of socialist industrialisation, which is the material basis for long-term and sustained independence.

Over a hundred years of national liberation movements have taught us that the socialisation of the means of production, as opposed to half-measures disguised by pseudo-socialist phraseology, is the only way towards national independence. Here lies the essence of the internationalist policies of the Soviet State during the post-war period.

The economies of dependent countries, such as Cuba back in the 1950s, are based upon the extraction and the early stages of manufacturing of raw materials. The main source of revenue of Batista’s Cuba was the export of sugar, whose price in the international market was out of the control of the country and, as repeatedly pointed out by the leaders of the Cuban revolution, undershot the actual value.

The only possible way that economically and culturally backward countries can attain economic and sustained political independence, lies in the development of heavy industry, which is the only possible way to lay the foundations for sustained economic growth. This fundamental point of the socialist construction lies at the centre of attention of Guevara’s economic thought and to it he devoted most of his practical and theoretical efforts while remaining in office.

Commodity-Money Relations and the Law of Value

In this section we will briefly cover Guevara’s understanding of the role of commodity-money relations and the law of value in the socialist industry. At this point we lack written materials to throw light on his attitude towards the agrarian reform performed during the early stages of the Cuban revolution. His understanding of the collectivisation of the large mass of petty producers is also unknown to us, although we hope that in the near future archival materials may be made available to the public in Cuba.

As illustrated in the previous section, at the centre of Guevara’s economic thought stands the model of budgetary system. This system is intimately related to Guevara’s understanding of the role of plan, which, as discussed, fundamentally differs from that envisioned by right-wing revisionism in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe. Much to the contrary, it bears close resemblance to the conception of economic planning, which prevailed in the Soviet Union before Stalin’s death and stands in line with the economic policies that had become ‘standard’ in the former People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe in the period of 1948-1953.

Guevara’s attitude to the role of market categories and relations are consistent with his understanding of plan and are very close to Stalin’s formulations in Economic Problems. Guevara explicitly denies the need for commodity exchange between socialist enterprises and categorically denies the commodity character of the means of production. He supports the correct view that commodity exchange involves change of ownership. Commodity exchange between state enterprises is viewed by the Argentinean as a contradiction per se, since in the budgetary system the socialist enterprise is an organic element of a bigger enterprise, the State. Within this system the labour among enterprises does not adopt the form of commodity exchange. Means of production, financial resources are not owned by the socialist enterprise, as the latter lacks its own account and revenue is automatically deposited in a socialised account. In this system, the means of production are allocated to a given production unit according to the needs and future perspective of economic development and dictated by a centralised plan.

Guevara does not deny the existence of commodity production and the coexistence of different modes of production. He supports Stalin’s views that commodity relations are not inherent to the socialist sector but that their existence is due to the presence of different forms of property within the Cuban economy. As opposed to the Soviet Economy in Stalin’s time, the Cuban countryside had not undergone the process of collectivisation of the petty producer. In the concrete-historical situation of Cuba, the incipient socialist industrial sector had to coexist with a large mass of independent producers. However, this concrete-historical circumstance does not prevent the socialist sector, however small and poorly organized, to operate under a different regulator of production than that operating in the countryside. Guevara writes:

‘We believe that the partial existence of the law of value is due to the remnants of the market economy, which also manifests itself in the type of exchange between the State and the private consumer’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘On the Budgetary System’, p. 95. Translated from Spanish).

This statement is very close to Stalin’s well-known statement given in Economic Problems:

‘But the collective farms are unwilling to alienate their products except in the form of commodities, in exchange for which they desire to receive the commodities they need… Because of this, commodity production and trade are as much a necessity with us today as they were thirty years ago…’(J.V. Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow 1952, p. 19-20.)

In addition, as pointed out by Guevara, there remains the need for commodity-money bonds between the State and the private producer, as the worker in socialism still receives a significant fraction of the social fund for the satisfaction of individual needs in money terms. The exchange between the state and the individual producer is performed under the form of a commodity exchange, as

‘…this transfer occurs when the product leaves the state sector and it becomes property of an individual consumer’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 46. Translated from Spanish.)

With the socialisation of all the means of production and the liquidation of individual and collective forms of production, there would be no need for commodity-money exchange in socialism. As a matter of fact, the realisation of the socialist principle of distribution does not necessarily imply the existence of commodity-money relations, as a category of production. These views were ‘exposed’ and refuted by Soviet economists, who after a series of discussions re-wrote chapters in the Manual of Political Economy regarding the political economy of socialism.

Naturally, these views were also not shared by many economists in Cuba, as manifested in a more or less full-fledged controversial discussion during 1963-1964. For instance, Alberto Mora (Minister of Foreign Trade during that time) in 1963 openly attacked Guevara’s views, by comparing them with Stalin’s, which were published in Economic Problems. He rejected Guevara’s theses on the grounds that the most serious ‘scientific’ discussions held in the Soviet Union during the second half of the 1950s and early sixties indicated that Stalin’s views were wrong, that the law of value operates in socialism as a regulator of production, as the products in the socialist economy remain and will remain commodities all the way till communism:

‘When some comrades deny that the law of value operates in the relations among enterprises within the State sector, they argue that the entire State sector is under single ownership, that the enterprises are the property of the society. This, of course, is true. But as an economic criterion it is inaccurate. State property is not yet fully developed social property that will be achieved only under communism.’ (A. Mora, in ‘On the operation of the law of value in the Cuban Economy’, published in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 227).

The well-known Trotskyite economist, Ernest Mandel, who was very active during what he called the ‘Great Debate’ in Cuba, enters into a long-standing controversy with Charles Bettelheim, a French right-wing revisionist scholar. The latter also became active during the economic debate, this time as a fervent supporter of the ‘socialist-market’ conception advocated by the pro-Soviet economists in the island. Despite Mandel’s views that means of production in the socialist economy do not circulate as commodities, he is very keen on exposing Stalin’s views advocated by Guevara with regard to the causes of the law of value in the socialist sector. In the section of the ‘Historical conditions leading to the extinction of mercantile categories’ of a well-publicised article in Cuba, he states:

‘Although we have criticized several of comrade Bettelheim’s positions, we agree with him completely in rejecting Stalin’s theory that the basic reason for the mercantile categories in the Soviet economy is the existence of two forms of socialist property: ownership by the people (that is, the State) and ownership by more limited social groups (essentially the Kolkhozy)’. (E. Mandel, in ‘On the operation of the law of value in the Cuban Economy’, published in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 70.)

Mandel has an opinion of his own and does not need to refer to the Soviet pseudo-science to ‘expose’ Guevara’s ‘primitivism’. The author advocates that only the abundance of consumer goods, which are closely linked to the development of forces of production, will create the objective conditions for the abolition of commodity-money relations in the sphere of private consumption. Moreover, he seems to be proud that

‘The new program of the CPSU, approved by the XXII congress, incorporated this idea as set forth in our Traite d’Economie Marxiste’ (E. Mandel, in ‘On the operation of the law of value in the Cuban Economy’, published in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 71).

Guevara advocated the correct view that the law of value does not operate within the socialist sector as a regulator of production. He is able to grasp, unlike his detractors, a crucial element in the political economy of socialism:

‘We insist on the analysis of the cost, since part of our conception refers to the fact that it is not strictly necessary that cost of production and price coincide in the socialist sector’. (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 47. Translated from Spanish.)

Guevara understood that the price setting in the socialist sector, as a quantifier of the flow of labour circulating among different subjects of the state industry, does not necessarily have to coincide with the cost of production. If the labour exchange between different sectors of the socialist economy were to be governed by the exchange according to equal value, less profitable or even not profitable enterprises would not be able to survive and the process of extended reproduction of the socialist economy would be brought to its knees. If the law of value is forced to operate as a regulator of the proportions of labour exchanged between enterprises in the socialist sector it would not be possible to overcome the disproportions between sectors of the economy, which are inherited from capitalism, let alone colonialism and neo-colonialism. This consequently leads to a more complex concept of profitability of the socialist economy, which was touched upon in the previous section, which Stalin formulated in Economic Problems and which Guevara embraces wholeheartedly.

It is true that the abstract formulation that prices in the socialist sector do not necessarily correspond to the cost of production contains within itself a strong potential and it represents a serious step forward in the evolution of the understanding of political economy of socialism. This statement represents a tremendous step forward with respect to the theories of right-wing revisionism, which does not conceive labour exchange outside the boundaries of commodity-money relations. However, this statement does solve right away the most intricate problem of the political economy of socialism, which is to concretise what are the actual proportions of labour that correspond to the historical-concrete situation and the development of the forces of production and forms of management of a given country. This is a titanic task that needs to be resolved by the revolutionaries of a given country, which Guevara genuinely and with the best of his abilities tried to solve for the concrete conditions of Cuba.

