Category Archives: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia on the Mongolian People’s Republic


Mongolian People’s Republic

(Bugd Nairamdakh Mongol Ard Uls).

The Mongolian People’s Republic (MPR) is a state in Central Asia bounded by the USSR and the People’s Republic of China. Area, 1,565,000 sq km. Population, 1,377,900 (early 1974). The capital is Ulan Bator. Administratively, the country is divided into aimaks; Ulan Bator and Darkhan form separate administrative units (see Table 1).


The MPR is a socialist state and a people’s republic. The present constitution, adopted on July 6, 1960, proclaims that all power in the republic belongs to the working people. Socialist ownership of the means of production and the socialist economic system constitute the economic basis of the social system.

The highest organ of state power and the sole legislative body is the Great People’s Khural, popularly elected by secret ballot for a four-year term on the basis of universal, equal, and direct suffrage. One deputy is elected for every 4,000 inhabitants. The Great People’s Khural ratifies and amends the constitution, establishes the basic principles of domestic and foreign policy, and approves national economic plans, the state budget, and reports on the implementation of the plans. Between sessions of the Great People’s Khural, the highest state body is the Presidium, elected by the Khural and headed by a chairman, deputy chairmen, and a secretary. The highest executive and administrative body is the government of the MPR, the Council of Ministers, which is designated by the Great People’s Khural.

The local governing bodies in the aimaks, cities, and urban districts are khurals of deputies popularly elected for three-year terms. The khurals elect executive bodies from among the deputies. All those citizens who have attained the age of 18 may vote.

The judicial system of the MPR includes the Supreme Court, aimak and city courts, and special courts for criminal cases involving the military. There are also aimak circuit courts and district courts. The Supreme Court and the special courts are elected by the Great People’s Khural for a four-year term, and the other courts are elected by the corresponding khurals. People’s assessors participate in the consideration of cases. Supervision over the observance of legality is exercised by the procurator of the MPR, who is appointed for a four-year term by the Great People’s Khural, and by aimak, city, district, and military procurators appointed by the procurator of the MPR.

Terrain. The MPR is situated in steppe, semi desert, and desert regions of the temperate zone in northeastern Central Asia. A large part of the country lies at elevations of 1,000 to 2,000 m, with mountains predominating in the west and northwest and high plains in the east. The most important ranges are the Mongolian Altai, reaching 4,362 m on Mount Munkh-Khairkhan Ula and stretching for 1,000 km; the Gobi Altai; and the Khangai. The Khentei Upland occupies the central part of the country. The mountains have gentle, smooth slopes and crests, and their bases are often covered by thick talus mantles. Sharp peaks occur only in the highest ranges. The Gobi, one of the world’s largest deserts,extends into the country from the south and southeast. Several isolated volcanic massifs tower above the desert in the southeast, forming the Dariganga volcanic region. In the north and the northwest there are several vast, relatively deep intermontane basins and valleys, the largest of which are the Great Lakes Depression, the Valley of Lakes, and the depression occupied by the valleys of the Orkhon and Selenga rivers. The eastern part of the country consists of plains descending toward the northeast. In the southern and southeastern parts of the Gobi and the Great Lakes Depression, areas covered by sand total about 30,000 sq km.

Geological structure and minerals Mongolia belongs to the Central Asian system, part of the Ural-Mongolian Geosynclinal Belt. The system is divided into two distinct regions, a northern Caledonian and a southern Hercynian. There aretwo types of Paleozoic geosynclinal structures: those in which basic volcanism has played the leading role and those with sialic volcanism. Orogenic Molasse formations are associated with superimposed structures. Granitoids are extensively developed. Tectonics are of the foldblock type, with plutonic fractures, frequently accompanied by ultrabasites; the linear structures of the south are isolated. During the Paleozoic the geosynclines migrated and underwent rejuvenation from north to south.

Mesozoic and Cenozoic formations, filling the downwarps and grabens, are represented by volcanic and sedimentary rocks in the east and amagmatic strata in the west. Remains of dinosaurs have been found in the continental rocks of the Mesozoic.

Important minerals include deposits of coal in the Upper Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks of superimposed depressions and grabens (Tabun-Tologoi, Sharyn-Gol, Nalaikha). There are deposits of iron ore in Lower Paleozoic siliceous and siliceous-volcanic formations (Tamryn-Gol, Baiangol). The largest of the explored deposits of tungsten are at Buren-Tsogt and Ikh Khairkhan. Tungsten, copper, and molybdenum ores (Erdenituin-Obo) and deposits of fluorite (Berkh) are associated with the Mesozoic metallogenic age. Phosphorite deposits associated with carbonate deposits of the Upper Riphean and Vend have been discovered around Lake Khubsugul. The country also has deposits of gold, tin, zinc, piezoelectric quartz, asbestos, gypsum, granite, and other minerals.

Climate. The climate is dry, markedly continental, and temperate, and there are great seasonal and daily fluctuations in temperature. Winters are cold and sunny, with little snowfall. January temperatures average35°C (minimum,50°C) in the north and10°C in the south. Summers are warm and short. The average July temperature ranges from 18° to 26°C, reaching a maximum of 40°C. The north receives 200–300 mm of precipitation annually and the extreme south (especially the southwest), less than 100 mm. The mountains receive as much as 500 mm of precipitation annually, with the maximum occurring in summer. There are glaciers in the Mongolian Altai, and sporadic permafrost occurs in the northern part of the country.

Rivers and lakes. The largest river, the Selenga (flowing for about 600 km in the MPR), drains into the Arctic Ocean, and the large Kerulen and Onon rivers drain into the Pacific. The largest rivers of the interior are the Dzabkhan and the Kobdo. The annual runoff totals about 30 cu km. The rivers are fed chiefly by rain and snow; floods occur in spring and summer. Many large lakes are found in the tectonic depressions in the west. The largest saline lakes are Ubsu-Nur, covering 3,350 sq km, and Khirgis-Nur, and the principal freshwater lakes are Khubsugul, with an area of 2,620 sq km and a maximum depth of 238 m, and Khara-Us-Nur. There is year-round navigation on Lake Khubsugul and in the lower reaches of the Orkhon and Selenga rivers.

Soils and flora. Chestnut soils cover more than 60 percent of the country’s area, and brown soils with considerable salinization are also widespread, chiefly in the Gobi Desert. Chernozems are found in the mountains, and meadow soils occur along river valleys and in lake basins. More than 2,000 plant species have been identified. The plains of the north and northeast support grass and forb steppes of feather grass, Leymus chinensis, Koeleria, wheatgrass, Stipasplendens, and wormwood, with an admixture of caragana in places. Vegetation in the semideserts and deserts of the south and southeast includes feather grass, Stipa splendens, and saltworts. Tracts of saxaul are found in these mideserts. The most northerly desert region on earth is in the Great Lakes Depression. Forest steppe landscapes are characteristic of the mountain regions, the northern and northwestern slopes support forests of larch, cedar, pine,spruce, and birch. On the Khentei Upland and in the mountains adjoining Lake Khubsugul there are tracts of coniferous taiga. Forests occupy about 10 percent of the country’s territory. Groves of poplars, willows, and bird cherries grow along river valleys.

Fauna. There are more than 100 species of mammals in the MPR. The most common animals are rodents, including marmots, gerbils, jerboas, hamsters, and field mice. Tolai hares and pikas are found everywhere, and muskrats have been acclimatized. Sables, squirrels, flying squirrels, and Siberian chipmunks inhabit the forests. Ungulates include the wild ass and several antelopes—the Persian gazelle, Mongolian gazelle, and saiga. The forests harbor roe deer and maral, and elk and musk deer are found in the Khentei Upland. Wolves and foxes are numerous. Commercially valuable animals include the Mongolian gazelle, boar, lynx, squirrel, sable, and marmot. Such animals as the wild camel, Przhevalsky’s horse in the Gobi Desert, and the Gobi bear are almost unknown outside Mongolia. Taiga flora and fauna are protected in the Bogdo-Ula (Choibalsan-Ula) Preserve in the Khentei Upland, near Ulan Bator.

Natural regions. The Mongolian Altai has predominantly mountain steppe landscapes. The Great Lakes Depression consists of a series of plains occupied by semideserts and deserts, a melkosopochnik (region of low hills), and numerous lakes. The Khentei-Khangai region has mountain steppe and forest steppe landscapes. The East Mongolian region consists chiefly of steppe plains combined with stretches of melkosopochnik and volcanic uplands. The Gobiregion is dominated by semidesert and desert plains (with some depressions and a melkosopochnik ), covered in places with pebbles and rock debris.


Amantov, V. A., et al. “Osnovnye cherty tektoniki Mongolii.” In Orogenicheskie poiasa. Moscow, 1968.
Mongol’skaia Narodnaia Respublika. Moscow, 1971.
Geologiia Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1973.
Murzaev, E. M. Mongol’skaia Narodnaia Respublika, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1952.
Bespalov, N. D. Pochvy Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki. Moscow, 1951.
Iunatov, A. A. Osnovnye cherty rastitel’nogo pokrova Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Bannikov, A. G. Mlekopitaiushchie Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki. Moscow, 1954.
Kuznetsov, N. T. Vody Tsentral’noi Azii. Moscow, 1968.
Gungaadash, B. Mongoliia segodnia. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from Mongolian.)

E. M. MURZAEV (physical geography) and N. G. MARKOVA (geological structure and minerals)

Khalkha Mongols, numbering 901,200 persons (1969 census), constitute 75.3 percent of the population. Other Mongolian-speaking groups—Derbets (34,700), Baits (25,500), Zakhchins (15,000), Olets (6,900), and Torguts (7,100)—have joined with the Khalkhas to form a socialist nation. Khalkhas and the related Dariganga (20,600) live primarily in the central and eastern regions of the country, and the Derbets, Baits, Zakhchins, Olets, and Torguts inhabit the western regions. In the north live Mongolian-speaking Buriats (29,800), and the northwest is inhabited by Turkic-speaking Kazakhs (62,800; almost all live in the Kazakh national Baian-Ulegei Aimak), Tuvinians (15,700), and a small number of Khotons. Russians (22,100) are concentrated in the cities and in several rural settlements in the Selenga, Central, Khubsugul, and Bulgan aimaks. The official language is Mongolian. Believers among the population are Lamaist Buddhists. The official calendar is the Gregorian.

The country has a high natural population growth rate, averaging 2.8 percent a year between 1963 and 1971. About 60 percent of the population is under 30 years of age. The work force numbered 507,000 persons in 1970, of whom 58.7 percent were employed in agriculture, as compared with 70.1 percent in 1960. There were 93,700 industrial workers in 1969, as compared with 14,800 in 1940. The social composition of the population has changed radically during the years of people’s rule. Between 1956 and 1969 the proportion of industrial and office workers and their families increased from 25.9 percent to 56.4 percent of the total population, and the proportion of members of agricultural associations and handicrafts cooperatives increased from 11.1 percent to 43.5 percent. Population density is very low, averaging less than one person per sq km; the population is particularly sparse in the Gobi. In 1972 about 54 percent of the population lived in rural areas and about 46 percent in cities. Between 1956 and 1971 the urban population grew from 183,000 to 604,000; urban dwellers account for about half the population in Selenga, Eastern, and East Gobi aimaks (52 percent, 49 percent, and 51.5 percent, respectively). The largest city is Ulan Bator (303,000 in 1973, including Nalaikha), and cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants are Darkhan, Choibalsan, Kobdo, Tsetserleg, and Muren.

The primitive communal system and the first states (to the 13th century A.D.). The earliest traces of human habitation in Mongolia date from the end of the Lower Paleolithic, about 200,000 to 100,000 years ago (sites in the southern Gobi regions). Upper Paleolithic sites in the central, Gobi, and eastern regions (40,000 to 12,000 years ago) indicate that a matriarchal clan system had evolved. In Neolithic times, from about the fifth to the third millennium B.C., the chief occupations were hunting and fishing. Agriculture probably arose in eastern and southern Mongolia in the late Neolithic and early Aeneolithic. Copper and bronze articles were produced between the second and the middle of the first millennium B.C., as exemplified by the Karasuk culture and the culture of “grave slabs” and “reindeer stones” (stelae depicting running reindeer).

At the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age (first millennium B.C.), the Mongol tribes took up nomadic livestock raising, and the patriarchal clan system developed. Private property appeared in the fourth and third centuries B.C. as livestock became the property of individual families, and barter was introduced. Tribes united to form confederations, whose social structure exhibited “democratic” features (the rise of chiefs and a military elite), attesting to the disintegration of the primitive communal system and the beginning of feudal society. The first tribal confederation in Mongolia was that of the proto-Mongol Hsiungnu (third century B.C. to the first century A.D.), whose material culture has become well known through excavations conducted in the 1920’s by Soviet archaeologists under the leadership of P. K. Kozlov and excavations by Mongolian archaeologists in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In the first century A.D., the Hsiungnu confederation disintegrated and was succeeded by the Sienpi (Hsienpi) confederation. The process of feudalization continued between the fourth and tenth centuries in the Juan-Juan, Turkic, Uighur, and Kirghiz khanates.

The period of the Khitan state, also known as the Liao empire, which flourished from the tenth to the 12th centuries, constituted the final stage in the transition to feudalism. The Khitan state encompassed part of present day China as well as Mongolia. The collapse of the Liao empire in 1125 led to the formation of early feudal principalities and khanates in Mongolia. The basic means of production, the nomad grazing land (nutuk ), became the exclusive property of the feudal elite (noions), and the bulk of direct producers was gradually transformed into the feudally dependent arat class of nomadic herders. The creation of a strong centralized state capable of establishing and enforcing feudal relations by means of a powerful coercive apparatus became historically inevitable. Such a state was created at the beginning of the 13th century through the amalgamation of numerous Mongol tribes, khanates, and principalities under the noion Temiijin, who succeeded in subjugating rival noions.

Mongolia in the feudal period (13th to early 20th centuries). In 1206, Temiijin was proclaimed great khan, or Genghis Khan, at the great kurultai (assembly) of Mongol noions. His domestic policy was aimed at centralizing the state administration in the interest of the feudal lords and consolidating the autocratic rule of the khan. He sought to make land and pasture the property of the state, personified by the great khan. Land grants, called khubi, were bestowed on the noions in return for military service. These grants were similar to the Near Eastern iqta. Free movement by the direct producers was prohibited, which in effect bound them to the land. Genghis Khan created a unified army (comprising virtually the entire male population) under a centralized command and a personal aristocratic guard of many thousands, both based on harsh military discipline. The slightest insubordination or display of cowardice was punished by death.With the consolidation of feudalism, the formation of a single Mongol nation was completed.

Created in the interest of the noion class, which sought to enrich itself through feudal exploitation and the outright plunder of other countries, the military-feudal state embarked on a path of expansion and conquest. The wars of conquestof Genghis Khan, begun around 1210, were continued by his successors. Northern China, the Tangut state, Middle Asia, Transcaucasia, and Iran were conquered by the mid-13th century, and the Mongol-Tatar yoke was established inRus’. A vast state was formed, known as the Mongol feudal empire. The conquest of China was completed in the 1270’s by Kublai Khan, who founded the Yuan dynasty.

The wars of conquest of Genghis Khan and his successors, which brought great misery to the subjugated peoples and enriched the Mongol feudal lords, had a negative influence on the development of Mongolia itself and causeddecline in its productive forces. Lacking a unified economic base and torn by internal contradictions, the Mongol empire began to disintegrate. In 1368 the Mongol feudal lords were driven out of China, and the battle of Kulikovo in 1380 initiated the overthrow of the Mongol-Tatar yoke in Rus’. In the second half of the 14th century the Mongol state in Iran and Transcaucasia fell, and the conquerors met a similar fate in Middle Asia. The empire of the Mongol feudal lords disappeared in the last quarter of the 14th century.

In the ensuing period of feudal fragmentation the basic socioeconomic and political unit of society was the feudal domain— a khanate or principality (otok) belonging to a descendant of Genghis Khan as his hereditary property (umchi)State ownership of land and the system of conditional grants (khubi), which had existed during the empire, gave way to private feudal landed property and unconditional land grants (umchi). The unified early feudal Mongol state was replaced by a multitude of independent khanates and principalities requiring markets to barter livestock and animal products for the agricultural and handicrafts commodities of settled peoples. At this time China alone could provide this market, but it had little interest in such trade. Mongolia reached the point of economic crisis. The Mongol rulers attempted to impose barter on the Chinese authorities by force. The western Mongol (Oirat) feudal lords, separated from China by vast distances and by the eastern Mongol principalities, were at the greatest disadvantage. A protracted struggle over the trade routes to China developed between the feudal lords of eastern and western Mongolia.

Twice during the 15th century attempts were made to overcome feudal fragmentation and reestablish a unified Mongol state, first by the Oirat ruler Esen Khan (ruled 1440–55) and later by the Mongol Daian Khan (ruled c. 1479 to c. 1543).However, the states they created broke up immediately after their deaths, since the social and economic preconditions for unity were lacking. After the death of Daian Khan, Mongolia was divided into Southern and Northern Mongolia,separated by the Gobi Desert. Shortly thereafter, Northern Mongolia was subdivided into Western (Oirat) and Eastern (Khalkha) Mongolia with the boundary running along the Altai Mountains. This territorial division reflected the formation of distinct Mongolian-speaking feudal groups and nations that began in the 15th century. Subsequently these different groups followed separate lines of historical development. In the 16th century there were more than 200 khanates and principalities in the three parts of Mongolia.

In the last quarter of the 16th century the khans and princes of Southern Mongolia and later those of Khalkha were converted to Lamaist Buddhism. The princes of Western Mongolia were converted in the early 17th century, and shortlythereafter Lamaism became the state religion. Within a short time the church grew into a powerful feudal landowner.

The late 16th and early 17th centuries saw the expansion of the Manchu feudal lords, who in 1616 created a state headed by Nurhachi on the territory of present day northeastern China. Taking advantage of the fragmentation of Mongolia,the Manchu in 1634 destroyed the Chahar Khanate, the largest in Southern Mongolia, and in 1636 the noions of Southern Mongolia accepted the suzerainty of the Manchu ruler Abahai (ruled 1626–43). Southern Mongolia came to be called Inner Mongolia, in contrast to Khalkha Mongolia (present day MPR), which the Manchu called Outer Mongolia.

