An Address to the Sarat Academy in London
on 30 April 1999 by Bill Bland
I am grateful to the Sarat Academy for inviting me to speak to you on ‘Stalinism’.
However, your choice of subject presented me with some difficulty, since I am a great admirer of Stalin and the word ‘Stalinism’ was introduced by concealed opponents of Stalin – in particular by Nikita Khrushchev – in preparation for later political attacks upon him.
Today, in fact, ‘Stalinism’ has become a meaningless term of abuse employed to denote political views with which one disagrees. The Conservative press sometimes even describes Tony Blair as a ‘Stalinist’ -giving Stalin, were he still alive, ample grounds for a libel action!
Stalin always referred to himself modestly as ~a pupil of Lenin’ and shall follow his example and interpret the subject of ‘Stalinism’ as ‘Marxism-Leninism
Perhaps the nearest figure to Stalin in British history is Richard the Third, whom everybody ‘knows’ – and I put the word ‘knows’ in inverted commas – from their school history books and Shakespeare to have been a cruel, deformed monster who murdered the little princes in the Tower.
It is only comparatively recently that serious historians have begun to realise that the commonly accepted portrayal of Richard was drawn by his Tudor successors, who had seized the throne from him and killed him.
Naturally, they then proceeded to rewrite the chronicles to justify their usurpation of the throne – even altering his portraits to present him as physically deformed, as a physical as well as a moral monster. In other words, the picture of Richard which has become generally accepted today was the result not of historical truth, but of the propaganda of his political opponents.
It is, therefore, legitimate to ask: is the picture of Stalin presented to us by so-called ‘Kremlinologists’ historical fact or mere propaganda?
The ‘Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (the Soviet Union), which was constructed under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin, no longer exists. Is it therefore true to say – as many people do – that this means that socialism in the Soviet Union failed?
I intend to quote here only one set of statistics. Tn his report to the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in January 1939, Stalin cited figures from Western sources on the growth of industrial output in various countries as compared with 1913. These figures were:
Indeed, it is an undisputed fact under the centrally planned economy instituted under Stalin, Russia was transformed in a few decades from a backward agrarian country into an advanced industrial country which by 1941— 45 had become powerful enough to defeat a German aggression able to draw upon the resources of the whole of Western Europe.
It is common to hear Stalin described as a ‘dictator.”
The strongly anti-Soviet American writer Eugene Lyons once asked Stalin directly: ‘Are you a dictator?’ Lyons goes on (and I quote:)
“Stalin smiled, implying that the question was on the preposterous side.
‘No’, he said slowly, ‘I am no dictator. Those who use the word do not understand the Soviet system of government and the methods of the Communist Party. No one man or group of men can dictate. Decisions are made by the Party”.