Author Archives: Alfonso Casal

Stalin and the Khrushchevite Revisionist Traitor Group: Responding to Falsehood

By Comrade Joe

Originally published at:

All rights reserved to the author.

*The following article is a response to recent contributions toCommunist Review. The pieces in question are ‘The Social and Political Background to the Terror of 1937-8 in the Soviet Union’ by John Ellison, and ‘Stalin and Khrushchev’ by Andrew Northall. Both of these articles themselves were written as a response to Yuri Emelianov’s ‘Stalin’s Purges’ of 1937-8:What Really Happened?’. Although the following article is written as to be accessible to those who have not read the articles in question.

Stalin: The Great Defender of Marxism-Leninism
Stalin: The Great Defender of Marxism-Leninism

Previous editions of Communist Review had filled me with great pleasure, in no small part down to the work of Yuri Emelianov on Stalin. However, following discussion pieces dismissing Emelianov’s work have had quite the opposite effect. Both contributions by Andrew Northall (Spring 2013) and John Ellison (Autumn 2012) particularly indulge in unfettered revisionism while simultaneously disregarding modern academia.

Ellison’s piece can be put to rest quite simply. In his work he relies almost entirely on the work of the notorious propagandist Roy Medvedev whom he refers to as a “bravely independent investigator”1. Medvedev is treated as a credible and authorative source. This is despite Ellison’s own admission that the archives call for a revision of Medvedev’s account. But really they call for no revision of Medvedev, they simply discredit him. Indeed if Marxists are to adhere to the historical account of the bourgeois Medvedev then we may as well treat Hayek as an authority on economics, such is the preposterousness. That Medvedev called himself a Marxist is irrelevant. For as very Tory claims to be a patriot and a democrat their actions tell us this is nonsense. So too of Medvedev’s Marxist credentials.

But let us take Medvedev’s word for a moment. In his much quoted Let History Judge he himself lets slip that “My collaboration with the people I have mentioned was based exclusively on personal initiative and trust. I did not make use of or have access to any closed archives, special collections, or any other limited-access depositories and I am not familiar with any2.”

Here Medvedev reveals his ineptitude as a historian by basing accounts on trust. The real historian approaches subjects with scepticism, they search for bias, lies and contradictions. They would certainly note the notoriously unreliable nature of oral history and anecdotal evidence. But more than that, he openly declares that no archives were used.

He then continues that “In the nature of things there could not be a published source for much of the information in this book; it was passed on by the victims of repression or their friends or relatives3.”

Here he fatally exposes himself by further illuminating his great failing. He assumes the validity of the claims of these so-called victims. Even worse, he accepts hearsay. Not only is he accepting the word of the claimants themselves, but takes at face value the word of friends and relatives. This seems to be the academic equivalent of playing what the Americans call Telephone (in order to avoid our racist naming). Anyone who played the game as a child will be all too aware that the message almost always becomes distorted, even completely unrecognisable.

This is sham history akin to the phenomenon of creationism being put under the umbrella of science. Perhaps next we will elevate Conquest and Solzhenitsyn. Ellison says he will continue to rely on these sources “until someone justifiably casts them out as otherwise”. With that done let us turn to the case of Andrew Northall.

Every Slander Against Stalin Was False.
Every Slander Against Stalin Was False.

On ‘Stalin and Khrushchev’

In his article he compares Emelianov’s work to science-fiction. Although it is peculiar in the least to suggest that the account based on the archives is fiction, and to instead accept the anecdotal evidence of Khrushchev.

Let us be clear. The work of Emelianov uses archived recorded proof to analyse the claims of the likes of Khrushchev, Medvedev and Conquest. In order to refute their position one would have to show that either the archives are incorrect, have been misinterpreted or provide specific counters contradicting Emelianov’s analysis of Stalin and Khrushchev. This is not done.

Rather than counter Emelianov’s arguments, Northall simply reaffirms the position of Khrushchev. This is the very same position which Emelianov has shown to be a falsehood. This is not the art of argument, this is listening to an argument and immediately dismissing it as it does not reflect your own opinions. By coming to the table under the assumption that Khrushchev told the truth, he is guilty of begging the question. His first premise simply implies his conclusion. This is quite clear when he says that “something of a coup d’etat was carried out by the Stalin leadership over the Communist Party”, while basing this wholly on the word of Khrushchev’s so-called revelations4.