An Oirat feudal state arose in Western Mongolia in the 1630’s. In 1640 an assembly of Mongol khans and princes met in Dzungaria (Western Mongolia) with the aim of settling domestic feuds and unifying their forces to repel Manchu aggression. This unity proved to be short-lived. Especially acute was the conflict between the Oirat Khanate and the Khalkha noions, cleverly encouraged by the Manchu. In 1688 the Khalkha feudal lords, routed by the Oirat khan Galdan (ruled 1671–97), declared themselves subjects of the Ch’ing dynasty (1644–1911), founded by the Manchu after their conquest of China. The Manchu promised the Khalka protection against the Oirats. The Khalkha’s subjugation to the Manchu was confirmed in 1691 at the Dolonnor assembly of noions of Inner and Outer Mongolia. The Oirat Khanate, relying on the friendly neutrality of Russia, defended its independence in a stubborn struggle and remained the only independent Mongol state. From 1755 to 1758 a broad anti-Manchu liberation movement headed by the Oirat prince Amursana and the Khalkha noion Chingunzhab (Chingunjav) developed in Khalkha and Dzungaria. But the movement was suppressed because of its lack of organization and the vacillations of the noion class. In 1758 the Manchu destroyed the Oirat state, slaughtering more than half a million inhabitants. All of Mongolia came under the rule of Ch’ing China, and the Mongols found themselves under dual oppression, owing obligations not only to the noions and the church but also to the Manchu conquerors. To perpetuate its domination, the Ch’ing dynasty sought to isolate Mongolia from the outside world, primarily from Russia. Direct trade between Mongols and Russian merchants was banned by decrees issued in 1719 and 1722, and it was not resumed until the early 1860’s.

In the mid-19th century capitalist Europe “discovered” China. Mongolia was “discovered” at the same time and like China was rapidly drawn into the world market. Usurious Chinese capitalists poured into Mongolia. Unequal trade exhausted the already weak Mongolian economy. The large-scale livestock raising of the noions could not develop normally under these conditions, and income fell.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries feudal Mongolia became the object of imperialist struggle in the Far East. The main rivals were Japan and tsarist Russia, although Great Britain, the USA, and Germany were also interested. The Ch’ing dynasty began extensive colonization of Mongolia, eliminating the vestiges of the Mongol princes’ autonomy and placing the administration of the country in the hands of its own bureaucracy, supported by Manchu-Chinese garrisons. This policy provoked the resistance not only of the arats but also of the noions, whose position as a ruling class was thus undermined. The overthrow of Manchu domination and independence became nationwide goals. The Russian Revolution of 1905–07 and the growth of the revolutionary movement in China contributed to the revolutionary situation in Mongolia. Anti-Manchu uprisings became larger and more frequent. In the southwestern part of the Kobdo District of Outer Mongolia a movement led by the arat Aiushi assumed broad dimensions, but in general the struggle was directed by the noions.

In the summer of 1911 a secret assembly of high feudal lords convened in Urga (present day Ulan Bator) decided to send a secret mission to St. Petersburg to negotiate for Russian aid in creating an independent Mongolian state. But theRussian government advised Mongolia to seek autonomy within China, promising the noions Russian aid in return for privileges in the country. The overthrow of the Ch’ing dynasty and the formation of an independent Mongolian monarchy headed by the bogdo-gegen (the head of the church) were proclaimed in Urga in 1911. On Dec. 16, 1911, the bogdo-gegen formally assumed the khan’s throne. For more than three years the government established by the bogdo-gegen unsuccessfully sought recognition of Mongolian sovereignty by the Great Powers. In the end it was obliged to accept autonomy within China, which was confirmed by the Kiakhta Treaty of 1915.

Mongolia since 1917. THE VICTORY OF THE REVOLUTION OF 1921 AND THE ACHIEVEMENT OF GENERAL DEMOCRATIC GOALS. The victory of the October Revolution in Russia and the formation of the Soviet state in 1917 opened the way for the revolutionary renewal of Mongolia. The reactionary noion class, however, was hostile to the victory of the socialist revolution in Russia. The government of the bogdo-gegen closed the border with the RSFSR, refused to receive Soviet diplomats, maintained ties with representatives of the former tsarist regime, and in the spring of 1918 permitted Chinese militarist forces to enter the country. It concealed from the people the August 1919 appeal of the Soviet government to the people and government of Outer Mongolia in which the Soviet government renounced all unequal treaties between tsarist Russia and Mongolia, recognized Mongolia’s right to independence, and proposed establishment of diplomatic relations. In November 1919 the Mongolian government renounced autonomy, turning the country into a refuge for Russian White Guards and a base for anti-Soviet intervention, and in 1920–21 it supported the Japanese protege Baron R.F. Ungern von Sternberg, who occupied the country and established a military dictatorship.

Only a successful anti-imperialist and anti-feudal revolution could save the country from outright colonial enslavement. Preparations for such a revolution were begun. Progressive representatives of the arat class and progressive elements among other strata of the population, led by D. Sukhe-Bator and Kh. Choibalsan, established two underground revolutionary groups in Urga in the fall of 1919. In 1920 the two groups united to form a single revolutionary organization called the Mongolian People’s Party. Seeking to establish a direct link with Soviet Russia, the Mongolian revolutionaries sent representatives to Irkutsk and Moscow in the summer of 1920. Working under the terrorist regime of the Chinese and later the Ungern invaders, the members of the Mongolian revolutionary organization disseminated propaganda and organized the masses, laying the foundation for a people’s revolutionary army in preparation for a nationwide armed uprising.

The First Congress of the party, held in Kiakhta in March 1921, formally established the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), called the Mongolian People’s Party prior to 1925. In accordance with the resolutions of the congress, the Provisional People’s Government was formed on March 13, and the staff of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Army was confirmed; Sukhe-Bator was appointed commander in chief. On March 18 revolutionary troops liberated the city of Maimachen (present day Altan-Bulak) from the occupation forces. In June 1921, Red Army units entered Mongolia at the request of the Provisional People’s Government to assist in the struggle against Ungern’s bands. On July 6 the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Army and Soviet troops liberated Urga. On July 10, 1921, the Central Committee of the party adopted a resolution to transfer central authority to a permanent people’s government.The revolution triumphed. Power was entrusted to people’s khurals, which became the political foundation of the Mongolian state. A dictatorship of the toiling arat class, led by the party and drawing on the support and aid of the working class of Soviet Russia and the international communist movement, was established by legislation.

All state affairs were conducted by the people’s government, although from 1921 to 1924 Mongolia formally remained a limited monarchy headed by the bogdo-gegen. This situation resulted from the strong influence of the church on the masses and the need to unite all patriotic forces in the anti-imperialist struggle. The people’s government carried out a number of anti-imperialist and anti-feudal reforms. Debts to foreign merchants and usurers, primarily Chinese, were canceled, land was nationalized, serfdom and feudal titles and privileges were abolished, and local self-government was democratized. In the course of the revolution social lines were more clearly defined, and the class struggle intensified, as was reflected in the counterrevolutionary conspiracies of Bodo (1922) and Danzan (1924), which were crushed by the people’s government.

Mongolia’s ties with Soviet Russia were strengthened and expanded. Of paramount importance was a Mongolian delegation’s meeting with V. I. Lenin in November 1921. Lenin’s views on the possibility of noncapitalist development in Mongolia determined the political course of the party and the people’s government. The party joined the Comintern as a sympathizer. On Nov. 5, 1921, a Soviet-Mongolian friendship agreement was signed in Moscow.

The Third Congress of the party, held in August 1924, established as the general party line the noncapitalist development of the country. The socioeconomic measures between 1921 and 1924 under the leadership of the party strengthened the people’s state and created the preconditions for the establishment of a republican system in Mongolia. The first Great People’s Khural, held in November 1924, proclaimed Mongolia a people’s republic and ratified the first constitution of the Mongolian People’s Republic.

The people’s government did all it could to stimulate the growth of productive forces, relying on the aid of the Soviet state. In December 1921 the Mongolian Central People’s Cooperative (Montsenkoop) was formed; in June 1924 the Mongolian Commercial and Industrial Bank was established; and in December 1925 monetary reforms were carried out and a national currency, the tugrik, was issued. Through the efforts of the state and the cooperatives the first industrial enterprises were built, and modern transportation and communications systems were established.

The country’s noncapitalist development toward socialism was opposed by right-wing deviationists from 1926 to 1928. The rout of the rightists at the Seventh Congress of the MPRP, held from October to December 1928, was a major victory for the Leninist basic line of the party. In the early 1930’s foreign capital was expelled from the country’s economy, and a state monopoly over foreign trade was established. The taxation policy, the strengthening of Montsenkoop, and the aid of Soviet trade organizations ensured the fulfillment of these objectives.

For a long time former feudal lords held strong positions in the economy, owning more than one-third of all livestock in 1924. In 1929 the expropriation of large feudal holdings began, and the livestock and property of former feudal lords became the property of poor peasants and the people’s state. The elimination of the feudal lords as a class took place amid a fierce struggle. The forces of reaction employed various forms of resistance, ranging from small-scale sabotage to armed uprisings in 1932. The reactionaries took advantage of the errors of the ultra-left leadership in the party and the state between 1929 and 1932. Ignoring the real situation, the ultra-leftists proclaimed the transition of the revolution to the socialist stage and began to implement a policy that caused serious economic and political difficulties. The third Extraordinary Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the MPRP (June 1932) condemned the distortions that had been permitted and attempted to restore the party’s general line. The Ninth Congress of the MPRP, held in September and October 1934, approved the decisions of the Extraordinary Plenum.

Emancipation from colonial dependence and the abolition of feudal relations gave impetus to the development of the productive forces. The country’s livestock increased by 36 percent between 1929 and 1940. State and cooperative industry arose, chiefly coal mining, the production of electric energy, and the processing of agricultural raw materials. Automotive, railroad, and air transport developed. Between 1934 and 1939 the retail trade increased 2.5 times and exports 2.3 times; imports doubled. The main sources of revenue were the state and cooperative sectors: taxes and imposts collected from the population accounted for only 16.7 percent of revenues in 1940.

Against the background of a complicated international situation resulting from Japan’s aggressive policy, a Soviet-Mongolian gentlemen’s agreement on mutual aid in the event of an attack on one of the parties was concluded in November 1934. The oral agreement was confirmed by the Soviet-Mongolian Protocol on Mutual Assistance signed in March 1936. The Japanese troops that invaded Mongolia near the Khalkhin-Gol River in May 1939 were vigorously resisted by the Mongolian Army and the Soviet troops that came to its aid. In August 1939 the Japanese were completely routed.

By 1940 the country’s social structure had been fundamentally changed through revolutionary reforms. The class of feudal lords had disappeared, and the arats had become a class of free small producers. A national working class was emerging (numbering about 15,000 workers in 1940), and a working-class intelligentsia was developing. Small-scale and socialist enterprises were the basic economic unit. The socialist sector encompassed state and cooperative industry, mechanized transport, the financial system, and state and cooperative commerce. There were centers of socialist production in agriculture as well, the goskhozes, but small-scale production predominated. Capitalist elements also persisted in agriculture—large livestock-raising farms based on the hiring and exploitation of labor. In commerce these elements were represented by private merchants. In general, however, capitalist enterprises played an insignificant role in the national economy. The people’s government pursued a policy of limiting and displacing these elements. During the general democratic stage of development a cultural revolution took place with the aim of overcoming feudal vestiges in the people’s consciousness and establishing a revolutionary world view and progressive culture.

The achievements of the general democratic stage were summed up at the Tenth Congress of the MPRP held in March and April 1940 and at the Eighth Great People’s Khural in June 1940. The congress adopted a new party program,and the Eighth Great People’s Khural promulgated a new constitution reflecting the profound socio-economic changes that had occurred in the republic.

CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALISM. Having fulfilled the general democratic tasks of the revolution by 1940, the country entered a new, socialist stage. The main tasks now became the acceleration of the rate of growth of productive forces, the voluntary formation of production cooperatives out of individual arat farms throughout the country, the creation of a single socialist system for the national economy, and the further development of the cultural revolution.

The transition to the socialist stage took place during World War II. From the first day of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, the Mongolian people, the MPRP, and the government of Mongolia took a consistently internationalist position of supporting the just cause of the peoples of the USSR and giving them much moral and material aid. This position was set forth in the Declaration of the Joint Session of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the MPRP,the Presidium of the Lesser Khural, and the Council of Ministers of the MPR on June 22, 1941. Thousands of tons of food, warm clothing, the savings of Mongolian working people, and thousands of head of cattle were contributed to the Red Army. During the war, 32,000 horses were sent by the Mongolian people as a gift to the USSR. The workers of Mongolia sent several trainloads of gifts to the fronts of the Patriotic War. The Revolutionary Mongolia Tank Column and the Mongolian Arat Air Squadron, which fought in battles against fascist German troops, were built with money collected by the working people of Mongolia. The economic policy of the MPRP and the people’s government was oriented toward the fullest utilization of local resources and the satisfaction of the country’s needs through domestically produced products. The MPR participated directly in the rout of the Japanese aggressors, declaring war on Japan on Aug. 10,1945. Its 80,000-man army fought a heroic campaign across the Gobi Desert to the Gulf of Liaotung, making its contribution to the common cause of victory.

In 1944 the government of Mongolia abolished the restrictions on the electoral rights of former feudal lords and persons who had previously exploited the labor of others, granting them the right to elect representatives to organs of people’s power and to be eligible for election. In 1949 elections by stages were replaced by direct elections and open voting by secret ballot. The country’s international position was strengthened. Its sovereignty was confirmed at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Fraternal relations with the USSR were strengthened. The Treaty on Friendship and Mutual Assistance Between the USSR and the MPR and the Agreement on Economic and Cultural Cooperation were signed in February 1946. In 1948, Mongolia began to establish diplomatic relations with the other socialist states, and economic and cultural cooperation with these countries expanded.

The postwar period was marked by great achievements in socialist construction. In 1947 the Eleventh Congress of the MPRP adopted a resolution calling for long-term planning of the national economy and culture and ratified the directives for the first five-year plan (1948–52). The session of the Great People’s Khural held in July 1954 elected Zh. Sambu (died 1972) chairman of the Presidium of the Great People’s Khural and formed a government headed by lu.Tsedenbal.

In the following years the national economy developed according to the second five-year plan (1953–57) and the three-year plan (1958–60). The development of industry brought about the growth of the working class. In 1960 the number of industrial and office workers was 5.9 times greater than in 1940. At the country’s socialist stage of development the working class became the leading force in the construction of a new society.

Beginning in 1955 agricultural production cooperatives were organized on a large scale. By the spring of 1959, virtually all the country’s arat farms had joined agricultural associations. The plenum of the Central Committee of the MPRP held in December 1959 announced that with the completion of the organization of the arat class into production cooperatives, socialist productive relations had triumphed in all spheres of the national economy. This meant that the country had made the transition to the socialist social system and that the party’s general line of noncapitalist development toward socialism had been successful. The historic victories of the Mongolian people were reflected in the new constitution ratified in July 1960 at the first session of the fourth convocation of the Great People’s Khural.

The Fourteenth Congress of the MPRP, held in July 1961, confirmed that the country had entered the period in which the construction of socialism was being completed. The fullest development of the material and technical base of socialism was now the main goal. The congress approved the directives of the third five-year plan (1961–65). The new program of the MPRP, adopted by the Fifteenth Congress in 1966, reflected the successes that had been achieved and defined the tasks for transforming the country into an industrial-agrarian state. The directives of the fourth five-year plan (1966–70) for the development of the national economy and culture were approved. The successful fulfillment of the plan raised the level of Mongolia’s economy and culture to a still higher level.

The Sixteenth Congress of the MPRP, held in June 1971, summed up the achievements of the 50-year struggle of the working people to overcome the country’s backwardness and their efforts to ensure the victory of the socialist path of development. The congress approved the directives for the fifth five-year plan for the development of the national economy and culture (1971–75), which were successfully, carried out. Over these five years the gross national product increased by 44.5 percent, the national income by 38 percent, and the volume of industrial production by 55.2 percent. The Seventeenth Congress of the MPRP, held in June 1976, adopted the Guidelines for the Development of Mongolia’s National Economy for 1976–1980. The new five-year plan’s chief goal is to ensure a further growth of social production, to raise its efficiency, and to improve the quality of work in all sectors of the economy and culture,thereby achieving a steady improvement in the people’s living standard and cultural life.

Mongolia’s foreign policy aims at securing peaceful conditions for the construction of socialism and strengthening the unity and cohesion of the world socialist system. The republic supports the national liberation struggle of peoples and the revolutionary struggle of the working class of the capitalist countries, and it promotes the preservation and strengthening of peace and the security of nations. Observing the principles of equality, mutual respect, and nonintervention in domestic affairs, Mongolia is pursuing a policy of establishing and developing relations with nonsocialist states regardless of their social system. The republic supports the USSR’s proposals for general and complete disarmament (1959 and 1962). It signed the Moscow Treaty of 1963 banning the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, outer space, and under water, the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons (1968), and the treaty on the ocean floor(1970). It supports the Arab countries’ struggle against Israeli aggression, the struggle of the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, the proposals of the Korean Democratic People’s Republic for the peaceful unification of Korea, the anti-imperialist struggle of the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, collective security in Asia, and the struggle of progressive forces for peace and security in Europe. Mongolia has been a member of the UN since 1961 andmember of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance since 1962. By 1975 it had established diplomatic relations with 75 countries and trade relations with more than 20. It belongs to 62 international organizations, 19 of which are governmental, and since 1969 it has been a member of the Disarmament Committee. Soviet-Mongolian relations are governed by the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, signed in January 1966. Mongolia has also signed treaties on friendship and cooperation with a number of other socialist countries.


Bichurin, N. Ia. Zapiski o Mongolii, vols. 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1828.
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Kozin, S. A. Sokrovennoe skazanie: Mongol’skaia khronika 1240 g., vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941.
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Pokotilov, D. Istoriia vostochnykh mongolov v period dinastii Min, 1368–1634: Po kitaiskim istochnikam. St. Petersburg, 1893.
Pozdneev, A. M. Mongol’skaia letopis’ “Erdeniin erikhe”: Podlinnyi tekst s perevodom i poiasneniiami, zakliuchaiushchimi v sebe materialy dlia istorii Khalkhi s 1636 g. po 1736 g. St. Petersburg, 1883.
“Shara Tudzhi”mongol’skaia letopis’ XVII v. Translated by N. P. Shastina. Moscow-Leningrad, 1957.
Altan-Tobchi: Mongol’skaia letopis’ XVIII v. Translated by P. B. Baldanzhapov. Ulan-Ude, 1970.
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Istoriia Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.
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Vladimirtsov, B. la. Obshchestvennyi stroi mongolov. Leningrad, 1934.
Maiskii, I. M. Mongoliia nakanune revoliutsii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1959.
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Zlatkin, I. la. Ocherki novoi i noveishei istorii Mongolii. Moscow, 1957.
Zlatkin, I. la. Istoriia Dzhungarskogo Khanstva. Moscow, 1964.
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Natsagdorzh, Sh. Khalkhyn tuukh. Ulan Bator, 1963.