Guevara is an advocate of the strictest economic accounting, for the same reasons that Stalin criticised many Soviet managers and plan making for neglecting the operation of the law of value as a strong instrument for economic accounting in socialism. Indeed, accounting in value terms proves a powerful tool to evaluate the effectiveness of the socialist enterprise, and this is most appreciated by Guevara:

‘The cost would yield an index of the management of the enterprise; it is irrelevant that these prices are higher or lower than the prices in the socialist sector, or even, in some isolated cases, than those prices used to sell the product to the people; what matters is the sustained analysis of the management of the enterprise…, which is determined by its success or failure to reduce costs’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 49. Translated from Spanish.)

At the end of the day, one of the fundamental goals of the enterprise in socialism as well as in communism

‘…reduces to a common denominator…: the increase of labour productivity as the fundamental basis for the construction of socialism and indispensable premise for communism.’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 51. Translated from Spanish.)

In Guevara’s budgetary finance system, money within the socialist enterprise is used primarily as means of calculation, as a strong algebraic tool for determining the effectiveness of the enterprise, the correctness of the use of the resources granted by the State to the enterprise, a means to determine if the enterprise is doing enough to reduce costs, etc… In his very important article, ‘About the Budgetary System’ he exposes one of the most prominent differences between his conception and the role given to money by the pro-Soviet economists in Cuba within the so called ‘Economic Accounting’ system:

‘Another difference is the way money is used; in our system money operates as arithmetic money, as a reflection, in prices, of the management of the enterprise, which the central organs will analyze in order to control the functioning of the latter.’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘About the Budgetary System’, p. 80 Translated from Spanish.)

Guevara’s views are consistent with the well-known exposure of Notkin’s ‘marketist’ views by Stalin:

Why, in that case, do we speak of the value of means of production, their cost of production, their price, etc.?

Firstly, this is needed for purposes of calculation and settlement, for determining that the enterprises are paying or running at a loss, for checking and controlling the enterprises. …’ (J.V. Stalin, op. cit, p. 58-59.)

As the economic discussion in Cuba progresses and the contradictions between Guevara’s line and the pro-Soviet economists (including Charles Bettelheim) on the one hand, and the Trotskyite elements in Cuba (Cuban nationals as well as foreigners) on the other, Che has unavoidably to clash with the economic conception advocated by the Soviet revisionists. Towards the end of this discussion, in 1964 Guevara expresses himself in a more and more explicit and eloquent way regarding the differences between his model and the ‘market-socialist’ type of development advocated by the revisionists. The exposition of the differences, which at first, in 1961 Guevara had put in rather mild, almost academic terms, turns controversial and bitter in 1964, leaving no doubt that the contradictions had become irreconcilable and that the Cuban leadership would have to take a stand sooner rather than later. Whether the Soviet revisionist leadership demanded Guevara’s removal from his posts in the economy of the island, as a pre-requisite to sustained economic aid, or whether his detractors in Cuba played a leading role in the events that followed the economic discussions, remains a matter of speculation. Regardless, it is clear to us that Guevara engages in an important theoretical debate till the very end and was never curbed by the overwhelming wave of criticism triggered by his writings, which he faced almost alone. In addition, we can only imagine how upsetting to pro-Soviet and Trotskyite elements in the island it would be to accept that the leading economist, a holder of a key command position in the Cuban economy, dares, not once, not twice, but at least three times that we are aware of, to cite and defend Stalin’s works as an authoritative reference against his opponents.

Che openly and in print criticises the revisionist manual of political economy published in the Soviet Union in the early sixties, with regards to the insistence of the Soviet revisionists on developing commodity-money relations in socialism, let alone the transition to socialism. After a series of gradual changes operated in the economic literature of the 1950s followed by crucial economic discussions held towards the end of that decade, the Soviet economists published a new manual of political economy under the editorship of a leading economist, Ostrovitianov. In this important document all the products in socialism are proclaimed to be commodities, including the means of production (with the utterly inconsistent exemption of labour force), and the law of value, which is used in a conscious way by the socialist plan, operates as the regulator of proportions of labour among enterprises, whether state owned or cooperatives.

As opposed to Stalin’s plans for the gradual shrinkage of the sphere of operation of the commodity-money relations and categories, the Soviet revisionists envisioned a plan to further enhance the role of these in the economy and to provide the enterprises with more independence. The operation of the law of value will disappear only when the highest stage of communism is accomplished in a more or less distant future. Guevara rebels against the new theses advocated by the Soviet revisionist economists by rejecting altogether the plans for developing commodity-money relations in socialism, which are treated by us as a departure from the political economy of socialism developed by Lenin and Stalin:

‘Why develop? We understand that the capitalist categories are retained for a time and that the length of this period cannot be predetermined, but the characteristics of the period of transition are those of a society that is throwing off its old bonds in order to move quickly into the new stage.

The tendency should be, in our opinion, to eliminate as fast as possible the old categories, including the market, and, therefore, material interest – or better, to eliminate the conditions of their existence’ (Che Guevara, in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 142).

It is unfortunate, however, that Che’s reasoning is plagued with idealist assertions, according to which commodity-money relations allegedly embody within themselves the ideological burden of the capitalist society. As will be touched upon the next section, Guevara equates to a great extent commodity-money relations and categories with the concept of material incentive, which he understands as a mechanism aimed at motivating and enhancing labour productivity by the same means as used in capitalism. Material incentive and consciousness appear in Guevara’s thought as two poles of one of the main (if not the most relevant) contradiction in the process of socialist construction.

Guevara should not be accused of a left-wing attitude with regard to the role of commodity-money relations in socialism. Nowhere in Che’s writings can one find appeals to implement the policies of war communism in the Cuban economy. Much to the contrary, he is aware of the need to retain commodity-money relations for an undetermined period, as a result of the presence of a large mass of individual producers. Despite glaring idealist elements in Guevara’s thought we need to give him credit for identifying correctly the sphere of application of commodity-money relations and the fundamental reasons leading to the inevitability of the latter in the socialist transition in general and in the Cuban revolutionary process, in particular. In summarising the increasing contradictions between the line of thought and the economic reforms accomplished under his office, and the push for market relations advocated by the ‘marketists’ in Cuba Guevara states:

‘We deny the possibility of consciously using the law of value, in the conditions that a free market does not exist, which expresses directly the contradiction between producers and consumers; we deny the existence of the commodity category in the relation among state enterprises and we regard them as part of one big enterprise, the State (although in practice it does not happen yet in our country).’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘On the Budgetary System’, p. 96. Translated from Spanish.)

When Guevara admits to the fact that the state sector in Cuba does not function as a ‘one big enterprise’ he is most likely referring to the coexistence of the Ministry of Industry, the INRA and the Ministry of Foreign Trade, the latter two lead by Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and Alberto Mora, respectively, both rabid ‘market-socialists’. The latter had expressed their disagreement with Guevara’s plans for industrialisation of the island based on the argumentation that Cuba was not prepared for forms of economic relations consistent with developed stages of socialisation of the labour process. Rodriguez states as late as in 1988:

‘The budgetary system is closer to the future society… this system requires conditions that we will not be able to achieve in a long time’ (Carlos Rafael Rodriguez in Che Guevara, Cuba y el camino al socialismo, New International, New York, 2000, p. 42. Translated from Spanish.)

By arguing that Cuba was never (not even after 30 years of revolution) ready for higher forms of exchange between state enterprises, Rodriguez openly polemicises in 1988, as he used to do 25 years before, with Che’s assertion that products exchanged between state enterprises do not adopt the form of commodities.

Guevara to the very end sticks to his conception that the commodity-money relations are not inherent to the socialist economy, and especially to the socialised sector, which he tried so hard to build up since the very early stages of the Cuban revolution. Market relations come about as a result of the presence of important remnants of private producers and they are bound to disappear with them (both in form and content). Even though, Guevara refrains (to the best of our rather sketchy and fragmental knowledge of the evolution of Guevara’s thinking) from referring openly to his opinion with regards to the plans of collectivising the private producer, we believe that he would have advocated for a ‘Soviet-style’ type of bond between the socialised sector and the collective farms. As an advocate of retaining the main means of production outside the operation of commodity-money relations (i.e. means of production are not treated as commodities in content, regardless of the need to use value categories to assess the amount of labour involved in them), it seems natural that Guevara would have envisioned a concept pretty much like the machine tractor stations, as a main factor for the increase of labour productivity. We believe this statement is substantiated since the rational core of Guevara’s economic thought, despite strong elements of idealism and mechanicism, remains very close to the economic forms adopted in the Soviet Union under Stalin, which had become standard and were successfully applied with whatever modifications in the countries of People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe between the end of the 1940s and Stalin’s death. We have every reason to believe that Guevara was to a certain extent acquainted with Stalin’s Economic Problems and the basic differences of principle between the so-called Stalin model and the model of ‘market-socialism’ advocated by Rodriguez, Mora et al. in Cuba.

In probably his last article ‘Man and Socialism in Cuba’ a letter addressed to Carlos Quijano, editor-publisher of the Uruguayan weekly Marcha, written in early 1965, Guevara reiterates his position once more, leaving us no doubt that he stood for his principles till the very end.

‘Pursuing the chimera of achieving socialism with the aid of blunted weapons left to us by capitalism (the commodity as the economic cell, profitability, and individual material interests as levers, etc.) it is possible to come to a blind alley’ (Che Guevara, in Man and Socialism in Cuba,Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 342).

