Stalin : An appraisal of the man and his influence.
[The Bolsheviks had laid the groundwork of winning over the armed forces of the country so thoroughly that their final victory on November 7th was achieved practically by default. The October coup was “easier than lifting a feather” –to us Lenin’s own words. Not a single regiment rose to defend Russian democracy. With the former police force scattered, the Kerensky Government in Petrograd had practically no one other than the military students and the very amateurish women’s battalions to oppose the detachments of armed workmen, soldiers and sailors under the command of Bolshevik professional revolutionists. The struggle for supreme power over an empire that comprised one-sixth of the terrestrial globe was decided between amazingly small forces on both sides in the provinces as well as in the two capital cities.
[The civilized democratic West, heading into its forth year of war, refused to believe the accomplished fact. After the Bolsheviks had been in power for nearly a week, Kerensky sincerely assured the astonished world that Bolshevism “as an organized force . . . no longer exists, even in Petrograd.” The Bolshevik victory had been easier and more secure in Petrograd than in Moscow and in the provinces. The Cossacks stationed in Petrograd were “neutral” –even as General Headquarters and all the avowed reactionaries –refraining from extending aid to the Provisional Government and reserving the right to act at their own discretion, while General Krasnov was marching upon the capital with an unknown number of troops. The officials and clerks of the banks, the ministries, and practically all public administration institutions had walked out on strike. The Menshevik-led railway, telephone, telegraph and postal workers’ unions threatened to strike and tie up all communication and transportation services unless the victors agreed to a coalition government of all the socialist parties, but without the participation of Lenin and Trotsky. That threat produced a crisis more apparent than real in the leadership of the Bolshevik Party itself.]
Immediately after the insurrection, upon the insistence of the Bolshevik Right Wing –Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Lunacharsky and others – negotiations were begun with the Mensheviks and the Populists concerning a coalition government. Among the conditions, the parties overthrown by the uprising demanded a majority for themselves, and over and above that, the removal from the government of Lenin and Myself as the persons responsible for the October “adventure.” The Rightist members of the Central Committee were inclined to accept this demand. The question was considered in the Central Committee during the session of the first (the 14th) of November. This is what the protocol states: “Proposed to expel Lenin and Trotsky. This is a proposal to behead our Party, and we do not accept it.” The readiness of the Rightists to go as far as an actual surrender of power was condemned by the Central Committee as “fear of the Soviet Majority to utilize its own majority.” The Bolsheviks did not refuse to share their power with other parties, but would share it only on the basis of the proper relations of forces in the Soviets. Lenin declared that the negotiations with the petty bourgeois parties had sense only as a cover for military actions. [As far as Lenin was concerned the negotiations were not in earnest and were meant rather as a political decoy.]
My motion to terminate the negotiations with the Compromisers was passed. Stalin took no part in the debates. But he voted with the majority. In protest, the representatives of the Rightists resigned from the Central Committee and the Government. The majority of the Central Committee addressed the minority with the demand to submit unconditionally to the discipline of the Party The ultimatum was signed by ten members and candidates of the Central Committee: Lenin, myself, Stalin, Sverdlov and others. Concerning the origin of the document, one of the members of the Central Committee, Bubnov, states: “After writing it he (Lenin) invited into his office individually each of the members of the Central Committee, acquainting them with the text of the declaration and suggesting that they sign it.” The story is interesting in so far as it enables us correctly to evaluate the significance of the order of the signatures. Lenin first of all showed the ultimatum to me, having secured my signature, called out the others, beginning with Stalin. It was always thus, or almost always. Had the document not been directed against Zinoviev and Kamenev, their signatures would probably have stood before Stalin’s signature.
Pestkovsky tells how during the October days “it was necessary to select from among the Central Committee the leadership of the insurrection. Selected were Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky.” In assigning the leadership to these three, let us note in passing Stalin’s collaborator definitely buries the practical “center,” of which neither Lenin or I were members. In Pestkovsky’s testimony there is this time a kernel of truth. Not during the days of the uprising but after its victory in the important centers, yet before the establishment of any kind of stable regime, it was necessary to create a compact Party staff, that could enforce locally all the necessary decisions. As the protocol states, on the 29th of November, (12th of December) 1917, the Central Committee elected for the solution of pressing questions a bureau composed of four persons: “Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky and Sverdlov.” This foursome was given the right to decide all extraordinary affairs, but with the obligation of drawing into the decision all members of the Central Committee who were present at the time at Smolny.” Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, because of their sharp disagreement, had resigned from the Central Committee. This explains the composition of the foursome. Sverdlov, however, was absorbed by the Secretariat of the Party, spoke at meetings, settled conflict and was seldom at the Smolny. The foursome practically came down to a threesome.
[On the night of February 19th-20th, 1918, the coalition Bolshevik-Left Essar Council of the People’s Commissars] elected an executive committee [made up of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Proshyan and Karelin, which was authorized to carry on all current work in the interim between the sessions of the Council. [This executive committee of the Government was made up of the same three Bolsheviks and the two Left Essars. Nevertheless, there is no ground for imagining that these three made up] a “triumvirate.” The Central Committee met frequently and decided all the important and particularly debatable questions. The threesome was necessary for unpostponable practical decisions in connection with the course of the uprising in the provinces, Kerensky’s attempts to enter Petrograd, food supply for the capital, and the like. This threesome existed, at least nominally, only until the transfer of the government to Moscow.
Lashing out against the policy of the Bolsheviks in 1917, Iremashvili writes: “The triumvirate, filled with unappeasable vengeance, began to exterminate with inhuman cruelty everything living and dead,” and the like. In the triumvirate Iremashvili includes Lenin, myself and Stalin. It maybe said with assurance that this idea of the triumvirate arose in the mind of Iremashvili only considerably later, after Stalin had advanced to the first plane of importance. There is, however, a grain of truth –or, at any rate, a semblance of truth –in these words of Iremashvili’s. In connection with the negotiations in Brest-Litovsk, Lenin’s words, “I’ll consult Stalin and give you an answer” are cited time and time again. The point is that such a threesome did actually exist at certain moments, although not always with the participation of Stalin. Dmitrievsky likewise refers to this threesome, although in a somewhat different tone and point of reference:
Even Lenin at that period felt the need of Stalin to such as extent that when communications came from Trotsky at Brest and an immediate decision had to be made while Stalin was not in Moscow, Lenin would inform Trotsky: “I would like first to consult with Stalin before replying to your question.” And only three days later Lenin would telegraph: “Stalin has just arrived. I will consider it with him and we will at once give your our joint answer.”
The most important decisions of that period were not infrequently arrived at by Lenin in agreement with me. But in this case, when such agreement was not reached, a third person was needed. Zinoviev was in Petersburg, Kamenev was not always in Moscow. Besides, he, like other members of the Politburo and the Central Committee, devoted a considerable portion of their time to agitation. Stalin had more free time that all the other members of the Politburo from agitation, leadership of the Soviets, and the rest. That was why prior to his departure from Tsaritsyn he usually carried out the duties of the “third one.” Lenin was a stickler for form and therefore naturally did not take it upon himself to reply in his own name alone. Generally, the not infrequent remarks in recent literature to the effect that Lenin directed, ordered and the like, are inspired solely by analogy with the Stalinist regime. As a matter of fact, such a state of affairs didn’t exist at all. Directives were actually given, and moreover orders issued, only by the Politburo, and during the absence of the complete staff, by the threesome, which made up the quorum of the five members of the Bureau. When Stalin was away, Lenin would consult with Krestinsky, Secretary of the Central Committee, with the same scrupulousness, and in the archives can be found any number of recorded references to such consultations.
But at the time there was far more talk of a “duumvirate.” During the Civil War the Soviet “poet laureate” Demyan Byedny wrote verses about “our twosome.” No one then spoke of a triumvirate. At any rate any one using that term then would have selected as the third person not Stalin, but Sverdlov, who was the very popular Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, and who signed all the more important decrees. I remember speaking to him several times about the insufficient authority of certain of our directives in the provinces. On one such occasion Sverdlov remarked: “Locally, they accept only three signatures: Ilyich’s, yours and to a small extent mine.” [Sverdlov was a person of truly remarkable organizational talents and a prodigious capacity for hard work –head and shoulders above Stalin.] “No one could so unite in himself alone organizational and political work as Sverdlov as able to do,” Lenin said at the Party Congress in 1920, “and we had to try to replace his activity with the work of a collegium.”
When I arrived in Petrograd at the beginning of May, I hardly remembered Stalin’s name. I probably ran across it in the Bolshevik press, signed to articles which hardly held my attention. My first meetings were with Kamenev, Lenin, Zinoviev. With them were carried on negotiations about fusion. Neither at the sessions of the Soviets, nor of its Central Executive Committee, nor at the numerous meetings which consumed a considerable part of my time, did I meet Stalin. Upon arrival, I immediately came into close contact with all the leading figures by virtue of my work in the Central Executive Committee, but I did not notice Stalin even among the second-rate members of the Central Committee, such as Bubnov, Miliutin, Nogin and others. [After the fusion of the Inter-districters (Mezhraiontsy) with the Bolsheviks, Stalin continued to remain an obscure figure.] “In the Praesidium of the Pre-parliament,” state the protocols of the Party Central Committee, “Trotsky and Kamenev represented the Bolsheviks.” [When the time came to send leading representatives of the Party to the repeatedly deferred Constituent Assembly, which was supposed to determine in a democratic parliamentary manner the future government of Russia, Stalin was used as the spokesman of the Party Central Committee to nominate them. As the record shows, Stalin’s words were:] “Comrades, I propose as candidates to the Constituent Assembly Comrades Lenin, Zinoviev, Kollontai, Trotsky and Lunarcharsky.” These were the five persons who were put forth in the name of the entire Party. Let us recall that [according to the official historiography] only two weeks before I, together with the Mensheviks and the Essars, had presumably demanded Lenin’s appearance in court.
