Book Review: “Stalin’s Letters to Molotov: 1925-1936”

‘STALIN’S LETTERS TO MOLOTOV : 1925 – 1936’

(Edited by Lars T. Lih, Oleg V. Naumov & Oleg V. Khlevniuk)

(Published by Yale University Press, New Haven (USA), 1995)

Introduction

In December 1969, Stalin’s comrade-in-arms Vyacheslav Molotov turned over to the Central Party Archive at the Institute of Marxism-Leninism seventy-nine letters written to him by Stalin between 1925 and 1936. The documents are now located in the ‘Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History in: fond 558, opis 1, delo 5388.

The Russian editors point out the

“… fragmentary nature”

(Russian Editors: Preface: Lars T. Lih, Oleg V. Naumov & Oleg V. Khlevniuk (Eds.): ‘Stalin’s Letters to Molotov: 1925-1936’; New Haven (USA); 1995; p. xiv).

of the correspondence, noting that

“… the period from 1931 through 1936 is represented by only a few documents. Letters from other years (notably 1928) are missing altogether. It is not known whether Molotov turned over all the documents in his possession or only a portion of them”.

(Russian Editors: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.); ibid.; p. xiv).

Nevertheless,

“… the letters preserved contain unparalleled information”,

(Russian Editors: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. xiv).

particularly since they were not written with publication in view.

Lenin’s Testament

Perhaps the most interesting section of the book covers the so-called ‘Lenin’s Testament – a letter dictated by Lenin at the end of December 1922. during his last illness.

“In accordance with his (Lenin’s — Ed.) wishes, the letter was read out to the delegates of the 13th Party congress, held from May 23 to 31, 1924. The Congress unanimously decided that the letter should not be published … since it was addressed to the Congress and not intended for publication”.

(Note to: Vladimir I. Lenin: Last Letters and Articles; Moscow; 1971; p. 63).

In 1925 the American Trotskyist Max Eastman published ‘Since Lenin died’, which contained what were alleged to be extracts from the document concerned. However, in his Introduction, editor Lars Lih admits that Eastman’s book seriously distorted, for political motives, the content of the document:

“Previous Western interpretations have all accepted that Eastman’s book ‘correctly reproduced long extracts’ of the Testament. On reading ‘Since Lenin died’, I was surprised to find this was far from true. Not only does Eastman give a highly distorted rendition of the Testament, but the distortions all clearly serve an explicit political purpose…

‘Since Lenin died’ is an inaccurate, highly politicised account that contrasts Trotsky, with his ‘saintly’ devotion to the revolution, to all the other leaders of the party, who are nothing more than unscrupulous usurpers”

(Lars T. Lih: Introduction to: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): op. cit.; p. 20-21).

Eastman claimed that his book was based on

“… his ‘chats’ with Comrade Trotsky about Lenin’s so-called testament and about the ‘main figures in the Central Committee'”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Political Bureau and the Presidium of the Central Control Commission, Russian Communist Party (17 June 1925), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.: p. 71).

Consequently, on 17 June 1925, Stalin wrote to members of the Political Bureau and the Presidium of the Central Control Commission of the RCP saying that he was convinced that the purpose of Max Eastman’s book was

“… to discredit the government of the USSR and the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party, and that for these purposes Eastman indulges in a whole range of slanders and distortions.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Eastman’s book is libellous, that it will prove enormously profitable to the world counter-revolution (and has already done so!”), and that it will cause serious damage to the entire world revolutionary movement.”

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to PB and CCC (17 June 1925), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 73, 74).

Stalin proposed that, since

“… the silence of Com. Trotsky in this case may be construed only as a confirmation or an excuse for these distortions”,

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to PB and CCC (17 June 1925), in: Lars T. Lih et al (Eds.): ibid.; p.74).