E. A. NOVGORODOVA (to the third century B.C.), G. S. GOROKHOVA (from the third century B.C. to the 13th century A.D.), and I. IA. ZLATKIN (from the 13th century)

The Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP; Mongol Ardyn Khuv’sgalt Nam) was organized at the First Congress, held Mar. 1–3, 1921. Until 1925 it was called the Mongolian People’s Party. In January 1976 it numbered more than 67,000 members and candidate members. The country’s trade unions were organized and amalgamated at the first congress of trade unions in 1927. In 1976 they had a membership of about 300,000, and since 1949 they have belonged to the World Federation of Trade Unions. The Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League, established in 1921 and numbering more than 140,000 members in 1976, belongs to the World Federation of Democratic Youth. Other organizations include the Committee of Mongolian Women, established in 1933; the Federation of Mongolian Organizations of Peace and Friendship, established in 1959; the Society for Mongolian-Soviet Friendship, established in 1947;the Mongolian Peace Committee, established in 1949; and the Mongolian Committee of Solidarity With the Countries of Asia and Africa, established in 1957.


As a result of the People’s Revolution of 1921, Mongolia embarked on the path of socialist development, bypassing the capitalist stage. Under the people’s government Mongolia was transformed from a backward agrarian-feudal country  with nomadic livestock raising into a rapidly developing socialist agrarian-industrial state. Extensive cooperation with the USSR and, in the postwar period, with other socialist countries as well played an important role in building the material and technical base of socialism and in developing industry, agriculture, transportation, communications, and other branches of the national economy. Mongolia maintains both bilateral and multilateral economic ties with the socialist countries in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). Within the international socialist division of labor, the republic specializes in producing food and light industry products—primarily processed raw materials of livestock raising. Mongolia supplies the world market with leather, wool, leather and wool articles, meat products, and casein.

Agriculture accounted for 19.6 percent of the national income in 1973, industry for 24.1 percent, construction for 12.6 percent, transportation and communications for 7.2 percent, and trade for 34.4 percent. The fifth five-year plan (1971–75) was inaugurated in 1971.

Agriculture. As a result of fundamental socioeconomic reforms, socialist productive relations dominate agriculture. There are two kinds of socialist property—cooperative (agricultural associations, called SKhO) and state (goskhozes). Along with traditional livestock raising, crop farming has become an important branch of agriculture. In 1972 livestock raising accounted for 83.4 percent of the gross agricultural product and crop cultivation for 16.6 percent. The ratio of livestock to inhabitants is one of the highest in the world. About 24.6 percent of the cultivated area, 95 percent of the pastures, and 75 percent of the livestock belong to the cooperative sector, comprising 272 SKhO’s at the end of 1972. Some 22.2 percent of the livestock is the personal property of SKhO members. The SKhO’s are the main suppliers of livestock products. The state sector, consisting of 35 goskhozes, owns 75.4 percent of the cultivated area, 3 percent of the pastures, and 4 percent of the livestock. It accounts for four-fifths of the total output of cereals and for a substantial quantity of potatoes, vegetables, and fodder crops. The goskhozes also raise pedigree livestock. The main farming operations on the goskhozes are largely mechanized. At the end of 1972 there were 6,300 tractors, as compared with 1,700 in 1960. Various measures are being taken to raise the level of agriculture, particularly animal husbandry,including the construction of livestock buildings and watering facilities, the irrigation of pastures, and the development of a mixed-feed industry.

LIVESTOCK RAISING. Sheep raising, the leading branch of animal husbandry, is well developed throughout the country, but especially in the western and central regions. Cattle are raised primarily in the northeastern and northern regions.Goats are raised in the west, camels chiefly in the south and southeast, and yaks and khainaks in mountainous areas. Horses are bred throughout the country. Hog and poultry farms are being established on the outskirts of towns. Fur farming is also important. (See Tables 2 and 3 for the number of livestock and the products of livestock raising.)


CROP CULTIVATION. Between 1955 and 1972 the sown area increased from 62,900 hectares (ha) to 475,000 ha through the opening of virgin land. Cereals and legumes occupy 88.4 percent


of the sown area; fodder crops, 10.7 percent; potatoes, 0.6 percent; and vegetables, 0.3 percent. (See Table 4 for the yield of principal crops.)

Table4Industry. Owing to Mongolia’s particular historical and socioeconomic development, the country’s socialist industrialization began with the creation of branches of the light and food industries. Between the 1940’s and 1960’s, along with such traditional branches as the production of textiles, clothing, and leather footwear, branches of the heavy industry also developed, including the mining, electrical energy, woodworking, building-materials, and metalworking industries.(See Table 5 for the branch structure of industry.)


Most industrial enterprises are small or medium in size. Between 1941 and 1950 the annual growth rate of the gross industrial product averaged 6.9 percent; from 1951 to 1960, 10.8 percent; and between 1961 and 1970, 9.7 percent.Overall, the gross industrial product increased 13.8 times between 1940 and 1970. In 1972 industry contributed more than one-third of the country’s social product. Almost the entire industrial output, 96.8 percent in 1972, was produced by the state sector. In 1973 producer goods accounted for 49.7 percent of the gross industrial output and consumer goods for 50.3 percent.

MINING AND ELECTRIC POWER. The main branch of mining is the extraction of coal, chiefly lignite. Most of the coal is mined at the Sharyn-Gol open pit mine near Darkhan, producing more than 1 million tons annually; the Nalaikha mine, with an annual capacity of 600,000 tons; and the Adunchulun open-pit mine near Choibalsan, with an annual capacity of 200,000 tons. There are a number of smaller strip mines in the Under-Khan region and elsewhere. Electric energy is produced by steam power plants, of which the largest is at Darkhan. In 1967 a unified power system was built in the Central Region with the aid of the USSR.

Tungsten and fluorspar (fluorite) are also extracted. In 1973 construction began on an ore-concentration combine for processing the output of the copper-molybdenum mine at Erdenetiin-Obo, Bulgan Aimak.

MANUFACTURING. The light and food industries account for about half the gross industrial output and employ about half the country’s industrial workers. Among the largest enterprises is the industrial combine at Ulan Bator with eight factories, including a wool-washing plant, tanneries processing large hides and kidskin, and factories producing leather articles, felt, worsted cloth, and footwear. Other large enterprises include meat-packing plants at Ulan Bator and Choibalsan, flour milling combines at Ulan Bator and Sukhe-Bator, and the Ulan Bator mechanized bakery. The woodworking combines at Ulan Bator and Sukhe-Bator and other forestry enterprises use local lumber, cut chiefly in the north (754,000 cu m in 1972). Important enterprises of the building materials industry include the prefabricated housing combine at Ulan Bator and the cement and brick plants at Darkhan. Other products include furs, sheepskin coats, carpets, pharmaceuticals, and glass and porcelain articles. There is a printing industry. The country’s three major industrial areas are the Ulan Bator, Darkhan-Selenga (center, Darkhan) and Eastern regions (center, Choibalsan). (See Table 6 forthe output of the principal industrial products.)


Transportation. Railroad transport accounted for about three-fourths of the total freight turnover in 1972. The railroad system is 1,400 km long. The main railroad is the Trans-Mongolian, which crosses the country from north to south. About one-fourth of the total freight is transported by motor vehicle. Most roads are unpaved. There is navigation on Lake Khubsugul and on the Selenga and Orkhon rivers. The Civilian Air Transportation Board was established in 1956. Ulan Bator has an international airport.

Foreign trade. Economic and scientific-technical cooperation and trade with the socialist countries (members of COMECON, which Mongolia joined in 1962) are an important factor in the development of the national economy. With the aid of the socialist countries a number of major enterprises have been constructed, including electric power plants at Ulan Bator and Darkhan (USSR), Ulegei (Czechoslovakia), and Kharkhorin (Poland); the shaft and open-pit mines atSharyn-Gol, Nalaikha, and Adun-Chulun (USSR); the Ulan Bator motor vehicle repair plant (USSR); woodworking and prefabricated housing combines at Ulan Bator and a building materials combine at Darkhan (USSR), and a cement plant at Darkhan (Czechoslovakia). Other enterprises built with the assistance of the COMECON countries include a silica brick plant (Poland), a carpet factory (German Democratic Republic), leather enterprises (Czechoslovakia), a sheepskin coat factory (Bulgaria), a garment factory (Hungary), meat-packing plants (USSR, German Democratic Republic, and Bulgaria), and wool-washing factories (USSR). The COMECON countries are also helping Mongolia in exploring and developing mineral deposits.

A foreign trade monopoly was instituted in 1930. In 1972 the socialist countries, chiefly members of COMECON, accounted for about 99 percent of Mongolia’s foreign trade; the USSR’s share amounted to 85 percent. The first trade agreement with the USSR was signed in 1923; Soviet-Mongolian agreements on economic cooperation and trade agreements for 1971–75 were concluded in 1970. Trade with the COMECON countries is regulated by five-year agreements.

The main exports are livestock, meat and meat products, wool, hides and leather goods, and minerals. The main imports are machines and equipment, petroleum products, ferrous metals, chemical products, foodstuffs, and consumer goods. The monetary unit is the tugrik. According to the exchange rate of the State Bank of the USSR in April 1974, 100 tugriks equaled 22 rubles 50 kopeks.


Growth of prosperity. The living standard and cultural level of the population have been rising steadily. Between 1940 and 1972 the national income increased 5.9 times, and in 1972 about 70 percent of the national income was allocated for goods and services. Production of consumer goods increased seven fold between 1950 and 1971. The standard of living of the working people is rising owing to higher wages for industrial and office workers (increasing by 27 percent during the fourth five-year plan from 1966 to 1970), the higher income of members of agricultural associations (by 240 million tugriks), and the rapid growth of the social consumption fund (by 19.9 percent). The average monthly wages of industrial and office workers increased 1.2 times between 1960 and 1972. The wage rates of workers in a number of branches of material production have risen.

In 1971 wages of up to 300 tugriks a month were declared exempt from income tax, and tax rates for monthly wages of more than 300 tugriks were reduced by approximately 20 percent. The salaries of certain categories of low-paid workers in agricultural associations were raised by an average of more than 15 percent.

The proportion of the social consumption fund allocated for the payment of pensions, allowances, and benefits and for free services has increased substantially. Industrial and office workers and the members of agricultural associations receive old age pensions. Between 1966 and 1970, old age pensions increased by an average of 20 percent, with the amounts ranging from 150 to 600 tugriks. Men 60 years of age and women 55 years of age (for jobs injurious to health,55 and 50 years, respectively) who have worked more than 20 years (or more than 15 years in unhealthy jobs) are eligible for pensions. In 1971 the allowance for mothers with many children was increased.

Much attention is devoted to the protection of labor. Paid vacations, disability pensions, and leaves for temporary disability have been instituted. The eight-hour workday and the six-day week are standard.

Measures have been taken to improve the working and living conditions of the rural population. The funds from which members of agricultural associations are paid for their labor have been increasing, and the members’ income from cooperative farming is growing. The prices paid by the state for the main products of livestock raising have increased, and incentive increments on products exceeding the plan for state procurements have been established.

Between 1960 and 1972 the per capita retail commodity turnover increased by 38 percent, with the per capita turnover of foodstuffs increasing by 67 percent. Up to 40 percent of the state budget is spent for social and cultural purposes excluding capital construction. In 1972 the per capita expenditure for social and cultural services was 37 times that of 1940. Free education is provided in general schools, vocational schools, technicums, and higher educational institutions in both cities and rural areas. Kindergartens, nurseries, boarding schools, hospitals, maternity homes, and other medical institutions are maintained by the state. The housing supply is continuously increasing; about 150,000 sq m of housing were constructed in 1971–72. Various measures are being taken to improve the living conditions of rural workers.



Ocherki ekonomiki Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki. Moscow, 1969.
Ovdienko, I. Kh. Sovremennaia Mongoliia. Moscow, 1964.
Gungaadash, B. Mongoliia segodnia: Priroda, liudi, khoziaistvo. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from Mongolian.)
Roshchin, S. K. Sel’skoe khoziaistvo MNR na sotsialisticheskom puti. Moscow, 1971.
50 let MNR: Statistich. sb. Ulan Bator, 1971.
Statisticheskii ezhegodnik stranchlenov Soveta ekonomicheskoi vzaimopomoshchi 1973. Moscow, 1973.

Mongolia’s armed forces, the Mongolian People’s Army (MPA), consist of ground troops, antiaircraft units, and border troops. The minister of defense exercises direction over the army, which is maintained by universal conscription. The period of active military service is three years, and the draft age is 19 years. Armaments include missiles of various types, modern tanks, artillery, jet aircraft, and engineering, radar, and other military equipment. The first regular units were organized in early 1921. Between May and August 1939 the MPA, along with Red Army troops, took part in the rout of the Japanese forces that attacked the republic near the Khalkhin-Gol River. In August 1945 the MPA and Soviet Armed Forces defeated the Kwantung Army of imperialist Japan. March 18 is observed as the anniversary of the MPA’s formation. On Mar. 18, 1921, Mongolian troops won their first major victory, liberating the city of Maimachen, present day Altan-Bulak, from the invaders.

The hardships of nomadic life in pre-revolutionary Mongolia and the prevalence of infectious and venereal diseases resulted in high morbidity and mortality rates (including infant mortality) compared to other Oriental countries.

In 1972 the birth rate was 39.3 per thousand inhabitants, and the overall mortality rate, 10.8 per thousand inhabitants (the corresponding figures in 1921 were 25 and 30). The infant mortality rate was 73.4 per thousand live births in 1970,compared to 500 in 1921. The average life span doubled between 1919 and 1969, rising to 64.5 years (62.5 years for men and 66.33 for women).

The incidence of infectious diseases decreased sharply under the people’s government. Smallpox, plague, typhus, and recurrent fever have been completely eradicated, and malignant anthrax, rabies, spinal meningitis, and trachoma have been reduced to isolated cases. Between 1965 and 1970 alone the incidence of diphtheria declined 7.2 times; brucellosis, 4 times; typhoid, 1.9 times; and dysentery, 1.7 times. The incidence of poliomyelitis in 1969 was 26 times less than that in 1963. Among parasitic diseases helminthiases predominate.

Mongolia has a state public health system providing free medical care for the entire population. In 1973 there were more than 350 hospitals with some 12,000 beds, or 9.6 beds per thousand inhabitants (in 1925 there was only one hospital with 15 beds). The country also had 164 polyclinics in 1971. The population of goskhozes, agricultural associations, and relatively inaccessible regions is served by 97 medical stations staffed by doctors and 846 stations run by medical assistants (1970). Maternity hospitals, obstetrical stations, maternity and children’s consultation clinics, child nutrition facilities, nurseries, and kindergartens have been established under the people’s government. Pregnant workingwomen are given a paid leave of 45 days both before and after delivery. Under the law mothers receive payments upon the birth of twins, and there are other benefits for mothers with many children. In 1970, 92 percent of pregnant women and 94 percent of children under the age of one were being regularly examined at dispensaries.

In 1972 there were about 2,500 doctors (one for every 520 persons), compared with two doctors in 1925 (one for every 325,900 persons); 93 dentists; 700 pharmacists; and about 8,000 intermediate medical personnel. Medical specialists are trained by the Mongolian State Medical Institute, founded in 1942 as the medical faculty of the Mongolian State University and functioning since 1961 as an independent institute. It has departments of medicine, pediatrics, hygiene, stomatology, and pharmacy, a division of dentistry, and advanced training courses for physicians. Intermediate medical personnel are trained at three medical technicums (in Ulan Bator and in the East Gobi and Gobi-Altai aimaks) and six schools (in Ulan Bator and Darkhan and in the Arakhangai, Kobdo, and Eastern aimaks). The country has many mineral springs, called arshans, at which health resorts for working people have been built. The largest resorts are Zhanchivlin, Gurvannur, Otgon Tenger, and Khudzhirt. In 1970 public health expenditures totaled about 106 million tugriks.


Veterinary services. Under the people’s government, Mongolia’s veterinary service, aided by Soviet specialists, has been highly successful in controlling epizootic diseases among livestock. Plague and peripneumonia of cattle,infectious pleuropneumonia of goats, and sheep pox have been wiped out. In 1966–68 specialists from COMECON assisted Mongolian veterinarians in carrying out a diagnostic examination of all livestock to determine the incidence of the most dangerous anthropozoonoses—glanders, brucellosis, and tuberculosis. A comprehensive program for eradicating these diseases was worked out. Other common diseases include scabies of sheep and camels, necrobacillosis, swine plague, and such helminthiases as coenurosis, echinococcosis, and cysticercosis.

The state veterinary service is under the Ministry of Agriculture. Veterinary preparations are produced at pharmaceutical plants in Songino and Kobdo. Research is conducted at the Research Institute of Livestock Raising, the Agricultural Institute, and the Central Veterinary Hygiene Laboratory of the Republic. Veterinarians are trained at the Agricultural Institute of Ulan Bator, and veterinary assistants are trained at four technicums. In 1970 there were 900 veterinarians.


In prerevolutionary Mongolia, less than 1 percent of the population was literate. The only schools in the country were the datsans attached to Buddhist monasteries, which taught primarily Tibetan, Buddhist philosophy, and astrology. After the victory of the People’s Revolution of 1921, the popular government began to organize a state system of public education. The Decree on the Organization of Elementary Schools was adopted in August 1921, and the Regulations for Elementary Schools were ratified the same year. In 1927 the Regulations for Secondary Schools were approved, banning private schools and providing for the creation of genuinely national state schools in which Mongolian would be the language of instruction. In 1921–22, 12 elementary schools and a seven-year school (in Ulan Bator) were established, with an enrollment of 400 children.