Unfortunately, Guevara does not give up certain elements of idealism that make his economic thought so distinct as well as vulnerable and inconsistent. This side of Guevara’s economic thought has been publicised the most both in Cuba by his detractors and outside Cuba by Trotskyism and neo-Trotskyism. The clear connection between a significant number of Guevara’s statements on political economy and the so-called ‘Stalinist’ model of socialist construction is very much silenced. Che’s writing are twisted by picturing his economic thought as a continuation of his idealist and voluntarist stand in questions regarding the interrelation between the masses, the party and the guerrilla warfare, for which he is most commonly known.

On Guevara’s Alleged Trotskyism

Guevara soon entered into conflict with the Soviet revisionist leadership. As we have seen above, Che acknowledges differences of principle, as early as 1961, between the economic model established in what he used to call socialist countries, and the plans for industrialisation he was advocating. Guevara’s economic reforms were bound to clash with the character of the agrarian reform and the plans suggested by the Soviet Union that Cuba was to remain primarily a sugar cane producer for longer than anticipated by Che. As the character of the Cuban revolution consolidated and the Cuban leadership accommodated to the economic relations between the island and the Soviet Union, it was necessary that Cuban economists align with the new political economy created by the revisionists.

Guevara’s plans soon met glaring resistance within Cuba. Due to the worsening of Guevara’s relations with the Soviet leadership, many in Cuba felt a great deal of embarrassment. According to several of Guevara’s biographers, the Soviets accused Che’s economic views of Trotskyism. It was just a matter of time before Che is to leave his post of Minister of Industry and that his plans for industrialisation of the island are to be revised in favour development based on the sugar cane industry.

Trotsky is usually portrayed as a ‘radical left-wing’, as an advocate of extreme measures with regard to resolution of contradictions both in politics and economics. Trotsky’s alleged push for the militarisation of the economy has led many to believe that Trotskyite economic theories are opposed to the politics of the New Economic Policy (NEP) with regard not only to the relations between the individual producer and the state sector but also with regard to the liberalisation of the state sector. In this section we will try to substantiate the fact, that Trotsky’s economic theory cannot be classified as left-wing; much to the contrary, it does not deviate significantly from the right-wing revisionism in questions of socialist construction and the role of commodity-money relations during that period.

The myth about Trotsky’s alleged leftist stand in resolving contradictions in the transitional period, conceals the true essence of Trotskyism in economic questions. Guevara’s economic thought has nothing to with Trotsky’s attitude to commodity-money relations and categories in the transitional period; their views are completely opposed to each other. Such allegations with regards to Guevara’s economic thought are unfounded and preposterous, to say the very least. As covered above, Guevara’s economic thought does suffer from serious elements of mechanicism, which does not make him a Trotskyite, as such mistakes were common to many economists in the Soviet Union during the Stalin period.

It is very interesting to observe how the Russian bourgeoisie is willing to appreciate in Trotsky the ‘virtues’ of a ‘market-socialist’, which many in the left movement do not seem to be able to grasp. To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Trotsky’s birth, a leading economic journal, Voprosi ekonomiki (‘Questions of Economy’) published an article under the title ‘Economic views of L.D. Trotsky’. In this article the authors attribute Trotsky’s heavy-handedness during the revolution and the civil war to the historical circumstances of that time, that in fact Trotsky had become one of the first to push for the liquidation of the policies of war communism and the liberalisation of the economy by allowing several forms of property to coexist for an indefinite period of time. The authors draw the bourgeois reader’s attention to Trotsky’s true and poorly publicised merit as being one of the first to advocate a mixed economic model for the transition to socialism:

‘The transition to NEP significantly changed Trotsky’s economic views. In a number of his works during that time he agitates in favour of the development of market relations, material stimulation, the understanding of the plan, as rigorous management in the sense of foreseeing and synchronising various sectors of social production. During the period of NEP Trotsky formulated a number of very important, even original ideas, namely: about the incompatibility of the methods of war communism in the conditions of NEP, about the need for each enterprise to have its own accounting balance, about the objective limitations to transferring resources from the agrarian sector to industry…’ (M. Voeikov and S. Dzarasov, ‘Economic Views of L.D. Trotsky’ in Voprosi Ekonomiki No. 11, 2004, p. 152).

Trotskyite economic doctrine seriously overlaps with Bogdanovism/Bukharinism in the understanding of the essence of the plan. Trotsky, in his renowned work ‘The Soviet Economy in Danger’, written in late 1932, starts off by equating one of the economic laws of the socialist economy and the transition to socialism, the planning principle with preconceived harmony of economic proportions:

‘However, light-minded assertions to the effect that the USSR has already entered into socialism are criminal. The achievements are great. But there still remains a very long and arduous road to actual victory over economic anarchy, to the surmounting of disproportions, to the guarantee of the harmonious character of economic life.’ (The Soviet Economy in Danger, in ’Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932’, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1973, p. 260. Our emphasis.)

The famous and infamous principle of equilibrium and harmony of the proportions of labour in the socialist economy is advocated by Trotsky in a rather unambiguous way. Within the eclectic framework of Trotskyism, centralisation of the economic policy alters the abstract principle of harmony of the economic processes. Trotsky, in his attempt to oppose the transition of the Soviet economy towards higher forms of economic organisation, comes around as a full-fledged right-wing revisionist, adding no more substance to the right wing opposition led by Bukharin/Rykov.

‘It is impossible to create a priori a complete system of economic harmony. The planning hypothesis could not but include old disproportions and the inevitability of the development of new ones. Centralized management implies not only great advantages but also the danger of centralizing mistakes, that is, of elevating them to an excessively high degree. Only continuous regulation of the plan in the process of its fulfillment, its reconstruction in part and as a whole, can guarantee its economic effectiveness’ (loc. cit.).

Trotsky’s ‘continuous regulation’ is the back door to substantiating his rebuff of the party’s line to shrink the operation of the commodity-money relations in the economy, which leads to the liquidation of capitalist exploitation in the country and the consolidation of the socialist economic laws. Once opponents, Bukharin and Trotsky converged into Bogdanovism as the construction of socialism progressed in the Soviet Union.

When Trotsky appeals to the impossibility ‘to create a priori a complete system of economic harmony’ it is implied that the central economic organs, are not in a position to undertake the tasks of centralised economic management, regardless of the development of the forces of production and the socialisation of the means of production. Deformations of the socialist economy inevitably take place as centralised decision-making overpowers workers’ democracy and a caste of administrators takes over as a ‘communist bureaucracy’. Once more, the objective character of the economic laws in general and the economic laws of socialism in particular, is overruled and loses its raison d’etre in the economic thinking of right-wing revisionism. Instead, Trotsky, as a poorly concealed right-wing revisionist, appeals on and on to the need for establishing harmony between the different branches of the socialist economy, which lies at the basis of his political economy.

Trotsky’s Bogdanovism is not a phenomenon of the 1930s; much to the contrary, it is inherent to his economic thinking from the very early stages of economic reforms in Soviet Russia. In summarising the developments in Soviet Russia since the victory of the October revolution, Trotsky states that the period of war communism had to end in order to restore equilibrium in labour exchange between the peasantry and the working class and between branches of the state sector, as:

‘Every economy can exist and grow only provided certain proportionality exists between its various sectors. Different branches of industry enter into specific quantitative and qualitative relations with one another. There must be a certain proportion between those branches which produce consumer goods and those which produce the means of production. Proper proportions must likewise be preserved within each of these branches. In other words, the material means and living labor power of a nation and of all mankind must be apportioned in accordance with a certain correlation of agriculture and industry and of the various branches of industry so as to enable mankind to exist and progress.’ (L.D. Trotsky, ‘The First Five Years of the Communist International’, Volume 2, New Park Publications, London, 1953, pp. 228.)

The postulate about proportionality of portions of labour among branches of the economy was conceived as a general, non-historic law that would apply to all economic systems. Marx’s considerations about the need for the establishment of certain proportions in which labour is exchanged in every economic system, and revised in a mechanical fashion by Bogdanov/Bukharin had a simple consequence in practice: the application of the law of value as a regulator of production was to be perpetuated in the socialist economy under the abstract consideration about the need for proportionality. This abstract concept is shared by Bukharin and Trotsky:

‘The problem of the proportionality of the elements of production and the branches of the economy constitutes the very heart of socialist economy’. (The Soviet Economy in Danger, p. 265.)

The ultimate goal of right-wing revisionism in questions concerning the transition to socialism is to provide every possible ideological means to perpetuate the economic relations of capitalism and to undermine the process of socialisation of the relations of production. In doing so, right-wing revisionism creates eclectic forms, Trojan horses in political economy. The postulate about the need of proportionality proved a euphemistic attack against the party line to curtail the operation of the law of value in the socialist sector and capitalist exploitation in the Soviet economy. By appealing to an abstract concept of proportionality without, leaving its concretisation as a loose end in the economic thinking, naturally leads to the perpetuation of relations of production existing hitherto. Abstract formulations in general, and in political economy in particular, without a concretisation within the concrete-historical framework inevitably render hollow abstractions, double-edged swords in the hands of revisionism.