Trotsky should be asked at least to refute certain statements in the book –among these the allegations that,

“… Trotsky’s true texts do not appear in public”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to PB and CCC (17 June 1925), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.) : ibid.; p.75).

and that the Party leaders had

“clapped the censorship on his’ (that is, Lenin’s -Stalin) ‘own last words to his Party”

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to PB and CCC (17 June 1925), in: Lars T. Lih et al (Eds.): ibid.; p. 75).

Accordingly, Stalin proposed that the Politburo should

PROPOSE TO COM. TROTSKY THAT HE DISASSOCIATE HIMSELF DECISIVELY FROM EASTMAN AND MAKE A STATEMENT FOR THE PRESS WITH A CATEGORICAL REBUTTAL OF AT LEAST THOSE DISTORTIONS THAT WERE OUTLINED ABOVE”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to PB and CCC (17 June 1925). in: Lars T. Lih et al (Eds.): ibid.; p. 81).

On the following day, 18 June 1925,

“… the Politburo affirmed Stalin’s proposal”, (Note to: Lars T. Lih et al (Eds.): ibid.; p. 82).

and

“… Trotsky himself promised that he would within three days submit the text of his statement”.

(Note to: Lars T. Lih et al (Eds.): ibid.; p. 82).

Later in June 1925, Trotsky sent to Stalin the draft of his statement, to which Stalin responded:

“If you are interested in my opinion, I personally consider the draft completely unsatisfactory”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Note to Lev Trotsky (June 1925), in: Note to: Lars T. Lih et al (Eds.): ibid.; p. 82).

Trotsky appealed to the Politburo, but

“…after meeting the usual rebuff, … he began to revise the text of his statement for the press… The final text of his statement was ready by 1 July 1925”.

(Note to: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 82).

Trotsky’s statement read, in part, as follows:

“Eastman proceeds to conclusions that are completely and utterly directed against our Party and capable, if taken on faith, of discrediting the Party and Soviet power…

Eastman says that the Central Committee ‘hid’ from the Party a number of highly important documents that Lenin wrote in the last period of his life (letters on the national question, the so-called testament, and so forth): this cannot be termed anything other than a slander of the Central Committee of our Party. These letters give advice on matters of internal Party organisation, yet from Eastman’s words the conclusion could be drawn that Vladimir Ilyich meant them to be printed. In fact, this is completely untrue… It goes without saying that all these letters and proposals came to the attention of the addressees and to the knowledge of the delegates of the 13th Party Congress; … If they were not published, that is because their author did not intend for them to be published. Vladimir Ilyich did not leave any ‘testament’, and the character of his relation to the Party, not to mention the character of the Party itself, excludes the possibility of such a ‘testament’…

Eastman’s assertions that the Central Committee … held up my pamphlets in 1923 or 1924 or at any other time are false…

My relationship to Eastman differs in no way from my relationship to very many Communists or ‘sympathetic foreigners’ … – certainly no closer.

His book can be of service only to the most malicious enemies of communism and the revolution, and it is therefore, objectively speaking, a tool of counter-revolution”.

(Lev Trotsky: Statement published in ‘Bolshevik’, No. 16. 1925. in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 244, 245, 246, 247, 248).

It must be noted that Trotsky does not, as has been alleged, deny the existence of the document known as ‘Lenin’s Testament’:

“Trotsky’s point is that it is inappropriate to call Lenin’s letter a ‘testament’, in other words, a literal statement of last wishes that the party was beholden to carry out”.

(Lars T. Lih: Introduction to: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 22).

Manuilsky

On 16 July 1925, ‘L’Humanité’ (Humanity), the organ of the French Communist Party,

“… published the original version of Trotsky’s statement”

(note to: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 83).

and on 27 July the Politburo of the Russian Communist Party passed the following resolution:

“a) To request ‘L’Humanité’ to publish a notice that the text of Com. Trotsky’s letter regarding Eastman’s book that appeared in ‘L’Humanité’ is incomplete and distorted.

b) To request ‘L’Humanité’ to publish the full (final) text of Com. Trotsky’s letter about Eastman’s book”.

(Note to: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 83).