The organizational principles of public education were set forth in the party’s second program, adopted by the Fourth Congress of the MPRP in 1925. General secular schools were to be established for all children, regardless of sex or nationality. Instruction was to be free, compulsory, and coeducational for all children up to 18 years of age, and corporal punishment was abolished. One of the goals of education was to inspire devotion to the party and the nation. During the first years of the people’s government, the development of public education was complicated by a shortage of money for the organization of mass education, a lack of teachers, and a lack of experience in organizing schools. The first teacher-training courses were inaugurated in 1922. In the late 1920’s, the training of teachers in Soviet schools began. Standard curricula were introduced in 1933. The Lamaist clergy stubbornly resisted the introduction of secular education, and until the late 1930’s, monastic schools existed alongside state schools. In 1933, monastic schools had an enrollment of 18,000 students.

From the first years of the people’s government adult education courses were given at all schools and in all military units, industrial enterprises, and farm organizations. In 1941 a new alphabet was introduced, based on movement arose whose slogan was “Each literate person, teach at least three illiterates.” By the end of the first five-year plan (1952), illiteracy had been virtually eradicated among adults.

In 1955 the Central Committee of the MPRP and the Council of Ministers of the MPR adopted the resolution On Universal Compulsory Elementary Education of School-age Children, and in 1958 they adopted the resolution On the Introduction of Universal Compulsory Seven-year Education in the Cities and Aimak Centers. Adult education was further advanced through an extensive network of seasonal and general evening schools and schools for people working in shifts. The new party program adopted at the MPRP’s Fifteenth Congress in 1966 called for the immediate establishment of universal lower secondary education for all school age children. The program also envisaged a subsequent transition to universal upper secondary education. In 1972–73 a new secondary school curriculum was introduced, providing for three years of instruction in elementary schools, eight years in lower secondary schools, and ten years in upper secondary schools. In the 1973–74 school year there were 549 schools of all types, with an enrollment of 274,300.

A system of vocational training was organized in 1964 to train skilled workers. In 1972 there were 20 vocational schools with 8,700 students. Between 1965 and 1970 more than 20,000 workers were trained in 70 specializations.

In 1924 the first special secondary schools were established, whose teachers were Soviet educators and specialists. In 1970 there were 11,100 persons studying in 19 technicums, including several medical, veterinary and agricultural schools and schools of finance and economics, trade, polytechnical education, and railroad transport.

Public higher education was initiated in 1940 with the opening of the Pedagogical Institute in Ulan Bator. In 1942 the Mongolian State University was established with the aid of the USSR. Initially the university had three departments—medicine, veterinary science, and pedagogy. By 1972 the university had departments of physics and mathematics, chemistry and biology, social sciences (training specialists in philosophy, history, and law), economics, and philology.With the aid of UNESCO the Polytechnic Institute was created in 1969 under the auspices of the university. Several of the university’s departments have grown into independent institutes of pedagogy (1951), agriculture (1958), and medicine (1961). In the 1972–73 academic year, 8,900 students were studying in higher educational institutions. By 1970 more than 15,000 Mongolian specialists had been trained in higher and special secondary institutions of the USSR; more than 4,000 Mongolian students were receiving training in the USSR in 1973.

Ulan Bator is the site of the State Public Library (founded in 1921, 1 million volumes), the country’s largest library, the State Central Museum, the V. I. Lenin Museum, the Central Museum of the Revolution, the Museum of Religion, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of the Reconstruction of Ulan Bator, and the D. Natsagdorzh Museum.


Baldaev, R. L. Narodnoe obrazovanie v Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respub-like. Moscow, 1971.


Natural and technical sciences. In feudal Mongolia scientific knowledge was acquired primarily in astronomy, medicine, and agriculture. Under the people’s government, there have been notable scientific advances. Contacts with Soviet scientists were established in 1921, and in 1929 an agreement on cooperation was signed by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the Committee of Sciences of the MPR. During the 1930’s and 1940’s research in the natural sciences was oriented toward the needs of the national economy. Joint expeditions of Mongolian and Soviet scientists were organized to study the country’s flora and fauna, geography, and geology, and Soviet scientists helped train national scientific workers.

The 1950’s and 1960’s saw the development of branches of science dealing with agriculture. Zoological and botanical research by Mongolian scientists was aimed at increasing livestock productivity and improving breeds, treating and preventing animal diseases, efficiently using feed resources, and improving farming methods. An outstanding achievement was the development of a new breed of Orkhon sheep under the direction of T. Aiurzan, corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR. This breed has a semi-fine fleece and is raised for meat and wool. Karakul sheep are being acclimatized in the Gobi regions. A new breed of goats is being developed for fleece by crossing local goats with Don goats from the USSR. Academician Ts. Toivgo’s studies of cattle have played a significant role in improving animal husbandry. Problems of camel breeding are also being studied. Productive strains of cereals, vegetables,and fruit adapted to the country’s severe climatic conditions have been developed by Kh. Zunduizhantsan, M. Ul’zii, and E. Shagdar, corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR. Mongolian biologists are engaged in the study, classification, and systematization of Mongolia’s flora and fauna. Important works include the Index to the Plants of Central Mongolia, Aromatic Plants of the MPR, and Game Animals of the MPR and Their Protection.

During the 1960’s theoretical and practical research in chemistry and agricultural chemistry expanded. The Institute of Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR has studied the distribution of trace elements in the soil, compiled cartograms showing the occurrence of these elements in a number of regions, and made recommendations for using trace element fertilizers in farming, and for adding vitamins to certain foodstuffs. Considerable geochemical and biochemical research has been undertaken. A notable contribution is the monograph Biochemistry of Food Plants of Mongolia.

Working closely with specialists from the COMECON countries, Mongolian geologists have discovered many deposits of various minerals and compiled geological and tectonic maps of the MPR. Mongolian geographers are studying permafrost and defining the country’s natural and economic zones. Works have been published on the physical geography of Mongolia (Sh. Tsegmid) and on economic geography (B. Gungadash). Hydrometeorological research is being conducted by a special scientific research institute and more than 60 meteorological, aerological, and hydrological stations, constituting the MPR’s hydrometeorological service.

Since 1956, Mongolian physicists have been working at the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in Dubna. The Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR, established in 1961, studies seismicity, magnetism, and the spread of radioactive fallout. Astronomical research includes observation of the sun’s corona and prominences, and artificial earth satellites are tracked. The Institute of Mathematics, founded in 1968, has a computer center and studies problems of theoretical and applied mathematics.

Among notable achievements in medicine are the development of scientific principles of combatting epidemic diseases and advances in the treatment of rheumatism and other diseases. Folk medicine and the properties of local medicinal plants are being studied, and preparations made from wild plants are used extensively in medical treatment.


Social sciences. PHILOSOPHY. After the formation of the Mongol state in 1206, shamanism, the hitherto unchallenged religion of the Mongol tribes, began to give way to Buddhism. The philosophical treatises of Buddhist monks began to reach Mongolia, and the first such Mongolian work, Loda Chzhaltsan’s Explanation of the Knowable, was written in the 13th century. By the 16th and 17th centuries, Lamaist Buddhism had become the official religion in the Mongol state. The work of the most important Mongolian philosophers—who wrote commentaries to Buddhist philosophical treatises—dates from this period. Robzhamba Sodnom Vanzhal was the author of a textbook on logic and dialectics called the Sun’s Ray. Agvan Dandar Lkharamba (of Alashan) offered his own interpretation of the problem of “alien animation” posed by the Indian logician Dharmakirti. Agvan Baldan analyzed various Indian philosophical schools and currents in his three-volume history of Indian philosophy, written in 1846 as a commentary to the History of Indian Philosophy by Gunchen Chzham’ian Shadp Dorchzhe, the great Tibetan scholar and philosopher of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. In the first half of the 18th century Chzhan-chzha Khu-tug-tu compiled a Tibetan-Mongolian dictionary of philosophical terms known as the Dictionary for Sages. Zhanzha Rol’bi Dorzhi wrote a two-volume work on the history of Indian philosophy, and one of Sakhar Lubsan Sul’tim’s main works was a commentary to the Theory of Thought by the Indian philosopher Asanga.

Under the influence of the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia, Marxist-Leninist ideas began to spread in Mongolia, becoming the ideological foundation of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. In their studies Mongolian philosophers and sociologists offer theoretical generalizations based on the experience of socialist construction in the MPR. Philosophers are trained by the department of Marxism-Leninism and philosophy of the D. Sukhe-Bator Higher Party School in Ulan Bator.


HISTORY. The earliest example of Mongolian feudal historiography is the anonymous chronicle Mongolyn nuuts tobcho (Secret History), written at the earliest in 1240. The historical writings of the 14th to 16th centuries have not survived, but the events of this period were reflected in works dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, notably the anonymous Alton tobchi (The Golden Button), Sagan Setsen’s Erdeniin tobchi (The Jeweled Button), Rashipuntsug’s Bolor erikhe (The Crystal Beads), and Galdan’s Erdeniin erikhe (The Jeweled Beads). Biographies of Lamaist leaders and Mongolian translations of Tibetan and Chinese historical literature also appeared at this time. From the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when Lamaism became the dominant ideology, Mongolian feudal historiography developed under clerical influence. A critical, anti-Manchu tendency appeared in Mongolian historiography in the middle of the 19th century in the writings of Inzhinash. An 11-volume history of Mongolia, essentially continuing the tradition of feudal historiography, was written but not published under the feudal-theocratic monarchy from 1911 to 1919. There was a considerable body of historical literature in Tibetan by such scholars as Sh. Damdin.

Marxist-Leninist methodology became firmly established in Mongolian historiography after the victory of the people’s revolution in 1921. In the 1920’s and 1930’s the classics of Marxism-Leninism were translated into Mongolian; historical material was collected and historians were trained. Primary attention was devoted to the publication of sources and to archaeology, and the first secondary-school history textbooks were written. The works of the older generation of historians which appeared at this time—those of Kh. Maksarzhab, L. Dendeb, A. Amor, G. Navannamzhil—provided an objective account of Mongolian history, particularly for the period from 1911 to 1919. However, their work suffered from insufficient analysis and generalization. A notable exception was the collective work on the history of the Mongolian people’s revolution written in 1934 by Kh. Choibalsan, G. Demid, and D. Losol.

Several monographs and collective works on history were published in the 1940’s and 1950’s, including the one-volume History of the MPR, a joint work of Mongolian and Soviet scholars. This work, published in 1954, treats the history of the country from earliest times to the 1950’s. A second edition, in Russian, was published in Moscow in 1967. Marxist-Leninist methodology triumphed after a sharp struggle against the vestiges of feudalism and the influence of bourgeois and petit bourgeois ideology in historical research. During the 1960’s and 1970’s historical science entered a new stage. It assumed a greater role in the communist upbringing of the working people, drawing scientific generalizations from experience and revealing the laws of the history of the Mongolian people. The number of highly qualified historians, some trained in the USSR, increased; the scope of historical problems expanded; and the scientific and theoretical level of historical works rose.

Outstanding historical works of the late 1960’s include the basic three-volume History of the MPR (1966–70) and a synthesis of party history entitled Studies in the History of the MPRP (1967; Russian translation, 1971). Other importantstudies were B. Shirendyb’s works on Mongolia’s socioeconomic development at the turn of the century and on the people’s revolution and the formation of the MPR; Sh. Natsagdorzh’s works on the history of the arat movement and the history of Khalkha; B. Tudev’s work on the history of the Mongolian working class; and N. Ishzhamts’ work on the Mongolian people’s liberation struggle in the 18th century. Among the questions treated were the history of the Khitans, predecessors of the Mongols; the origin of the Mongol tribes; the role of Chinese merchants and moneylenders in Mongolia; the country’s foreign relations in the 19th and 20th centuries; and the history of Lamaism. Eminent historians include Kh. Perlee, D. Gongor, M. Sanzhadorzh, Sh. Sandag, and S. Purevzhav. Ts. Damdinsuren’s monograph on the historical roots of the epic about Geser Khan was published in 1957. The works of Mongol authors who wrote in Tibetan and of Mongolian feudal historgiography were studied by Sh. Bira. A wealth of archaeological material on the Paleolithic and Neolithic, the Bronze Age, and the early tribes and states on the territory of the MPR was gathered in the course of expeditions, particularly the Soviet-Mongolian historical-cultural expedition of 1969–71. This material was the basis for works on the ancient Turkic peoples (N. Ser-Odzhav), the history of shamanism (Ch. Dalai), and the life and economy of the Darkhats (Ch. Badamkhatan). Sources and documents on the country’s history, the revolution, and the building of socialism are being published.

The main centers for the study of history are the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR, established in 1961; the Institute of Party History under the Central Committee of the MPRP, founded in 1955; and the department of history of the Mongolian State University, organized in 1942. Works by Mongolian historians are published in Tuukhiin tsuvral, the yearbook of the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences, issued since 1961, and the journals BNMAU-yn Shinzhlekh ukhaany akademiin medee, issued since 1961, and Namyn am’dral, published since 1923.


ECONOMICS. The economic thought of feudal Mongolia was reflected in annals, laws, and contemporary works on economics, which proclaimed the immutable economic prerogatives of the khans, noions, and other feudal lords and contained much information on the economy and life of the Mongols. Economic works discussing herding and giving advice on managing everyday affairs appeared in the 18th century. The most important of these works was To-Van’s Admonitions (1853). At the beginning of the 20th century, progressive leaders called for overcoming economic backwardness and argued the necessity of developing industry and agriculture.

The anti-imperialist, anti-feudal revolution of 1921 laid the foundation for the development of Marxist economic thought. Between the 1920’s and 1940’s Mongolian economists directed their efforts primarily toward working out concrete economic programs, economic legislation, and problems of long-range socioeconomic development. In 1934 a collective work was published by Kh. Choibalsan, D. Losol, and D. Demid, analyzing Mongolian economic conditions prior to the revolution and the popular government’s first economic measures in the postrevolutionary period. From the late 1950’s scientific economic studies were promoted by directives of party congresses and decisions of plenums of the Central Committee of the MPRP on economic questions. Between the 1950’s and the early 1970’s Mongolian economists studied the country’s economic history (B. Shirendyb, Sh. Natsagdorzh), socialist construction (N. Zhagvaral, U.Kambar, B. Gungaadash, P. Nergui), agricultural economics (D. Dugar, S. Zhadamba, D. Moebuu), the economics of industry, construction, and transport (D. Zagasbaldan, D. Maidar, Ch. Sereeter, Ts. Gurbadam), the formation and development of the Mongolian working class (B. Tudev), domestic and foreign trade (P. Luvsandorzh, M. Pelzhee), and finance (O. Tsend, B. Dolgorma).

The main centers of economic science are the Institute of Economics of the Academy of Sciences and Gosplan (State Planning Committee) of the MPR, the Higher Party School under the Central Committee of the MPRP, and the Mongolian State University. The economics journal Ediin zasgiin asuudal, the organ of the Central Committee of the MPRP, has been published since 1959. Economic material is also published in the journals Namyn am‘dral (since 1923), BNMA U-yn Shinzhlekh ukhaany akademiin medee (since 1961), and Shinzhlekh ukhaany am’dral (since 1935).


JURISPRUDENCE. Mongolian legal scholars study problems relating to the organization and activity of the people’s khurals (S. Zhalan-aazhav, E. Avilmed) and other questions concerning the development of the socialist state. A leading authority on legal history is Sodovsuren. Textbooks on civil law and procedure have been published in Russian. Labor law has been extensively studied in connection with the preparation and adoption of the labor code in 1973, and problems of the law of agricultural associations are being examined. In criminal law and procedure Zh. Avkhia has written on crimes against the individual and R. Gunsen on crimes against socialist property. G. Sovd has publishedcourse on criminal law, and a textbook on criminal procedure has been written by Zh. Avkhia, B. Davaasambuu, and Ts. Buzhinlkham in collaboration with Soviet scholars.

Research in jurisprudence is conducted by the Division of Philosophy and Law of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR, the Institute of Philosophy, Sociology, and Law of the Academy of Sciences of the MPR, the Institute for the Study of the Causes and Prevention of Crime under the Procuracy of the MPR, and the law department of the Mongolian State University. The legal journals are Ardyn tor and Sotsialist khuul’es.

Scientific institutions. A system of scientific institutions was organized after the victory of the people’s revolution in 1921. The Scientific Committee was established in 1921 and renamed the Committee of Sciences of the MPR in 1929.At first the committee studied historical and philological problems, but from the late 1920’s it became increasingly active in scientific and economic research. In the 1930’s sectors for the study of national economic questions were organized within the committee, including offices of farming, livestock raising, and geology. In 1961 the committee was reorganized to form the Academy of Sciences of the MPR, the country’s main center for research in the social and natural sciences. In addition to the Academy of Sciences, more than 30 research institutions under various ministries and government departments conduct scientific work, including institutes of livestock raising and veterinary medicine,plant breeding and farming, and fodder and pastures (all under the Ministry of Agriculture), as well as institutes of pedagogy, medicine, and construction. Scientific work is coordinated by the State Committee on Science and Technology and by the Academy of Sciences of the MPR.


Shirendev, B. “Mongol ornoo tal burees n’ tanin sudlakhyg khicheezh baina.” Shinzhlekh ukhaan am’dral, 1971, no. 6.
“Ard tymniig uilchlegch Shinzhlekh ukhaan 50 zhild.” Zaluuchuudyn unen, February 17, 1971.

In 1972 there were 12 central and 18 local newspapers and a number of magazines whose total circulation exceeded 1 million copies. The leading newspapers and magazines are published in Ulan Bator. The daily Unen (Truth), published since 1925 and with a circulation of 113,000 in 1975, is the organ of the Central Committee of the MPRP and the Council of Ministers of the MPR. The monthly magazine Namyn am’dral (Party Life), published since 1923 and withcirculation of 25,000 (1975), is the organ of the Central Committee of the MPRP. The newspaper Khudulmur (Labor), founded in 1930 and published three times weekly, is the organ of the Central Council of Trade Unions of the MPR (circulation in 1975, 60,000). Zaluchudyn unen (Young People’s Truth), a newspaper founded in 1924 and published three times weekly (circulation in 1975, 60,000), is the organ of the Central Committee of the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League. The newspaper Novosti Mongolii (News of Mongolia) has been issued twice weekly since 1947. Its Russian-language edition had a circulation of 10,000 in 1975, and its Chinese edition, 1,000. Mongol uls (Mongolia),monthly illustrated magazine devoted to social and political affairs, literature, and the arts, has appeared since 1956 (circulation of Mongolian-language edition, 12,000 in 1975; Russian edition, 19,000; English edition, 1,000). The quarterly Mongolyn emegteichud (Mongolian Women), founded in 1925, had a circulation of 30,000 in 1975.