In the complete list of Bolshevik delegates to the Constituent Assembly headed by Lenin, Stalin’s name stands in eighth place. The twenty-five nominees were first official candidates of the Central Committee. The list was worked over by a commission under the leadership of three members of the Central Committee: Uritsky, Sokolnikov and Stalin. Lenin sharply protested against the list: there were too many doubtful intellectuals on it, too few reliable workers.
*Utterly inadmissible also was the disproportionate number of candidates from insufficiently-tested persons who had joined our party quite recently (like U. Larin). Filling the list with such candidates who should have really worked months and months in the Party, the Central Committee opens the door wide for careerism, for the seeking of places in the Constituent Assembly. It is necessary to have an extraordinary review and correction of the list . . . It is self-evident that from among the Inter-districters [Meshraiontsy] altogether little tested in proletarian work and the direction of our Party no one would contest, or example, such a candidature as that of L. D. Trotsky, for in the first place, Trotsky immediately upon arrival assumed the position of the internationalists; in the second place, he fought among the inter-districters for fusion; in the third place, during the difficult July Days he proved fully equal to the tasks and was loyal champion of the Party of the revolutionary proletariat. It is clear that this cannot be said about many of the members who joined the Party yesterday, whose name appears on the list . . .*
Of the twenty-five [Bolshevik representatives], thirteen were subsequently meted out punishment by Stalin or were condemned after death.
After the conquest of power, Stalin began to fell more sure of himself, remaining, however, a figure of the second rank. I soon noticed that Lenin was “advancing” Stalin, valuing in him his firmness, grit, stubbornness, and to a certain extent his slyness, as attributes necessary in the struggle. He did not expect of him any independent ideas, political initiative or creative imagination. Stalin proceeded slowly and cautiously; wherever possible he kept still. But the victory in Petrograd and later in Moscow convinced him. He began to accustom himself to power. “After October,” writes Alliluyev, “Stalin moved into the Smolny and settled there in two small rooms on the ground floor.” [He was a member of the first Council of People’ commissars as Commissar of Nationalities.] After the Revolution the first session of the Bolshevik Government took place in Smolny, in Lenin’s office, where an unpainted wooden partition segregated the cubbyhole of the telephone girl and the typist. Stalin and I were the first to arrive. From behind the partition we heard the thick basso of Dybenko. He was speaking by telephone with Finland, and the conversation had a rather tended character. The twenty-nine-year-old, black-bearded sailor, a jolly and self-confident giant, had recently become intimate with Alexandra Kollontai, a woman of aristocratic antecedents who know half a dozen foreign languages and was approaching here forty-sixth year. In certain circles in the Party there was undoubtedly a good deal of gossip about this. Stalin, with whom until then I had not carried on a personal conversation, came up to me with a kind of unexpected jauntiness and, pointing with his shoulder toward the partition, said, smirking: “That’s he with Kollontai, with Kollontai!” His gestures and his laughter seemed to me out of place and unendurably vulgar, especially on that occasion and in that place. I don’t remember whether I simply said nothing, turning my eyes away, or answered dryly, “That’s their affair.” But Stalin sensed that he had a mistake. His face changed, and in his yellow eyes appeared the same glint of animosity that I had noticed in Vienna. From that time on he never again attempted to engage me in conversation on personal themes.
At the end of January, 1018, as a representative of the Party, Stalin participated in a conference of representatives of several foreign Left Socialist parties. That conference, which decided to convoke the Left Internationalist Conference, came to the conclusion that “an international Socialist conference . . . should be convoked under the following conditions: firstly, that the parties and organizations agree to take the path of revolutionary struggle against ‘their own governments’ or immediate peace; and secondly, that they support the Russian October Revolution and the Soviet Government.
At the time of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, the Constituent Assembly was dissolved. The initiative was Lenin’s, who also took the lead in working out the corresponding device. During the same days was published “The Declaration of the Rights of Toilers and the Exploited Peoples.” On the text of these historical documents are corrections introduced by Bukharin and Stalin. “Most of there corrections,” states a footnote to the Works of Lenin “do not have a principled character.”
The posts that Stalin occupied during the first years after the Revolution and the sundry assignments, predominantly of an organizational and diplomatic character, which he carried out, were exceedingly varied. But such was the portion of the majority of responsible functionaries of those times. Directly or indirectly, everybody was occupied with the Civil War; routine duties were usually placed on the shoulders of the closest assistants. Stalin was listed as a member of the editorial board of the central organ, but as a matter of fact had practically nothing to do with Pravda. He carried out more systematic work, interrupted by journeys to the front, in the Commissariat of Nationalities. The Soviet state was just forming itself, and it was not easy to determine in the new fashion this inter-relationship of the various nationalities. The general guidance of this work, not to mention the initiative, was completely Lenin’s, who since time immemorial had accorded to the national question a tremendous significance, second in importance only to the agrarian question. It is evident from the diary of his secretariat how often he received all sorts of national delegations and addressed letters, inquiries and instructions with reference to one or another national group. All the more principal measures had to pass through the Politburo; the less important ones were considered by telephone with Lenin. On the Commissariat of Nationalities was imposed the technical performance of decisions already made.
Information concerning the work of this Commissariat can be found in the memoirs of Pestkovsky, published in 1922 and 1930. He was Stalin’s closest assistant during the first twenty months of the Soviet regime. An old Polish revolutionist who had been condemned to hard labor in Siberia, and a participant of the October insurrection who held the most varied positions after the victory, including among them the post of Soviet Minister to Mexico in 1924-26, Pestkovsky was for a long time in one of the oppositional groups, but managed to repent in time. The brand of recent repentance lies on the second edition of these memoirs, but it does not deprive them either of freshness or interest.
The initiative in their collaboration was taken by Pestkovsky, who knocked on various doors, seeking and not finding application for his modest talents.
*“Comrade Stalin,” said I, “are you the People’s Commissar for the affairs of the nationalities?”
“But have you a Commissariat?”
“Well then, I will make you a Commissariat.”
“All right, but what do you need for that?”
“For the present, merely a mandate.”
At this point Stalin, who hated to waste words, went to the executive offices of the Council of People’s Commissars and several minutes later returned with a mandate.
In one of the rooms of the Smolny already occupied Pestkovsky found a vacant table and placed it against the wall, pinning above it a sheet of paper with the inscription: “People’s Commissariat for the Affairs of the Nationalities.” To all this two chairs were added.
*“Comrade Stalin,” said I, “we haven’t a farthing to our name.” In those days the new government had not yet taken possession of the State bank.
“Do you need much?” asked Stalin.
“To begin with a thousand roubles will do.”
“Come in an hour.”
When I appeared an hour later Stalin ordered me to borrow three thousand roubles from Trotsky. “He has money. He has found it in the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” I went to Trotsky and gave him a formal receipt for three thousand roubles. As far as I know, the People’s Commissariat of Nationalities has not yet returned this money to Comrade Trotsky.
[Stalin was at the side of Lenin] on the 9th (22nd) of November, 1917, from two to half past four in the morning, when Vladimir Ilyich, carrying on negotiations by direct wire with Commander-in-Chief General Dukhonnin, issued orders about the immediate beginning of peace negotiations with all countries at war. After Dukhonnin’s refusal, he wrote the order for his removal and the appointment of N. V. Krylenko, as Commander-in-Chief. [Apropos of incidents such as this] Pestkovsky writes that Stalin became “Lenin’s deputy in the leadership of fighting revolutionary actions. He was in charge of watching after military operations on the Don, the Ukraine, and in other parts of Russia.” The word “deputy” does not fit here; it would be more correct to say “technical assistant.” Since observation of the course of the Civil War in the country was carried on principally through the intermediacy of direct telegraphic wire, this function too was carried on by Stalin, because he had more time from his duties than any other member of the Central Committee.
Stalin’s conversations by direct wire were essentially semi-technical, semi-political in character. He was carrying out instructions. Extremely interesting is one of his very first conversations by direct wire on the 17th (30th) of November, 1917, with the representative of the Ukrainian Rada, Porsh. The Ukrainian Rada was similar to the government of Kerensky. It was supported by the top layer of the petty bourgeoisie. No doubt it also had the support of the upper bourgeoisie and the Allies against the Bolsheviks. The Ukrainian Soviets were at the same time falling under the influence of the Bolsheviks and were in direct opposition to the Rada. A clash between the Soviets and the Rada was unavoidable, especially after the October Revolution in Petrograd and Moscow. Porsh, in the name of the Rada, asked what was the attitude of the Petrograd government toward the national question in general and the fate of the Ukraine and its internal regime in particular. Stalin answered with generalities. “The power in the Ukraine, as in other regions,” said Stalin, “should belong to the entire totality of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, including in it also the organization of the Rada. In that sphere there is a broad field of agreement between the Central Rada and the Soviet of People’s Commissars.” This was precisely the combination that the Mensheviks and Essars demanded after the October Revolution, and it was on this question that the negotiations conducted by Kamenev had broken down.