Such faith in the word of Khrushchev is a critical error. Again let us be clear, faith is the operative word as to take Khrushchev’s word is to surrender all reason to blind hope. If Emelianov has produced a piece of science fiction, Northall’s work reads like a religious text. For we cannot help but see his reasoning like a young earth creationist. For like the young earth myth, Khrushchev’s so-called revelations were long held accepted truth. But today science, reason and evidence have smashed this myth. Like the creationist who yells that the earth is young and created by God because the bible says so, despite all evidence to the contrary, Northall confidently tells us that Khrushchev’s account is truth simply because Khrushchev said so. This is nowhere more evident than the baseless accusation that the secret speech “clarified what many knew and understood but, until that point, had not dared to say”5. The key word here is “clarified”. We are told this despite the fact that Khrushchev contradicted all evidence rather than supplement it. Therefore, we can only assume that Khrushchev’s word is its very own verification.

Despite the wild assertions made at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, latched on to by the Medvedevs and Conquests, and capitalised upon by all anti-communist elements, modern historians bringing real clarity based on archives as opposed to the tittle-tattle peddled by career politicians at the 20th congress. Take the example of Grover Furr who excellently displays that “There is not one single example, during Stalin’s whole life of him removing someone from the collective leadership because that person disagreed with Stalin”. Moreover, “Khrushchev and the rest not only could have opposed Stalin, but did in fact oppose him”6. In one such case the right deviants opposed new tax increases on the peasantry introduced by Stalin and the party in 1952. The right elements were not executed, they were not arrested, they did not go missing. They carried on their lives as normal. Added to this is the fact that on 4 separate occasions Stalin offered his resignation. This alone disproves much of Khrushchev’s claims.

In contrast to Stalin, Khrushchev did remove opponents from the collective leadership: the so called ‘Anti-Party Group’ including the old Bolshevik Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich and Shepilov. This occurred after the Presidium had voted 7-4 in favour of replacing Khrushchev with Bulganin7. Indeed all throughout Furr’s Khrushchev Lied such a mass of contrary evidence is presented in case after case as to make every accusation made by Khrushchev at the 20th congress entirely collapse. That certain archives remain closed today also points further to Stalin’s innocence. Stalin has provided a useful crutch for Khruschev, Gorbachev to Putin, the myth created is a useful bogeyman on which to pass the blame for all their failures. While such regimes keep certain archives secret, we have to ask ourselves why. That they do not like what shall be revealed is the most sensible and plausible reason.

It is Northall’s opinion that the implementation of more Khrushchevite reform would have prevented “the ‘stagnation of the 1970s and 80s, or the eventual, consequential collapse of the 1990s“8. This is the most incredible of statements, totally detached from reality and all evidence. Firstly, we must roundly criticise the peddling of the language of the bourgeoisie. The Soviet Union did not “collapse”, it was destroyed. Collapse implies it was structurally unsound. This is entirely erroneous and bears no relation to the statistical reality of prolonged economic growth surpassing most of the capitalist bloc.

The most important factor is the complete ignorance of the fact that Khrushchev’s reforms were the ideological inspiration, foundations and precursor to Gorbachev;s reforms, the very reforms which did destroy the Soviet Union. In simplest terms Khrushchev’s thaw became glasnost, his economic decentralization, perestroika. If we want to look at what caused the destruction of the USSR we must always start with Khrushchev, as not only was Gorbachev born out of Khrushchevism but it was he who started the economic slowdown. In prescribing more Khrushchev to save the Soviet Union, we may as well prescribe cigarettes to cure lung cancer.

“In May 1957, Khrushchev abolished thirty plus central planning ministries and replaced them with over a hundred local economic councils. The result was predictable. Co-ordination of production and supplies became even more difficult than it was before, and local interests superseded national goals”9.

Khrushchev then created new layers of bureaucracy and multiplied the complexities of economic planning. This was added to superfluous grand and costly adventures like the disastrous Virgin Lands project, as well as the overall bourgeoisification of the economy. Unlike under Stalin when primacy was given to the means of production, the economy was consumerised.

“In Khrushchev‘s first year as General Secretary investment in heavy industry exceeded that in consumer goods by only 20 percent, compared to 70 percent before the war“10.

This awful decision was taken despite Stalin’s accurate warning that

“What would be the effect of ceasing to give primacy to the means of production? The effect would be to destroy the possibility of the continuous expansion of our national economy, because the national economy cannot be continuously expanded without giving primacy to the production of the means of production11.”

