The long history of Stalinism and the struggle against it encompasses all the problems of the international labor movement for the past thirty-three years Many articles, pamphlets and books—classics of Marxism—have been written in the course of this long struggle. It is the most important question in the world because it directly affects the struggle for socialism at every point.
It is the most terrible story in all history, for the companions of Lenin, whom Stalin murdered, were truly the advance guard of humanity. They were the noblest and the best history has yet seen. We weep for the slaughtered saints of the great revolution.
Remember, as I quote, that this is not Trotsky talking. It is Khrushchev, repeating what Trotsky said twenty years ago, before he was assassinated by an agent of Stalin.
I am reading now direct quotations from Khrushchev’s speech:
“Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation, and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion.
“Whoever opposed this concept or tried to prove his viewpoint, and the correctness of his position, was doomed to removal from the leading collective and to subsequent moral and physical annihilation.”
So says Khrushchev. Again:
“Stalin originated the concept ‘enemy of the people.’ This term automatically rendered it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man or men, engaged in a controversy, be proved; this term made possible the usage of the most cruel repression, violating all norms of revolutionary legality, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin....
“This concept ‘enemy of the people’ actually eliminated the possibility of any kind of ideological fight, or the making of one’s views known on this or that issue, even those of a practical character. In the main, and in actuality, the only proof of guilt used, against all norms of current legal science, was the ‘confession’ of the accused himself; and, as subsequent probing proved, ‘confessions’ were acquired through physical pressures against the accused.
“The formula ‘enemy of the people’ was specifically introduced for the purpose of annihilating such individuals.
“It is a fact that many persons who were later annihilated as enemies of the party and people, had worked with Lenin during his life.”
Khrushchev speaks of the purges, frame-up trials and false confessions again, as follows:
“Government and economic activists who were branded in 1937-1938 as “enemies” were actually never enemies, spies, wreckers, etc., but were always honest Communists.
“They were only so stigmatised, and often, no longer able to bear barbaric tortures, they charged themselves (at the order of the investigative judges — falsifiers) with all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes....”
And how were the false confessions obtained? Here again I quote directly from Khrushchev’s report:
“Now when the cases of some of these so-called ‘spies’ and ‘saboteurs’ were examined, it was found that all their cases were fabricated. Confessions of guilt of many, arrested and charged with enemy activity, were gained with the help of cruel and inhuman tortures.”
Khrushchev doesn’t rest with general statements. He gives a number of specific examples which you can read for yourself in the printed text of his speech.
“But they confessed, didn’t they?” We heard that over and over again when we were fighting against the Moscow trials in 1936 and 1937. Day after day the Daily Worker [Communist Party paper] boasted triumphantly: “They confessed, didn’t they? That proves they’re guilty.” And here’s what their confessions were worth, according to Khrushchev:
“How is it possible that a person confesses to crimes which he has not committed? Only in one way—because of application of physical methods of pressuring him, tortures, bringing him to a state of unconsciousness, deprivation of his judgment, taking away of his human dignity. In this manner were ‘confessions’ acquired.”
These terrifying revelations which have come out of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union raises questions which every honest communist is asking, and they’re asking them today at every meeting of the Communist Party where they have a chance.
One, how was such a monstrous regime of frame-up and murder possible in the Soviet Union, created by a workers’ revolution which was led by the most honest, the most truly democratic party in all history?
Two, who, if anybody, opposed this degeneration and spoke out against it, and what happened to them?
And three: Why weren’t we told this before?
Khrushchev’s answer to this last question, “Why weren’t we told before?” is not so much an answer as an excuse: it was dangerous to speak, he said; they were afraid for their lives. It is always dangerous to oppose a tyranny and tell the truth about it. It was dangerous for the Bolsheviks in Czarist times, but that didn’t stop them. They told the truth just the same, at the cost of imprisonment and death for many of them — and they organised an underground movement that eventually led the greatest revolution in all history.
There were people in the Soviet Union who recognised the danger of Stalin and Stalinism from the very beginning. They told the truth about it too, and they led the fight against it from the beginning, in 1923, thirty-three years ago. The organisers of the fight against Stalinism were the very same people who organised and led the October Revolution in 1917. The first one to denounce Stalin in writing and to demand his removal, was Lenin.