In 1957 a government telegraph agency, the Mongolian Telegraph Agency (MONTsAME), was established. The agency supplies the Mongolian press, radio, and television with information on foreign affairs and publishes a newspaper and information bulletins in English and French. Radio broadcasting, begun in 1934, is controlled by the State Committee for Information, Radio, and Television of the Council of Ministers of the MPR. There are two radio centers, one at Ulan Bator and the other at Ulegei. The radio center at Ulan Bator broadcasts in Mongolian on two programs (21 hours daily). Broadcasts in Russian, Chinese, English, French, and Kazakh are transmitted regularly (30 hours a week).

A television center went into operation in Ulan Bator in 1967. Since 1969 telecasts to Ulan Bator have been relayed by the Orbit space telecommunications station. Three television programs—a national program and two Orbit programs—are broadcast six days a week.


Mongolian folklore has a wealth of genres, including songs, epic songs, heroic legends, tales, iorols (good wishes), magtaals (eulogistic songs), surgaals (precepts), legends, riddles, proverbs, and sayings. Strong folkloric traditions account for the vitality of Mongolian epic literature, famous for the legend of Geser Khan and the folk epic Dzhangar (also found among the Kalmyks) about the flourishing land of Bumba and its hero and defender, Dzhangar. Epigraphsfrom the 12th and 13th centuries and the inscriptions on the cliffs of Khalkha Tsokto-taidzhi (1580–1637) attest to the great influence of folk songs and to the epic quality of Mongolian poetry. The work known as the Golden Horde Birch-bark Manuscript (early 14th century; Hermitage, Leningrad) provides examples of dialogue folk songs. The first known Mongolian written work, the Secret History (not earlier than 1240), by an anonymous author or group of authors, is both a historical and a literary work. The literature of the 13th and 14th centuries has survived only in fragmentary form in later works, chiefly 17th-century chronicles. These chronicles contain the famous Legend of Argasun-khuurch, Conversation of the Orphan Boy With the Nine Knights of Genghis Khan, and Legend of the Rout of the Three Hundred Taidzhiuts. Among later works incorporated in the chronicles are the 15th-century Lament of Togontemur and Legendof the Wise Mandukhai, The Khan’s Wife and the 16th-century Tale of Ubashi-khun-taizh. Three 17th-century chronicles are outstanding for their literary qualities: the anonymous Yellow Story, Lubsan Dandzan’s Golden Legend, and Sagan Setsen’s Jeweled Button.

A notable feature of original 19th-century Mongolian literature is the diversity of its genres. Inzhinash (1837–92) wrote the historical trilogy The Blue Chronicle and the novel of everyday life The One-story Pavilion. Khuul’ch Sandag wasmaster of folk satire in verse. Outstanding poets included D. Ravzhaa (1803–56), Gulransa (1820–51), Ishdanzanvanzhil (1854–1907), Luvsandondov (1854–1909), Khishigbat (1849–1916), and Gamal (1871–1916). Genden Meeren (1820–82) wrote the allegorical tale Dog, Cat, and Mouse. These works are marked by democratic anti-feudal tendencies.

Literature in translation flourished from the time of the Yuan empire, which lasted from the 1270’s to 1368. Among the translated works were Santideva’s narrative poem Kalila and Dimna, an Iranian version of the Pancatantra; One Hundred Thousand Songs by the Tibetan hermit poet Milaraiba, and the collection of aphorisms Subashita. The 108-volume Kanjur, containing not only scholarly treatises but also works on linguistics, versification, and rhetoric, and the 225-volume Tanjur, a commentary to the Kanjur, were translated for several centuries and printed in the 18th century. The afterwords to some translations name the translator. Choidzhi-odser, for example, wrote the verse afterword and commentary to his translation of the Bodhicaryavatara (14th century). Many tales and stories of Indian origin circulated widely, such as the Tales of the Vampire, the Pancatantra stories, and the legend of King Vikramaditya. Chinesenovels were transmitted orally. Especially popular were Shih Nai-an’s Water Margin, Lo Kuan-chung’s Three Kingdoms, Wu Ch’eng-en’s Monkey, and Ts’ao Hsiieh-ch’in’s Dream in the Red Chamber, and the short stories of P’u Sungling.

After the People’s Revolution of 1921 the young literature of Mongolia, drawing upon folklore, absorbed the best traditions of the literary heritage and expanded its ties with progressive world literature, primarily with classical Russian and Soviet literature. New genres developed, among which drama held a special place. A group of revolutionary writers banded together in 1929, forming the Mongolian Association of Revolutionary Writers in 1930. The new literature was inaugurated with the revolutionary songs Shive Kiakhta and Red Banner and with amateur plays on topical subjects (Sando amban’ 1922). Outstanding plays were written by D. Natsagdorzh (1906–37), one of the founders of contemporary Mongolian literature, and the talented writers S. Buiannemekh (1902–37), M. ladamsuren (1902–37), Sh. Aiusha (1904–37), and D. Namdag (born 1911). The first Mongolian novellas were published in the 1920’s, notably Lake Tolbo by Ulaan-otorch (pseudonym of Ts. Dambadorzh, 1900–34) and The Rejected Maiden by Ts. Damdinsuren (born 1908). Most of Natsagdorzh’s best works were written in the 1930’s—poetry, stories, lyrical miniatures, several plays, including the first national musical drama, Three Sorrowing Hills, and the first chapters of the story The Unthreaded Pearl. Damdinsuren wrote verses and the narrative poem My Gray-haired Mother (1934), expressing love for his mother and devotion to his homeland. Although they were profoundly national writers who continued folk traditions, Natsagdorzh and Damdinsuren were influenced by progressive foreign literature. Their works represent the first successes of socialist realism in Mongolian literature.

Many new poets and prose writers emerged in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The rout of Japanese forces near the Khalkhin-Gol River in 1939, the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (1941–45), and the MPR’s participation in the defeat ofthe Kwantung Army in the autumn of 1945 were portrayed in many works, and Mongolian-Soviet friendship became a dominant theme. Solidarity with the Soviet people was a central motif in the works of S. Dashdendev (born 1912), D. Tsevegmed (born 1915), Ch. Lkhamsuren (born 1917), P. Khorloo (born 1917), and D. Tarva (born 1923). National drama developed, and Mongolia’s past was evoked in the plays of Namdag, Ts. Tsedenzhav (born 1913), and B. Baast(born 1921). Folk plays were written by Ch. Oidov (1917–63) and plays on contemporary themes by D. Sengee (1916–59), E. Oiuun (born 1918), Ch. Lodoidamba (1917–70), and L. Vangan (1920–68). Sengee is also known for his many fine verses, songs, and narrative poems and his story “Aiuush” (1947) about a hero of the MPR.

A significant achievement of the 1950’s and 1960’s was the development of the novel, supplanting poetry, as the dominant genre. B. Rinchen (born 1905) and Lodoidamba wrote the first Mongolian novels. Mongolian society of the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries is portrayed in Rinchen’s novel Dawn on the Steppe (books 1–3, 1951–55). Lodoidamba’s novel In the Altai (1949) depicts a geological expedition and the molding of the new man. Lodoidamba’s most popular novel, Transparent Tamir (books 1–2, 1962–67), is a vast, multilevel work portraying the people’s revolution of 1921 and the lives of the toilers of Mongolia. Other novels dealing with the revolution are Troubled Years by Namdag, Grief and Happiness by Ts. Ulambaiar (born 1911), and Red Sun by Dashdendev. Outstanding novelists today are Zh. Purev (born 1921), L. Tudev (born 1935), and S. Dashdoorov (born 1935). The central theme in Tudev’s novels is socialist Mongolia and the passionate desire to create a new life (Mountain Stream, 1960; Migration, 1964).

The novella and short-story genres continue to develop. In Baast’s collections of short stories contemporary problems are intertwined with themes from the history of the revolution. The stories of M. Gaadamba (born 1924) deal with moral questions. The women writers Oiuun and S. Udval (born 1921) portray the lives of Mongolian women. Udval is best known for her short-story collection We Will Meet You (1965). The novellas of D. Miatmar (born 1933)— We and the Earth(1965), The Miller (1966), and The Miller’s Daughter (1966)—are imbued with humanitarian ideas. Ethical and moral problems are explored in Damdinsuren’s short-story collection Strange Wedding (1966). S. Erdene (born 1929) is a master of the psychological, lyrical short story. His best works are the short-story collection Dust From Under the Hooves (1964) and the novellas Year of the Blue Mouse (1970) and Grass Beneath the Snow (1971). The stories and novellas of the 1960’s and early 1970’s are devoted to actual conflicts and goals and portray heroes united by socialist ideas.

Among outstanding contemporary poets are Ts. Gaitav (born 1929), the author of the narrative poems Lenin Is With Us (1963), Karl Marx (1964), Sukhe-Bator (1967), and Friedrich Engels (1973); B. lavuukhulan (born 1929), a master oflyric and civic poetry; and Ch. Chimid (born 1927), a poet, prose writer, and playwright. Other noteworthy poets include D. Purevdorzh (born 1933), Sh. Surenzhav (born 1938), P. Purevsuren (born 1939), Sh. Dulma (born 1934), and M. Tsedendorzh (born 1932).

In the 1970’s many foreign works were translated into Mongolian. The works of contemporary writers, while preserving national traits, attest to the influence of progressive world literature.

The Union of Writers of the MPR regulates literary life; five congresses of Mongolian writers have been held. The Union of Writers publishes the journal Tsog (since 1944), the newspaper Utga zokhiol urlag (since 1955), and the literary miscellany Collection of Inspired Words (since 1929). The writings of young people are published in the yearbook Snowdrop.


Vladimirtsov, B. “Mongol’skaia literatura.” In the collection Literatura Vostoka, issue 2. Petrograd, 1920.
Mongolo-oiratskii geroicheskii epos. Petrograd-Moscow, 1923.
Gerasimovich, L. K. Literatura Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki 1921–1964 godov. [Leningrad] 1965.
Mikhailov, G. I. Literaturnoe nasledstvo mongolov. Moscow, 1969.
Mikhailov, G., and K. latskovskaia. Mongol’skaia literatura. Moscow, 1969.
Shastina, N. P. “Obraz Chingiskhana v srednevekovoi literature mongolov.” In the collection Tataro-mongoly v Azii i Evrope. Moscow, 1970.
Shastina, N. P. “Povest’ o spore mal’chika-siroty s deviat’iu vitiaziami Chingisa.” In the collection Strany i narody Vostoka, issue 11. Moscow, 1971.
Kara, D. Knigi mongol’skikh kochevnikov. Moscow, 1972.
Voprosy literatury, 1973, no. 12. (Issue devoted to the literature of the MPR.)
Luhsan, Danzan. Altai tobchi (The Golden Tale). Introduction, commentary, and appendixes by N. P. Shastina. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from Mongolian.)
Molodye poety Mongolii (collection). Introductory article by K. latskovskaia. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from Mongolian.)
Pesni aratov. Iz mongol’skoi narodnoi poezii. Compiled by G. Mikhailov and translated by N. Grebnev. Moscow, 1973.


The earliest works of art found in Mongolia, dating from the early Bronze Age, include depictions of animals engraved or painted on rock and copper and bronze knives decorated with pictures of animals, at first lifelike and later stylized. From the beginning of the Iron Age stylized figures of animals (such as running deer), in the Scythian animal style appear on bronze articles and “deer stones” (grave pillars or slabs). Imported and locally made utensils, fabrics, felt rugs,and decorated harnesses dating from the late first century B.C. and early first century A.D. have been found in the burial mounds of the Hun aristocracy in Noin-Ula. On metal articles, fanciful figures of wild animals in a refined animal style are frequently accompanied by insets of stones or colored paste. Hun cities had a square layout and were enclosed by earthen ramparts. They included artisan quarters, the palaces of rulers, and dwellings.

During the ascendancy of the Turkic khanate in the sixth to eighth centuries, handicrafts developed. Harnesses and weapons were covered with designs in which floral elements predominated. Memorial sculpture, represented by malestone figures at graves and stelae on tortoise-shaped bases, became widespread. Realistic depictions, such as the head of the statue of Kiul’-Tegin, existed alongside stylized representations, chiefly of animals, exemplified by the engravings on the grave slab of Kiul’-Tegin. Remains from the time of the Uighur khanate (745–840) include the ruins of the capital, Ordu-Balyk, later called Khara-Balgas, which had a regular layout, defensive structures, houses, and temples. Also dating from this period are reliefs on stone stelae and ceramics with stamped patterns.

Under the Khitan, from the tenth to 12th centuries, many cities were built. The cities generally had a square layout and were surrounded by moats and earthen ramparts. They were dissected by one or more streets lined with administrative buildings, temples, and homes; yurts and tents stood in the areas that were not built up. Excavations of the city of Bars-Khot I (tenth to 12th centuries) have uncovered the remains of a Buddhist temple and pagodas,reflecting both local traditions and Chinese influence, altars, and clay figures of divinities and animals. The ruins of the palace of Khan Ugedei and the heathen temples uncovered at Karakorum date from the time of the formation of the Mongolian feudal state and the rise of the Mongolian feudal empire in the late 12th and first half of the 13th centuries.

Between the 16th and the early 20th centuries the felt yurt with a wooden frame was the main type of dwelling in the Mongolian khanates and principalities. With the spread of Lamaism from the late 16th century many monasteries and temples were erected. Religious buildings made of wood appeared—frame structures with plank roofs that resembled yurts. Brick religious structures based on Chinese models and stone buildings of the Tibetan type were also erected. Oustanding examples of such architecture may be found in the monasteries of Erdenidzu and Amur-Baiaskhulantukhite. “Mixed” temples, combining Mongolian and Chinese, Tibetan and Chinese, or Tibetan and Mongolian features, have been preserved in the monasteries of Da-Khure and Gandan in Ulan Bator. Distinctive memorial structures, called suburgans, were developed, exemplified in the Bodisuburgan in Erdenidzu.

Painting of the 16th through early 20th centuries is represented by Buddhist compositions executed in gouache pigments on canvas and by wall paintings on dry plaster with engraved outlines. The influence of Tibetan, Chinese, and Nepalese painting is reflected in the strictly canonical composition, delicate drawing, and vivid colors of Mongolian art. The basic materials used in temple sculpture were clay, wood, and papier-mache, although the largest statues of deities and lamas were cast in bronze, brightly painted, and gilded. An important sculptor of the second half of the 17th century was Dzanabazar. In the late 19th century secular painting developed, including portraits, pictures of Mongolian everyday life and landscapes, and satirical works (Sharav).

In applied art, utensils and clothing were adorned with animal, floral (since the 13th century), and geometric designs. Embroidery and applique work on clothing and leather footwear was distinguished by a combination of contrasting colors. By the mid-17th century embossed and engraved bronze and silver articles of high quality were produced. Other important crafts were woodcarving (animal figurines and ornamental boxes) and the production of papier-mache masks of deities.

With the formation of the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924, the country embarked on civil and industrial construction, the reconstruction of old cities (Ulan Bator), and the building of new cities and settlements with regular layouts (Darkhan, Nalaikha, and Sain-Shand) with the aid of the USSR. The centers of aimaks and somons (districts), such as Choibalsan and Tsetserleg, were built on the sites of monasteries. Public buildings of the 1920’s and 1930’s show the influence of Soviet constructivism. During the 1940’s and early 1950’s the facades of public buildings, for example, the university in Ulan Bator (1943–46), were decorated with porticoes, colonnades, and indigenous designs. Since the mid-1950’s buildings adapted to local climatic conditions have taken on clarity of spatial composition, notably the Shilen Baishin Exposition Pavilion built in Ulan Bator in 1964. Industrial methods of construction have been use dextensively in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

In the 1920’s, the painter Sharav and later his student Manibadar transformed Mongolian art, creating works on contemporary subjects and often employing chiaroscuro and linear perspective. Since the early 1950’s the range of subjects treated by such artists as ladamsuren, Sengetsokhio, and Damdinsuren has broadened, and national painting techniques have been successfully combined with European styles. The first oil paintings were executed by Choidog, Tsevegzhav, Gava, Tsultem, and Amgalan. Graphic art (S. Natsagdorzh, Sosoi) and sculpture (Choimbol, Zhamba) have flourished since the mid-1950’s. In applied art the production of porcelain and various kinds of ceramics and bonecarving are developing alongside traditional crafts.


Zhivopis’ Mongol’skoi Narodnoi Respubliki (album). Moscow, 1960.
Shchepetil’nikov, N. M. Arkhitektura Mongolii. Moscow, 1960. (Bibliography.)
Sovremennoe iskusstvo Mongolii (catalog). Moscow, 1968.
Maidar, D. Arkhitektura i gradostroitel’stvo Mongolii. Moscow, 1972.

L. A. EVTIUKHOVA (ancient art), N. M. SHCHEPETIL’NIKOV (architecture of the 13th to 20th centuries), and O. N. GLUKHAREVA (fine and applied art of the 13th to 20th centuries)

The ancient traditions of Mongolian musical culture were passed on by the khurs (khur players), uligers (bards), duus (soloists), and khogzhims (instrumentalists). Mongolian folk music, based on the pentatonic scale, consists of songs,epics, and instrumental music. Folk songs are single-voiced, and there are two kinds: the slow “long” songs, called urt-duu, which have a large range and rich ornamentation, and the “short” songs, called bogino-duu, which are simpler in rhythm and composition. Songs are sung to the accompaniment of folk instruments, the most important of which are the limbe (a kind of flute), the morin khur and khuchir (bowed stringed instruments), the shanza (played with a plectrum),and the eochina (cymbals).

The first Mongolian revolutionary song, “Shive Kiakhta” (The Capture of Kiakhta Fortress), was written in 1921. It was followed by “Red Banner,” “Song of the Airplane,” and other songs by outstanding composers and bards; notably Ishdulam’s “Lenin Our Teacher” and “The Song of Lenin and Sukhe-Bator,” U. Luvsan-khurchi’s “Marx and Lenin,” and M. Dugarzhav’s “Song of Sukhe-Bator.” Professional music originated and developed under the people’s government.The first musical dramas arose out of the dialogue songs of the bards. In 1942 the State Musical-Dramatic Theater was founded in Ulan Bator for staging musical dramas. The first symphony orchestra, formed in 1945, became the State Symphony Orchestra in 1950. In the 1940’s and 1950’s young composers, singers, conductors, and chorus masters received their musical education in the USSR and other socialist countries.