History has shown just how correct Stalin was, and consequently just how wrong Khrushchev was. And in his failure to catch up with and surpass the west, Khrushchev failed on his own terms. Yet under Stalin the Soviet economy experienced the fastest growth of any in history. The official figures show us that national income grew from 29,000,000,000 Rubles in 1929 to 50,000,000,000 Rubles in 193312. This of course coincides with the great depression when capitalist economies crumbled, even in global economic turmoil the soviet economy flourished under Stalin‘s guidance. If we extend the scope of analysis from 1928-1940 the results are even more impressive; with national income making a five-fold expansion.

With all of this understood, it is apparent that Northall is so wildly wrong when claiming that

“The Soviet Union of the 1950s, looking to the 1960s and anticipating the forthcoming scientific and technological revolution, had to move decisively beyond the methods of the 1930s”13.

Firstly, the Soviet Union did not move on, it regressed from socialism to capitalism. It ignored heavy industry and as a consequence, technologically lagged as warned by Stalin. Again comrade Northall inverts problem and solution. Secondly, the methods of the 1930s and 40s were the very methods of anticipating the forthcoming scientific and technological revolution as Stalin clearly understood as displayed above.

For Northall‘s conclusion, more Khrushchevite reform could have meant

“we might still have had a socialist half of the planet, robust, vibrant, democratic, innovative, attractive and compelling and a powerful magnet and source of inspiration, hope and motivation for the proletariat everywhere”14.

In the first instance, we would have no socialist half of the planet as Khrushchev reverted to market incentives and a capitalistic economy. And so attractive and compelling was Khrushchevite revisionism that communist party memberships all around Europe plummeted under his leadership. Tens of thousands walked out on the communist movement at Khrushchev’s betrayal. The Communist Party of Great Britain alone lost around 30,000 members under Khrushchev’s watch, the opposite of all observed trends under Stalin.

So inspiring was Khrushchev that his capitulation in the Cuban Missile Crisis led Che Guevara to note that the revolutionary potential in Latin America was greatly weakened15. So ready to betray the international communist for his own political gains was Khrushchev.

Such attitudes towards external revolutionary governments and people’s democracies were actually quite typical of Khruschev. Indeed when the German Democratic Republic requested aid Khruschev’s response was that “we won the war” and “don’t thrust your hands in our pockets”16. Even more damaging attitudes were expressed regarding Mao Zedong who was described in terms of his “savage vengeance and deceit”, as well as his “Asaitic cunning”17.

We all know that Lenin said “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”. So when Khrushchev talked of peaceful coexistence and non-violent revolution there ceased to be a revolutionary movement in the Soviet Union, or at least the revolutionary movement was detached and separate from the Soviet government. His theoretical aberrations produced deviant policy, such as the provision of technological assistance to Cuba’s then regional enemies of Colombia and Venezuela. Always ready and willing to betray Marxism-Leninism was Khrushchev. Where Stalin brought comradely respect to the table, Khrushchev dictated terms to the international workers movement. A man familiar with the workings of both Stalin and Khrushchev is comrade Enver Hoxha

“Is it permissible for one party to engage in subversive acts, to cause a split, to overthrow the leadership of another party or of another State? Never! The Soviet leaders accused Comrade Stalin of allegedly interfering in other parties, of imposing the views of the Bolshevik Party upon others. We can bear witness to the fact that at no time did comrade Stalin do such a thing towards us, towards the Albanian people and the Party of Labor of Albania, he always behaved as a great Marxist, as an outstanding internationalist, as a comrade, brother and sincere friend of the Albanian people. In 1945, when our people were threatened with starvation, comrade Stalin ordered the ships loaded with grain destined for the Soviet people, who also were in dire need of food at that time, and sent the grain at once to the Albanian people. Whereas, the present Soviet leaders permit themselves these ugly deeds”18.

And so democratic was Khrushchev that he acted against the Presidium in using the Stalin bogeyman to isolate the Leninist old guard of Molotov and co. This was to close the door to democracy. He launched a successful attack on Stalin’s democratising attempts to pass more power from the party to the Soviets. Following Stalin’s death, the Council of Ministers continue with his democratising agenda and vote to reduce officials bonuses and pay, in May 1953. Yet Khrushchev somehow manages to overturn this decision and in August he would be appointed First Secretary19. The nomenklatura got their man.

So far from the reality of Khrushchev’s rule is Northall’s conclusion. Northall calls for a scientific materialist outlook on Khrushchev, yet unfortunately produces conclusions abstracted from the material reality of the situation. And it is the same very scientific materialist analysis of Stalin that he is so quick to dismiss as science fiction.