It became known that the original version of Trotsky’s statement had been deliberately leaked to ‘L’Humanité’ by the concealed revisionist Dmitri Manuilsky:

“Soon it became clear that the original version of Trotsky’s article had been given to ‘L’Humanité’ by D. Z. Manuilsky, a member of the Comintern’s Executive Committee presidium, during his trip to France”. (Note to; Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 83).

On 1 August 1925 Stalin wrote to Molotov:

“I was told that Manulisky sent ‘L’Humanité’ the first draft of Trotsky1s article for publication, not accidentally but on purpose. If that’s true, it’s an outrage. If it’s true, then we are dealing, not with a ‘mistake’, as you wrote me, but with the policy of a few people who for some reason, are not interested in publishing Trotsky’s article in its final edited version, This is unquestionably the case. The matter cannot be left as it is. I propose … condemning Manuilsky’s intolerable action”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (1 August 1925). in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 90).

On Manuilsky’s ‘excuse’ for his action, Stalin is characteristically blunt:

“The letter from Manuilsky is cowardly and conniving.

I stand entirely by my declaration on the swindling and dirty tricks, despite the dissatisfaction of some comrades”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (18 August 1925), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 94).

Dimitrov

The book contains only one reference to Manuilsky’s close collaborator, the concealed revisionist Georgi Dimitrov.

According to the researches of Dobrin Mitchev, of the Institute of History of the Communist Party of Bulgaria:

“On 10 March (1934 – Ed.) … Georgi Dimitrov wrote to Stalin. In his letter he explained that during the year he had spent in prison he had thought a great deal about the problems of the world workers’ movement. He had been concerned above all, he specified, with questions about the strategy and tactics, the methods, the action and the functioning of the Communist International.

“The discussion took place a little later, in the presence of Manuilsky and others.

In the course of the interview, Georgi Dimitrov explained, developed his ideas, which were contrary to those of Stalin. The discussion was ardent, difficult, impassioned”.

(Dobrin Mitchev, in: Jean Méroy: ‘Dimitrov: Un revolutionnaire de notre temps (Dimitrov: A Revolutionary of Our Time); Paris; 1972; p. 184-85).

On the 7th Congress of the Communist International, which took place in August 1935, Stalin comments unenthusiastically:

“The Comintern Congress wasn’t so bad”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (5 August 1935), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): op. cit.; p. 237).

— meaning, apparently, that it was not so bad as might have been expected!

Litvinov

In his correspondence with Molotov, Stalin notes that the Soviet diplomat Maksim Litvinov, a concealed revisionist, did not see things in a revolutionary way:

“Litvinov does not see and is not interested in the revolutionary aspect of policy”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (29 August 1929), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 174).

and that he had irrational confidence in such people as the British social-democrat Edward Wise:

“Litvinov . . . believes Wise and other bastards more than the logic of things”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (9 September 1929), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 177-78).

In another letter, Stalin goes so far as to speak of Litvinov — along with Nikolai Bukharin and Aleksey Rykov, later convicted of treason — as unable to see the strength of the Soviet Union:

“Rykov, along with Bukharin and Litvinov, … don’t see the growth of the power and might of the USSR”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (7 October 1929). in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 182).

Krupskaya

On 14 December 1925, at the 14th Party Congress, Lenin’s revisionist widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya, said:

“We cannot reassure ourselves with the idea that the majority is always right. … Let us recall, for example, the Stockholm Congress (of 1906– Ed.)”.

(Nadezhda Krupskaya: Speech at 14th Party Congress (20 December 1925), in: Note to Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 117).

On which Stalin commented:

“Krupskaya is a splitter (see her speech about ‘Stockholm’ at the 14th Congress). She has to be beaten, as a splitter, if we want to preserve the unity of the Party”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (16 September 1926), in; Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 127).