In 1963 a group of performers from the State Musical-Dramatic Theater formed the State Opera and Ballet Theater, which during the 1960’s and 1970’s staged many European classical and contemporary operas and ballets, as well as works by the Mongolian composers S. Gonchiksumla, B. Damdinsuren, L. Murdorzh, D. Luvsansharav, and E. Choidog. The theater’s conductor is Zh. Chulun and its ballet master is B. Zham’iandagva. The People’s Song and Dance Ensemble of the MPR, founded in 1950, has performed many times in the USSR and in European, Asian, and African countries. The State Symphony Orchestra performs classical and contemporary symphonic works and encourages new works by Mongolian composers. The Union of Composers was founded in 1964, and the State Philharmonic Society was organized in 1972. A school of music and choreography has been established in Ulan Bator.


Smirnov, B. F. Muzykal’naia kul’tura Mongolii. Moscow, 1963.
Smirnov, B. F. Mongol’skaia narodnaia muzyka. Moscow, 1971.
Kondrat’ev, S. A. Muzyka mongol’skogo eposa i pesen. Moscow, 1970.


Theatrical art in Mongolia dates from ancient times. The Mongols’ dances, particularly the bieleg dance, and rituals associated with marriage, birth, and harvest festivals contained elements of dramatization. Later these elements were incorporated into the tsam, a religious play that arose in the 17th century with the spread of Buddhism in Central Asia, and into the secular court theater. Princes maintained court theaters, where talented enserfed arats were taught to sing, dance, and play musical instruments. Court plays were presented annually, and puppet performances were given in the streets during New Year celebrations. The first public play, The Moon Cuckoo, was presented in the 1830’s.

After the triumph of the people’s revolution and the proclamation of the people’s republic in 1924, amateur theater groups flourished. Musical-dramatic groups that later developed into professional theaters were organized in Ulan Bator in the 1920’s. Plays were staged in the tradition of folk presentations. A drama studio was founded in Ulan Bator in 1930 and reorganized as the Central Mongolian State Theater in 1931; in 1942 it was renamed the State Musical-Dramatic Theater. The theater’s repertoire includes plays by Mongolian playwrights (D. Natsagdorzh, S. Buiannemekh, Sh. Aiuush, M. ladamsuren, D. Namdag, Ch. Oidov, and Ch. Chimid), Soviet plays and Russian and European classics. The Mongolian theater has assimilated the experience of the Soviet theatrical school. In 1963 the State Musical-Dramatic Theater was divided into the State Opera and Ballet Theater and the D. Natsagdorzh State Drama Theater. The Central Children’s Theater opened in Ulan Bator in 1950, and the Puppet Theater was founded in 1948. There are musical-dramatic theaters in various aimak centers, including Ulegei, Kobdo, Ulangom, and Choibalsan.


Uvarova, G. Sovremennyi mongol’skii teatr, 1921–1945. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.

Circus. Indian fakirs performed at the courts of the country’s spiritual rulers from the 16th century. Itinerant Chinese circuses displayed their art in the cities, at first in the streets and later in special open areas. During folk holidays competitions were held in horsemanship, wrestling, and archery. A professional Mongolian circus was established after the proclamation of people’s power in Outer Mongolia. A sports group was organized in Ulan Bator in 1934, several members of which studied circus arts in the USSR from 1936 to 1939 (Radnabazar, Gombo, and Natsag). Upon returning to the MPR, they became the organizers and leading artists of the first professional Mongolian circus. A building for circus performances opened in 1941. Other Mongolian circus artists noted for their many-faceted talent are Danzan and Damdinsuren, Maiia Norovtseren, Sandag, Tsrendulam Minzhin, Erdenetsetseg, Kh. Tsendaiush, and Ts.Tserendorzh. Directors include Zh. Damdisuren, Niamdash, Ichinnorov, and Natsag, who offers not only individual numbers but also extended presentations based on a single theme and children’s plays. The Mongolian circus has been greatly assisted by Soviet circus artists and the State School of Circus and Vaudeville Art. The new building of the Mongolian State Circus was opened in Ulan Bator in 1971. Mongolian performers participated in the Druzhba (Friendship)Program, together with circus artists from Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Poland, Rumania, the USSR, and Czechoslovakia.


The Mongolkino film studio, established in Ulan Bator in 1935, initially released documentaries, producing its first feature film in 1937. The development of a national cinematic art and the training of film artists were greatly aided by the work of Soviet cinematographers in Mongolia and by the participation of Mongolian actors and cameramen in producing such Soviet films as Son of Mongolia (1935, director I. Z. Trauberg), His Name Is Sukhe-Bator (1942, directors A. G.Zarkhi and I. E. Kheifits), and Steppe Heroes (1945, director lu. V. Tarich).

An important Mongolian film is Two Herdsmen (1955), directed by Ts. Zandra. The outstanding films What Hinders Us (1956), If Only I Had a Horse! (1959), The Call of the Heart (1966), and Transparent Tamir (1970, based on the novel by G. Lodoidamba) were directed by R. Dorzhpalam, the last of these in collaboration with Ch. Dolgosuren. Outcome (1968), directed by A. I. Bobrovskii and Zh. Buntar, was produced jointly with the USSR. Envoy of the People (1959), Flood (1966), and Harsh Morning (1969) were directed by D. Zhigzhid, and In the Den (1973) was directed by B. Sumkhuu. Three feature films and about 30 documentaries were released in 1973.

The leading film actors are G. Gombosuren, D. Ichinkhorlo, Ts. Dashnamzhil, L. Lkhasuren, D. Gombozhav, Ts. Tsevegmid, Z. Tsendekhu, and T. Tsevenzhav. Other noteworthy figures are M. Bolod, Ts. Navan, and B. Damdorzh, who make documentaries; the scriptwriter L. Vangan; and the composer D. Luvsansharav.

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).


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia on the Spanish Civil War

1936 March of Leningrad for Spain

Spanish Revolution of 1931–39

a revolution during which there evolved in Spain a democratic republic which for about three years from the middle of 1936 struggled for its existence, waging a national revolutionary war against fascist insurgents and Italo-German invaders. The specific features of the Spanish Revolution were in large measure attributable to certain distinctive characteristics of Spain’s historical development, above all the exceptional vitality of feudal vestiges (the landlords, who are the chief heirs of the feudal traditions, have formed a close alliance with the financial-industrial oligarchy in the years of the fascist regime). The axis of the political struggle that unfolded on the eve of the revolutionary eruption was the antagonism between the bloc of landowning aristocracy and the financial oligarchy (its dominance personified by the monarchy) and the Spanish people as a whole. The contradictions of the social and political system that prevailed were exacerbated by the economic crisis that enveloped Spain in the middle of 1930.

Striving to avert the collapse of the monarchy, which then ruled Spain, the government of Berenguer, which had replaced the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera in January 1930, issued a decree scheduling elections to the Cortes for March 19. This maneuver failed, because with the revolutionary upsurge in the country the opposition forces refused to take part in the elections and forced Berenguer to resign (Feb. 14, 1931). King Alfonso XIII (ruled 1902–31) named Admiral Aznar as head of the government in place of General Berenguer. The new government immediately announced municipal-council elections for April 12. The elections developed into a decisive antimonarch-ical plebiscite. The republicans won the elections in every city in Spain. The overwhelming majority of Spain’s population came out for a republic. The day after the elections, the leader of the Catalonian national movement, Maciá, proclaimed the creation of a Catalonian republic. On Apr. 14, 1931, the Revolutionary Committee (created by leaders of the bourgeois republican movement on the basis of the Pact of San Sebastián of 1930) gathered in the Ministry of Internal Affairs building and formed a provisional government, headed by Alcalá-Zamora (leader of the Democratic Liberal Party). That day the king abdicated. On June 27, 1931, the Constituent Cortes assembled and on Dec. 9, 1931, adopted a republican constitution.

This peaceful revolution took power away from the landowning aristocracy and big bourgeoisie; the bloc that took over represented the entire bourgeoisie except certain groups of monopoly capitalists. Striving to build themselves a base among the masses, the bourgeoisie recruited the Socialist Party to participate in the government. In December 1931 the pressure of the masses led to the removal from power of the two most right-wing political parties in the government bloc: the Conservatives (led by M. Maura) and the Radicals (led by A. Lerroux). Leadership of the government proved to be in the hands of petit bourgeois republicans, who did not take the path of radical socioeconomic reforms. The new bourgeois-democratic system preserved the latifundia system, rent in kind, and métayage (sharecropping) and failed to carry out an agrarian reform—a reform that was so essential for Spain, “a country of land without people and people without land,” and one demanded by millions of downtrodden peasants and farm workers. Republican and Socialist ministers alienated the masses from the republic, pursuing a policy of flirtation with reactionaries and of violence against the working class and the peasantry, thereby clearing the path for counterrevolutionary forces that started to prepare to restore the old order. That is why the military revolt of Aug. 10, 1932, led by General Sanjurjo, became possible, but it was quickly suppressed because of retaliatory action by the masses (Sanjurjo, who was first sentenced to death and then to 30 years in prison, was released in 1934 by the Lerroux government). In September 1933, as a result of a drive by the reactionaries, the Socialists were ousted from the government. The split in the Republican-Socialist bloc, which resulted from the government’s contradictory and inconsistent domestic policy, produced a political crisis. The republican parties, under the pressure of rightist forces, split into small groups. The parliament was dissolved. New elections (Nov. 19, 1933) brought victory to the Radical Party and the right-wing profascist forces. The Socialist Party lost almost half of its seats.

Having scored a victory in the 1933 elections, the reactionaries were in a position to seize power legally and to undermine the republic from within. With this objective, the reactionary forces merged into the Confederation of Autonomous Rights (CEDA), headed by Gil Robles. In early October 1934 the CEDA, after a series of preparatory maneuvers, joined the government.

During this period the Communist Party of Spain (CPS; created in 1920) was becoming the leader and organizer of the masses, which were uniting against the forces of counterrevolution. The Communist Party advanced agrarian reform as the most important measure aimed at democratizing the country. It demanded that the domination of the country’s economic and social life by large national and foreign banks and monopolies be restricted. The party strongly supported the right to self-determination of Catalonia, the Basque Provinces, and Galicia, the granting of full independence to Morocco, and the withdrawal of Spanish troops from North Africa. In the opinion of the Communists, the republic had to carry out a democratic rejuvenation of the state apparatus and above all of the command of the Spanish Army. The Communist Party contended that it was essential for the consistent democratization of the country that the working class act as the leader of the popular masses, with the unification of all the forces of the working class being the most important precondition of this democratization. Therefore, the party made the struggle for the unity of the working class the mainspring of its policy. The policy of unity was making headway in the masses; it also found a sympathetic response in the ranks of the Socialist Party, which was going through an acute crisis since the party had been ousted from the government. While the defeat and failure of their policy prodded some Socialist leaders into an overt move to the right, toward liberalism, and into an abandonment of class positions, a segment of the leadership closer to the proletariat, led by F. Largo Caballero, actively joined the antifascist struggle. This made it possible during 1934 to achieve the first successes in establishing unity of action between the Communist and Socialist parties.

When the CEDA joined the government on Oct. 4, 1934, the masses, led by the Socialist and Communist parties, immediately expressed their opposition. A general strike was declared in Spain, which in Asturias, the Basque Provinces, Catalonia, and Madrid grew into an armed revolt. The struggle was sharpest and broadest in Asturias. The government flung against the working people units of the Foreign Legion and Moroccan units, which dealt with the Asturian miners with particular brutality. The repressions against the rebel movement in October 1934 were led by General F. Franco, who was already preparing a plot against the republic. Although the October Uprising of 1934 was defeated because of inadequate preparation and lack of coordination of action, it was able to delay the realization of the reactionaries’ plans and generate throughout the country a mass movement of solidarity with the insurgents and hatred for the reactionaries, thus preparing conditions for the formation of the Popular Front.

Two months after the struggle in Asturias ended, an underground liaison committee of the leaders of the Socialist and Communist parties was created at the initiative of the Communist Party. In May 1935 the CPS, enjoying the support of the antifascist bloc that had been in operation for several months, proposed to the Socialist Party that a popular front be formed. But the Socialist Party, under the pretext that it was unwilling to cooperate with the bourgeois republican parties that had expelled it from the government, refused. Although the Communist proposal was not accepted on a nationwide scale, numerous local Popular Front committees and committees of liaison between the Socialists and Communists sprang up, and they carried out the policy of unity in practice. Based on the decisions of the seventh congress on the Comintern (July 25-Aug. 20, 1935, in Moscow), the Communist Party began exploiting the successes achieved in creating the Popular Front. In December 1935 the General Confederation of United Workers, which was under Communist influence, joined the General Union of Workers (UGT), which was led by the Socialists. This was an important step toward trade union solidarity.

In December 1935, under the pressure of the masses, the reactionary government was forced to resign. The new government was headed by the bourgeois democrat Portela Valladares, who dissolved parliament and scheduled new elections. This was a victory for the democratic forces that hastened the creation of the Popular Front. On Jan. 15, 1936, a pact was signed forming the Popular Front, which incorporated the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Left Republican Party, the Republican Alliance, the UGT, and a number of minor political groups. The anarchist National Confederation of Labor (CNT) remained outside the Popular Front, although rank-and-file CNT members collaborated with workers of other political orientations despite the sectarian tactics of their leaders. In the elections held February 16, the democratic forces scored a convincing victory. The Popular Front parties won 268 of 480 seats in parliament.

The triumph of the Popular Front inspired Spain’s progressive forces to struggle for the implementation of a profound democratic transformation. Large street demonstrations held in Madrid and other cities attested to the determination of the masses to solidify and develop their victory. The people demanded the release of political prisoners, and this demand was met without delay. The influence of the Communist Party was on the increase: its membership totaled 30,000 in Feburary 1936, 50,000 in March, 60,000 in April, 84,000 in June, and 100,000 in July. The Popular Front, whose leading force was the working class, grew stronger. The merger of the Socialist and Communist youth organizations into the United Socialist Youth (April 1936) laid the foundations for the unity of the entire youth movement. In Catalonia, the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia was created as a result of the merger of four workers’ parties (July 1936). The Popular Front revived the prospect of a peaceful and parliamentary development of the democratic revolution. The result of the Popular Front’s victory was a republican government supported by the Socialists and Communists, who did not belong to it. The Communist Party favored creation of a Popular Front government, but the Socialist Party objected to this.

The governments of Azańa (Feb. 19-May 12, 1936) and Casares Quiroga (May 12-July 18, 1936), formed after the victory of the Popular Front, did not take account of the stern lessons of the first years of the republic and failed to implement the necessary measures to defend the democratic system. The majority of reactionary generals and leaders were in their old places in the army (including Franco, Mola, Goded, Queipo de Llano, Aranda, Cabanellas, and Yagüe), where they were preparing a plot against the republic. In close contact with such reactionary political groups as the Spanish Falange (the fascist party), founded in 1933, and the Rejuvenation of Spain organization, headed by Calvo Sotelo, a former minister under dictator Primo de Rivera (whose rule lasted from Sept. 13, 1923, to Jan. 28, 1930), these generals completed preparations for the revolt. They were backed by a landowning and financial oligarchy, which was striving to establish a fascist dictatorship and thereby solidify its position in the country.

In preparing the revolt against the republic, the reactionaries leaned on the support of Hitler and Mussolini. As early as 1934, representatives of Spanish reaction concluded an agreement in Rome with Mussolini, who promised to provide arms and money to extreme right-wing Spanish forces. In March 1936, after the victory of the Popular Front, General Sanjurjo (who was to have led the revolt; his death in a plane crash on July 20, 1936, opened the way for General Franco to become the principal leader) and the leader of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, set off for Berlin to settle the details of fascist Germany’s participation in the struggle against the Spanish people. On July 16, General Mola notified all the generals taking part in the conspiracy that the revolt would begin on July 18 and develop over the next two days. Military men serving in Morocco acted ahead of schedule (on the morning of July 17). The first units used by the insurgents were mostly soldiers of the Foreign Legion (11,000) and Moroccan soldiers (14,000). The military, after brutally crushing isolated attempts at resistance, took over the cities of Melilla, Ceuta, and T–touan. On July 18 the conspirators who rose up on the Iberian Peninsula captured Cédiz and Sevilla.

The fascist military revolt left the republic without an army. In a situation that demanded energetic and immediate action, the most prominent republican leaders showed weakness and indecision. The head of the government, Casares Quiroga (Left Republican Party), and Azańa, the president of the republic (since May 1936), opposed until the last moment arming the people and attempted to reach an agreement with the insurgents. But the working class and the popular masses would not agree to the surrender that the government was proposing to them. As soon as word of the revolt in Morocco reached Madrid, all enterprises ceased operation and the people came out into the streets, demanding arms from the government to defend the republic. A Communist Party delegation went to the head of the government and endorsed the demands of the masses. On July 18 a commission of representatives of the Popular Front again visited Casares Quiroga and demanded that the people be armed.

A formidable popular wave rose up to repel the reactionary revolt. Casares Quiroga, who had lost control of the situation, resigned. President Azańa charged D. Martines Barrio (leader of the Republican Alliance) with forming a government that was to reach an agreement with the insurgents, which in effect would mean surrender. A vigorous protest by the people foiled this attempt. On July 19 a new government, headed by one of the leaders of the Left Republican Party, José Giral, took office. However, three days were lost in disputes about whether to arm the people, and the conspirators used these days of vacillation to capture 23 cities. The people paid with their blood for the vacillation of the republican leaders.

Nonetheless, the insurgents soon became convinced of the determination of the popular masses to block fascism. In Barcelona and Madrid the revolt was quickly suppressed. Workers, peasants, artisans, and intelligentsia throughout Spain rose up to defend the republic.

In early August 1936 the advantage was still with the republic. The republicans still had Madrid, Valencia, Catalonia, Asturias, the Basque Provinces, New Castile, Murcia, and a large part of Estremadura. The republic controlled the chief industrial and mining centers, the ports (including Barcelona, Bilbao, Santander, Málaga, Almería, and Cartagena) and the richest agricultural areas. The revolt, for the most part, was suppressed. The republic was saved from the first fascist onslaught.