1 John Ellison, Communist Review Autumn 2012, p27.
2 Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge, Columbia Press, New York, 1989, p xviii.
3 Medvedev pxx.
4 Andrew Northall, Communist Review, Spring 2013, p29.
5 Northall p29.
6 Grover Furr, Khrushchev Lied: The Evidence That Every “Revelation” of Stalin’s (and Beria’s) Crimes in Nikita Khrushchev’s Infamous “Secret Speech” to the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on February 25, 1956, is Provably False, Erythros Press and Media, LLC, 2011, p22
7 Furr, p23.
8 Northall p29.
9 Roger Keeran & Thomas Kenny, Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union, International Publishers, New York, 2004, p30.
10 Keeran & Kenny p25
11 Joseph Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1952, p28.
12 Joseph Stalin, Problems of Leninism, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954, p597.
13 Northall p29.
14 Northall p29.
15 Constantine Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev, Harvard University Press, 1997, p269
16 Pleshakov, p269.
17 Pleshakov p222.
18 Enver Hoxha, Reject the Revisionist Theses of the XX Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Anti-Marxist Stand of Khrushchev’s Group! Uphold Marxism-Leninism, 1960, at
19 Furr p194.

Compare and Contrast



“monstrous” Stalinism:

– Superpower
– Social Justice
– Industrialisation
– State for the People
– Free Medicine
– Free Education
– Free Housing
– Yearly Price Reduction
– Progress in Science
– Law and Order

“beautiful” Putinism:

– Miserable Colony
– Social Inequality
– Destruction of Factories
– State for the Oligarchs
– Paid Medicine
– Paid Education
– Housing Mortgages
– Yearly Price Increase
– Degradation of Science
– Corruption and Lawlessness

In the Spirit of Saint-Just: With Nazbols One Exchanges Not Words, But Lead.

When the Stalin Society of North America was formed, its founding members fully expected that we would be the focus of concerted attacks by reactionaries, liberals and anti-communists; but little did we expect the onslaught of outright lunatics and provocateurs that we would have to deal with.  The most recent example of the latter came in the form of an article written by one Mr. Gearoid O’ Colmain in the June 29, 2016 edition of the American Herald Tribune.

We replied to Mr. O’ Colmain’s mixture of reaction, homophobia, pseudo-science, and Nazbolism in the article Reactionary Anti-Gay Article Posing as “Marxist” Advocates “Conversion Therapy” And Attacks the Stalin Society of North America.

It now appears that Mr. O’ Colmain wishes to continue the attack:

We are done with Mr. O’ Colmain, and ordinarily, we would scrape our shoe and march on; however, he has raised a couple of points that we feel we need to bring to the attention of our friends and supporters.

  1.  In his latest hack-piece, Mr. O’ Colmain asserts that the events in Ferguson, MI in 2014 when the African-American and working class community rose up in anger and outrage over the murder of Michael Brown by a white police officer were “Soros-funded.”
  2. Mr. O’ Colmain, again in his latest piece, claims to support the legacy of Comrade Enver Hoxha and upbraids the Stalin Society of North America and others for supposedly “failing” to follow suit.  Curiously, no party, organization, or international grouping which upholds the “Hoxhaist” tradition seems to have ever heard of him.

That said, we are done.  We have said all there is to say on this matter.  For, to paraphrase the great French Revolutionary, Louis Saint-Just:

With Nazbols one exchanges not words, but lead.



Trotsky on Lenin & Leninism

Courtesy of Stalin Society of Pakistan

In “April 1913 Trotsky wrote a letter to Nikolai Chkheidze, Chairman of the Duma Menshevik fraction, in which he said:

“And what a senseless obsession is the wretched squabbling systematically provoked by the master squabbler, Lenin . . , that professional exploiter of the backwardness of the Russian, working class movement. . . The whole edifice of Leninism at the present time is built up on lies and falsifications and bears within it the poisoned seed of its own disintegration”.
(L. Trotsky: Letter to Nikolai Chkheidze, April 1913, cited in: N.Popov,:, “Outline History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union”; Volume 1; London; n.d.; p. 289).