Certainly, Trotsky casts out his disguise of a left-wing revisionist by bluntly stating:

‘The innumerable living participants in the economy, state and private, collective and individual, must serve notice of their needs and of their relative strength not only through the statistical determinations of plan commissions but by the direct pressure of supply and demand. The plan is checked and, to a considerable degree, realized through the market.’ (The Soviet Economy in Danger, p. 275. Our emphasis.)

Here, Trotsky makes an open appeal to the implementation of market relations as the ‘judge’ of the correctness or effectiveness of the economic policies developed by the plan makers. In other words, in the transitional economy the market is the beginning and the end of the economic system, the medium in which the struggle between the planned and market principles evolves into higher forms of development. It is within the market and according to the rules of the market that the superiority of the socialisation of the means of production is supposed to be put to the test. At some point in time the capitalist and petty bourgeois forms of productions will collapse under the inevitable overwhelming economic pressure of the socialised sector, at the time when it is able to develop higher forms of labour productivity. Trotsky, as a vulgar right-wing economist, therefore stands against what had been usually referred to by them as extra-economic measures to suppress the market principle in the economy, advocating instead a gradualist approach to the resolution of the contradictions between the socialist and other economic forms.

Trotsky’s economic thought is plagued with metaphysics; the metaphysical division of the economic system of the transitional society into the planned system and the market system holds a prominent place in the economic works of Trotskyism. This anti-dialectical approach to the economic processes had been already exposed in the mid 1920s in the Soviet Union by the majority of the party, including Bukharin/Rykov. But despite these differences, the left-wing and right-wing opposition agreed on the main proposition: let the market be the regulator of the labour exchange not only between industry and the countryside, but within the economic subjects of the socialist sector.

The idealist, metaphysical and non-historic postulate of proportionality of the elements of production is at the basis of the right-wing theories of Trotsky/Bukharin and gives them a certain semblance of self-consistency. The market represents the realm where the law of value, which is the concretisation of the postulate of proportionality, regulates the flow of labour among economic subjects, whether socialised or not. Needless to say, Trotsky is not the first to concretise the postulate of proportionality, which he had recently embraced, nor he was the first to establish such a line of thought. The appeal to preserve the commodity-money relations in the form that existed during NEP clearly predates Trotsky’s assertions about the need for proportionality. While we have to give credit to Bogdanov/Bukharin for their pioneering work in the descending line of modern revisionism, Trotsky does not deserve such an honour, as his contribution does not go beyond popularising the vulgar political economy of right-wing revisionism.

Apart from the metaphysical as well as mechanical idiosyncrasy of Trotskyite thought, which does not deserve to be the main topic of the present discussion, it is useful to bring out quotations like the following:

‘In this connection three systems must be subjected to a brief analysis: (1) special state departments, that is, the hierarchical system of plan commissions, in the center and locally; (2) trade, as a system of market regulation; (3) Soviet democracy, as a system for the living regulation by the masses of the structure of the economy.(The Soviet Economy in Danger, p. 273. Our emphasis.)

Far from sticking to left-wing orthodoxy, Trotsky sounds more like a Yugoslav Titoite, more like a pro-Western market liberal than anything else.

Trotsky takes a right-wing stand with regard to the role of NEP in the transition to socialism. Despite earlier attacks on the party to strengthen and develop further the economic and political link between the working class and the peasantry, Trotsky turns into a fervent advocate of the early forms of the transition to socialism adopted by the party. Moreover, he accuses the latter of liquidating the union between the working class and the peasantry. As a vulgar ‘market-socialist’, Trotsky considers the NEP as an inevitable step due to the significant weight of petty private production in the countryside, regardless of the concrete-historical conditions of revolutionary Russia:

‘The need to introduce the NEP, to restore market relationships, was determined first of all by the existence of 25 million independent peasant proprietors. This does not mean, however, that collectivization even in its first stage leads to the liquidation of the market.’ (The Soviet Economy in Danger, p. 275.)

The need for a transition to market relations between industry and the peasantry holds absolute character. According to Trotsky, due to the backwardness of the Russian peasantry and the level of mechanisation of labour in the countryside, the only possible form of peasant production with other producers is inevitably commodity-money relations. Trotsky’s mechanical and metaphysical thinking does not conceive of the socialist state and the individual peasant engaging in other forms of exchange, as well. Trotsky views the process of collectivisation as a forced administrative measure to unnaturally suppress the commodity-money bond between the city and the countryside. It is only through the evolution of the market, that certain conditions are created that the peasant feels it is more profitable to produce as a member of a larger production unit rather than remaining an individual producer. Hence it is believed that collectivisation should be performed by the forces of the market, that the market will suppress itself in a natural way.

Trotsky’s inevitability of market relations as the dominating bond between production agents during the transition to socialism does not reduce only to the interrelations between industry and the peasantry, much to the contrary:

‘This policy [NEP, our note] is a necessary stage in the growth of state-owned industry. Between capitalism, under which the means of production are owned by private individuals and all economic relations are regulated by the market – I say, between capitalism and complete socialism, with its socially planned economy, there are a number of transitional stages; and the NEP is essentially one of these stages’ (L.D. Trotsky, ‘The First Five Years of the Communist International’, Volume 2, New Park Publications, London, 1953, pp. 233).

NEP involved far more than the realisation of peasant production in a free market and the establishment of economic ties between the countryside and industry based on supply-demand. Never mind the cohabitation of the socialist sector with state capitalism and petty capitalist exploitation in both the countryside and the city; NEP introduced broad pro-market reforms within the socialist sector based on commercial accounting. It is true, however, that the expansion of commodity-money relations was seriously curtailed in the socialist sector in the second half of the twenties, which Trotsky viewed as a bureaucratic-administrative attack on the principles upon which Lenin allegedly conceived the path to socialist construction. It is here, where Guevara rebels against right-wing revisionism by advocating the right of the socialist state to determine the character of the relations of production and to regulate the proportions of labour exchange between branches of the state sector according to the global needs of the socialist state rather than the profitability of individual enterprises.

Much against Guevara’s views, Trotsky during the very early stages of NEP, during the transition from ‘war communism’ advocated the de-centralisation of the state sector:

‘The policy of a centralized bureaucratic management of industry excluded the possibility of a genuine centralized management, of fully utilizing technical equipment along with the available labor force.’ (L.D. Trotsky, ‘The First Five Years of the Communist International’, Volume 2, New Park Publications, London, 1953, pp. 230.)

As a result of the efforts to de-centralise state industry in 1921, especially light industry, as advocated by Trotsky, negative effects were felt soon, such as:

‘…violation of plan discipline, separatism; some state officials tried to replace the state plan organisation – VSNKh – by some ‘social organization of industry’’ (P.I. Lyashchenko, History of the People’s Economy of the USSR, Moscow 1956, Volume III, p. 153. Translated from Russian.)

Guevara supported the correct view that economic calculation does not necessarily imply market relations as factors determining production in the state sector, that economic accounting is not necessarily tied to commodity-money relations, as advocated by the supporters of the Soviet-style model in Cuba. Trotsky takes sides with Soviet revisionism:

After the administrative suppression of the NEP, the celebrated ‘six conditions of Stalin’ – economic accounting, piecework wages, etc. – became transformed into an empty collection of words. Economic accounting is unthinkable without market relations.” (The Soviet Economy in Danger,p. 276. Our emphasis.)

The history of the political economy of socialism has exposed the intimate link between the postulate of proportionality in the exchange of labour among different branches of the economy and the mechanical transportation of market relations to socialism. Metaphysics and mechanicism, common to the economic thought of right-wing revisionism, are closely interrelated with vulgar and superficial understanding of economic categories, which impels the ideologists of right-wing revisionism to equate exchange to commodity exchange and economic equilibrium to the operation of the law of value. The vulgar economic thought advocated by Trotsky and the right-wing opposition does not conceive another form of economic exchange other than commodity-money relations. It is not conceivable that the socialist state could establish a different content in the economic ties among objects of the socialist economy, which may violate the rigid principle of profitability of the individual enterprise. The ability of the planning bodies to establish labour exchange among socialist enterprises, which violates that principle, is viewed as a deformation, as a disproportion. Right-wing revisionism is unable to grasp and appreciate the great power in the hands of socialist planning to establish certain proportions of labour exchange that fit the needs and growth perspectives of the socialist economy, regardless of the overall level of socialisation of economy. In this sense, right-wing economists conceive the plan as a corollary of subjective (aprioristic, according to Trotsky) measures to organise, rationalise the labour exchange among profit-making individual enterprises. Guevara wholeheartedly rejects such a vulgar view of the plan, by advocating the right of the socialist planning to establish a different character of economic relations among the state enterprises, which does not necessarily follow the principle of profitability of the individual enterprise as the leading criterion for economic effectiveness.