At the direct wire in Kiev, alongside the Ukrainian Minister Porsh, was the Bolshevik Sergei Bakinsky, who likewise demanded answer to questions. They controlled one another. Bakinsky represented the Soviets. He stated that the Central Rada did not deem it possible to transfer the power locally to the Soviets. Replying to Bakinsky, Stalin said that if the Central Rada should refuse to convoke a Congress of Soviets with the Bolsheviks, then “convoke it without the Rada.” Further: “The government of the Soviets must be accepted locally. This is the one revolutionary commandment we cannot repudiate, and we do not understand how the Ukrainian Central Rada can argue against an axiom.”
A quarter of an hour earlier Stalin had declared that it was possible to combine the Soviets with the democratic organizations of the Rada; now he was declaring for the government of the Soviets without any sort of combination as an axiom. How to explain this contradiction? We have no documents to hand. But the mechanics behind the conversation are quite clear. During the negotiations Stalin was sending the tape from the lower story of the Smolny to the upper story, to Lenin. Having read Stalin’s proposal about combining the Soviets with the organizations of the Rada, Lenin could not have done otherwise than to send him a severe note. Perhaps he even ran downstairs into the telegraph room in order to tell Stalin what he thought about it. Stalin did not argue, and in the second part of his conversation gave an instruction directly opposed to the one which he had given in the first part.
As a member of the Politburo, Stalin was included in the delegation from the Russian Communist Party to the Congress of the Finnish Socialist Party. But this inclusion was purely nominal in character. Stalin did not take part in the work of the Congress. “When at the end of December, 1917, the Congress of the Finnish Socialist Party took place,” writes Pestkovsky, “there arose the question as to whom the working class of Finland would follow. The Central Committee of the Bolsheviks sent to that Congress as its representative, Stalin.” Neither Lenin nor I nor Sverdlov could leave Petrograd; on the other hand, Zinoviev and Kamenev were not suitable at that period for the task of raising an insurrection in Finland. Stalin’s candidature appeared the most suitable. It was at that Congress that Stalin evidently met for the first time Tanner, with whom 22 years later he was to carry on negotiations on the eve of the Soviet0-Finnish War.
The same Pestkovsky refers to close collaboration between Lenin and Stalin. “Lenin could not get along without Stalin even for a single day. Probably for that reason our office in the Smolny was ‘under the wing’ of Lenin. In the course of the day, he would call Stalin out an endless number of times, or would appear in our office and lead him away. Most of the day Stalin spent with Lenin. What they did there, I don’t know, but on one occasion, upon entering Lenin’s office, I discovered an interesting picture. On the wall hung a large map of Russia. Before it stood two chairs. And on them stood Ilyich and Stalin, moving their fingers over the northern party, I think across Finland. At night when the commotion in the Smolny subsided a bit, Stalin would go to the direct wire and spend hours there. He carried on the longest negotiations either with our military leaders (Antonov, Pavluovsky, Muravyov, and others) or with our enemies, with the War Minister of the Ukrainian Rada, Porsh. Occasionally, when he had some pressing business and he was called out, he would send me to the wire.”
The facts here are given more or less correctly; the interpretation is one-sided. At that period, Lenin had great need of Stalin. There can be no doubt about that. Zinoviev and Kamenev had been waging a struggle against Lenin; I spent my time either at meetings or in Brest-Litovsk, principally in Brest-Litovsk; Sverdlov carried the responsibility for the entire organizational work of the Party. Stalin really had no definite duties. The Commissariat of Nationalities, especially in the beginning, took very little of his time. He, therefore, played the role of chief-of-staff or a clerk on responsible missions under Lenin. The conversations by direct wire were essentially technical, although very responsible, and Lenin could entrust them only to an experienced man who was fully informed of all the tasks and cares of Smolny.
[Even after the removal from Petrograd to Moscow, Lenin continued to abide by the axiomatic rule of not issuing personal orders. Practically three years later, when] on the 24th of September, 1920, Ordzhonikidze by direct wire from Baku asked for his permission to send a destroyer to Enzeli (Persia), Lenin wrote over the dispatch: “I’ll ask Trotsky and Krestinsky.” Actually there is a countless number of such inscriptions on telegrams, letters and reports. Lenin never decided himself, always turned to the Politburo. Two of three of its members, and sometimes no more than two, were usually in Moscow. From these hundreds of notations about asking members of the Politburo, only those have been extracted which bore the inscription to “ask Stalin,” and these interpreted to mean that Lenin did not take a step without Stalin.
[With reference to the Brest-Litovsk negotiations] Stalin’s historiographers have had a veritable holiday. ]They had genuine documents to quote in support of their myth-making, documents from the archives of the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, presided over at the time by Trotsky. Thus, in 1935, a certain Sorin wrote]:
*In a letter to Lenin from Brest, Trotsky proposed the following essentially profoundly adventuristic plan: not to sign an annexationist peace, but not to continue the war, while demobilizing the army. On the 15th (2nd) of January, in a conversation by direct wire with Trotsky, who asked for an immediate reply, Vladimir Ilyich characterized Trotsky’s plan as “disputable” and postponed the final answer until the arrival of Stalin, who at that time was not in Petrograd and whom Vladimir Ilyich wanted to consult. We quote the complete record of these conversations:
15 (2) January –the following conversations by direct wire took place between Trotsky and Lenin: Trotsky asks Lenin whether he received a letter sent to him through a Latvian soldier. Trotsky must have an immediate answer to that letter. The answer should be expressed in words of agreement or disagreement.
“Lenin at the apparatus. I have just now received your special letter. Stalin is not here, and I have not yet been able to show it to him. Your plan seems disputable to me. It is not possible to postpone taking the final decision until after a special session of the Central Executive Committee here? As soon as Stalin returns I will show the latter to him. Lenin”
“We shall try to postpone the decision as long as possible, awaiting communication from you. Please try to hurry. The Rade delegation is carrying on a flagrantly treacherous policy. The consideration of the plan in the Central Committee seems to me inconvenient, since it may evoke a reaction before the plan is carried out. Trotsky”
Reply to Trotsky: “I should like to consult first with Stalin before replying to your question. Today a delegation of the Kharvov Ukrainian Central Executive Committee, which assures me that the Kiev-Rada was breathing its last, has departed to visit you. Lenin”
When the negotiations of the 18th (5th) January reached a critical moment, L.D. Trotsky asked for a directive by direct wire and received one fate the other the following two notes:
1. “To Trotsky –Stalin has just arrived. I shall consider with him and we shall give you our joint answer. Lenin”
2. “Inform Trotsky he is requested to set a recess and come to Petrograd. Lenin. Stalin”
[The official History of the Bolshevik Party, published in 1939, goes completely overboard. It declares]:
* On the 10th of February, 1918, the peace negotiations of Brest-Litovsk were interrupted. Notwithstanding the fact that Lenin and Stalin in the name of the Central Committee of the Party insisted on signing peace, Trotsky, who was the Chairman of the Soviet delegation in Brest, treacherously violated the explicit directives of the Bolshevik Party. He declared that the Soviet Republic refused to sign peace on the basis of the conditions proposed by Germany and at the same time informed the Germans that the Soviet Republic would not carry on the war, and would continue to demobilize the army.
This was monstrous. The German imperialists could ask for no more from this traitor to the interests of the Soviet fatherland.
[Turning from page 207 to 208 of the same book, we find the following elaboration]:
* Lenin called this decision “strange and monstrous.”
At this time it was not yet clear to the Party that was the real reason for this anti-Party behavior of Trotsky and of the “Left Communists.” But as has been recently established by the trial of the Anti-Soviet “Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites” (beginning of 1938), Bukharin and the group of “Left Communists,” headed by him, jointly with Trotsky and the “Left” Essars, were already then in a secret conspiracy against the Soviet Government. Bukharin, Trotsky and their fellow-conspirators, it has developed, aimed to annul the Brest Peace Treaty, to arrest V.I. Lenin, J.V. Stalin, Ya.M. Sverdlov, kill them, and form a new government of Bukharinites, Trotskyites and the “Left” Essars.
[Now let us examine the record. Sixty-three Bolsheviks were present at the conference of January 21st (8th), 1918, of whom an absolute plurality (32) voted in favor of waging a revolutionary war. Trotsky’s position –neither war nor peace –received 16 votes; Lenin’s –peace with Imperial Germany –15 votes. The question was considered again three days later by the Party Central Committee. The protocols recording the session of January 24th (11th), 1918 read as follows]:
* Comrade Trotsky moves that the following formula be put to the vote:
“We terminate the war, we do not conclude peace, we demobilize the army.”
This is put to the vote. Ayes 9, Nayes 7.
Lenin’s proposition was put to the vote: “we drag out the signing of the peace in every way” (Ayes 12, Nayes 1). L.D. Trotsky’s “do we intend to issue a call for a revolutionary war?” (Ayes 2, Nayes 11, not voting 1); and “we stop the war, do not conclude peace, demobilize army: )Ayes 9, Nayes 7).