Sixteen years later Trotsky did not challenge the authenticity of the letter:

“My letter to Chkheidze against Lenin was published during this period (i.e., l924- Ed.). This episode, dating back to April 1913, grew out of the fact that the ‘official Bolshevik newspaper then published in St. Petersburg had appropriated the title of my Viennese publication, ‘The Pravda — a Labour Paper’. This led to one of those sharp conflicts so frequent in the lives of the foreign exiles. In a letter written to Chkheidze, I gave vent to my indignation at the Bolshevik centre and at Lenin. Two or three weeks later, I would undoubtedly have subjected my letter to a strict censor’s revision; a year or two later still, it would have seemed a curiosity in my own eyes. But that letter was to have a peculiar destiny. It was intercepted on its way by the Police Department. It rested in the police archives until the October revolution, when it went to the Institute of History of the Communist Party”.
(L. Trotsky: “My Life”; New York; 1970: p. 5l4-5)


NOTE: Complete transcript of the Letter (1913) can be found in “Revolutionary Democracy” Journal, Vol.XX, No.1 (April, 2014)


Viva Stalin.



those sons of bitches

didn’t give me a chance to put on my coat

they shoved and jostled me out

one slugged me in the chest

another scumbag spit on me


they took me to a deserted street

near the railway station

in a police car van

and they told me now you can leave


I knew exactly what that meant



I should have yelled at them

but I died crying VIVA STALIN!

(Author unknown.  Chile)


More On “How many divisions does the Pope have?”


Although we have previously busted the myth that Stalin is reputed to have said “How many divisions does the Pope have?” as having been voiced by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, we have discovered an even earlier version of the same sentiment, only this time attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte:

“And how am I to treat him?  Am I to treat him as though he has 200,000 men?”

Alfred Vandal, L’avenement de Bonaparte, II, p. 470

Reactionary Anti-Gay Article Posing as “Marxist” Advocates “Conversion Therapy” And Attacks the Stalin Society of North America


An article by Gearóid Ó Colmáin in today’s American Herald Tribune


claims that homosexuality is “one of the many perversions promoted by the bourgeoisie and their (the USSR’s) petty-bourgeois opponents– a ruling class phenomenon of social rather than biological origin.”  Mr. Ó Colmáin, a “journalist and political analyst” who contributes to Russia Today, Sputnik, Al-Jazeera, and other news agencies, also attacked the Stalin Society of North America for its article Homosexuality in the USSR where we endeavor to place the  question of the Soviet Union’s views on homosexuality within a historical materialist context.

The article in question may be found here:

Mr. Ó Colmáin states

The Stalin Society of North America have done an important service to the public in defending the life and works of Joseph Stalin against the mountains of lies diffused by soviet revisionists and Sovietologists such as Robert Conquest and Timothy Snyder,but they are undermining the cause of communism in criticising soviet policy on sexuality by citing the work of the child rapist and fraud Alfred Kinsey. . . *

To suggest, as the Stalin Society of North America has done, that today all communists should support the LGBT movement is utter nonsense. Instead, communists should be promoting the work of NARTH and researching soviet methods of rehabilitating the emotional disorder referred to as homosexuality. . .

Those who are against the demonisation of Muslims should recognise that the views of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran on sexuality are correct, progressive and a strong reflection of the anti-imperialist ethos of both states. . .

No one can call himself a communist and support the reactionary LGBT movement. There will be no rainbow flags in a socialist state but the red banner of the proletariat!

The author claims that “communists should be promoting the work of NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality),” NARTH, a pseudo-scientific organization advocates “conversion therapy” to compel gays to adopt heterosexuality. This organization is linked with right-wing religious fundamentalist groups. Its website contains a list of “theological resources” against homosexuality. NARTH has been cited by The Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate-group. NARTH has been charged with racism by the National Black Justice Coalition. One of its Advisory Board members, Gerard J. M. van den Aardweg, is on record as claiming that “homosexuality is being imposed on the world by the freemasonry international.”  Gerald Schoenewolf, another member of NARTH’s Advisory Committee, writes that “Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle… . Life there was savage … and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off.”

Information on NARTH may be found here:

As for offering Syria and Iran’s position on gay rights as a model for communists to follow, it should be noted that Article 520 of the Syrian penal code prohibits having homosexual relations, i.e. “carnal relations against the order of nature”, and provides for up to 3 three-years imprisonment.  Likewise, homosexuality is criminalized by Articles 108 -140 of the Iranian criminal code.  Individuals convicted of “sodomy” in Iran may be sentenced to public flogging or death by hanging.

The Stalin Society of North America utterly and emphatically rejects such reactionary filth hiding under a mask of Marxism-Leninism.  Mr. Ó Colmáin’s views have nothing in common with the emancipatory science of Marxism-Leninism and are nothing but repulsive crypto-fascist Nazbolism.