Guevara openly exposed the view advocated by Trotsky and the ideologists of modern revisionism that economic accounting ‘is unthinkable’ without commodity money relations. Much to the contrary, Che advocated strict accounting, based on centralised responsibility and accountability of the management of the socialist enterprise, as a key element of the budgetary finance system, which lies at the centre of this economic thought. In his economic system economic accounting in the socialist sector is dissociated from the essence carried by commodity-money relations. Even though Guevara does not seem to grasp the dialectical evolution of market categories in socialism, his thought contains the basic elements to arrive at this understanding. Guevara’s accepts the correct view that the price, despite being a category inherited from the market economy, may be used within the socialist sector for calculation purposes. Hence, he does not reject the use of the form of market categories, which brings him closer to the Marxist-Leninist understanding developed by Lenin-Stalin. On the other hand, it is not clear to us that Guevara understood the evolution of the principle of economic accounting, which was introduced in 1921, through the NEP all the way to the massive collectivisation and the consolidation of the economic basis of socialism in the 1930s, all the way to the publication of Stalin’s Economic Problems. An analysis of the category of economic accounting shows that a deep change in the content had taken place which, despite the fact that the term was in use in the 1930-50s, reflected a different type of management to which Guevara’s budgetary system bears strong resemblance.

According to Tablada and Borrego, Che Guevara paid special attention to the analysis of the causes which led to the abolition of the war economy and the establishment of NEP. This issue is covered on multiple occasions in their books and has been the topic of a great deal of speculation, including allegations that Guevara accused Lenin of going too far in the development of market relations during the early stages of the NEP. Regardless of speculations, Che makes a strong case out of Lenin’s statements, in which NEP is considered as a retreat in the practice of the revolutionary process like the peace of Brest-Litovsk. It is evident, despite the wealth of confusion fostered by Guevara’s bourgeois, Trotskyite and neo-Trotskyite biographers, that Guevara does not consider NEP as an inevitable step in the transition to socialism, as a general and universal statement, but rather, a product of the historical-concrete conditions of revolutionary Russia. After quoting Marx, Lenin and Stalin (this article was written in 1964, when anti-Stalinism was already solidly established in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe, with the exception of Albania), Guevara concludes:

‘As we see, the retreat that Lenin mentioned was due to the economic and political situation of the Soviet Union. These policies may be characterised as a practice, which is closely linked to the historical situation of the country, and, therefore, they do not hold universal character.’ (Che Guevara, ‘Che y la Economia’, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, Habana, Cuba 1993, p. 74. Translated from Spanish.)

The argumentation in favour of NEP-type of economic reforms as an unavoidable step in the transition process between capitalism and socialism is a fundamental element of the economic theory of right-wing revisionism, including Trotskyism, which Guevara rejected altogether. A historical example, which refutes NEP as a compulsory stage for new revolutionary states, is served by the first steps adopted by the People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe between 1948 and 1953. The governments of the People’s Democracies set an economic course based on the priority of heavy industry over other sectors of the economy. The policies of what bourgeois ideologists called the Stalinist economic model resulted in a spectacular growth of the socialist industry, a conditio sine qua non for a massive process of socialisation of means of production both in the city and the countryside. Even a vicious anti-communist publicist, such as F. Fejto, a Hungarian-born journalist based for a long time in France, admits:

‘Between 1949 and 1953, the industrial production of the six Comecon countries rose by 114 per cent, and in certain countries, like Hungary, where the ambitious planners knew no limits the results had been even more spectacular. Heavy industrial production increased fivefold; the engineering industry was seven times more productive in 1953 than in 1938. (F. Fejto, A History of the People’s Democracies, Penguin Books, 1977, p. 362.)

Further, Fejto elaborates on the very interesting case of the transition to socialism in Hungary, especially the events that followed the abrupt change of ‘gears’ imposed by the Soviet leadership weeks after the death of Stalin. In 1949 Hungary’s party, led by Matyas Rakosi, one of the most fervent supporters of Stalin’s policies, launched a campaign of collectivisation, which, although far from finalised, was well underway towards 1953. With Stalin’s death a swift change in the character of the Soviet leadership took place. The new Soviet leadership, at first initiated most likely by Beria, imposed on the leaders of the fraternal parties in Eastern Europe a line of forcible de-Stalinisation. The revisionist leadership ordered Eastern European leaders to slow down the tempo of industrialisation and to basically liquidate the process of ‘forcible’ collectivisation. In a number of countries, peasants were allowed to desert the collective farms (‘de-collectivisation’) if they wished to; private exploitation of land together with the restoration of the artisan class and private business. It was argued that the ‘Stalinist’ economic reforms had gone too far, that allegedly broad masses of the peasantry and the working class in those countries were frustrated at seeing that the unquestionable economic growth did not result in meaningful enhancement of the standards of living of the population, including that of the working class. There is no question that the ideological and organisational chaos induced by the policies of forcible ‘de-Stalinisation’ encouraged anti-communist elements within the middle classes, petty bourgeoisie and workers aristocracy to demonstrate compulsively, while entire party organisations proved hopeless, in disarray.

The Hungarian leader, Matyas Rakosi, did his best to stand up against Soviet revisionism and its supporters in the country; he succeeded in remaining in office till July 1956, when he was basically forced into exile by the Soviet leadership. Following orders from the Soviet revisionist leadership, in July 1953 Rakosi was forced to give up the post of Prime Minister, which passed to Imre Nagy, who even in the words of Fejto:

‘…revived Bukharinist ideas that had gone underground in Stalin’s lifetime’ (F. Fejto, A History of the People’s Democracies, Penguin Books, 1977, p. 363).

Certainly, Nagy was a fervent advocate of NEP-style treatment of the economic contradictions between the socialist sector, the peasantry and other petty producers. Soon after he gains office in July 1953, he launches a set of ‘liberalising’ measures, which became known as the ‘New Course’. In his last work, written in 1955, he states:

‘In a socialist society, when determining the tempo of economic development and the ratio between the various economic branches, the proportion between production and consumption and between consumption and stockpiling must be in harmony with the requirements of the basic economic law of socialism, guaranteeing a gradual advance of society’ (I. Nagy, ‘On Communism’, Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, New York, 1957, p. 98).

Nagy advocated ad nauseam the need for harmonic balance between the resources spent on sector A and sector B of the economy. The well-known concept of certain harmonic proportions invented by Bogdanov/Bukharin and plagiarised by Trotsky comes out again and again, as the back door to the development of commodity-money relations both in the socialist and non-socialist sectors, as a regulator of production. It is interesting, that unlike Bukharin/Trotsky, he uses Stalin’s citations of the mid twenties to substantiate the need to have NEP-style relations in the transitional economic system. In fact, by ‘basic economic law of socialism’ Nagy implies the well-known formulation given by Stalin in Economic Problems. This, however, does not prevent Nagy from remaining a vulgar right-wing economist, which Guevara’s economic thought has nothing to do with.

According to Nagy, the only bond that the socialist sector and the private producer can have in the early stages of the transition from capitalism to socialism is the market. It is only through the market that the process of socialisation of production can prove its advantages over capitalist forms of management and production. Nagy is explicit:

‘‘The NEP policy must be carried out unconditionally, as it means the establishment of increasingly closer relations in the exchange of goods between the city and the village, between the socialist industry and the system of small holdings producing for the market, facilitating the switch to a socialist system of agricultural farms on a large scale.’ (I. Nagy, op. cit., p. 82. Our emphasis.)

Nagy on and on bitterly complains about the staggering disproportions and ‘distortions’ inflicted on the Hungarian economy by Rakosi’s ‘clique’, referring to the fast development of heavy industry with respect to light industry, and especially the countryside. Nagy’s attack on Rakosi’s ‘clique’ becomes even more acute when touching upon the treatment of individual peasants and the collectivisation. He initially refers to Rakosi’s ‘clique’ as adventurous, later on as open left-wing ‘fanatics’ and deviationists. Finally, while quoting Lenin and Stalin’s works in the 1920s, taking their writings out of context, Nagy establishes a parallel between Rakosi’s struggle to uphold the principles of Marxism-Leninism, regardless of whatever mistakes in its implementation, and the Trotskyite left-wing opposition in the Soviet Union in the 1920s by appealing to:

‘The resolutions of the Bolshevik Party in the Fifteenth Congress, which were forged in the battle against the extreme ‘left-wing’ Trotskyist opposition…’ (I. Nagy, op. cit., p. 82.)

It is not the first time that right-wing opportunism portrays the struggle for the basic principle of centralisation of means of production in the construction of socialism as a left-wing, Trotskyite deviation. These allegations of Trotskyism that were thrown at Guevara are to be understood in the historical context, which corresponds to the time when right-wing revisionism, led by the revisionist leadership of in the Soviet Union, disbanded the ‘Stalinist’ plans for the socialisation of the means of production in industry and the countryside. Modern revisionism turned the state sector in the People’s Democracies into an aggregation of independently producing enterprises, which engage in labour exchange with other enterprises and the state via commodity-money relations; in the countryside the process of collectivisation was halted and reversed, and in some countries farm cooperatives were turned into independently producing enterprises, following the model imposed by the revisionists in the Soviet Union. It is in this context, that Guevara’s fight against followers of the Soviet economic model in Cuba, despite his mechanical and idealist mistakes, renders a substantiated critique against right-wing revisionist theories for the construction of socialism.