At that session Stalin based the necessity to sign a separate peace on this argument: “There is no revolutionary movement in the West; there are no facts: there are only potentialities, and we cannot take into account potentialities.” “Cannot take into account?” Lenin at once repudiated Stalin’s support; it is true that the revolution in the West has not yet begun’ “however, if we should change our tactics because of that, we would be traitors to international socialism.”
The following day, the 25th (12th) of January, the question of peace was considered at the joint session of the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks and the Left Social Revolutionaries [Left Essars]. By a majority of votes, it was resolved to propose for the consideration of the Congress of Soviets the formula: “Not to wage war, not to sign peace.”
What was Stalin’s attitude towards this formula? This is what Stalin declared a week after that session at which the formula was accepted by nine votes against seven:
Session of February 1 (January 19) 1918; Comrade Stalin: . . . “The way out of this difficult situation was provided us by the middle point of view –the position of Trotsky.”
Stalin’s words will become wholly comprehensible if one takes into consideration that throughout that entire critical period the preponderant majority of Party organizations and Soviets stood for revolutionary war and that consequently Lenin’s position could only be carried through by way of a party and state revolution (which of course was utterly out of the question). Thus, far from being mistaken, Stalin merely acknowledged an indisputable fact, when he said that my position was at that time the only way out of the situation for the party.
[On the 10th of February] the Soviet delegation at the Peace Conference in Brest0-Litovsk made public the official declaration of the refusal of the Soviet Government to sign the annexationist peace and of the termination of the war with the powers of the Quadruple Alliance. [Two days later there was published] the order of Supreme Commander-in-Chief, N.V. Krylenko, for the termination of military activity against the same powers and for the demobilization of the Russian Army.
[Referring to these events a year later, Lenin wrote:]
* How did it happen that not a single tendency, not a single direction, not a single organization of our party was not opposed to that demobilization?
What was the matter with us –had we completely lost our minds? Not in the least. Officers, not Bolsheviks, were saying even before October that the Army cannot fight, that it cannot be kept at the front another few weeks. After October this became self-evident to everyone who wanted to look facts in the face, who wanted to see the unpleasant bitter reality, and not hide himself or pull h is hat over his eyes and be satisfied with proud phrases. There was no army. It was impossible to hold onto it. The best that could be done was to demobilize as soon as possible.
This was the sick part of the Russian State organism that could not endure any longer the burden of war. The sooner we demobilized it, the sooner it was dissolved among parts which were not yet sick, the sooner would the country be able to get ready for its new difficult tasks. This is what we felt when unanimously, without the slightest protest, we passed the resolution, the decision which from the point of view of outward events was absurd –to demobilize the army. It was the right thing to do. We were saying that to keep the army is a frivolous illusion. The sooner we demobilize the army, the sooner will begin the convalescence of the entire social organism as a whole. That is why the revolutionary phrases, “the German cannot advance,” from which followed the second, “We cannot declare the state of war terminated; neither war nor the signing of peace,” was such a profound error, such an overestimation of events. But suppose the German advances? “No, he will be unable to advance.”
Actually the advance of the German troops lasted fourteen days, from the 18th of February to the 3rd of March. The whole of the 18th of February the Central Committee devoted to the question of how to react to the German advance that had begun.
After the breaking off of negotiations in Brest on the 10th of February and the publication by the Russian delegation of the declaration of the termination of the war and the refusal to sign peace with Germany, the “military party” –the party of extreme annexation –had finally won out. At a conference in Hamburg on the 13th of February, which took place under the chairmanship of Emperor Wilhelm, the following statement proposed by him was accepted: “Trotsky’s refusal to sign the peace treaty automatically leads to the termination of the Armistice.” On the 16th of February the German military Kommando officially informed the Soviet Government of the termination of the Armistice with the Soviet Republic, beginning at twelve noon of the 18th February, thus violating the stipulated agreement that notice of termination of the Armistice must be given seven days before the beginning of military action.
The question of how to react to the German advance was first broached at the session of the Central Committee of the Party on the evening of the 17th of February. Germany’s immediate proposal to enter into new negotiations for the signing of peace was rejected by six votes against five. On the other hand, no one voted “for revolutionary war,” while N.I. Bukharin, G.I. Lomov, and A.A Joffe “declined to vote on such a posing of the question.” By a majority of votes a resolution was passed “to postpone the renewal of peace negotiations until the advance shows itself in a sufficient degree and until its influence on the labor movement becomes evident.” With three not voting, the following decision was passed unanimously: “When the German advance is as a fact, and yet no revolutionary upsurge begins in Germany and Austria, we shall conclude peace.”
On the 18th of February, with the Germans advancing, the Central Committee of the Party was in session throughout the day, with brief interruptions (in one of the Protocols the time indicated is “in the evening,” the two others are not dated more precisely). At the first session, after speeches by Lenin and Zinoviev in favor of signing peace, and by me and N.I. Bukharin against, the motion: “to offer immediately a proposal to renew peace negotiations,” was voted down by seven to six. At the second, or evening session, after speeches by Lenin, Stalin Sverdlov and Krestinsky in favor of renewing peace negotiations, Uritsky and Bukharin against, and a speech by me proposing that we do not renew negotiations but ask the Germans for their formulated demands, the following question was put to the vote: “Shall we immediately offer the German Government a proposal to conclude a peace at once?” This proposal passed by seven votes (Lenin, Smilga, Stalin, Sverdlov, G. Sokolnikov, myself, Zinoviev) against five (Uritsky, Lomov, Bukharin, Joffe, Krestinsky), with one not voting (Stassova). Then it was decided immediately to make out a precise statement of the accepted decision and to work out the text of the communication to the German Government. Lenin’s proposal about the points of which the telegram should be composed was put to the vote. All but two abstainers voted for registering and referring to the extortionism of the peace terms; for readiness to sign the old conditions, with the indication that there was no refusal to accept worse conditions: Ayes seven; Nayes four; not voting, two. The task of working out the text itself was delegated to Lenin and me. The radiogram was then and there written by Lenin, and, with minor corrections which I made, approved at the joint session of the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks and the Left Essars, and sent over the signatures of the Council of People’s Commissars to Berlin on the 19th of February.
At the session of the Council of People’s Commissars on the 21st of February, the representatives of the Left Essars voted against utilizing the help of the Entente for counteraction the German advance. Negotiations with the Allies about military and technical help had begun soon after the October Revolution. They were carried out by Lenin and me, with General’s Lavergne and Colonel Raymond Robbins representing the Americans. On the 21st of February, in connection with the continued advance of the Germans, the French Ambassador Noulens telegraphed to me: “In your resistance to Germany you may count on the military and financial cooperation of France.” Of course, the difference between German militarism and French militarism was not for us a question of principle. It was only a question of securing the necessary neutralization of certain forces antagonistic to us in order to save the Soviet Government. [But the French Government did not keep its word.] Clemenceau proclaimed a holy war against the Bolsheviks. Then we were forced to conclude the peace of Brest-Litovsk.
The reply to the Soviet radiogram which outlined the German conditions of peace was received in Petrograd at 10.30 in the morning [of February 23rd.] By comparison with the conditions of peace presented on the 10th of February, these terms were considerably worse. Livonia and Estonia had to be cleared immediately of the Red Army, and the German police was to occupy them; Russia obligated itself to conclude peace with the bourgeois Ukrainian and Finnish governments; and the like. The question of accepting the German terms of peace was discussed [the same day], first at the session of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, then at the joint session of our Central Committee and Central Committee of the Left Essars, and finally at the Plenary Session of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee itself.
At the session of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, Lenin, Zinoviev, Sverdlov and Sokolnikov spoke in favor of accepting these conditions and signing the peace. Bukharin, Dzerzhinsky, Uritsky and Lomov spoke against it. I declared that “if we had unanimity, we could have taken upon ourselves the task of organizing our defense. We could have managed it . . . But that would require the maximum of unity. Since that was lacking, I will not take upon myself the responsibility of voting for war.” The Central Committee resolved by seven votes to four, with four not voting, immediately to accept the German proposal, prepare for a revolutionary war and (unanimously, with three not voting) carry out a poll of the Soviet electors of Petrograd and Moscow, in order to determine the attitude of the masses toward the conclusion of peace.
At the session of the Central Committee on the 23rd of February Stalin declared: “We need not sign, but we must begin peace negotiations.” To which Lenin replied. If you do not sign them, then you will sign the death sentence of the Soviet Government within three weeks.” [And the protocol further states]: “Comrade Uritsky argued against Stalin that the conditions had either to be accepted or rejected, but that it was no longer possible to carry on negotiations.”
To everyone familiar with the state of affairs at that moment –[even to an ardent Ann consistent advocate of a revolutionary war against Imperial Germany like Uritsky] it was clear that resistance was hopeless. Stalin’ statement was due entirely to the utter lack of any kind of thought-out position. As far back as the 18th of February the German [Army had taken] Dvinsk. Its advance was developing with extraordinary rapidity. The policy of holding back had been exhausted to the very dregs. [Yet] Stalin proposed [five days later], on the 23rd of February, not to sign peace, but . . . to carry on negotiations.