The Spanish working masses succeeded in defeating the fascist revolt because of the Communists persistent attempts to achieve unity of action among the workers and all antifascists and to obtain mutual understanding and concord between the Communist and Socialist parties.

After the first blows dealt to the insurgents, the war could have ended if it had been waged within a national framework, but Hitler and Mussolini came to the reactionaries’ aid, sending German and Italian troops equipped with modern weapons. This altered the character of the war that had unfolded in Spain. It was no longer a civil war. As a result of the foreign intervention, the war for the Spanish people turned into a national-revolutionary war: national because Spain’s integrity and national independence were being defended and revolutionary because it was a war for freedom and democracy against fascism.

To some degree the war in Spain affected every country, every people, and every government. To carry out his aggressive plans aimed against Europe and the whole world, Hitler needed the Iberian Peninsula as a strategic base to move into France’s rear, to obtain control of routes to Africa and the Orient, and to get closer to the American continent. The British, French, and American governments not only allowed Hitler to carry out open intervention in Spain but aided his aggressive plans by declaring with regard to the republic and the Spanish people the criminal policy of “nonintervention,” which was crucial to the outcome of the war in Spain and hastened the unleashing of World War II.

The Italo-German intervention played a decisive role in the first stage of the war in Spain and, as the republicans’ resistance grew, took on greater and greater scope. Mussolini dispatched 150,000 soldiers, including several divisions that had had combat experience in Ethiopia. The Italian Navy, which included submarines, was operating in the Mediterranean Sea. Italian aircraft deployed in Spain carried out 86, 420 sorties (during the war in Ethiopia they carried out 3,949 sorties) and 5,319 bombings, during which 11,585 tons of explosives were dropped on Spanish communities.

Hitler’s contribution to Franco was a sizable quantity of planes, tanks, artillery, and communications facilities and thousands of officers, who were supposed to train and organize the Franco army; he also sent the Condor Legion, under General Sperrle and later under Richthofen and Volkmann. The fact that 26,113 German servicemen were decorated by Hitler for services in the war in Spain shows the scale of German intervention.

Large US monopolies did their bit to support the insurgents: in 1936 Franco received from Standard Oil and other US companies 344,000 tons of fuel; this rose to 420,000 tons in 1937, 478,000 tons in 1938, and 624,000 tons in 1939 (according to the data of H. Feis, an economic officer of the US embassy in Madrid). Deliveries of American trucks (12,000 from Ford, Stude-baker, and General Motors) were of no less importance for the insurgents. At the same time the USA prohibited the sale of arms, planes, and fuel to the Spanish Republic. The USSR, which resolutely rose to the defense of Spanish democracy, supplied the republicans with arms despite all kinds of difficulties. Soviet volunteers, mostly tanktroops and pilots, fought for the republic. A broad movement of solidarity unfolded in support of the republic’s struggle, exemplified by the International Brigades, which were organized chiefly by Communist parties.

The heroic struggle of the Spanish people and their first victories were the best proof that fascism could be fought and defeated. Yet the Labor and Socialist International, by turning down repeated proposals by the Comintern to unite the efforts of the international workers’ movement in defense of the Spanish people, in effect supported the policy of nonintervention..

For 32½ months, from July 17, 1936, to Apr. 1, 1939, the Spanish people resisted fascist aggression in extraordinarily difficult conditions. In the first stage, until the spring of 1937, the main tasks were the struggle for the creation of a people’s army and the defense of the capital, which was threatened by the insurgents and interventionists. On Aug. 8, 1936, the fascists captured Badajoz, and on September 3 they took Talavera de la Reina, about 100 km from Madrid.

To combat the increased threat, a new republican government, headed by F. Largo Caballero, the leader of the Socialists, was formed on September 4; it included all the parties of the Popular Front, including the Communist Party. Some time later the Basque National Party joined the government. On Oct. 1, 1936, the Republican Cortes approved the Statute of the Basque Provinces, and on October 7 an autonomous government headed by Aguirre, a Catholic, was created in Bilbao. On Nov. 4, 1936, representatives of the CNT were incorporated into the Largo Caballero government.

By November 6, Franco’s troops had approached the outskirts of Madrid. During this period the historic slogan of Madrid’s defenders was heard round the world: “They shall not pass!” The fascist troops crashed into the steely heroism of the republican fighters, the fighters of the International Brigades, and the entire population of Madrid, who rose to defend every street and every house. In February 1937 the fascists’ attempts to encircle Madrid collapsed as a result of the Jarama operation conducted by the republican army. On March 8–20, 1937, the people’s army won a victory near Guadalajara, where several regular divisions of Mussolini’s army were smashed. Franco had to abandon his plan to take Madrid. The center of gravity of the hostilities shifted to northern Spain, to the region of the Basque iron mines.

The heroic defense of Madrid demonstrated the correctness of the policy of the Communist Party of Spain, which aimed at creating a people’s army capable of repulsing the enemy and which was being carried out despite the resistance of Largo Caballero. He was increasingly falling under the influence of the anarchists and of professional military men who did not believe in the victory of the people. His complicity with the anarchist adventurists caused the takeover of Mélaga by the fascists on Feb. 14, 1937. Largo Caballero’s connivance enabled anarchic Trotskyist groups, in which enemy agents were operating, to whip up a putsch in Barcelona on May 3, 1937, against the republican government. The putsch was suppressed by the Catalonian working people under the leadership of the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia. The seriousness of the situation dictated the persistent necessity of radically changing the policy of the republican government. On May 17, 1937, a new Popular Front government was created, headed by Socialist J. Negrín.

In the second stage of the war (from the spring of 1937 until the spring of 1938), many of the members of the UGT, which was led by Largo Caballero, and the CNT refused to support the new government; nevertheless, successes were achieved in the creation of an army, which was able to launch offensive operations near Brunete (in July 1937) and Belchite (in August-September 1937). But Largo Caballero left a grim legacy behind him. The situation in northern Spain was extremely difficult, and there was no possibility of holding back the fascist offensive, which was not effectively opposed by the bourgeois-nationalist policy of the government of the Basque Provinces. This government preferred to yield the enterprises of Bilbao intact to the fascists and did not organize consistent resistance. On June 20 the fascists entered Bilbao, and on August 26 Santander fell. Asturias resisted until the end of October 1937.

In order to thwart Franco’s new drive on Madrid, the republican army launched an offensive of its own on December 15 and captured the city of Teruel. However, as at Guadalajara, this success was not exploited by the government. A negative feature of this stage of the war was the activity of the minister of defense, the Socialist I. Prieto. Fanatically anticommunist and lacking any faith in the people, he impeded the strengthening of the popular army, seeking to replace it with a professional army. Events quickly proved that this policy was leading to defeat.

Having solidified his forces thanks to new aid from the Germans and Italians, the enemy broke through the Aragon front on Mar. 9, 1938. On April 15 the fascist troops reached the Mediterranean Sea, having cut the republic’s territory in two. The grave military situation was further complicated by the policy of direct complicity with the fascist aggressors that was being pursued by the Western countries. Without encountering any resistance from Great Britain, the USA, or France, Hitler seized Austria in March 1938. On Apr. 16, 1938, Chamberlain signed an agreement with Mussolini that signified Britain’s tacit consent to the Italian troops’ participation in the struggle on Franco’s side. In these conditions a capitulationist outlook began to crystallize in the ruling circles of the Spanish Republic, an outlook fostered by Socialist leaders such as J. Besteiro and Prieto, some republican leaders, and the heads of the Federation of Iberian Anarchists (FAI).

The Communist Party warned the nation of the mortal danger. A mighty patriotic surge engulfed the Spanish people, who at enormous demonstrations, such as the one on Mar. 16, 1938, in Barcelona, demanded that capitulationist ministers be ousted from the government. With the formation on April 8 of the second Negrín government, in which the previous parties were joined by both trade union centers (the UGT and the CNT), the war entered a new period. The Communist Party of Spain began to fight for a broad national alliance aimed at achieving mutual understanding among all the patriotic forces and resolving the military conflict on the basis of guarantees of national independence, sovereignty, and respect for the democratic rights of the Spanish people. The expression of this policy was the so-called Thirteen Points, published on May 1, 1938. The points provided for the postwar declaration of a general amnesty and the holding of a plebiscite in which the Spanish people would choose their form of government without foreign interference.

In order for the policy of national alliance to make headway, it was necessary to intensify resistance and strike hard at the fascists. By May 1938 the situation on the front had stabilized. On July 25, 1938, the republican army, which was defending a line on the Ebro River and was led mostly by Communist military commanders, suddenly attacked and broke through the enemy’s fortifications, demonstrating its readiness and high combat capacity. The Spanish people again displayed miracles of heroism. But the capitulationists, who had entrenched themselves at headquarters and other command posts, paralyzed the operations of other fronts while the army units on the Ebro were exhausting their resources in repelling the attacks of Franco’s main forces. The governments of Paris and London continued to tighten the noose of nonintervention.

On Dec. 23, 1938, with Italian troops in the vanguard and enjoying a huge superiority in equipment, Franco began an offensive in Catalonia. On Jan. 26, 1939, he took Barcelona, and by mid-February all of Catalonia had been occupied by the fascists. On February 9 a British squadron sailed up to Minorca and forced that island to surrender to Franco.

Despite the loss of Catalonia, the republic still had the possibility of continuing resistance in the central and southern zone. While the Communist Party exerted all its efforts in the struggle against fascism, the capitulationists, incited by the imperialist circles of Great Britain and encouraged by Negrín’s vacillations in the last phase of the war, rebelled against the legal government on Mar. 5, 1939. In Madrid they created a junta headed by Colonel Casado that included Socialist and Anarchist leaders. Under the pretext of negotiations for an “honorable peace,” the junta stabbed the people in the back by opening the gates of Madrid (Mar. 28, 1939) to the hordes of fascist murderers.

Two Spains collided in the National Revolutionary War of 1936–39—the Spain of reaction and the Spain of progress and democracy. The revolutionary character, political maturity, and social and political conceptions of workers’ organizations and of leftist political parties were tested. In those days of difficult struggle, the political role of party leaders was determined above all by their attitude toward unity. Those leaders of the Socialists, Anarchists, and republicans who really tried to strengthen the alliance of democratic forces made an invaluable contribution to the cause of combating fascism. The Communist Party of Spain was the soul of the Popular Front, the driving force of the resistance to aggression. Honor is due to the Communist Party for creating the 5th Regiment—the foundation of the popular army. To counter the reckless Anarchist policy of coercive collectivization, the Communists put forth a program of turning land over to the peasants and, after joining the government, implemented this program, carrying out a radical agrarian reform in Spain for the first time. The nationalities policy of the Communist Party contributed to the adoption of the Statute of the Basque Provinces. At the initiative of the Communists, institutes and universities were opened to workers and peasants, who were guaranteed their previous earnings. Women began to receive wages on a par with men.

Not only were big landowners stripped of their property, but large banks and enterprises came under the control of the democratic state. During the war the republic radically changed its class essence. Workers and peasants played the leading role in it. A sizable segment of the new army was commanded by revolutionary workers. During the war a new type of democratic republic evolved in Spain, created by the efforts and blood of the popular masses.

The Spanish popular-democratic republic lives in the memory of the Spanish people, who continue the struggle for liberation from the yoke of fascism.


Diaz, J. Pod znamenem Narodnogo fronta: Rechi i stat’i, 1935–1937. Moscow, 1937. (Translated from Spanish.)
Díaz, J. “Ob urokakh voiny ispanskogo naroda (1936–1939).” Bol’ shevik, 1940, no. 4. (Translated from Spanish.)
Díaz, J. Tres años de lucha. Barcelona, 1939.
Ibárruri, D. V bor’be: Izbr. stat’i i vystupleniia 1936–1939. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from Spanish.)
Ibárruri, D. Oktiabr’skaia sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia i ispanskii rabo-chii klass. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from Spanish.)
Ibárruri, D. Edinstvennyi put’. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from Spanish.)
Ibárruri, D. “Natsional’no-revoliutsionnaia voina ispanskogo naroda protiv italo-germanskikh interventov i fashistskikh miatezhnikov (1936–1939),” Voprosy istorii, 1953, no. 11.
Istoriia Kommunisticheskoi partii Ispanii: Kratkii kurs. Moscow, 1961. (Translated from Spanish.)
Voina i revoliutsiia v Ispanii, 1936–1939, vol. 1. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from Spanish.)
El Partido comunista por la libertad y la independencia de España. Valencia, 1937.
Lister, E. La defensa de Madrid, batalla de unidad. Paris, 1947.
García, J. Ispaniia Narodnogo fronta. Moscow, 1957.
García, J. Ispaniia XX veka. Moscow, 1967.
Minlos, B. R. Agrarnyi vopros v Ispanii. Moscow, 1934.
Maidanik, K. L. Ispanskii proletariat v natsional’no-revoliutsionnoi voine 1936–1937 gg. Moscow, 1960.
Ovinnikov, R. S. Za kulisami politiki “nevmeshatel’stva.” Moscow, 1959.
Maiskii, I. M. Ispanskie tetradi. Moscow, 1962.
Ponomareva, L. V. Rabochee dvizhenie v Ispanii vgody revoliutsii, 19311934. Moscow, 1965.
Dokumenty ministerstva inostrannykh del Germanii. Vol. 3: German-skaia politika i Ispaniia (1936–1943 gg.). Moscow, 1946.
Epopée d’Espagne: Brigades internationales, 1936–1939. Paris, 1957.
Alvarez del Vayo, J. Freedom’s Battle. New York, 1940.
Cattell, D. Communism and the Spanish Civil War. Berkeley, 1955.
Norden, A. Die Spanische Tragödie. Berlin, 1956.
Taylor, F. The United States and the Spanish Civil War. New York, 1956.



“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.


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*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).

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*DUCOLI, John, American teacher specialising in Transcaucasia (1922-

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*GREY, Ian, New Zealand-born lawyer and historian (1918

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*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).

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Head, Special Secretariat. Central Committee. CPSU (1928-52).

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Vietnamese Revolutionary Art

This article was published by Alliance (Marxist-Leninist) as part of the publication Alliance, issue #53, “Aesthetics and Revolution – Essays and Talks.


Western Artists and revolutionaries, are familiar with the socialist realist traditions of the USSR, Albania and of China. They also have a deep affection and respect for revolutionary painting from the Spanish Civil War, and from the South American continent especially from Mexico and Cuba. Curiously, art arising from the heroic struggles of the Vietnamese peoples, is much less well known. This is a shame, since the long war of national liberation, resulted in a plethora of great art.

Ho Chi Minh’s shrewd and insightful leadership of the Vietnamese national bourgeois liberation struggle, built a successful United Front. This was dependent upon the recognition that “many currents” would help move Vietnam into independence. A striking example of this viewpoint, is Ho Chi Minh’s view of Confucius, Jesus and Marx as “close friends”:

“The teachings of Confucius have a strong point, i.e., self-improvement of personal virtue. Jesus’ Bible has a strong point, i.e., noble altruism. Marxism has a strong point, i.e. a dialectical working method. Ton Dat Tien’s teaching has a strong point, i.e.Fe; their policies are suited to the conditions in our country, Did Confucius, Jesus, Marx, and Ton Dat Tien share common points? Yes. They all pursued a way to bring happiness to human beings and benefit to society. If they were all alive today, and if they were grouped together, I believe that they would live together in harmony like close friends. I try to become their pupil.“

Ho Chi Minh 1949. Plaque in Ho Chi Minh Museum, July 2004.

With this “broad church” philosophy, Ho Chi Minh succeeded in welding such a powerful anti-imperialist front. Unsurprisingly even the art in the clearly revolutionary phases of this broad front, also reflects a broad range of styles, and even at times of contents. Perhaps this is not surprising, since the Indochinese dominant French imperialism had already stimulated interest in the French art movements.

This article outlines and illustrates some developments in visual arts over the modern era. We apologise that it cannot be anything more than a very brief introduction.

A short background to the traditional arts, showing their legacy to the modern era, may be helpful.

Ancient Vietnamese Art

Naturally, the art history of the Vietnamese peoples is commensurate with their ancient story. The traditional arts in Vietnam faced the ravages of wars and little other than architectural edifices, and some sculptures and pottery, now exists. This shows the mark of a tension between external influences – Chinese and Indian – and more ‘native’ royalty sponsored arts. Largely it was the Cham dynasty that was heavily influenced by Indian art, and remaining sculptures show remarkable similarity.

Another major cultural import was Buddhism, via India directly, but also via South China. Buddhism has left a long lasting artistic and intellectual legacy in the many temples and pagodas that still survive in virtually every village. All these external influences were absorbed, such that by the 10th –11th centuries, the dominant artistic expressions relied upon Chinese Han traditions.

This absorption can be vividly seen in architecture, both in construction styles, and in intellectual legacy. This is vividly exemplified by the Temple of Literature founded in the 11th century. As the official tour plaque says of this shrine to Confucius, his four disciples and the ten learned ones:

“The Temple of Literature was the biggest centre in the country in feudal times, contributing to the training of thousands of scholars for the nation. It was worthy of being called the First University.”

Plaque, Temple of Literature, Hanoi July 2004.

It should not surprise that this plaque lauds Confucius (551-479 BC — Wade-Giles K’ung-fu-tzu or Pinyin Kongfuzi). Although Confucius is regarded as a reactionary in the current era, his contribution to welding a state in China is not challenged. And above all Ho Chi Minh was a dedicated nationalist, whose first mandate was to recognise important steps in the development of Vietnam into a modern, strong, independent and united nation, bridging the so-called three kys (parts of Vietnam).

The existing legacy that we are aware of from Vietnamese arts rests primarily upon porcelains and ceramics, sculpture, architecture, and folk-art traditions. Of these a large mystical non-realist tradition was dominant, incorporating dragons and mythical beings. But they did nonetheless develop realist themes amidst the myths. So even the depictions of the Buddha show a real human shape and a real human expression [Plate 1]. This version of the Bhudda shows him starving but peaceful in meditation.

Notable in these statues is the covering of the wood, with several layers of lacquer [See below].

Plate 1: Statue of Sakyamuni on A Snow Mountain 1794; Height 137 cm

Editor: Cao Trong Thiem, “Bao Tang My Thuat Viet Nam”;
Vietnam Fine Arts Museum; nd; p.43

Given the ordinary peasants’ tendency to reduce all pretensions to an earthy reality, folk art usually took an explicitly realist form. The folk art illustrated life’s vagaries with a number of human motifs, as can be seen in the wood-cut traditions of Dong Ho village in Ha Bac Province [Plate 32]. This tradition was to re-surface with the development of poster art in the national revolutionary period.