We, in the Stalin Society of North America stand for nothing less than than total liberation and an end to all forms of oppression.

Down with reactionary and anti-working class homophobia!

Down with Nazbolism and pseudo-science!

Forwards to socialism and human liberation!


* We nowhere cite the work of “child rapist and fraud Alfred Kinsey.”  We mentioned Kinsey’s groundbreaking work in passing.



Kotkin’s Stalin: Prospects and Perils.


by Pabian Micek

All rights reserved to the author.

Those with more nuanced perspectives on the Soviet experience often have not
considered it worthy of their time to breakdown and critique the unbelievable myriad of
bourgeois media hit­jobs regarding Joseph Stalin, the “biography of a monster” has
become a veritable genre unto its own which has two historic trends: The tendency to
further and further emphasize Stalin’s personality and character to explain what
transpired, and to exponentially increase the number of alleged victims with every
account. The pseudo­psychoanalytic angle of attributing Stalin’s alleged brutality to
early childhood trauma is a compelling narrative angle, not because it is actually
particularly insightful, but because it syncs nicely with a market that demands stories of
monsters that defy all reason and hold nothing sacred, of brutality that fits into a mold
that had historically been designed only for the Nazis­­ a mold that now seems suitable
to any modernist project that proposed an alternative to liberal society.
Within these conditions, those scholars who fall outside of the increasingly
homogeneous ideological paradigm of Soviet scholarship are delighted to finally have
an English language biography of Stalin that imposes somewhat of a reality check on a
field that has bloomed into the absurdity of books like Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands,
wherein the trend of replacing scholarly merit with slander, anti­communist popular
sentiment and sensationalist marketability mushrooms. This comparison is apt as
Kotkin’s book hardly remains focused on Stalin himself, but expertly constructs its
narrative among historical and political conditions with a breadth of resources and detail
any socialist historian would envy… yet there are deep problems with Kotkin’s book that
extend beyond those we might presume of liberal scholar writing on the person who has
come to symbolize the most profound threat to liberal democracy in the 20th century.
I thought it would be prudent to run through some of the political lessons we as
Marxist­Leninists can derive from Kotkin’s book, as well as point the serious issues at
stake that many leftist commentators tend to gloss over.

The Good.