Stalin spoke a second time at the session of the 23rd of February, this time in defense of the necessity to sign the peace treaty. He took advantage of the occasion to correct himself likewise on the question of the international revolution, [in view of] Lenin’s [criticism of him. Said Stalin] “We, too, place out bets on the revolution, but you reckon in weeks, while we reckon in months.” This fully corresponded to the moods of those days and to the words of Sergeyev (Artem) [at the session of January 24th, 1918] that all members of the Central Committee were agreed on one thing, that without the victory of the international revolution in the nearest possible time (according to Stalin during the next few months) the Soviet Republic would perish. Thus, “Trotskyism” at that time prevailed unanimously in the Central Committee of the Party.
Essentially, Stalin did not assume any kind of independent position in the period of the Brest negotiations. He hesitated, bided his time, kept his mouth shut – and schemed. “The Old Man is still hoping for peace,” he said to me, quite probably he went to Lenin and made the same sort of remarks about me. Stalin never really came into the open. True, no one was particularly interested either in his view or his contradictions. I am sure that my main task, which was to make our attitude toward the question of peace as understandable as possible to the world proletariat, was a secondary consideration with Stalin. He was interested in “peace in one country,” just as subsequently he was to become interested merely in “socialism” in one country. During the decisive balloting he joined with Lenin. It was only several years later, in the interests of the struggle with Trotskyism, that he took the trouble to work out for himself a certain semblance of a “point of view” about the Brest events. [Compare his attitude with that of Lenin who, addressing he Seventh Congress of the Party on the 8th of March, immediately after the bitter struggle of factions, said]:
* Further I must touch upon the position of Comrade Trotsky. It is necessary to distinguish two aspects of his activity; when he began negotiations at Brest, splendidly utilizing them for agitation, all of us were in agreement with Comrade Trotsky . . . Trotsky’s tactic in so far as it aimed at procrastination, was correct. It became incorrect when the state of war was declared to be terminated while peace had not been signed. . . But since history has swept this aside, it is not worth while to recall it.
There was of course a profound difference between the policy of Lenin throughout the Brest-Litovsk crisis and the policy of Stalin, who stood closer to Zinoviev. It must be said that Zinoviev alone had the courage to demand the immediate signing of the peace, prophesying that putting off the negotiations would increase the severity of the peace conditions more truly, frightening us with it. None of us doubted that from the “patriotic” point of view it would have been more advantageous to sign the conditions immediately, but Lenin thought that the procrastination of the peace negotiations was revolutionary agitation and that the tasks of the international revolution stood above patriotic considerations – above the territorial and all other conditions of the peace treaty. To Lenin it was a question of securing a breathing spell in the struggle for the international revolution. Stalin felt that the international revolution was a “potential” with which we could not reckon. True, later he did amend these words, in order to set himself up against others, but essentially the international revolution in those days, just as considerably later, remained for him a lifeless formula which he did not know how to use in practical politics.
It was precisely at the time of this crisis that it became clear that the factors of world politics were so many unknown quantities to Stalin. He did not know anything about them, and he was not interested in them. In the German working class passionate debates were raging among the progressive layers as to why the Bolsheviks had entered into negotiations and were preparing to conclude peace. There were not a few who voiced the opinion that the Bolsheviks and the government of Hohenzollern were playing a comedy in which the cues were pre-arranged. The struggle for the revolution required that we make clear to the workers that we could not act other wise, that the enemies were walking all over us, that we were forced to sign the peace treaty. Precisely for that reason, the German advance was our best proof of the forced character of the treaty. An ultimatum from Germany would hot have been enough; an ultimatum might likewise have been part of a rehearsed play. Quite a different matter was the actual movement of German troops, the seizure of cities, of military property. We were losing tremendous wealth, but we were winning the political confidence of the working class of the whole world. Such was the sense of the disagreement.
PARTY THREE: COMMISSAR FOR NATIONALITIES
According to the text of the Constitution, a People’s Commissariat was made up of the chairman (the People’s Commissar) and of the collegium, which in turn consisted of a half dozen and sometimes even a dozen members. It was no easy task to guide a department. According to Pestkovsky, “all members of the Collegium on the National Question were in opposition to Stalin, frequently leaving their People’s Commissar in the minority. The repentant author hastens to add: “Stalin decided to re-educate us and worked at it persistently. In this he displayed a lot of gumption and wisdom.” Unfortunately Pestkovsky does not go into details on this aspect of the matter. But we do learn from him about the original manner in which Stalin would terminate conflicts with his collegium. “At times he would lose patience,” relates Pestkovsky, “but he never made it evident during the sessions. On these occasions, when in consequence of our endless discussions at conferences his patience would be exhausted, he would suddenly disappear, doing it with extraordinary skill; ‘just for moment’ he would disappear from the room and hide in one of the recesses of the Smolny, and later the Kremlin. It was impossible to find him. In the beginning, we used to wait for him. But finally we would adjourn. I would remain alone in our common office, patiently awaiting his return, but to no avail. Usually at such moments the telephone would ring; it was Vladimir Ilyich calling for Stalin. Whenever I replied that Stalin had disappeared, he would invariably tell me: ‘Find him at once.’ It was no easy task. I would go out for a long walk through the endless corridors of the Smolny and the Kremlin in search of Stalin. I would find him in the most unexpected places. A couple of times I found him in the apartment of the sailor, Comrade Vorontsov, in the kitchen, where Stalin was lying on a divan smoking a pipe and thinking over his thesis.”
Since the best forces of the Party had gone in for military or economic work, the Collegium of the Commissariat of Nationalities consisted of people of minor importance. Nevertheless they indulged in the practice of marshalling arguments to counter Stalin’s contentions and putting questions to him to which he could not find answers. He had power. But that power was utterly insufficient for compulsion; he had to convince or persuade. Stalin could not cope with that situation. The contradictions between his overbearing nature and his insufficient intellectual resources created an insufferable situation for him. He did not enjoy authority in his own department. When his patience would be exhausted he would simply hide “in the most unexpected places.” It may be doubted that he was thinking over his thesis in the kitchen of the commandant. It is more likely that he was nursing his hurt inside of himself and brooding on how good it would be it those who disagreed with him would not dare to object. But in those days it did not even enter his head that a time would come when he would merely command and all others would obey in silence.
No less colorful is Pestkovsky’s description of the search for the Commissariat’s quarters in Moscow, where the government moved the following March from Petrograd. A fierce struggle for the private houses of merchants raged between the departments. The People’s Commissariat of Nationalities had absolutely nothing in the beginning. “I brought pressure to bear on Stalin.” On whom Stalin brought pressure to bear, I don’t know. “After a while, the People’s Commissariat of Nationalities was in possession of several private houses. The Central Office and the Byelo-Russians were located on the Povarskya, the Latvians and Estonians on the Mikitskaya, the Poles on the Arbat, the Jews on Prechistenka, while the Tartars were somewhere on the Moscow River Quay. Besides that Stalin and I had offices in the Kremlin. Stalin proved to be quite dissatisfied with this situation. ‘Now it is quite impossible to keep an eye on you at all. We ought to find one large house and get eve3ryone together there.’ This idea did not desert him for a single minute. Several days later he said to me: ‘We have been given the Great Siberian Hotel, but the Supreme Council of National Economy has willfully taken possession of it. However, we shall not retreat. Tell Alliluyeva to type out the following on several pieces of paper: “These quarters occupied by the People’s Commissariat of Nationalities.” ‘And take along some thumb tacks.’”
Alliluyeva, Stalin’s future wife, was a typist in the Commissariat of Nationalities. Armed with the magic bits of paper and the thumb tacks, Stalin and his assistant went by automobile to the Zlatoustensky Lane. “It was already getting dark. The main entrance to the hotel was closed. The door was decorated by a piece of paper which read –“This dwelling occupied by the Supreme Council.’ Stalin tore it off, and we fastened our decoration in its place. ‘All we have to do now is get inside,’ Stalin said. It was no easy task. With great difficulty we found the back-door entrance. For some inexplicable reason the electricity was not working. We lighted our way with matches. On the second floor we stumbled into a long corridor. We fastened our notices on a number of doors at random. When it was time to go back, we had no more matches. Going down in pitch darkness, we landed in the basement and nearly broke our necks. At long last we did manage to make our way to the automobile.”
It takes a certain effort of imagination to visualize the figure of a member of the government under cover of darkness breaking into a building occupied by another ministry, tearing off one set of notices and posting another. It may be said with certainty that is would not have occurred to any of the other People’s Commissars or members of the Central Committee to anything like that. Here we recognize Koba of the Baku prison days. Stalin could not fail to know that the debatable question of a building would be decided in the final reckoning by the Council of People’s Commissars or in the Politburo. It would have been simpler in the very beginning to apply to one of these institutions. Apparently Stalin had reason for supposing that the contest would be decided not in his favor, and tried to confront the Council of People’s Commissars with an accomplished fact. The attempt failed; the building was assigned to the Supreme Council of National Economy, which was a more important ministry. Stalin had to hid another grudge against Lenin.
[Footnote: By 1930 Stalin’s power was no longer challengeable. But the State Cult of his personality was just then beginning to be established. Thus is to be explained the circumstances that in these memoirs, notwithstanding their general panegyric tone, one still hears a note of familiarity, and even a shade of good-natured irony is permitted. Several years later, when the purges and executions would establish the necessary sense of distance, tales of how Stalin hid in the kitchen of the commandant or took possession of a house at night, would already sound unseemly and render the document taboo. It is likely that this author paid a cruel penalty for violating etiquette. – L.T.]