Ordzhonikidze

In August 1933, a number of officials responsible for the production of agricultural machinery were tried before the USSR Supreme Court for sabotage — for having supplied combines without the full complement of parts. On 22 August USSR Deputy Prosecutor Andrei Vishinsky delivered a speech in which he criticised the departments of state concerned for

“… the immense failure of the work methods of some of the most important government institutions. I mean the Commissariat of Agriculture in the first place as represented by its agricultural supply agency… I mean the Commissariat of Heavy Industry as represented by its agricultural machine association”.

(Note to: Lars T. Lih et al (Eds.): ibid.; p. 233).

Vyshinsky’s statement angered Grigory (Sergo) Ordzhonikidze and Yakov Yakovlev, People’s Commissars of Heavy Industry and Agriculture respectively, and

“… in Stalin’s absence, they managed to persuade the Politburo to issue a resolution criticising Vyshinsky for his allegations: ‘To point out to Com. Vyshinsky that he should not have formulated his views in a way . . . that allows incorrect accusations to be made against Heavy Industry and Agriculture'”

(Note to: Lars T. Lih et al (Eds.): ibid.; p. 233-34).

On which Stalin commented:

“I consider Sergo’s actions with respect to Vyshinsky the behaviour of a hooligan. … By his act of protest Sergo clearly wished to disrupt the campaign of the Council of People’s Commissars and Central Committee to provide proper equipment”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (1 September 1933), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 233).

“The behaviour of Sergo (and Yakovlev) … can only be characterised as anti-Party’, since their objective is to defend reactionary Party elements against the Central Committee”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (12 September 1933),. in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 234).

Wrecking

The letters refute the myth that Stalin believed that persons charged with sabotage were innocent, as the American editor Lars Lih admits:

“The letters indicate that … Stalin genuinely believed that the wreckers were guilty as charged”.

(Lars T. Lih: Introduction: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.); ibid.; p. 48).

and insisted on full publication of the testimonies of the accused and the secret service:

“We must immediately publish all the testimonies of all the wreckers of the supplies of meat, fish, tinned goods and vegetables. … Why the ‘secrets’? We should publish them.

It would also be good to publish the testimonies of the ‘Intelligence Service’ agents . . . about the subversive activity of the Vickers employees, who have bombed, set fire to and damaged our factories and buildings. . . . Why is this rich material being kept secret?’. (Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (13 September 1930), in:

Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 213).

and proposed the same course be adopted in the case of the testimony of Professor Leonid Ramzin, the principal defendant in the ‘Industrial Party’ trial of 1930, if his testimony was corroborated:

“If Ramzin’s testimonies are confirmed and corroborated … that will be a serious victory for the OGPU, since we’ll make the material available in some form to Comintern sections and the workers of the world.”

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Menzhinsky (undated), in: Lars T. Lih et al.: ibid.; p. 196).

Checking Up

The letters throw interesting light on Stalin’s methods of work –particularly on the importance he attached to the selection of cadres and the checking-up on the fulfilment of decisions:

“The slogans ‘checking up on fulfilment’ and ‘selection of officials’ are ubiquitous”,

(Lars T. Lih: Introduction, Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.); ibid.; p. 14).

and we find him writing to Molotov congratulating him on his practice of checking-up on fulfilment:

“You’ve achieved a sample of Leninist checking up on fulfilment. If it is required, let me congratulate you on your success”

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (10 October 1930), In: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 221),

“The Politburo has adopted my proposals concerning grain procurement. This is good, but in my opinion it is inadequate. Now the problem is fulfilling the Politburo’s decision. … Therefore it is necessary to demand the following from procurement organisations, the OGPU, the Collective Farm Centre, and so forth:

a) copies of their instructions to subordinate organs concerning the fulfilment of the Politburo’s decision; b) regular reports every two weeks (even better, once a week) about the results of the fulfilment of the decisions”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (21 August 1929). in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.); ibid.; p. 168).

Stalin and the World Revolutionary Movement

Finally, the letters clearly reveal that in upholding the principle that socialism could be built in one country, Stalin in no way ‘abandoned the cause of world revolution’, as Trotsky alleges;

‘”Stalin was not hypocritical in his support for world revolution, since from his point of view no sacrifice of state interests was involved.