Kotkin’s book has been hailed by some on the left as it shows that “the
communists were communists, and Trotskyism is delusional.” The depth of
contemporary reaction has created a situation where even pointing to the fact that Stalin
was a Marxist at all (at least as he understood it) is a step forward, and Kotkin’s
evidence and arguments are certainly compelling in this regard. Numerous liberal
figures have attempted to posit that Stalin (and often even Lenin) were simply power
hungry individuals who took advantage of turbulent times in order to rise through the
ranks and achieve elite status. Kotkin disproves this throughout the entire book, citing
Stalin’s continual dedication to Marxism, the way he placed ideology above all even in
conditions wherein it was to his detriment, his humble style of living even upon
assuming power, in how significantly his methods departed from other dictatorships
where it is clear that a the leader figure utilized his position for personal gain, etc. In this
regard he contends with Trotskyite rhetoric that pushes the line that Stalin’s
opportunism had diverted the USSR from the “true socialist path”, and more significantly
(and unfairly) away from Marxism as practiced by Lenin.
Unlike nearly every other bourgeois biographer and historian, Kotkin understands
something of Marxist Ideology. He points to the fact that ultimately Stalin was an
internationalist, and the criticisms of “socialism in one country” miss the significant factor
that this position was only intended to safeguard the revolution while awaiting capitalist
economic fall­out (as occurred in 1929 right on schedule) and/or inter­capitalist war as a
result of imperialist rivalry (as occurred during the Second World War, resulting in the
significant expansion of Socialist countries). Kotkin goes into impressive detail about the
issues surrounding questions regarding national determination, the sharpening of class
struggle after the creation of a socialist state, the block of classes theory in the
developing world… essentially all of the relevant Marxist ideological questions
necessary for understanding the turbulent history of Bolshevism.
Kotkin paints a full and fair account of Trotsky that many Marxist­Leninists could
benefit from, showing his strength as an orator, his merits (and flaws) as commander of
the red army, his popularity among certain segments of youth and students within the
Soviet Union… and most importantly the absurdity of the idea that Trotsky had the
capacity to unify and lead the Soviet Union in Stalin’s stead­­ and furthermore that he
would have attempted to take a significantly different direction than Stalin, had he such
an opportunity. Many who have read Trotsky’s denunciation of Stalinism in The
Revolution Betrayed and presumed him to be the figure dedicated to a democratic
version of socialism would be surprised to read his writings on terror during the civil war
period which look remarkably similar to what they criticize in Stalin’s later tactics. For
instance, statements such as: “The dictatorship of the proletariat is expressed in the
abolition of private property in the means of production, not in workers control over
industry or other participatory forms of decision making.” (My emphasis) are a far cry
from the Trotsky we think we know. Trotsky’s later critiques when put in context become
clear products of his waning power within the structure of Soviet power, solidified via
numerous political defeats at party congresses throughout the years.
Kotkin also manages to thoroughly disperse the mythology surrounding Lenin’s
“final testament”, pointing not only to the trouble of its authenticity (Lenin was nearly an
invalid at the time of its alleged composition, and it was sent out missing authentication
via signature and stamp as Lenin’s other documents had been) but also to its reception,
(on the assumption it was authentic). Kotkin uses the transcripts of the congresses to
show how the document was discussed in detail and even openly published after
awhile. Stalin even attempted to follow the directives of the “testament” several times by
resigning, for which he was unanimously compelled to remain at his post… unanimously
meaning that even Trotsky voted for him to remain as general secretary. Not to mention
that Lenin had actually created the general secretary position for Stalin, who visited him
regularly during his dying days (Trotsky would not visit a single time, and would not
even attend the funeral). The “testament” has had its days in the sun, and it is perhaps
times for Trotskyites to find some more substantive criticisms.
Outside of resolving some of this inter­leftist squabbling about succession (as if
Lenin solely decided the question rather than the congress who elected Stalin by a wide
margin­­ and this before the period his opponents would claim signal his consolidation
of power) Kotkin signals that Stalin’s leadership was essential to the survival of the
nascent Soviet state: “Ultimately , the principal alternative to Stalin was the willing
abandonment or unwilling unhinging of the Bolshevik regime.” (Kotkin, 732) He
emphasizes Stalin’s remarkable political ability, commitment to Marxist ideology and
desire to create an independent socialist state at all costs. Kotkin rightfully criticizes
Stalin on some of the mistakes he did make, such as occasionally problematic
comintern policy in China and poor strategy/brutality in the Southern border states.

The Bad

Kotkin is a painfully unapologetic liberal. Most of his explicitly liberal declarations
come as proclamations near the end, he presumes his audience will take these
statements as self­evident. Some of these statements profoundly embarrassing: “To be
sure, socioeconomic class was (and remains) undeniable [what a concession!]. But the
construction of a political order on the basis of class, rather than common humanity and
individual liberty, was (and always will be) ruinous.” (Kotkin, 737) I hardly need to take
this sentence apart for anyone with even a basic understanding of how capitalism
actually functions, but suffice it to say that capitalism is undeniably a political order
based on class (which few would deny), and secondly historians should perhaps avoid
playing the fortune teller. His political points become almost parodies of libertarianism,
defending “the market” in the abstract and even stating that the kulak class could “help
to lift up others” in a kind of proto­capitalist agrarian version of trickle down economics.
This is not accidental, but endemic to Kotkin’s approach. His true reasoning for
disparaging Trotsky and showing that Stalin was a “real Marxist­Leninist” is to show that
socialism as an ideology is beyond saving regardless of who is at the helm. Where­as
many have attempted to save socialism from itself by creating alternative historical
fantasies, Kotkin soberly points to the success of the Soviet Union as the failure of
Marxist ideology. He describes Marxism as “nonsensical”, and ultimately to the
detriment of the budding Soviet government and even Stalin himself. Kotkin paints
foreign hostility to the USSR as a result of Soviet paranoia and essentially implies that
the imperialist nations would have been fine with their Soviet neighbor, had the USSR
not acted so belligerently (Kotkin, 444). This formula comes up time and time again, that
if the communists had not acted and believed in, you know, communism, they would
have been more successful at building a productive state. Kotkin is at a somewhat
paradoxical point here as he simultaneously recognizes that the Bolsheviks were
sincere in their ideological bent and in attempting to build Socialism, and yet cannot
seem to understand that the measure of “success” he is proposing as an alternative
would presume abandoning that goal. To follow Kotkin’s line of reasoning, one has to
already believe that liberalism is an eternal truth and Marxism an aberration, proving the
cliched adage that history is written by the victors. Capitalism’s global triumph is
essentially substituted as a claim for its validity, a position which capitalism’s
contemporary and historic crises significantly complicate.
Kotkin makes startling oversights that are none­the­less replete amongst
bourgeois scholars, such as drawing comparative economic statistics between late
Tsarist Russia and the early Soviet state, completely ignoring the somewhat
complicating factor that World War 1 had taken place between these two periods.
(Kotkin. 333) Ignoring the complications of the NEP period and the civil war, Kotkin
essentially suggests that economic disasters of the the 1920s were entirely the result of
Soviet policy, despite that the NEP period would perhaps be more indicative of the
problems associated with the allowance capitalism, even given its temporary and
strategic utilization.