The majority of the Collegium reasoned, according to Pestkovsky’s story, in this fashion: every oppression was merely one of the manifestations of class oppression. The October Revolution had destroyed the basis of class oppression. Therefore, there was no need to organize in Russia national republics and autonomous regions. Territorial division should be exclusively along economic lines, “ . . .The opposition to the Leninist policy was, strange though it may seem at first glance, especially strong among the non-Russian Bolsheviks (Letts, Ukrainians, Armenians, Jews and the like). The Bolsheviks in the borderlands that suffered oppression had been brought up in a struggle with local nationalistic parties and were inclined to reject not only the poison of chauvinism but even progressive social demands. The Collegium of the People’s Commissariat of Nationalities consisted of these Russified non-Russians, who counterposed their abstract internationalism to the real needs of development of the oppressed nationalities. Actually this policy supported the old tradition of Russification and was in itself a special danger under the conditions of civil war.”
The People’s Commissariat of Nationalities was created to organize all the formerly oppressed nations of Russia through national commissariats –such as the Armenian, the Byelo-Russian, the Jewish, the Latvian, the Mussulman (which was later renamed the Tataro-Bashkir), the Polish –and the departments of the Mountaineers of the Caucasus, the German, the Kirghiz, the Ukrainian, the Chuvash, the Estonian, the Kalmyk, the Southern Slavs, the Czechoslovaks (for serving the Czech military prisoners), the Votyak and the Komi. The Commissariat tried to organize the education of the nationalities on a Soviet basis. It published a weekly newspaper, The Life of the Nationalities, in Russian and a number of publications in various national languages. But it devoted itself chiefly to organizing national republics and regions, to find the necessary cadres or leaders from among the nationals themselves, to general guidance of the newly-organized territorial entities, as well as to caring for the national minorities which were for the first time called upon by the Revolution to lead an independent existence the Commissariat of Nationalities had an undoubted authority. It opened to them the doors leading to an independent existence within the framework of the Soviet regime. In that sphere Stalin was an irreplaceable assistant to Lenin. Stalin knew that life of the aboriginal people of the Caucasus intimately –as only a native could. That aboriginality was in his very blood. He loved the society of primitive people, found a common language with them, was not afraid they would excel him in anything, and therefore with them behaved in a democratic, friendly way. Lenin valued these attributes of Stalin’s, which were not shared by others, and in every way tried to bolster Stalin’s authority in the eyes of all sorts of national delegations. “Talk it over with Stalin. He knows that question well. He knows the conditions. Discuss the question with him.” Such recommendations were repeated by him scores and hundreds of times. On all those occasions when Stalin had serious conflicts with the national delegates, or in his own collegium, the question was referred to the Politburo, where all the decisions were invariably brought out in favor of Stalin. This should have reinforced his authority even more in the eyes of the ruling circles of the backward nationalities; in the Caucasus, on the Volga, and in Asia. The new bureaucracy of the national minorities later became a not unimportant bulwark of Stalin’s power.
On the 27th November, 1919, the Second All-Russian Congress of Mussulman Communist Organizations and Peoples of the East was held in Moscow. The Congress was opened by Stalin in the name of the Central Committee of the Party. Four persons were elected honorary members: Lenin, myself, Zinoviev and Stalin. The president of the Congress, Sultan-Galiyev, one of those who subsequently ended up badly, proposed that the Congress greet Stalin as “one of those fighters who burned with a flame of hatred for international imperialism.” Yet it is extremely characteristic of the gradation of leaders at that time that even at this Congress the report of Sultan-Galiyev on the general political revolution concludes with the greeting: Long Live the Russian Communist Party! Long Live Its Leaders, Comrades Lenin and Trotsky.” Even this Congress of the Peoples of the East which was held under Stalin’s direct leadership did not deem it necessary to include Stalin among the leaders of the Party.
Stalin was People’s Commissar of Nationalities from the moment of the Revolution until the liquidation of the Commissariat in 1923 in connection with the creation of the Soviet Union and the Council of Nationalities of the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. It may be considered firmly established that at least until May, 1919, Stalin was not very busy with the affairs of the Commissariat. At first Stalin did not write the editorials in The Life of the Nationalities, but later, when the journal began to come out in large format, Stalin’s editorials began to appear in one issue after another. But Stalin’s literary production was not great, and it decreased from year to year. In 1920-21, we find only two or three articles by him. In 1922 not even a single article. By that time Stalin had completely gone over to machine politics.
In 1922 the editorial board of the journal stated: “In the beginning of the publication of The Life of the Nationalities Comrade Stalin, the People’s Commissar for the Affairs of the Nationalities, took an active part. He wrote during that period not only editorial articles, but often made up the informational review, contributed notes to the department of Party life and the like.” Reading these contributions, we recognize the old editor of the Tiflis publications and the editor of the Petersburg Pravda of 1913.
Thus, in a number of issues he devoted his attention to the East. This was Lenin’s guiding idea. It may be followed in a number of his articles and speeches. No doubt Stalin’s interest in the East was in large measure personal in character. He was himself a native of the East. If, before representatives of the West, he, who was familiar neither with the life of the West nor with its languages, felt himself always at a loss, with representatives of the backward nations of the East, he, the Commissar who in large measure decided their fate, felt himself incomparably more confident and on firmer ground. The basic idea was Lenin’s. But with Lenin both the Eastern and Western perspectives were closely inter-related. In the foreground in 1918 were the problems of the West, not of the East; the war was coming to an end, there were upheavals in all the countries, revolutions in Germany and Austro-Hungary and elsewhere. Thus, Stalin’s article entitled “Don’t Forget the East” appeared in the issue of the 24th of November, 1018, i.e. at the very time of the Revolution in Austro-Hungary and Germany. All of us had regarded these revolutions as forerunners of the socialist revolution of Europe. At that time Stalin wrote that “without the revolutionary movement in the East, it is useless even to think about the final triumph of socialism impossible not only in Russia, but even in Europe without a revolutionary awakening of the East. This was a repetition of Lenin’s guiding idea. However, in this repetition of ideas, there was a division not only of labor, but also of interests. Stalin had absolutely nothing to say with reference to the revolutions in the West. He did not know Germany, did not know its life or its language, and other wrote about it with much greater knowledge. Stalin concentrated on the East.
On the 1st of December, 1918, Stalin wrote in The Life of the Nationalities an article entitled “The Ukraine is Being Freed.” It as the same old seminarist rhetoric. Repetition takes the place of other resources: “We do not doubt that the Ukrainian Soviet Government will be able to offer proper resistance to the new unwelcome guests, the enslavers from England and France. We do not doubt that the Ukrainian Soviet Government will be able to expose their reactionary role,” and so on ad nauseam. In an article in the same magazine on December 22nd, 1918, Stalin wrote: “With the help of the best Communist forces, the Soviet state machine (in the Ukraine) is being re-established. The members of the Central Committee of the Soviets in the Ukraine are headed by Comrade Pyatakov . . . The best Communist forces which composed the government of the Ukraine were: Pyatakov, Voroshilov, Sergeyev (Artem) Kviring, Zatonsky, Kotsubinsky.” Of these only Voroshilov remained alive and became a Marshal. Sergeyev (Artem) died in an accident; all the others were either executed outright or disappeared without a trace. Such was the fate of “the best Communist forces.”
On the 23rd February, he published an editorial entitled “Two Camps,” in which he said in part: “The world has divided itself resolutely and irrevocably into two camps –the camp of imperialism and the camp of socialism . . . The waves of the socialist revolution are growing without restraint, assailing the fortresses of imperialism . . . Their resonance resounds in the land of the oppressed peoples . . . The ground under the feet of imperialism is catching fire . . .” Notwithstanding the waves, the images are cliches and not in agreement with each other. In all of this there is the unmistakable ring of insincerity under the bathos of bureaucratic fishiness. On the 9th of March, 1919, The Life of the Nationalities published an article by Stalin entitled “After Two Years,” which expressed his conclusions: “The experience of the two years’ struggle of the proletariat has completely confirmed what Bolshevism had foreseen . . . the inevitability of the world proletarian revolution . . .” In those days the perspective of Bolshevism had not yet been reduced to socialism in a separate country. Of the same type were all the other articles, all of them utterly devoid of originality of thought or attractiveness of form. The articles were formally education in character, dry, flabby, and false.
The first Congress of the Chuvash Communists took place in April, 1920, and therefore, more than two years after the establishment of the Soviet Government. The h honorary praesidium consisted of the same four persons: Lenin, myself, Zinoviev and Stalin. Describing the opening of the congress, the journal of the People’s Commissariat of Nationalities pointed out that the walls were decorated with portraits of the leaders of the world revolution –Karl Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev. At that time there were as yet no portraits of Stalin in existence; they were not hung anywhere and it never occurred to anyone to decorate even the Hall of the Congress with one of them. Yet this occasion was wholly in Stalin’s own sphere of activity.