Plate 2: Catching Coconuts (paper wood-cut print);
Cao Truong Theim; Ibid; p.51

Catchign Coconuts

Many of these techniques as developed over ancient times, left reservoirs of skills that were to find a new use in an entirely different set of traditions emanating from Western art and from the traditions of Socialist Realism. The ancient arts will not be further discussed here.

We will now focus, on the visual arts over the modern era.

Beginnings of Western Type Painting in Vietnam

Under French colonial domination at the turn of hte 19th – 20th centuries, Indochinese intellectuals were drawn to French and Western art movement. This was fueled by the setting up of hte Indochinese Art Academy by a Frenchman – Victor Tardieu – in 1925.

This fostered new technical skills and vocabulary, shortly to be put to profound uses by thw revolutionary artists in the era 1935-1970.

As the Vietnam Fine Arts Academy says:

“Tardieu rendered great service by laying the foundations for Vietnamese modern Fine Arts.“

Editor: Cao Trong Thiem, “Bao Tang My Thuat Viet Nam”; Vietnam Fine Arts Museum; nd; p.25.

Certainly such a strong Western external art influence was also present in the USSR before the socialist revolution.

It was perhaps somewhat less evident in the Chinese national revolution, or in Albanian art. In China, such influences were transmitted in Shanghai, to artists such as Xu Beihong (1895-1953) who went to the Ecole Nationale Superieur des Beaux Arts in Paris [See Clarke David; Modern Chinese Art’; Hong Kong; 2000; p.18]. And of course Chinese developments in modern art and socialist realism, were spurred on by Lu Xun and his espousal of the wood-cut.

But Western art influence was much more immediately influential in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, the earliest tangible expression of this Western influence realism was by artists such as Le Huy Mien [1873-1943; ‘Making comments on literary work”; 1898] [See Plate 3], and Trang Tran Phenh (‘Phagm Ngu Lao’, 1923).

The former depicts scholars debating merits of literary works, a theme not dissimilar from that of the traditional Chinese inspired Vietnamese artists. But the literature being debated now was slowly becoming more likely to do with modern liberation themes, than of poems on the moon.

Plate 3: Le Huy Mien:
‘Making Comments on a Literary Work’;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p, 56


While these pioneers utilised the Western medium of oil paints, they restricted their content to local themes, expressed in the highest form of a bourgeois critical realism. By the 1930’s however, the content as well as style, of many painters had become almost identical to the most conventional of the French Impressionist schools such as Renoir. “Little Thuy” (1943) by Tran Van Can (1910-1994) for instance [p.75] [See plate 4], or “Japanese Young Girl” 1942, by Luong Xuan Nhi (1914-) [Plate 5] are clearly overtly influenced by Impressionism.

And this type of content largely came to predominate.

Plate 4: Tran Can Can
‘Little Thuy’;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p. 74

Tran Van Can

Plate 5: Luong Xuan Nhi:
‘Japanese Young Girl’;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p. 77

Luong Xuan Nhi

Residuals of ancient arts were now more found in the mediums used, rather than the contents or subject matter. But if the artists persisted in using the older materials, this had an effect on the subject choice. So artists attracted to old art forms such as painting on silks, rendered beautiful images of life such as Nguyen Phan Chanh’s [1892-1984] “Going to the Rice Fields” (1937) [See plate 6].

Plate 6: Nguyen Phan Chanh:
‘Going to the Rice Fields’;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p. 58


With the later revolutionary influences, Nguyen Phan Chanh, persisted in this art form, making such vivid depictions of real life as “Team of Rattan Weavers” (1960) [See plate 7] and “A Good Harvest Meal” (1960) [p. 59].

Plate 7: Nguyen Phan Chanh:
‘Going to the Rice Fields’;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p. 58


This tradition lasted long into the revolutionary period as the dates show. It also was linked to another tradition, that of wood-cuts which spawned in the revolutionary era, the revolutionary propagandist prints.

Perhaps a specialty of Vietnamese traditional arts was however lacquer painting.
As noted above, statuary and sculpture was often coated in a several layers of lacquer. This is a resin extracted from cuts on the bark of a common Vietnamese tree called ca y son (La: Rhus succedanea), which has is collected in total darkness lest it becomes itself dark (Catherine Noppe & Jean Francois Hubert ‘Art of Vietnam’; New York; 2003). When applied by the artist, it gives a special luster to the painted material – usually a wood – that acts as a vivid light. This light can be burnished with various pigments, into several different colours according to the pigment used, but the most common are golds, reds and greens. Each layer needs sanding down, before a new layer can be added, meaning considerable labour. The quality of lacquer derives from the number of coats, the manner in which the patterns can shine out and the expertise of sanding of the surface, which allows under layers to appear as a bas- relief.
An early exponent of the fusion of traditional form with more modern content was Nguyen Gia Tria (1908-1993).

His screen “In the Garden”, consists of 8 panels that show on one side a profusion of stylised banana and palm leaves. The obverse, consistent with the genre of French painting influences discussed, has a series of pretty, languid women redolent of Impressionist male fantasies. It is undoubtedly striking, but remains a purely decorative piece. Perhaps his ‘Clumps of bamboo in the countryside (1939) shows him at both his technical and content best, showing the florid jungle surrounding peasant on a boat passage [Plate 8].

Plate 8: Nguyen Gia Tria:
‘Clumps of Bamboo in the Countryside’;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p. 86

Nguyen Gia Tri

That Nguyen Gia Tria wished to be linked to a more nationalist stream is evident since he professed that he:

“wished to drop his art studies as he felt all his teachers should be Viertnamese. Tardiese persuaded him to stay”;
Noppe & Hubert Ibid; p. 208.

Artistic Currents during the anti-imperialist struggles

It was onto this background, that the experiences of the anti-colonial liberation struggle led a new generation of artists into uncharted areas. Influenced by a stream of aesthetic thought from bourgeois liberalism through to socialist realism, they were largely solidly realist. Many of the artists of the Fine Arts Academy decamped, and taught at “Jungle Schools”:

“The first wave of national opposition against the French rule between 1946 and 1954 attracted a good number of Hanoi Fine Arts graduates who went and taught at the “Jungle School” in Viet Bac. . A natural consequence of the shutdown in the wake of the Japanese crackdown on March 31 1954. Out in the jungle you could still sense the war, but you also felt the power of nature and the cultural wealth of ethnic minorities.”
Noppe & Hubert Ibid; p.212-3

Impressively stirring content was drawn from the Indochinese liberation struggles, and often was grafted onto traditional forms, primarily of lacquer.
The results are far from simple propagandist art.

Marxist-Leninist aesthetics point out that realist content material, is the most effective art to stir the masses.

Too little attention has been paid to the differences between good realist art, and simple propaganda. Marxist-Leninists have long held that the best art both moves people, but is not ‘tendentious’, in the words of Engels. Alliance has empasised the distinction between “propagandist art”, “state sponsored art”, and the best of socialist art (Memorial to Bill Bland – see Table of Contents Alliance 53).

Much of the best of the art stemming from the Vietnamese national liberation struggle is by any standard, a high art.

Clearly tensions of style remained, and a degree of abstractionism was not uncommon, with some abstract paintings throughout the revolutionary era.
But there is little doubt that the predominant weight of paintings over the period from 1945 to the 1980’s, was realist in content.

Naturally the turns of the long war led to their own effects on the artistic climate. Hence the victory of the national liberation struggle at Dien Ben Phu decisively turned mere pastiches of French impressionists into an expression of un-welcome and hostile anti-patriotism.

Sections of the intelligentsia and artists were unwilling to contemplate any further struggle, and any possible move into socialism; and became disillusioned.
As a hostile art history by Noppe and Hubert puts it, the battle of Dien Bien Phu marked a turning point:. It was here that the Vietnamese decisively defeated French imperialism, led by General Giap and Ho Chi Minh. Some artists chose Western abstractionism at this stage:

“Yet if artists (in the Jungle Academy –ed) were first and foremost observers, they were also fighters in an unequal struggle. Within a handful of years patriotic fervour gave way to disenchantment. Bui Xuan Phai was among the first who went back to the city in 1952”.
Noppe & Hubert; Ibid; p. 212.

“A radical change of situation came with the crushing defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954… From then on socialist realism became an imperative.. painters who had joined independent fighters from 1946 and depicted courageous and unpretentious freedom fighters enjoyed the full support of the rural population, suddenly found them gagged by socialist realism only a decade later. Such as Bui Xuan Phoi, Duong Bich Lien, Nguyen Sang, and Nguyen Tu Nghien”.
Noppe & Hubert Ibid; p. 113.

It is not surprising that an Art Forum was established that expressed the aspirations of national liberation, and expected its’ artists to assist in this expression.

It is equally un-surprising that the overt failure of the revolution to move to the socialist path, or the second stage of the Leninist revolution, would lead to the firm and ever stronger enthronement of capital. This was established openly by the so-called Doi-Moi reforms (See Alliance 27: On Ho Chi Minh and Vietnamese Revisionism – at

These developments led to a resurgence of abstractionism and vague, moody Vietnamese beautiful ladies in art:

“The Art forum set up headed by Thai Ba Van set the baseline for modern art.. and helped stifle artistic expression, although doi-moi reforms introduced a certain amount of leeway of 1985… All Vietnamese artists felt the burden of censorship”.
Noppe & Hubert; Ibid; p. 219.

Examples of Works in the National Liberation Struggle

To see the currents at play, we should examine the paintings over this period.

In the make-over of traditional forms, some of the lacquer work is very striking. See for example “Recalling One Afternoon in Tay Bac” 1922, by Phan Ke An (b 1923). [Plate 9] see p.103.

Beautiful sun burnished green mountains form a background to a small troop of soldiers crossing a ridge. Here both content and form are perfectly matched. The ‘everyday’ aspect of a troop of soldiers is part of the scenery.

Plate 9: Phan Ke An:
‘Recalling One Fine afternoon in Tay Bac’;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p. 103


In “Ham Rong Bridge”(1976) by Tran Oanh (b.1937) [Plate 10], workers are shown against an impressive background of the river in brilliant reds and golds.

Plate 10: Tranh Oanh
‘Ham Rong Bridge’;
Unpublished Source.


There is little doubt that the use of such heavy reds in this late painting, is an allegory for socialism. This use of the red and gold lacquer is made even more explicit in such paintings as the large and impressive 4 panels of the “The Nghe Tinh Soviet” of 1958 by six painters led by Nguyen Duc Nung [Plate 11].

Plate 11: Nguyen Dic Nung, Tran Dinh Tho, Pham Van Don, Nguyen Van Ty, Huynh Van Thuan, Nguyen Sy Ngoc:
“Soviet in the Provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh”
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p.109


Even some of the abstractionist elements during this period, are sometimes very powerful. Such as for example “From Darkness (1982) by Le Quoc Loc (1918-1987) [Plate 12] (p.102). Surrounding blocks of black and gold shapes of lacquer, depict houses in the night. In one off-centre house, placed high on the wood surface, a gold and red light brightly lights a central room. The red light is the hammer and sickle on one flag, with a second flag composed of a gold five-pointed star on a red background. In front of them are black silhouettes of men and women workers saluting the flag.

Plate 12: Le Quoc Loc
“From Darkness” ;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p.109


Another impressive lacquer painting, that takes as its content material honest working labour, is that by Nguyen Khang (1912-1988) of fishermen, entailed “Fishing in the Moonlight” (1943). (Plate 13). This has a dense black background, against which the somber, hard working fishermen drift in sampans above a sea of multi-coloured fish. Accentuating the three dimensional effect, two fisherwomen standing in the shallows have their arms half visible above and half below the surface of the water. This is especially interesting, in that traditional lacquer and Chinese derived paintings, usually deny any perspective.

Plate 13:
Nguyen Khang; “Fishing in the Moonlight”;
Cao Trong Thiem; Ibid; p. 60


This type of artistic tradition continued well into the 1980’s. Nguyen Khang (1912-1989), who we met above, in 1960 did the 3 panel painting “Troops Marching Across a Stream”, in the same impressive lacquer tradition as he had used in 1943 [Plate 14]. At an initial look, all one sees is a dense jungle with groves of bamboo and green profusions. Then one sees that the jungle truly is alive, that the Viet Cong are moving silently across it and fording a stream.

Plate 14: Nguyen Khang; “Troops Marching Across a Stream”;
Unpublished Source


It should not be thought that the materials were confined to lacquer. Oil was also very commonly used. For instance, depicting the road that Vietnam had come through, Huynh Van Gah (1922-1987) showed a harrowing line of Vietnamese refugee prisoners who are being foot-marched by French colonial guards [Plate 15].

Plate 15: Hyunh Van Gah
Unpublished Source


In contrast Nguyen Trong Kiem (1930-1991) composed a haunting allegory of the future – “When a Child was Born” (1960); [Plate 16]. This large painting depicts a newborn child in the arms of its mother, with an army father standing close. All around are the people, evidently poor, against a background of a bombed out city. The meaning is clear, that the new state will provide a new society.

Plate 16: Nguyen Trong Kiem
‘When a Child Was Born’;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p. 133


While all these examples of art vary in their degree of “tendentiousness”, little that we have illustrated can be really termed hagiographic. That is not to say that there are a considerable number of images of Ho Chi Minh. Many of these are of Ho in ordinary activities, or in the guerrilla camps, of “Uncle Ho on a Mission in Viet Bac” by Duong Bich Lien (1980) [Plate 17].

Plate 17: Duong Bich Lien;
‘Uncle Ho On a Mission in Viet Bac’;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p. 124


While these images certainly exist, the predominant feel obtained from the paintings exhibited in the Vietnam Museum of Arts is of a far broader and higher art activity than can be classified as ‘propaganda’ art or hagiographic art. Rather impressive technical and visually appealing pictures of real and ordinary people are far more predominant.

War Themes

Not even a simple overview as this, of the artistic legacy of modern Vietnam should ignore the war themes. These are in such abundance, that for instance at the War Museum Hanoi, many are not even given the honour of a label illustrating the title or the artist. A selection of these can be found relatively easily, in a publication from the British Musuem of late war drawings, in “Vietnam – Behind the Lines – Images from the War 1965-1975”; Jessica Harrison-Hall; London 2002.

This article will not discuss poster art in any detail. But an interesting historical comparison of the wood cut in Plate 3, shows again how the modern Vietnamese artist harked back to her/his heritage at a number of points. The wood cuts continue the famous Da Hong village traditions. They both depict episodes from earlier wars of national liberation, in particular those against the Chinese Han dynasty who occupied Vietnam for many years.

Plate 17: Pham Van Don; Plate 18: Hoang Tram; ‘Three Generations’; Cao Trong Thiem Ibid p.121;
Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p.98


The sheer plethora of art produced regarding the war cannot be quickly précised in a short article, and these examples from the War Museum should suffice. But three pictures from the Fine Arts Museum are worth showing with a little discussion also. So these again revert to the fine arts tradition of using lacquer, and again do so in an ingenious manner.

Le Tri Duong (1949) painted “Breaking Through a Key Point” showing a tank with its barrel aiming at the skies, bursting through a blockade onto a red road, being hailed by 4 guerillas – three women and a man. The red lacquered road and the gold lacquered background are again symbolic. [Plate 19].

Plate 19:
Le Tri Duong; “Breaking Through a Key Point
Cao Trong Thiem; p.170.


Hyunh Van Gah, who we met above, in “Heat and Gun” shows an impressive confrontation between a phalanx of black-pajama-ed women and one old man and a US marine.

Plate 20: Hyunh Van Gah; “Heart & Gun”:

Cao Trong Thiem Ibid p.123;


In ‘Fire Coordination’, (1974) Le Huy Toan (born 1930) painted in 1974, shows a bleak and frightening landscape composed of bomb craters and shrapnel cascades into the sky, while a single young girl confronts a series of tanks approaching her.

Plate 21:
Le Huy Toan; “Fire Coordination’; Cao Trong Thiem Ibid; p.136


Aftermath of Doi Moi – Faceless Women and Western Reproductions

While the national liberation struggle was victorious, it was never moved beyond that to the socialist phase. The “Chinese” wall identified by Lenin between the two revolutions – firstly the national democratic liberation, and secondly the socialist revolution – was never breached in Vietnam. That Ho Chi Minh was an inspiring and great leader of the Vietnamese peoples, is beyond doubt. However his legacy is largely that of a great national liberation ideologist.

After Ho Chi Minh’s death, and the final liberation of the South of Vietnam, the state erected in Vietnam was controlled by the Vietnamese national bourgeoisie. However within a relatively short space of time, the state was once more marked by an enormous influx of foreign capital. The policy of “Doi Moi” made this quite official. That this influx of foreign capital, was both unlimited, and not without burdens on the Vietnamese people is evident. Unsurprisingly USA capital is not very high on the score sheet, being much lower than Singaporean, Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese capital. Irrespective of which capital inflow is dominant, the net result has been the open and unequivocal development of capitalism in an acknowledged “open market” economy. The result on art has been frankly paralleled. Pictures of languid Vietnamese women, often faceless and often dressed (if not un-dressed) in the now ‘traditional’ white —, abound. Interestingly the market place is full of the heirs of the technically proficient artists of the earlier period. They are now largely reduced to selling the most elaborate reproductions of any Western artist that takes your fancy. From Dali to Picasso to Renoir to Van Goh – all are perfectly reproduced in oils and available at a fraction of what it might cost in the West, were it possible to get such.


Naturally, there are far more pressing concerns for the Vietnamese peoples than their art history.

Many still live in an astounding poverty.

Despite national liberation, life is hard for the Vietnamese peasants, numbering still about 75% of the population. Official figures for unemployment are around 7-10%. Degrees of disparity between rich and poor are growing rapidly, as even officials of the World Bank have recognised, citing growing ginni coefficients for Vietnam.

Vietnam’s art history however, is another affirmation of the Marxist aesthetic viewpoint, that art reflects the society in which it develops. We believe it also shows that the socialist realist tradition – as it was embraced by the Vietnamese liberation artists – is much deeper than simple hagiography. At its’ best, and why should an artist not strive for her or his best? – it is an affirmation of life, and a philosophic reflection upon all of life.


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.