Kotkin profoundly misinterprets and recasts various episodes of the 1920s. The
seventh chapter which compares the early Soviet government to a form of dadaism
could really use the hand of an art historian. The essential (and relatively
unsubstantiated) claim is that Bolshevism acted in a dada­esque fashion by making
ridiculous decrees like naming the unemployed Pestkowski as the new governor of the
central bank, and even describes the situation as “anarchic.” Yet within the same
chapter he points to the deliberate construction of the Bolshevik dictatorship, the fact
that the Bolsheviks efforts were plausible as they were operating within a decidedly
socialist landscape, and most significantly ignoring Bolshevism’s relationship to native
avant­garde movements such as Futurism which provide a far more substantial
template for exploring the relationship between utopian art movements and political
revolution. This relationship has been explored and substantiated in detail by numerous
scholars such as Gutkin and Clark. Kotkin’s complete lack of understanding regarding
contemporary Slavic studies is one of his biggest weakness throughout (a weakness
that I would argue is part of the insular nature of the contemporary history discipline.)
Kotkin relies on tired tropes that have unfortunately never been weeded out of historical
method, the most striking of which is the “great man” theory, but his reliance on this
stereotype is perhaps even more heinous than prejudicial.

The Ugly.

Despite considering a wide breadth of historical, ideological and economic detail
surrounding the figure of Stalin, Kotkin is unable to divorce himself from the most
profound limitation of liberal scholarship: the idea that great men with enough
determination are responsible for making history happen. Kotkin’s method is not limited
to Stalin himself, but poses Stolypin, Bismarck and Sergei Witte in the position of “what
if” Napoleons. His commitment to the idea that “alternatives to history are always
possible” is profoundly ahistorical and ideological. But Kotkin does not leave it here.

The ridiculous final coda includes what is as its essence fascist apologia, despite
the obligatory statement that “does not meant to uphold Italian fascism in any way as a
model.” (Kotkin, 725) Essentially the structure of the chapter points to the problems of
Socialism as a model, defends the market and shows how Mussolini was able to act as
an efficient dictator by following his prescribed method of allowing the “successful
people” to bring the country up. The conclusion of the book is that Stalin’s idiosyncratic
authoritarian methods allowed him to accomplish what he did not because of Marxism,
but because of his mastery of Marxist argumentation and rhetoric. Marxism is actually
shown as a detriment and almost the sole source of the degradation of Stalin’s
otherwise remarkable capabilities. “ ‘Stalin illustrates the thesis that circumstances
make the man, not the man the circumstances.’ Utterly and eternally wrong.” (Kotkin,
739) Essentially we are being given a version of realpolitik… it would be far too
generous to call it a version of right ­Hegelianism. It is is a reincarnation of “the will to
power,” the idea that history is made by a single person acting with impeccable
determination­­ an argument that starts to look more and more pro­fascist as the book
goes on.

While this has been quick and unsubstantive, I hope to have shown the danger in
promoting Kotkin’s book, despite that it might initially seem useful. Kotkin’s interview
with Slavoj Zizek has certainly placed it within the orbit of leftist considerations, and its
refreshingly complex and original qualities have made it stand out among a sea of
pathetic slander and mediocrity masquerading as scholarship. Yet Kotkin’s premise
never truly departs from the most fundamental presumptions of liberalism, and we can
expect to see the next volume on collectivization being a far more damning and
conventional portrayal. This volume seems more sympathetic primarily as it covers the
early years where­in Kotkin hints that Stalin was not yet the man he would become.
Marxist-­Leninists should of course utilize the provided resources he has compiled
(particularly regarding historic debates around Trotskyism), but should understand the
book as a slight improvement on a genre that has reached rock bottom.