The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
THE official handbooks of the Soviets do not give Stalin's family name or the date of his birth. He was born in the year 1879, and is supposed to have come from a peasant family. Between 1892 and 1898 he attended a seminary for priests at Tiflis, whence, as the official "Communist's Calendar" states, he was expelled. Thereafter Stalin's life revolved within the monotonous triangle of secret revolutionary conspiracies, banishments and flights. This was the case with many other Russians, for Russia has always been a great producer of professional revolutionists.
But Stalin's ups and downs, or rather ins and outs, were more drastic than those of the average rebel. After he had reached his nineteenth year he was sent to Siberia four times. Thrice he escaped. He was sentenced to his fourth deportation in 1913, and this time stayed in Siberia till the February Revolution. Returning to Petrograd he was advanced to the organizing committee of the Bolshevik Party. The "Calendar" makes bare mention of the fact that he fought in the field in the Civil War between 1918 and 1921. He became People's Commissar for the Control by Workers and Peasants, then People's Commissar for Nationalities, and then secretary of the party. Since 1917, he has been a member of the Politbureau. The "Calendar" says nothing of his exploit as organizer and leader of the daylight robbery on a main street in Tiflis of a money transport of the Russian Bank (the party treasury was empty after the unlucky revolution of 1905!). It says nothing of a subsequent short trip abroad -- Stalin's only contact with foreign countries. It says nothing of the activities whereby he put Lenin on the defensive during the latter's last year, closed Trotsky's mouth after Lenin's death, bested his partners, Kamenev and Zinoviev, in the all-powerful triumvirate which succeeded to Lenin's inheritance, and finally dethroned the new associates with whom he replaced them -- Rykov, Bukharin, Tomsky. Stalin must have known that this insignificant curriculum vitæ would fall under the eyes of a million or more Communists. He certainly saw it before it was published. He may even have revised it himself. Inconspicuousness is part of his policy. Stalin may be boundlessly ruthless; he is, nevertheless, shy and shrewd.
Stalin seems to have conceived his hatreds as a young man. They were strong enough to survive his many imprisonments under the Tsars. They endure to this day. One may say that they derive from an inferiority complex. Stalin is the homely, unattractive offspring of a handsome race: a bony, over-large nose; a deeply furrowed, uncommonly low but very broad forehead; small eyes under heavy lids and bushy brows; bristly upstanding hair; strongly marked cheek-bones; formidable jaws; a correspondingly strong chin; a puny, slender, apparently underfed figure, which, to judge by the way he carries himself, must in reality be wiry and muscular. Such things play their part in history. Stalin cannot derive his poise from his physical appearance. The latter, rather, must be counted among the deeper causes which make him one of those men whose whole life evolves around a struggle for self-assertion.
On one occasion, in 1928 -- it was a beautiful day in springtime -- a parade of Communist athletic organizations was to be held in the Red Square at Moscow. The square easily accommodates fifty thousand people. The exercises had been scheduled for half-past eleven, but in accord with army customs everybody was on hand by eleven. The boys began killing time with one of the sports young people in Russia most enjoy -- "girl-tossing" (a number of young men throw a girl high in the air and catch her as she comes down). All over the square one could see bright-colored shirts, skirts and bloomers sailing skyward and falling again. Stalin was to review the parade. As usual he came late. When he appeared, neither fanfares from the bands, nor a verse of the "International," nor the warnings of messengers sent hither and thither, could put an end to the "girl-tossing." In the peacolored raincoat which he wears even on sunny days, and with his cap pulled as usual far down over his face, Stalin stood on the balustrade of Lenin's tomb. Nobody noticed. Nobody was interested in him. An hour later "retreat" was sounded. The crowd quietly dispersed.