Guevara’s plans for the industrialisation of the Caribbean island need to be understood within the historical-concrete situation corresponding to the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe. Despite elements of idealism and mechanicism, Guevara’s model of budgetary finance system and his refusal to implement commodity-money relations and the law of value as the regulator of proportions among state enterprises bears strong resemblances with the economic system existent in the Soviet Union during the 1930-50s. Hence, it was natural that Guevara’s plans for industrialisation faced fierce resistance by Soviet revisionism and its followers in the island. It is evident to us, that allegations of Trotskyism or left-wing deviationism thrown by right-wing revisionists are utterly unfounded. Nevertheless, more investigation is needed to throw light on Guevara’s ideological evolution in the 1950s and early 1960s and on how he came to propose the budgetary finance system, as the fundamental pillar for the industrialisation in Cuba.

Idealism and Mechanicism in Che’s Economic Thought

Despite the progressive character of Guevara’s economic thought, and its invaluable positive impact on the economic discussion held in Cuba during the first half of the 1960s, which represents a courageous and more or less consistent and substantiated struggle against modern revisionism, Che’s thinking needs to be considered critically. Notwithstanding the substantiated struggle against the right-wing theories of socialist construction, which makes Guevara’s works most relevant materials for the study of questions related to socialist transformation, he is plagued with serious mistakes. Guevara’s eclecticism is inherent to his thought in general, and cannot be neglected when evaluating Guevara’s role in the Cuban revolution and the theory of socialist transformation.

Guevara’s mistakes in political economy can be classified into two groups: idealism and mechanicism. Idealist mistakes were committed by Guevara when evaluating the role of consciousness in political economy. When we refer to mechanicism in Guevara’s economic thought we mainly imply his failure to grasp the dialectical evolution of economic categories involved in commodity-money relations during the transitional epoch. Needless to say, Guevara’s mistakes have been extensively used by the bourgeoisie and the representatives of revisionist tendencies, such as Trotskyism and neo-Trotskyism to mystify the revolutionary and rip his contribution to the political science and political economy from its Marxist logical core and divorce it from a number of Marxist-Leninist principles, which Guevara tried to uphold in a more or less consistent manner.

Guevara’s mistakes in political economy have been used inside and outside the island to consider Guevara’s contribution to the economic transformations in the early stages of the Cuban revolution in isolation from the principles of socialist transformation adopted by the People’s Democracies during the post-war period, so demonised by modern revisionism. Guevara’s thought is portrayed by many as a specific phenomenon of the Cuban revolution, thus completely ignoring its strong links with the so called ‘Stalinist’ economic theories and modus operandi during the transitional period. Although we do not wish to portray Guevara’s economic thought as a faithful concretisation of the principles of Marxism-Leninism in the conditions of revolutionary Cuba in the 1960s, we feel it would be a serious mistake not to evaluate Guevara’s thought within the concrete-historical epoch corresponding to systematic violation of the principles of Marxism-Leninism, which led to the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the liquidation of socialist construction in Eastern Europe. While evaluating critically Guevara’s economic thought and identifying areas of inconsistency, we feel compelled to appreciate and value the positive and progressive that Che upheld under very difficult conditions of struggle against imperialism and revisionism.

Idealism is present throughout Guevara’s works all the way till his last published work, ‘Man and Socialism in Cuba’. It leads Guevara to proclaim consciousness and education as primary with respect to the study of relations of production in the transitional economy, including the construction of communism. Impressed by the early philosophical works of young Marx, Guevara states:

‘The word conscious is emphasized because Marx considered it basic in stating the problem. He thought about man’s liberation and saw communism as the solution to the contradictions that brought alienation – but as a conscious act. That is to say, communism cannot be seen merely as the result of class contradictions in a highly developed society, contradiction that would be resolved during a transitional stage before reaching the crest. Man is a conscious actor in history. Without this consciousness, which embraces its awareness as a social being, there can be no communism.’ (Che Guevara, in ‘On the budgetary finance system’, published in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 124. Our emphasis.)

The role of consciousness and education is ubiquitously stressed by Guevara in his economic works as the leading factor in the transition to higher forms of economic organisation. In Guevara’s system political economy ceases to be an independent discipline, the objective character of the economic laws of the transitional society is secondary to the cultural formation of the new man. The economic laws of socialism, like those of capitalism, exist and evolve with the development of the forces of production and the historical conditions at times independently from the level of consciousness of the masses. In fact, in certain historical situations, the masses as a whole remain unaware of the economic essence of both revolution and counter-revolution.

The role of consciousness and education undoubtedly play a fundamental role in the construction of the new society. However, political economy remains an independent discipline and the study of the objective laws that govern it remains a titanic effort. Only scientific analysis and synthesis of the relations of production can make possible the sustained economic development necessary for the construction of the socialist and communist societies. As opposed to capitalism, during the course of the transition to socialism, objective and subjective conditions are given for the masses to participate consciously in the construction and scientific analysis and synthesis of the socialist construction. It is clear that the more conscious and active participation of the working class in the socialist construction, the more solid are the foundations of the socialist formation. It is clear too, that the more conscious the working class is about the essence of the economic transformation, the more robust is the economic development and the less influential are the forces of counter-revolution.

Economic development under socialism and the development of consciousness and socialist culture – two phenomena which go hand in hand. Generalisation on the basis of the history of the Soviet Union indicates that consciousness and socialist culture require a material basis, without which further economic development and further development of consciousness. However, according to Guevara consciousness and socialist education are supposed to be the primary engines of economic development in socialism:

‘The hopes in our system [budgetary finance system – our note] point to the future, towards a more rapid development of consciousness, and through consciousness, to the development of the productive forces’. (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Socialist plan: its meaning’, p. 147. Translated from Spanish.)

In Guevara’s system, socialist economic development is not really the engine of consciousness, but the other way around, consciousness is the source of socialist economic development. Guevara’s idealism turns voluntarist. In this respect, Che’s idealism may be compared to Mao’s idealist views in political economy, despite the fact that Guevara displays a significantly more progressive stand with respect to commodity-money relations than the latter. Mao, in his critique of Stalin’s Economic Problems, bitterly complains about the fact that the latter does not include the study of the superstructure in the analysis of the socialist economy:

Stalin’s book from first to last says nothing about the superstructure. It is not concerned with people; it considers things not people…

They speak only of the production relations, not the superstructure nor politics, nor the role of the people. Communism cannot be reached unless there is a communist movement’. (Mao Tsetung, A Critique of Soviet Economics, Monthly Review Press, New York and London, 1977, pp. 135-136.)

Guevara supports the wrong idealistic view that commodity-money relations per se and in general are a manifestation of the alienation of the human being in the process of production. Guevara interprets mechanistically and metaphysically the role and place of economic forms inherited from capitalism in the socialist economy:

‘The alienated human individual is bound to society as a whole by an invisible umbilical cord: the law of value. It acts upon all facets of his life, shaping his road and his destiny. (Che Guevara in ‘Man and Socialism in Cuba’, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 340.)

One of the major and profound mistakes displayed by Guevara’s economic thought, a mistake common to many others who have genuinely claimed allegiance to Marxism-Leninism, is his failing to grasp Lenin’s and Stalin’s teachings with regards to the dying off of economic categories inherited from capitalism. These teachings may be succinctly expressed in Stalin’s well-known assertion in Economic Problems. In his answer to A. Notkin, Stalin stresses:

‘The fact of the matter is that in our socialist conditions economic development proceeds not by way of upheavals, but by way of gradual changes, the old not simply being abolished out of hand, but changing its nature in adaptation to the new, and retaining only its form; while the new does not simply destroy the old, but infiltrates into it, changes its nature and its functions, without smashing its form, but utilizing it for the development of the new. This, in our economic circulation, is true not only of commodities, but also of money, as well as of banks, which, while they lose their old functions and acquire new ones, preserve their old form, which is utilized by the socialist system.’ (J.V. Stalin ‘Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR’, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1952, p. 59.)

Guevara commits the colossal mistake, which has been more or less successfully exploited by neo-Trotskyism and other bourgeois ideologies, of mechanically and metaphysically extrapolating the character of the economic categories implemented during the NEP to later stages of the socialist construction in the Soviet Union. Guevara, de facto blames the adoption of such economic forms as economic accounting, profit, credit, etc. implemented in the 1920s for the right-wing deviationist economic theories that he was fighting in the 1960s, without appreciating the profound changes that operated in the content of those categories during the 1930-50s:

In the Soviet Union, the first country to build socialism, and those who followed its example, determined to develop a planning process that could measure broad economic results by financial means. Relations among enterprises were left in a state of more or less free play. This is the origin of what is now called economic calculus (a poor translation of the Russian term, that might better be expressed as auto-financing, or, more precisely, financial self-management).