And the second was Trotsky. The same two men who led the great revolution, led the fight against its bureaucratic degeneration under Stalin.
On his sickbed, 25 December 1922, Lenin wrote his testament to the party. In this testament of Lenin, he said: “Comrade Stalin, having become general secretary, has concentrated an enormous power in his hands; and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution.”
While Lenin lay helpless in his last illness, Stalin was moving to consolidate his power, and Lenin became alarmed. Then on January 4, 1923, a couple of weeks later, he added a postscript to his testament. And here is what he wrote:
“Postscript: Stalin is too rude, and this fault, entirely supportable in relations among us Communists, becomes insupportable in the office of general secretary. Therefore, I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position and appoint to it another man who in all respects differs from Stalin only in superiority—namely, more patient, more loyal, more polite and more attentive to comrades, less capricious, etc.”
So wrote Lenin in his testament to the party.
Lenin, struggling with death, appealed to Trotsky at that time and offered to make a bloc with him to fight the growing bureaucratism in the party and in the state machine. Trotsky agreed. In the last months of Lenin’s life they made a bloc to fight the bureaucratic degeneration. Lenin died in January 1924, without ever having been able to return to his duties throughout the preceding year. Trotsky carried on the fight.
That’s the true explanation of how the struggle against Stalinism was started in the Soviet Union. It is all coming out now. It is all documented from the beginning, from the very beginning up to the latest events, and cannot be suppressed any longer.
It is not true, comrades, .it is not true, as Khrushchev represents, that nobody dared to speak out against Stalin. Lenin and Trotsky spoke out. The Old Bolsheviks spoke out. It was dangerous, but they conducted the struggle just the same, as was their revolutionary duty, and they paid for it with their lives. Trotsky was assassinated in 1940 because he had told the truth about Stalin, and for no other reason. And tens of thousands of the Old Bolsheviks were slaughtered in the Soviet Union because they spoke out against Stalinism, and for no other reason.
The revolutionary struggle against Stalinism has been the greatest political and ideological struggle in all history, and it has left the richest documentary record. The truth is in that literary record—in books and pamphlets and innumerable articles and mimeographed bulletins. It is a great treasury of Marxist thought, and all who want to know the truth must study it conscientiously.
The fact is that the Stalin regime, like every other, had a social basis. Stalin was the representative of the Soviet bureaucracy. Many people, including Khrushchev & Co., enjoyed rich benefits and privileges under the rule of Stalin. They grew prosperous and sleek and fat under Stalin.
The privileged beneficiaries of the Stalin regime numbered millions in the Soviet Union. It was not one man alone; there were millions tied to that regime and prospering under it.
Khrushchev’s explanation explains nothing about what really happened. The bureaucrats’ method today is the same as their method yesterday, turned upside down.
The great man theory is replaced by the devil theory. The devil is dead, but the privileged bureaucrats still live. They remain in power in the Soviet Union, and don’t you forget that. And their sole concern is to stay in power and hang on to their privileges at the expense of the working masses in the Soviet Union, who are our concern.
The bureaucracy still has all the privileges. The workers have no rights and no freedom, and anybody who says they do, lies. There is no such thing as a free worker in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev any more than there was under Stalin. That is yet to come. The workers have to get that freedom for themselves.
The uprising of the East German workers in June 1953, that was followed a month later by a general strike of the Vorkuta slave-labour camp — those tremendous actions under the guns of police-state terror, when workers took their lives in their hands to strike, gave notice of a coming revolutionary storm, just as the general-strike movement of the Russian workers in 1905 gave notice of the first revolution against the Tsar.
“Back to Lenin.” That was the slogan of the Left Opposition in the twenties and thirties. That was the slogan of the Vorkuta strike in 1953, and that’s the slogan of the Soviet workers today.
We put all our faith in this revolutionary movement of the Soviet workers and no faith whatever in the good intentions of the bureaucratic heirs of Stalin.
These bureaucrats are the privileged upper crust. They will never give up their privileges voluntarily. They have to be overthrown like every other privileged group in history had to be overthrown. Trotsky said on this subject twenty years ago, in his great book, The Revolution Betrayed, “No devil ever yet voluntarily cut off his own claws.”