Stalin is not a man who appeals to the sympathies of crowds or stirs their imaginations. He is not an electric person. Let us be more blunt: he is frankly unattractive, and all the more so since he knows he is, and shows by his demeanor that he does not care! Even his voice, a voice as hard and brittle as glass, lacks the undertones, the rhythm, that work so powerfully upon the musicloving populace of Russia. Zinoviev dazzles a crowd, but take him in his personal contacts, and the celebrated tribunus populi is surly, repellant. Without sharing Zinoviev's advantages in his public appearances, Stalin has his disadvantages in private contacts. He is a very impressive person, but works as man to man only by giving an impression of concentrated and unbending willfulness. You feel at once that he is "dangerous."
Shortly after the bloody conquest of Turkestan, a delegation from that country appeared in the Kremlin, and a number of Soviet notables assembled to receive the visitors. The hosts were seated around the table. Stalin came in, looked about, and began dragging up chairs, that the guests also might sit down. The trait did not exactly fit in with what people knew of him. Someone asked him why he did it. He answered: "What else, except our politeness, have we Asiatics to meet you Europeans with?" A significant remark! The seminary student from the Caucasus, the man who early in life had writhed under the contempt of European Russia, now speaks through his lips with an Asiatic's pride, with a sense of belonging to those vast regions of the Orient where conceptions of life are so much simpler and, in their forms, surer, colder, clearer than in sophisticated, spiritually distracted Europe, a Europe intellectually so pretentious, so arrogant, so sentimental, so full of fine phrases which, in most cases, deceive the people who use them.
Stalin never belonged to the brilliant group which gathered in Russia from all lands after the February Revolution and to which history has ascribed the triumph of the Revolution of October 1917. They were men who had drawn on all the resources of Western civilization as they lingered safe and snug (buried in many-sided troubles, perhaps, but also in newspapers) in the cafés of Munich, Geneva, Paris and London. That was the way they sharpened their weapons for the revolution! They had, to be sure, kept in close touch with the active fighters on Russian soil, and had even returned to the homeland at one time or another, such as during the Revolution of 1905. But they had not, or at least not entirely, led dangerously exposed lives as had Stalin. He saw himself as the one to whom the "dirty work" had been left. He liked to refer to himself as the "hall sweeper" of the Revolution. And now, in the hour of victory, he was being admitted to the inner councils of the leaders grudgingly if at all. The eyes of the aroused populace stubbornly looked past him to men who had the knack of holding the immense followings who came trooping to "the Cause" that year, men who knew how to make ringing speeches, mouth big ideas, rattle off fine theories -- the Lenins and the Trotskys, the Zinovievs, the Radeks, and the Bukharins. For Stalin, all such were "Europeans," "émigrés." He had been the one, after the grievous failure of 1905, to keep the fires of revolution glimmering in Russia. In the first year of the new régime, he felt that they regarded him as necessary but did not take him at full value. In their eyes, he was still the "savage from the Caucasus," the man with more fist than brain, more nerve than intelligence -- a fanatic. All the more keenly, therefore, did he feel the slight that was never uttered. (It is not difficult to understand that a man so inured to hardship should have very few personal needs, be indifferent to material advantages and dumb to æsthetic values.)
It is evident, now, that all along he felt that his hour would come. He had at his disposal, in a way no one else could have, an immense acquaintance with the 150 million inhabitants of Old Russia. In those swarming masses he knew just which individuals were the men to realize and sustain a proletarian revolution such as he conceived in that still barbaric country. The hypnosis of crowds and the frenzy of words of the first year, then the inspired and inspiring civil crusade against the remnants of Tsardom and its allies, must some day come to an end. It would then be a question of governing people no longer hypnotized, of using ways and means for forcing the masses together independently of such ephemeral throngs. No one knew Russia as Stalin did. No one realized as he realized what it meant to set up a single class of people, the proletariat -- 3 millions of human beings in a land far from being industrialized -- as the only class entitled to live, the only class entitled to rule, and then to drag 135 millions of peasants along in the same direction. Stalin also knew, as no one else knew, where to find the people who could be used in such a project: people of his mind and of his hardness, who were willing to look at the world only from below up; people of his origins, with undying animosities against everything "bourgeois" and against the arrogance and pretentiousness of the "intellectuals" who now claimed they had "made the Revolution!" They were instinctively certain that such educated individuals would, knowingly or unknowingly, be bound by a thousand spiritual ties to bourgeois ideas and ways and would never quite grasp the realities of a Communist revolution in Russia.
