Stalin’s Writings: Notes Regarding the Use of the Word “Sectarianism”

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Alliance Notation January 2003

So far, I have been able to trace only two clear uses of the term ‘sectarianism’ in the work of J.V.Stalin. Although to my mind, his practice was non-sectarian, his writings do not dwell on this very much. The points that I think Stalin makes on this matter, are as follows:

1) The need for “flexibility”

In text one, he is in discussion with party officials on how to combat illusions regarding nationalism, that in 1923, many still had in the state of the USSR. When Stalin talks of the manner of work required, he talks of a need for ‘flexibility’. Only by being ‘flexible’, can the cadre rally around themselves the “majority of the working people.”

Stalin Text 1

“But no less, if not more, sinful are the “Lefts” in the border regions. If the communist organisations in the border regions cannot grow strong and develop into genuinely Marxist cadres unless they overcome nationalism, these cadres themselves will be able to become mass organisations, to rally the majority of the working people around themselves, only if they learn to be flexible enough to draw into our state institutions all the national elements that are at all loyal, by making concessions to them, and if they learn to manoeuvre between a resolute fight against nationalism in the Party and an equally resolute fight to draw into Soviet work all the more or less loyal elements among the local people, the intelligentsia, and so on. The “Lefts” in the border regions are more or less free from the sceptical attitude towards the Party, from the tendency to yield to the influence of nationalism. But the sins of the “Lefts” lie in the fact that they are incapable of flexibility in relation to the bourgeois-democratic and the simply loyal elements of the population, they are unable and unwilling to manoeuvre in order to attract these elements, they distort the Party’s line of winning over the majority of the toiling population of the country. But this flexibility and ability to manoeuvre between the fight against nationalism and the drawing of all the elements that are at all loyal into our state institutions must be created and developed at all costs. It can be created and developed only if we take into account the entire complexity and the specific nature of the situation encountered in our regions and republics; if we do not simply engage in transplanting the models that are being created in the central industrial districts, which cannot be transplanted mechanically to the border regions; if we do not brush aside the nationalist-minded elements of the population, the nationalist-minded petty bourgeois; and if we learn to draw these elements into the general work of state administration. The sin of the “Lefts” is that they are infected with sectarianism and fail to understand the paramount importance of the Party’s complex tasks in the national republics and regions.”

J. V. Stalin June 9-12, 1923. “Fourth Conference of the Central Committee of the R.C.P. With Responsible Workers of the National Republics and Regions. Verbatim Report Moscow, 1923 J. V. Stalin, Works Moscow, 1953 Vol. 5, pp. 297-348.

(2) But “flexibility” is not the same as having no principles. And the communists must find the dialectical balance between “strict adherence to principle” – and “sectarianism”

Yet it is not the case that ‘flexibility’ is ‘opportunism’ or an un-principled loss of “adherence to principle”. There is a dialectical balance that must be found – between “strict adherence to principle” – and “sectarianism.” This is taken from his discussion with the CPG member, Herzog, in 1925:

“In its work the Party must be able to combine the strictest adherence to principle (not to be confused with sectarianism!) with the maximum of ties and contacts with the masses (not to be confused with khvostism!); without this, the Party will be unable not only to teach the masses but also to learn from them, it will be unable not only to lead the masses and raise them to its own level but also to heed their voice and anticipate their urgent needs.”

J. V. Stalin: “The Prospects of the Communist Party of Germany and the Question of Bolshevisation”. Interview with Herzog, Member of the C.P.G. February 3, 1925; in Works; Moscow, 1954, Vol. 7, pp. 34-41; or at: The Prospects of the C.P.G. and Bolshevisation

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