On the 7th of November –that is, on the third anniversary of the October Revolution – we find Stalin in Baku, where he spoke at the solemn session of the Soviets, delivering a report entitled “Three Years of the Proletarian Dictatorship.” At the Congress of the People of Daghestan on the 13th of November, Stalin proclaimed the autonomy of Daghestan, “Comrade Stalin’s speech,” as the journal of the Commissariat of Nationalities informs us, “was in many places interrupted by thunderclaps of applause, the Internationale, and ended in a stormy ovation.” On the 17th of November at the Congress of the People of the Terik Territory at Vladikavkaz, Stalin personally “proclaimed the Soviet autonomy of the Gurian people” and appeared with a report about the aforementioned autonomous Gurian Republic. Between the 18th and 21st of December, 1920 there took place the first All-Russian Conference of Representatives of Autonomous republics, territories and regions. Kaminsky transmitted to the Conference greetings in the name of Stalin, who could not be present because of illness. The motion to send greetings to Stalin was adopted unanimously. But at that Congress of the Peoples of the East the record reads: “. . . Honorary Chairmen of the Congress were elected: Comrades Lenin, Zinoviev and Trotsky . . . storms of applause . . .Honorary members of the Praesidium were elected . . . and Djugashvili-Stalin . . .” Again in the last place!
PART FOUR STALIN INVADES GEORGIA TO CREATE SOVIETS
In Vienna, under the guidance of Lenin, Stalin had written a valuable work on the national problem, but his attempt to continue this work independently in Siberia produced such a result that Lenin deemed it impossible even to publish his article. At the March conference of 1917 Stalin was developing the view that national oppression is the product of feudalism, utterly losing sight of imperialism as the main factor of national oppression in our epoch. In 1923 he was to place on the same plane with Great-Russian nationalism, which had behind it age-old traditions and the oppression of weak nations, the defensive nationalism of these latter nations. These crude errors, Stalinist errors, taken together, are explicable, as has already been pointed out, by the fact that not on a single question does he rise to a systematic conception. He utilizes disjointed propositions of Marxism as he needs them at the moment, selecting them just as shoes are selected according to size in a shoe store. That is why at each turn of events he so easily contradicts himself. Thus, even in the field of the national problem, which became his special sphere, Stalin could not rise to an integrated conception.
“Recognition of the right to secede does not mean the recommendation to secede,” he wrote in Pravda of October 10, 1920. “The secession of the borderlands would have undermined the revolutionary might of Central Russia, which stimulated the liberation movement of the West and the East. The seceded borderlands would have inevitably fallen into slavery to international imperialism. It is enough to take a look at Georgia, Armenia, Poland, Finland, etc., which have separated from Russia, and which have preserved merely the appearance of independence, while actually having become transformed into unconditional vassals of the Entente. It is sufficient to recall the recent history of the Ukraine and of Azerbajan, the former ravished by German capitalism and the latter by the Entente, in order to understand fully the counter-revolutionism of the demand for the secession of a borderland under contemporary international conditions.”
“The revolutionary wave from the north,” wrote Stalin on the first anniversary of the October Revolution, “has spread over all of Russia, pouring over one borderland after another. But at this point it met with a dam in the form of the ‘national councils’ and ‘territorial governments’ (Don, Kuban, Siberia) which had been formed even before October. Bourgeois in nature, they did not at all desire to destroy the old bourgeois world. On the contrary, they deemed it their duty to preserve and fortify it with all their strength . . . They naturally became the hearths of reaction, drawing around themselves all that was counter-revolutionary in Russia . . .But the struggle of the ‘national’ and territorial ‘governments’ (against the Soviet Center) proved to be an unequal struggle. Attacked on both sides, from the outside by the Soviet Government and on the inside by their own workers and peasants, the ‘national governments’ had to retreat after the first battle . . . Completely routed, the ‘national governments’ were obliged to turn for help against their own workers and peasants to the imperialists of the West.”
Thus began the wave of foreign intervention and the occupation of the borderlands, populated predominantly by non-Russian nationalities, which could not help hating Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel, or their imperialistic and Russifying policy. In a report Stalin made at Baku on the 8th of November, 1920, under the title, “Three Years of the Proletarian Revolution,” we find the following concluding words: “There is no doubt that our road is not one of the easiest, but there is equally no doubt that we are not afraid of difficulties . . .” Paraphrasing certain words of Luther, Russia might have said: “Here I stand on the border between the old capitalistic and the new socialistic world; here on this border I unite the efforts of the proletarians of the West with the efforts of the peasantry of the East, in order to demolish the old world. May the God of History help me in this!”
[According to Pestkovsky:
* In the strong of 1918 the Central Committee decreed to create the Tartar-Bashkir Republic. In order to work out this decision more concretely, a special conference was convoked in May at Moscow, composed of representatives of Party and Soviet organizations of the Ural Territory, representatives of the Tartar and Bashkir nationalities, and officials of the People’ Commissariat of Nationalities.
The delegates to this conference from the Ural Territory were Comrades Syromolotov and Tintul, and they brought with them a “real” Bashkir Communist, Comrade Shamigulov. All three were resolute opponents of the creation of the Tartar-Bashkir Republic, regarding it as something in the nature of a concession to Pan-Islamistic nationalism. Having received such unexpected support, we “Leftists” in the collegium of the Commissariat of Nationalities perked up in spirit and resolved on firm resistance to Stalin’s “opportunism.” In this way those who were in favor of creating a republic found themselves in a minority. The only one who resolutely supported Stalin was Nur-Vakhitov, leader of the Tartar Communists, and Ibragimov, a Left Essar and representative of the Ufa Tartars. The one Bashkir Communist, Shamigulov, expressed himself against the Republic, considering it an unnecessary concession to nationalism. Even worse was the action of another Bashkir, Manatov. At the session he voted for the republic, not wishing to “quarrel with his superiors,” but in the hall he urged us to fight resolutely against its establishment because according to him the Bashkirs did not want to be in the same republic with the Tartars.
After that Stalin convoked a session of the conference and declared that in view of the fact that the question had already been decided beforehand by the Central Committee, we must vote in favor of organizing a republic. But we did not yield, and, making a protest against the decision of the question before the convocation of the conference, we left the fraction meeting and refused to participate in the further deliberations of the council. At the same time we teased Stalin, saying that he “was left with a Left Essar.” For that we subsequently received a written reprimand from the Central Committee.
After the proclamation of the Bashkir Autonomous Republic in November, 1917, sympathy for the Soviet Government sprang up among the masses. The leadership of these Bashkir masses passed into the hands of the nationalistic elements headed by Zak-Validov who represented the interests of the bourgeois-kulak portion of the population. Gradually this group degenerated into an outpost of anti-Soviet activity and established contact with Dutov and Kolchak. However, under the pressure of the masses, after the liquidation of Bashkir autonomy by Kolchak, Zak-Validov was compelled to begin negotiations with the Soviet Government. In February, 1919, after the liquidation of Kolchak, the Bashkir government went over to the side of the Soviet Government and toward the end of the same month at Simbirsk, at the staff headquarters of the Eastern Front, the delegation of the Bashkir government signed a preliminary agreement which guaranteed autonomy to the Bashkir people on condition that it establish a government on the basis of the Soviet constitution, open common action of Bashkir detachments with the Red Army against the Whites, and the like.
In the beginning of March, 1919, Stalin commenced negotiations in Moscow with the Bashkir delegation about the formation of the Bashkir Soviet Republic. The result of these negotiations was the agreement of the Central Soviet Government with the Bashkir Government concerning Soviet Autonomous Bashkiria, concluded on the 20th of March, 1919. In the beginning of March, I was obliged to leave Moscow, having declined to participation in the Eighth Congress of the Party in view of military reverses near Ufa. Stalin calmly remained in Moscow at the Congress and until the 20th of March carried on the negotiations with the Bashkir delegation. Nevertheless, Stalin is hardly remembered in connection with the matter by contemporary historians of Bashkiria. [The two quotations below –the first by Antagulov, the second by Samoilov –are typical]:
* The struggle between the Russian and the Bashkir comrades deepened; complete anarchy began. In one place Russians were arrested in the name of the Bashkir government; in another, Bashkirs were arrested in the name of the local government. Comrade Trotsky’s journey to Ufa happened to coincide with this movement (March, 1920). The Bashkir officials again began to carry on negotiations with the Soviet Government in the person of Comrade Trotsky achieved a degree of agreement.
* Meanwhile, as a result of information received from Bashkiria, the Center accorded no little attention to the Bashkir question. In the middle of March Comrade Trotsky, who had arrived in Ufa with special powers, called us there for a conference on Bashkir affairs. To that conference from Sterlitamak, representing the Bashkirs, came Validov, Tukhvatulin, Rakhamatuvin, and Kaspransky; representing the Territorial Committee and the officials of the Center, Dudnik, Samoilov, Sergeyev (Artem), Treobrazhensky, and the Chairman of the Ufa Provisional Executive Committee, Eltsin.
During the initial years of the Soviet regime Bolshevism in the Ukraine was weak. The cause of it is to be sought in the national and social structures of the country. The cities, the population of which consisted of Great-Russians, Jews, Poles, and only to a small extent of Ukrainians, were to a considerable extent colonies in character. Among the industrial workers of the Ukraine, a considerable percentage were Great-Russians. Between the city and the village lay a yawning, almost impassable abyss. Those Ukrainian intellectuals who interested themselves in the village, the Ukrainian language and culture, met with semi-ironical treatment in the city, and that of course pushed them resentfully in the direction of chauvinism. The non-Ukrainian Socialist factions in the cities had no sense of kinship with the life of the masses in the villages. In the Ukrainian cities they represented the culture of the Great-Russians with which most of them, especially the Jewish intellectuals, were not any too well acquainted. Hence, to a considerable extent, the exotic character of Ukrainian Bolshevism, the absence of it during the period when it should have been sending down deep roots, its profound independence, and the multitudinous conflicts, quarrels and constant internal factional struggles.