During the Civil War no one surpassed Stalin in self-sacrifice. Watching a parade at Tsarskoe Selo during the winter of 1918, he noticed a soldier who seemed dissatisfied, and asked him what the matter was. The man pointed to a pair of worn-out straw shoes. Stalin ordered him to take them off, put them on himself, and wore them all that winter. Trotsky devotes a brilliant chapter in his "Memoirs" to the railroad train in which he hurried from one dangerous point to another along the front over a year's time. Stalin never attained any such position of command. He has never forgiven Trotsky for that train, nor has he forgiven him for the wild enthusiasms he aroused in the Russian throngs by his speeches in Petrograd in the summer of 1917, calling for revolutionary action. It is characteristic of Stalin that he spent most of the period of the Civil War in the provinces, establishing himself with a few friends on the lower Volga, where they did very much as they pleased and were finally coaxed out by the people in the Kremlin -- but only with the greatest difficulty -- Trotsky acting as intermediary.
Stalin's special significance, which the other leaders could never refuse to recognize, lay, even during the first years, in his close contacts with the second, third, fourth and lowest ranks in the Bolshevik Party. While momentous political issues were being talked out in Moscow, the cohesion of the party rested largely on its "power on the spot," as the phrase went; in other words, on autonomous domination by the party's local representatives in each of the cities, large or small, of the vast territory of Russia. (Such, for that matter, is the situation today.) On the filling of these different posts, as well as on the ideas and conduct of the men who held them, Stalin came to have an enormous influence, even in Lenin's lifetime, as secretary of the party. He was by no means the only one who gave orders; but he did manage to organize among the local party chiefs a "guard" of " tough customers" whose ruthlessness in the exercise of their power could be taken for granted. They were not the people whom Trotsky, Lenin and Zinoviev were inclined to favor. They were men like Stalin -- "non-intellectuals," "non-Europeans."
Some four months before his death, Lenin broke with Stalin. It is established that thereafter Lenin refused to have any further personal contacts with him, and stuck to that decision to the end. The idol of the Revolution was lying sick in a luxurious manor-house near Moscow. The letters he wrote to Trotsky and to the Central Committee of the party in regard to Stalin's rôle in party politics betray the utmost irritation at what the Caucasian had been doing. Lenin's intermediary, in the fight he made from his deathbed, was Trotsky.
No one, of course, can claim to have fully uncovered the secrets of Lenin's relations to Stalin. That Lenin feared for the party, for the state, for his whole achievement, there is not the slightest doubt. Max Eastman has reported a few characteristic details of the struggle Lenin had to wage against the "Moscow clique" in the party in order, for example, that his article on the fusion of the Soviet Control by Workers and Peasants with the powerful Central Committee might be even published. At that time Lenin refers to the existence of a "bureaucracy within the party" and expresses a determination that it shall not become all-powerful; this was one of the causes of the proposal of fusion. He was unmistakably alluding to Stalin.
Undoubtedly this was the ignition point of all the later conflict with Trotsky. By the phrase "party bureaucracy" Lenin meant to convey, with caution as to possible effects on the public and on the party at large, that a "ring" of party officials was forming within the party, that it had worked upward from deep down, that it was already making its influence felt in the Central Committee, in the Secretariat, in the Politbureau -- and "on the spot" held the party agents and committees in the hollow of its hand. The ring in question seemed to Lenin and his intimates likely to eclipse the spontaneous coöperation of the whole party in the realization of Bolshevik ideals. And this, in the eyes of Lenin, was actually being done in an underhanded manner quite incompatible with Communist comradeship. It is an utterly unhistorical idea that Lenin ever ruled over his party with fatherly omnipotence. From the beginning to the very end he was called upon to fight vigorous battles on many subjects, battles in which blows were struck straight from the shoulder. Many a time Lenin knocked his opponents "cold;" but he seldom dropped them.