Stalin comes out of the letters with his revolutionary credentials in good order…

As first servant of the Soviet state, he was also first servant of the world revolution…

The letters refute the Trotsky-derived interpretation of ‘socialism in one country’ as an isolationist rejection of revolution elsewhere…

The letters show that Stalin did not see revolutionary interests and state interests in either-or terms”.

(Lars T. Lih: Introduction: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.); ibid.: pp.28, 36, 62).

For example, the letters reveal his great personal interest in the class struggle of the British workers:

“Stalin’s remarks indicate that he was very involved in the British situation”.

(Lars T. Lih: Introduction to: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 30).

Thus, when the British miners’ strike began on 1 May 1926, Stalin insisted that every possible assistance be rendered to them:

“We must publish the complete text of the resolution of our workers… in support of the British strikers in general and the coal-miners in particular in all the most important languages of the West as quickly as possible. … This is a fighting matter and should not be allowed to fall by the wayside”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (26 May 1926), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 104).

“The delegation of British coal miners should be arriving any day… They should be met ‘by all the rules of the game’ and as much money as possible should be collected for them. I’ve heard that the Americans have promised 1 million dollars. We have to collect and send possibly 1 million or 2 million roubles (less than the Americans is impossible) or perhaps a whole 3 million, The situation in England is serious, and it obliges us to make serious sacrifices'”

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (2? August 1926). in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 119).

The letters also demonstrate his keen interest in, and support for, the Chinese Revolution:

“Stalin sees the success of the Chinese Communist Party as a matter of both state and revolutionary interest”,

(Lars T. Lih: Introduction, Lars T. Lih et al (Eds.): ibid.; p.33).

and show that, despite Opposition criticism, Stalin was convinced that the Comintern’s policy with regard to China had been correct:

“Never have I been so deeply and firmly convinced of the correctness of our policy . . . in China . . as I am now”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (11 July 1927), in: Lars T. Lih et al (Eds.): ibid.; p. 143).

and he

“… insisted that the blame for the failure of Comintern strategy lay with the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party”, (Lars T. Lih: Introduction to: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): op. cit.; p.32).

which he characterised as ‘not a genuine Communist Party’:

“… unfortunately we don’t have a real or, if you like, an actual Communist Party in China. . . . What is the current Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)? Nothing but an ‘amalgamation’ of general phrases gathered here and there, not linked to one another with any line or guiding idea. I don’t want to be very demanding toward the Central Committee of the CCP. I know that one can’t be too demanding toward it. But here is a simple demand: fulfil the directives of the Comintern. Has it fulfilled these directives? No.

There is not a single Marxist mind in the Central Committee capable of understanding . . . the social underpinning of the events now occurring. … The CCP sometimes babbles about the hegemony of the proletariat.

But … the CCP does not have a clue (literally, not a clue) about hegemony.

That’s the reason why the Comintern’s directives are not fulfilled.

That is why I now believe the question of the Party is the main question of the Chinese revolution”.

(Josef V. Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov C9 Jul1 1927), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; pp.140-41).

In 1929, Stalin even favoured military intervention in Manchuria in support of the Chinese Revolution:

“I think that it’s time to think about organising an uprising by a revolutionary movement in Manchuria. … We need to organise two double-regiment brigades, chiefly made up of Chinese, outfit them with everything necessary (artillery, machine-guns, and so on), put Chinese at the head of the brigade, and send them into Manchuria with the following assignment: to stir up a rebellion among the Manchurian troops, … to occupy Harbin and, after gathering force, to declare Chang Hsueh-liang overthrown, establish a revolutionary government. …This we can, and I think should, do. No ‘international law’ contradicts this task”.

(Josef V, Stalin: Letter to Vyacheslav Molotov (7 October 1929), in: Lars T. Lih et al. (Eds.): ibid.; p. 182).

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