It was Stalin’s duty as People’s Commissar of Nationalities to keep the development of the nationalist movement in the Ukraine under constant observation. By virtue of that alone, he was more closely connected than other with the Ukrainian Bolshevik Party. That closer connection began as far back as 1917, soon after the October Revolution, and continued for several years. In the Ukraine, Stalin represented the Russian Central Committee of the Bolsheviks. On the other hand, at certain general Party congresses he represented the Ukrainian organizations. This was customary at that time. He took part in the conferences of the Ukrainian Communist Party as one its actual leaders, and since the life of the Ukrainian organization was wasted on considerable part on constant squabbles, conflicts, factional groupings, Stalin felt in this atmosphere like a fish out of water.
His Ukrainian period was full of failures, and therefore remains completely unrevealed. [Official Stalinist histories, compelled to record failure after failure in the effort to put across the Party line in the Ukraine throughout Stalin’ tenure as People’s Commissar of Nationalities, carefully avoid mention of his name in connection with this epidemic of failures. They do not state that in the final reckoning “the errors on the peasant and national questions which had been committed in the Ukraine in the beginning of 1919, and which contributed to the fall of the Soviet Government there” were due to Stalin’s wholly inadequate defense of the policy laid down by the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party. In castigating that failure, Lenin said: “Only a very small part of the well-managed farms ought to be turned into Soviet farms, otherwise we will not get a bloc with the peasantry . . . We need a policy similar to the one we needed at the end of 1917 and during many months in 1918 . . .We must therefore now assign a large number of Soviet farms for general land distribution.”
[Appearing at the Fourth All-Ukrainian Party Conference on March 16, 1920, as the fully-empowered representative of the Central Committee, armed with the explicit resolution of that body on the Ukrainian question, Stalin was again confronted with a motley opposition, the spearhead of which were the followe3rs of Sapronov’s “Democratic Centralism” tendency, which had been routed in debate at the All-Russian Party Conference the previous December. This time all the arguments of that opposition were know beforehand, and the People’s Commissar of Nationalities set forth the rebuttals written out for him in advance by Trotsky, that task having been assigned to the latter by the Politburo. Yet he suffered defeat on the floor of the Ukrainian Conference. The Central Committee had to intervene by dissolving the Ukrainian Central Committee elected by the Fourth Conference and by recalling from the Ukraine a number of officials addicted to Great-Russian chauvinism, before it could introduce its policy, which insisted on unswerving enforcement of the principle of “the self-determination of nations.” The cardinal point of the Central Committee’s resolution adopted at the All-Russian Conference in December, 1919, declared]:
In view of the fact that Ukrainian culture . . . Has for centuries been suppressed by Tsarism and the exploiting classes of Russia, the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party makes it obligatory for all members of the Party to help in every way to get rid of all obstacles to the free development of the Ukrainian language and culture. Owing to the centuries of oppression, nationalist tendencies are to be found among the backward sections of the Ukrainian masses, and in view of this fact, it is the duty of members of the Party to treat them with the utmost forbearance and discretion, putting before them a comradely explanation of the identity of interests of the toiling masses of the Ukraine and Russia. Members of the Party . . .must actually enforce the right of the toiling masses to study in the Ukrainian language and to use it in all Soviet institutions . . . striving . . . to render the Ukrainian language a weapon for the Communist education of the toiling masses. Steps must immediately be taken to assure a sufficient number of employees in all Soviet institutions who know the Ukrainian language and to see that in the future all employees should be able to speak Ukrainian.
This should have proved an extremely easy thesis to defend. Even though as a rule Stalin was not a successful debater, considering the relation of forces, his defeat still seems surprising. It is quite possible that, having felt previously that the mood of the conference was unfavorable to his thesis, Stalin decided to play at he who loses wins, letting it be understood through intermediaries that he was defending the thesis not from his own conviction, but only from a sense of discipline. He could count in this way of killing two birds with one stone –acquire the sympathy of the Ukrainian delegates and transfer the odium of defeat to me as the author of the thesis. Such an intrigue was quite in the spirit of the man!
The Georgian Social-Democracy not only led the impoverished peasantry to little Georgia, but aspired also, and not without a measure of success, to the leadership of the movement “of the revolutionary democracy of the whole of Russia.” During the first months of the Revolution, the leading circles of the Georgian intelligentsia regarded Georgia not as a national father land but as a Gironde, a chose southern province called upon to supply leaders to the whole country. But this continued only as long as there was s till hope of harnessing the revolution within the framework of bourgeois democracy. When the danger that Bolshevism would win became definitely clear, the Georgian Social-Democracy immediately broke its ties with the Russian Compromisers and united with the reactionary elements of Georgia itself. When the Soviets won, the Georgian champions of a single indivisible Russia became equally ardent champions of separatism . . .
[The following documents of the time shed new light on the Sovietization of Georgia]:
(1) * To the Revolutionary Council of War of the Caucasian Front. For Ordzhonikidze.
Received your complaining letter. You were mistaken in regarding my inquiry, which is my duty, as lack of confidence. I hope that before a personal meeting between us, you will abandon this unbecoming tone of injury. #96 April 3, 1920. Lenin
(2) * To Baku via Rostov.
To the Member of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Caucasian Front Ordzhonikidze:
(To be delivered through responsible persons and the delivery reported toy Sklyansky of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic.)
The Central Committee orders you to remove all units from the territory of Georgia to the border and to refrain from incursion into Georgia. After negotiations with Tiflis, it is clear that peace with Georgia is not excluded.
Immediately report all the most accurate facts about the rebels.
By order of the Politburo: Lenin. Stalin #004/109 May 5, 1920.
(3) [A letter typed on stationary of the commander-and-chief of all the armed forces of the Republic dated Moscow, February 17, 1921, #864, superscribed “Secret, Personal,” addressed to the Vice-Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic. It bore two inscriptions on the margin – one by Sklyansky, forwarding it to Lenin; the other by Lenin, returning it to Sklyansky. The essence of the text was]:
* Upon the initiative of the command of the Second Army, we are confronted with the accomplished fact of incursion into Georgia: the borders of Georgia were crossed and the Red Army has already clashed with the Army of Georgia . . .
Commander-in-Chief, S. Kamenev,
Military Commissar of the Staff, [S.] Danilov.
Chief of Staff of the Revolutionary Council of War, [P.] Lebedev.
(4) Ekaterinburg, Secret
*To Moscow, To Sklyansky.
Please write me a brief memorandum on the question of military operations against Georgia, when these operations began, by whose order, and the rest. I need the memorandum for the plenum. Trotsky.
#16 February 21, 1921.
(5) * (written by Lenin; copy of a secret document)
(typed, signed by Comrade Sklyansky)
The Central Committee was inclined to permit Army II to support actively the uprising in Georgia and the occupation of Tiflis, while maintaining the international norms, and on condition that all the members of the Revolutionary War Council II, after seriously considering all the evidence, are certain of success. We warn you that we are sitting without bread, because of the transport, and therefore we will not give you a single train or a single car. We are compelled to obtain from the Caucasus only grain and oil. We demand an immediate reply by direct wire under the signature of all the members of the Revolutionary War Council II, as well as Smilga, Sytin, Trifonov, Frumkin. Until our reply to the telegrams of all these persons, do not undertake anything decisive.
By order of the Central Committee: Krestinsky. Sklyanksy.
(6) * Comrade Sklyansky, immediately in your own presence have this coded arch-carefully, after photographing the original, and send to Smilga, so that he should personally stand at the direct wire and personally decode it. (Tell the Commander-in-Chief about it without showing it to him.)
Stalin himself will send Ordzhonikidze.
And so, a threefold and manifold carefulness. Under your responsibility.
Lenin. (written in the hand of Comrade Lenin)
February 14, 1921
Menshevik Georgia could not hold out. That was clear to all of us. However, there was no certainty as to the movement and methods of sovietization. I stood for a certain preparatory period of work inside Georgia, in order to develop the uprising and later come to its aid. I felt that after the peace with Poland and the defeat of Wrangel there was no direct danger from Georgia and the denouement could be postponed. Ordzhonikidze, supported by Stalin, insisted the Red Army should immediately invade Georgia, where the uprising had presumably ripened. Lenin was inclined to side with the two Georgian members of the Central Committee. The question in the Politburo was decided on the 14th of February, 1921, when I was in the Urals.
The military intervention passed quite successfully and did not provoke any international complications, if one does not take into account the frantic campaign of the bourgeoisie and the Second International. And yet, the method of the sovietization of Georgia had tremendous significance during the next few years. In regions where the toiling masses prior to the Revolution had managed in most cases to go over to Bolshevism, they accepted subsequent difficulties and sufferings as connected with their own cause. This was not so in the more backward regions, where the sovietization was carried out by the Army. There the toiling masses considered further deprivations a result of the regime imposed form the outside. In Georgia, premature sovietization strengthened the Mensheviks for a certain period and led to the broad mass insurrection in 1924, when, according to Stalin’s own admission, Georgia had to be “replowed anew.”