With Stalin he acted differently.
What worried Lenin in Stalin's case was the latter's secret, slinking, anonymous expansion of his personal power in the party and his preference for the backstairs to more conspicuous routes. The tactics which Stalin was later to use with such success against Trotsky, first to silence him and then to reduce him to complete helplessness, he used against Lenin, the moment the latter fell sick. This enraged Lenin. It is an interesting fact that Kubischev (the present chairman of the Supreme Economic Council), already Stalin's man at any decisive moment, was in a position to suggest that the article by Lenin which was in dispute should be laid before him in a single copy of the Pravda to be printed for his personal benefit! This sort of person from Stalin's following was already in evidence in the high councils of the party. It is an unanswerable, though far from idle question whether Stalin might not have succeeded in unseating Lenin, if Lenin had remained in the fulness of his powers. It must be recognized as at least possible. The tactics which enabled him to triumph over all rivals he was already turning against Lenin with success, in spite of the latter's immense popularity. Nobody, nothing, has so far been able to resist him -- no prestige, no merit, no reputation.
When Lenin died, Trotsky's fate, as we may easily see after the fact, was already sealed. Trotsky was the most significant, the most influential, among the men whom the world at large regarded as masters at the Kremlin. Nothing better illustrates the antithesis between the two groups than the opposition which soon after Lenin's death (as Eastman relates) Trotsky set up to an order of Stalin's that all members of the party should be in duty bound to report all "intrigues directed against the party" which appeared in their groups or classifications. The order was in effect a death blow to the free play of opinion, indeed to any exchange of opinions, on the part of individuals within the party -- a death blow to the spontaneous development of policies within party ranks. It was also a death blow to Trotsky's personal position, which, like Lenin's, had rested on his personal popularity and on the confidence which not only the party but widely scattered elements in the population, even a part of the bourgeoisie, reposed in him. Trotsky adopted Lenin's phrase "party bureaucracy" and balanced it with one of his own, "party democracy." The latter too, in Stalin's eyes, was just another "European" and "liberal" idea. It connoted belief in a free consensus omnium arising from a competition of opinions.
His answer was to consolidate the rigid system of party officials he had long been quietly perfecting, a system resting on the local agents who wielded power "on the spot," but with its peak entering the party secretariat. The latter was composed of five secretaries; one of them was Lenin (the leader until his death), another was Stalin. Stalin now made himself General Secretary (a title not existing until he brought it into use), with complete control over the routine of organization. Was he not the best-informed on all local questions, all questions of personnel? He spun his threads. The belief that the cohesion and strength of the party was guaranteed by common convictions lay very far from his mind. Everything he had ever done bespoke contempt for any such thing. He used men who had an active understanding of absolute power and possessed the means of using force with which alone, as he knew, absolute power may be sustained in a hostile and not very responsive environment. He used these means no less readily against followers of his own, bearing heavily upon any form of resistance, even verbal; but leaving officials far-reaching freedom of action in all matters (especially personal matters) which did not seem directly to concern the interests of the Bolshevik régime.
People on the outside long regarded the fight on Trotsky as the work of the "triumvirate:" Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin. Kamenev was Trotsky's brother-in-law. He and Zinoviev had been close comrades of Lenin. That distracted attention from the fact that Stalin was pulling the wires. But how was it possible that the Central Committee of the party, which with the Council of People's Commissars had been in Lenin's time the decisive factor in guiding the party, could in any sense share or tolerate a baiting of Trotsky which -- another impossibility -- had been carried on for years within the very innermost circle of the party? Lenin's "Testament" -- that great document in which carefully, judiciously, and with great self-control he reviews the capacities of his associates -- contains two scathing words on Stalin: "Stalin is crude and narrow-minded." (Both words are there, not just "narrow-minded" as more often quoted.) Lenin said very positively that through these outstanding traits of character Stalin would ruin the party if ever he attained to leadership. In the past six years, by utilizing the very qualities for which Lenin coined his adjectives, Stalin has ascended to greater and greater power, and with him, if you like, the party. History has yet to judge whether Lenin was right.