Roughly speaking, then, financial self-management is based on establishing broad financial control over the enterprise activities, banks being the principal agencies of control. Suitably designed and regimented material incentives are used to promote independent initiative toward maximum utilization of productive capacity, which translates into greater benefits for the individual worker or the factory collective. Under this system, loans granted to socialist enterprises are repaid with interests in order to accelerate product turnover’. (Che Guevara, in ‘On Production Costs and the Budgetary System’, published in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 114.)

It is clear that, the transition to socialism in the Soviet Union, which followed the implementation of market-type economic relations in most of the economy, had to carry within itself certain economic forms, which are inevitably inherited from capitalism. However, Guevara apparently fails to grasp the fact that the concept of economic accounting evolved dramatically over the years, as the character of the economic relations evolved. The concept of economic accounting never disappeared from the Soviet economic literature; however, its content evolved in time in order to accommodate the planned principle of the economy on the basis of socialised property and the liquidation of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forms of production. The economic accounting of the more or less disseminated production subjects confined to the Soviet artels in the 1920s bears little resemblance with the economic accounting of highly concentrated Soviet industry in the 1930-50s. The character of the labour exchange among the different production subjects during the 1930-50s bear close resemblance to that of the budgetary finance system advocated by Guevara in the 1960s.

It is not clear to us, to what extent Guevara is able to appreciate the qualitative changes that operated in the interpretation of the content of economic categories over the history of the political economy of the Soviet Union. It is unclear whether Guevara sees the preservation in the Soviet Union of economic forms such us, economic accounting, profit, credit, banks, etc… as a sign of economic backwardness, or rather as a sign of the concrete historical conditions under which the transition to socialism took place in the Soviet Union. For instance, Guevara advocated the liquidation of the concept of credit in socialism, even though the form of credit was never liquidated in the Soviet Union:

‘In our system [the budgetary system – our note.] the Bank supplies a certain amount of resources to the enterprises according to the budget; here the interest rate is not present’. (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, pp. 45-46. Translated from Spanish.)

The same applies to the economic category of profit, which was never liquidated in the Soviet Union but was categorically denied by Guevara within the context of the budgetary finance system in Cuba. Guevara seems to understand mechanically the economic relation of the State with socialised production subjects:

‘…because the State Enterprise in the conditions of Cuba, is just a centre for production. It has a budget, a budget for production; it should meet the goals of production and deliver its product to the Ministry of Domestic Commerce, or to other state industries. Thus, the enterprise does not have profit, does not have money; all the profit, all the difference between what was sold and the cost belongs to the Cuban state. The enterprise is reduced to production.’ (Che Guevara, Conference ‘Economy and Plan’ of the People’s University, 1961. Translated from Spanish.)

As a matter of fact, the history of the political economy of the Soviet Union has demonstrated that the principle of socialist planning on the basis of socialised forms of production does not contradict the implementation of such economic forms as profit, as long as the latter do not express the relationship between independent producers, but on the contrary is used as one of the indexes of economic effectiveness, etc… To state that profit is not the leading economic criterion in socialist industry is generally speaking correct. However to interpret the sole presence of the concept of profit, regardless of its relative weight in the definition of economic effectiveness, as a sign of economic backwardness is strictly speaking incorrect.

In his article ‘Bank, Credit and Socialism’ Guevara brilliantly exposes the vulgar and fetishist economic views of those in Cuba who did not understand the need to re-define the role of banks in a socialist economy and that the economic functions of the banks in capitalism cannot be mechanically transported to socialism. His conclusions are generally speaking correct, correct in the sense of abstract formulations. So are his conclusions with regard to commodity-money relations and the role of the law of value in the transitional economy. However, they are correct in the abstract and may turn dangerous if applied mechanically to concrete-historical conditions.

Unfortunately, the evaluation of Guevara’s economic thought is confusing and inconclusive since the budgetary finance system is conceived as a result of the struggle with right-wing economic theories, which absolutise the role of commodity-money relations. The budgetary finance system is without a doubt a reaction against right-wing economic theories and needs to be appreciated as such. Further investigations, possibly on the basis of archival materials, will hopefully throw valuable light on the role of mechanicism and metaphysics in Guevara’s economic thought.


Reactionary anti-communist bourgeois theories that conceal the restoration of capitalism in Soviet Union (1953-1990) Part B


Reactionary anti-communist bourgeois theories that conceal the restoration of capitalism in Soviet Union (1953-1990) Part B

B. The reactionary anticommunist bourgeois theory of “developed socialism” of the Khrushchevit social-democracy

After the violent overthrow of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the victory-triumph of the Khrushchevian revisionist counter-revolution in the Soviet Union in 1952, while pursuing the scheduled and systematic policy of gradual restoration of capitalism facilitated by the implementation of capitalist economic reforms, the leading anti-communist group of Khrushchev-Brezhnev of, what is by now, the bourgeois social-democratic Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), sought to formulate a suitable theory to conceal this reactionary process from socialism-communism to capitalism.

In their attempt to formulate a new and suitable “theory” concealing this reactionary process and the emerging society of restored capitalism euphemistically called “developed socialism” (!), the Khrushchevian-Brezhnevite revisionists came up with the well-known theory of “advanced socialism”

Both the theory of “developed socialism” promoted by the Khrushchevian traitors and the theory of“convergence” promoted by the western bourgeois reaction are anti-communist reactionary bourgeois theories because during the period of their dominance (1955-1990) were directed against the communist perspective of the Proletariat, obscured the Proletariat’s communist prospect presenting the restored capitalism of the Soviet Union as “the communist” future while, at the same time, they were in total breach with the objective historic progress of society toward socialism-communism. The class character and content of the two theories was based on the defence of capitalism: the theory of “convergence” defended was traditional capitalism of the Western countries, while the theory of “developed socialism” defended the restored capitalism of the Soviet Union and the other revisionist countries (Details can be found at “Anasintaxi”, no. 373, August 2012, p. 3).

Since the treacherous, renegade Khrushchev-Brezhnev group “managed”, in the 20th Congress of CPSPU in 1956, to present arbitrarily and provocatively the capitalist-fascist Yugoslavia of Tito as “socialist”(!) – a view imposed on the international communist movement (N.S. Khrushchev: “Report in 20th Party Congress, 1956:“Yugoslavia has not small successes in the socialist construction”, a clear proof that the Khrushchevian clicque had decided to follow Tito’s counter-revolutionary, capitalist path – and promoted a kind of “socialism”(!) that would result “peacefully” without the need of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, this group officially confessed and publicly admitted, during the 22nd of Congress of CPSU (1961), that there was neither Dictatorship of the Proletariat nor revolutionary communist party in the Soviet Union of that period and that these had been replaced by the “state of all people” and “party of all people” and mentioned, for the first time, the “transition period from capitalism to socialism” to which the Dictatorship of the Proletariat “corresponded”. At the same time, they formulated the theory of “developed socialism” without using yet the terms that became well known later: “developed socialism” and “advanced socialist society”.

The theory of “developed socialism” promoted by the Khrushchevian renegades constitutes, as it will be shown below, a complete revision and a blatant, crude rejection of revolutionary Marxism.

As a theory, the so-called “developed socialism” has nothing in common with the revolutionary theory of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin, it amounts to its negation and it is an anti-communist bourgeois theory. The so much advertised, but non-existent “advanced socialist society” was nothing more than the restored capitalism of the Khrushchevian-Brezhnevite period as shown in previous articles. According to the anti-communist Brezhnev, this type of society had already been in November of 1967, that is to say, when capitalism had been fully restored (on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, he had declared that “In the USSR a developed socialist society has been built).

The theory of “developed socialism” dominated later the new bourgeois constitution (i.e. the constitution of the restored capitalism) of the Brezhnevite period while the euphemistically called “advanced socialist society” found its full expression in this – a constitution which, for the first time, officially legalized and confirmed not only the state-capitalist (articles 10-11) and collective-capitalist ownership (article 12) but also the individual capitalist ownership (articles 13-17) in the Soviet Union’s society of that time. It also legalized the capitalist competition between the autonomous enterprises, the “socialist commodity producers”, and the capitalist profit (article 16). In this constitution, the content of the “advanced socialist society”, that is, of the Soviet Union’s restored capitalism is generally described.

The elements-views from which the theory of “developed socialism” was made are the following: “the party of all people”, “the state of all people”, “transition period from capitalism to socialism”, “three phases of the communist society”, “socialism: a new autonomous mode of production”. Concerning the theory of “advanced socialism” and the euphemistically called “advanced socialist society” there is a vast literature of many articles and books. However, we will make a limited use of them and cite only those extracts that highlight the counter-revolutionary essence of this bourgeois reactionary theory.

1. “Party of all people” or revolutionary communist party?

In the 22nd Congress of CPSU (1961) it is mentioned: “our Marxist-Leninist Party that was born as a party of the working class, has become the party of all people”, an anti-Marxist view which later passed to the new Brezhnevite bourgeois constitution (1977) where it was formulated as: “CPSU exists for the people and to serve the people”. (Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution, 1977)

Some quick comments on the anti-Marxist view “party of all people”:

1. The adoption of this view meant the abandonment of the Marxist theory not only about the revolutionary, new type of party but also about all political parties considered as separate organisations that defend the different interests of particular classes.

2. The Khrushchevian social democrats promoted the well known bourgeois view according to which parties stand above classes and they are, therefore, defenders of the interests of “most” or “all classes”.

3. As known, according to revolutionary Marxism there are no organisations and parties that belong to “all people”, that is parties of all classes. Since, the Khrushchevian revisionists themselves admitted that there was not any more a revolutionary communist party in the Soviet Union of that period, because, according to them, the Marxist-Leninist party had been replaced with the party of “all people”, then the new CPSU, that is the so-called party of “all people” could not be nothing else but a bourgeois, social-democratic party. Consequently, the revolutionary, until the beginning of the 1950’s, CPSU changed its class character: from a Marxist-Leninist party of the working class, it became a bourgeois party: a defender of the class interests of the emerging soviet bourgeoisie.

The character of a party, according to Marxism, is determined first of all by the its ideology and, among others by its programme. The new CPSU, that is, the so-called “party of all people”, was not guided any more by the ideology of the revolutionary Marxism, that is, Leninism-Stalinism, but by the counter-revolutionary ideology of Khrushchevian revisionism (which is a version of bourgeois ideology).

The new CPSU of Khrushchev-Brezhnev as well as the Khrushchevian parties of all countries in the following decades were (and still are) bourgeois, social-democratic parties because: a) they were not guided revolutionary Marxism, b) they had reformist programmes that cannot lead to the overthrow of capitalism, c) they adopted a anti-Marxist view of socialism-communism since they advertised the restored capitalism of the Khrushchev-Brezhnev-Gorbachev period as “socialism”(!), in other words they claimed that there was allegedly “socialism” in the Soviet Union during 1953-1991.

4. Neither socialism can exist nor the construction of socialism can continue without a revolutionary communist party of a new type, that is, of Leninist-Stalinist type. Therefore, after 1953, it was inevitable that the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union finally stopped and the new CPSU, that is, the “party of all people”, was at the forefront of the capitalism economic reforms that completely eliminated socialism and resulted in the full restoration of capitalism by the mid 1960’s.

5. Socialism-communism cannot to constructed without a marxist-leninst-stalinist party, precisely because this party “has always as a primary task the class, political organisation of the proletariat as an autonomous political party and sets the next goal to be the struggle for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” (MARX-ENGELS: Bd.18, pp.267-268, Berlin 1969) and also it is the party that : first, is the organiser and the leader of the giant work of socialist-communist construction and second, without this party the Dictatorship of the Proletariat possible cannot exist. That’s why Stalin is very right to point out that “the dictatorship of the proletariat is exercised through the Party, that without a united and cohesive party the Dictatorship of the Proletariat cannot exist”, that “the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is possible only through the party that is its guiding force” and that “the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is complete only if it is led by one party, the Communist Party, which does not and cannot share power with other parties” (Stalin, Collected Works vol. 10)

2. “State of all people” or Dictatorship of the Proletariat

In relation to the state of the Soviet Union of that period, it is mentioned in the 22nd Congress that the state of the working class had been transformed to the “all people’s state”: “The state of all people is the new state in the development of the socialist state, the most important landmark in the path of development of the socialist state to a communist self-governing society” (22nd Congress of CPSU, p. 205, Athens 1961) and that “the dictatorship of the proletariat was not any more necessary …” (ibid, p. 208) for the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union. Later, this anti-Marxist view passed to the new Constitution (1977) – from which the term Dictatorship of the Proletariat had been deleted (justifiably so since it had been already been overthrown in 1953) – and which confirms that the Soviet Union was not any more the state of Dictatorship of the Proletariat as it was in the era of Lenin-Stalin but the “state of all people” (“Constitution 1977”, p. 42: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a socialist state of the whole people).

The anti-marxist view of the Khrushchevian about the “state of all people” is raising some important questions worth of special consideration:

First, by denying the necessity of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat during an important phase of development of socialism-communism, the soviet revisionists-social democrats and in such an important and central question the reformist Khrushchevian parties abandoned Marxism and it known that nobody can be regarded as Marxist without the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat as Lenin noted: Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is what constitutes the most profound distinction between the Marxist and the ordinary petty (as well as big) bourgeois. This is the touchstone on which the real understanding and recognition of Marxism should be tested” (Lenin, “State and revolution”)

Second, it is important to note the open confession and the official admission made by the Khrushchevians that there was no Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the Soviet Union of that period and, it was exactly for this reason why there was no socialism any more. Moreover, the construction of socialism had stopped in 1953 after the death-murder of Joseph Stalin. The continuation of socialist construction in a country without the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is totally impossible and inconceivable. Also, the maintenance of socialism is unimaginable without the Dictatorship of the Proletariat since, for Marx, the concepts of socialism and Dictatorship of the Proletariat are inseparable. As early as 1850, Marx noted that socialism: the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations” (MARX-ENGELS: vol.7, p. 89-90, Berlin 1969).

Third, the Khrushchevian concept of the “state of all people” not only meant a rejection of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat but it constituted a complete revision of the Marxist theory on the state of Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and the state in general, and this is why Lenin emphasized that “the essence of Marx’s theory of the state has been mastered only by those who realize that the dictatorship of a single class is necessary not only for every class society in general, not only for the proletariat which has overthrown the bourgeoisie, but also for the entire historical period which separates capitalism from “classless society”, from communism” (Lenin, State and Revolution.”)

Fourth, the Khrushchevian concept of the “state of all people” bears no relation to Marxism. It is alien to Marxism because according to the Marxist theory there is no state standing above classes, that is to say, “state of all classes” of a society; this is a bourgeois view. On the contrary, the state has always a class character: either it is the state of the bourgeoisie or it is the state of the proletariat. In the period of transition from capitalism to socialism-communism, there can be either the dictatorship of the proletariat or the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. This is why the famous English Marxist George Thomson, in 1971, very rightly emphasized that the “state of all people” declared by the treacherous Khrushchevian clique was in reality “a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, or to be more exact, a dictatorship of the new soviet bourgeoisie.

Fifth, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, according to the teaching of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin, is established right after the victory of the armed Proletarian Revolution and the complete annihilation of the state machinery, is preserved and strengthened and it is absolutely necessary for the whole transitional period from capitalism to socialism. The state of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is never transformed to the “state of all people” (it is also known that Max and Engels rejected with irony the so-called “free state” in the Critique of the Gotha Program. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat exists until it withers away in the higher stage of communist, in the communist classless society: For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary” and that The state will be able to wither away completely when society adopts the rule: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. (Lenin, “State and Revolution”)


Are Popular Fronts Necessary Today?


Raul Marcos
Member of the Communist Party of Spain ML
August 2014

The answer is a resounding YES. They are necessary and indispensable given the condition of oppression and exploitation that are worsening, and from which the people are suffering. The proletariat, with its party at the forefront, should be at the head of the popular masses, to organize and lead their struggles. It is not an easy task, but all difficulties can be overcome. For that to happen, it is necessary to work to link up in a broad manner with the advanced masses, to win their recognition.

The Congress of the Communist International (1921) stated that “The United Front [of the proletariat] is the unity […] of the workers who are decisive in the fight against capitalism”. Dimitrov insisted that the Popular Front, given the circumstances that existed in the world, was an urgent necessity and that its essential basis must be the United Front of the Proletariat.

The fundamental contradictions of the period in which we live and struggle, are perfectly defined: The contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie; the contradiction between capitalism and socialism; the contradiction between oppressed peoples and nations on the one hand and imperialism on the other; the contradiction among imperialist and financial powers. The last contradiction manifests itself in the local wars, the aggressions against the peoples, the contention for geostrategic zones and the exploitation of the neo-colonies, the manipulation of the democratic and patriotic sentiments of the peoples. It is a rapidly growing contradiction.

We live in the period which Lenin defined, but with new characteristics and forms. Presently, we see the expression of a tendency towards fascism as organized groups of neo-Nazis carry out actions in various countries, and this should concern us. In many cases they are protected by the governments (such is the case in Greece, Hungary, Spain, etc.). Power and state apparatus, with some exceptions, are in the hands of parties and governments which are reactionary and anti-popular. The big powers and their puppet governments speak of democracy, of human rights, of peace among the people… while they are savagely subjugating and exploiting the people, who are oppressed, in many cases through force of arms.

This is a general situation, not in this or that country: in different degrees and different forms and intensity; it is a general tendency. The communist parties must daily confront situations of repression, of struggles for social conquests, against laws which encroach upon and suppress labor and social rights which had been achieved through many decades of struggle.

In his report to the VII Congress of the Communist International (1935), and with a similar situation at hand, Dimitrov focused on the importance of creating popular fronts against the conditions which arose with the growth of Nazi-fascism (Italy, Germany, Portugal, Japan, etc.). Despite the years which have passed and the events that have taken place, the report is still very relevant and can serve as a general orientation to the parties. It is evident that the present circumstances are not the same as the 1930s. The context in which we live is very different from that period, and it is enough to recall the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the opportunist degeneration