In the Central Committee of the party Stalin found plenty of people available for the purposes of his tactics, people who had risen from the dark depths of revolutionary activity and whose intellectual horizons were as different from those of the "Europeans" as his own. He had worked tirelessly among them ever since 1917, while the "Europeans" held the spotlight. He worked with astounding shrewdness and foresight, with a keen instinct for the tempo at which his aims could mature. There was a group of "old Bolsheviks" (a discovery, it would seem, of Stalin himself), made up mostly of revolutionists who had passed their lives in agitation at home, and not in ease abroad. They were loyal to the Lenin group for the most part, but they were far removed, in the whole circle of their experience, from the sophisticated, cultivated intellectuals at the head of the government and were always full of honest anxiety lest the Revolution "go bourgeois." Their personal connections, like Stalin's, led toward the country, where Stalin had -- and has -- his "guard." The heirs of Lenin knew that they had to reckon with these gruff and bluff forces; but they thought they could easily do so, relying on the magic they had always used. But Stalin had come to the top precisely because he understood the organization of power from the bottom up better than anybody else.
"Old Bolsheviks," men of 1905 and earlier, had found their way into the Central Committee in great numbers. Stalin influenced them directly and indirectly. He played them against the lower orders of the active party membership, and the latter, to a much greater extent, against them. This net, woven strand by strand, artfully, with tireless energy, with brutal threats against the wavering and with well-calculated thrusts at Trotsky and Trotsky's followers, was the "party democracy" which Stalin aimed at. While he was quietly making these manœuvres, he was hacking in a thousand different ways at the tender roots of the "European." Fickle, jealous, and ambitious Kamenev and Zinoviev, whose nerves were not made of iron, he turned with great subtlety against Trotsky and toward himself. He reminded them that the European varnish on the party was very thin -- that they had to look out for their own hides.
Meantime public opinion was worked as vigorously as possible. A short time after Lenin's letter became known (Stalin resisted its reading before the Central Committee as long as he could) there appeared in hundreds of thousands of copies, distributed all over Russia, a colored print which showed Lenin and Stalin sitting comfortable and smiling side by side on a bench in a garden. Stalin's dead enemy had become a friend! Lenin's apotheosis was launched the day of his death -- just to keep Trotsky out of the public eye. No one worked for it more zealously than Stalin. No one sought more assiduously for the immediate falsifying of the version which the public, and even the party, would receive of Lenin's relationship to Trotsky and the latter's group.
When, next, he succeeded in preventing discussions and rectifications before the country and the rank and file of the party the battle was won. By that time Stalin had solidly established (in the minds of many people of good faith) his opinion that governing is the affair of those who govern, and of nobody else -- a strictly "Asiatic" conception. He had already drawn all power from the circumference to the centre of the party. Observers of Soviet politics must have remarked with astonishment that Trotsky had to close his mouth. The Kremlin was with Stalin. That Trotsky was a poor politician, everybody, his friends and his enemies alike, are now agreed. When his newspaper articles began to be refused or censored he had the unlucky thought of exposing the Triumvirate in a history of October 1917. The book reached only an insignificant portion of the public when it appeared in the autumn of 1924. By its publication Trotsky, the would-be man of strenuous action, showed that he was at bottom a "literary fellow," full of superstitions as to the power of the word and of logic. Had not Stalin been right in his judgment of the "European?" Stalin had already so consolidated his position that neither anything Lenin may have said of him, nor any little episodes away back in 1917, could drag him from the saddle. He knew much better than Trotsky how the piles are driven to support a permanent edifice of power.
The history of the Bolshevik Party in Russia after Lenin's death (and, in many respects, even before) may be read today only with numerous lacunæ, which may never be filled. But looking back over these past years, one can remark only with astonishment how every one of Lenin's close associates, and later of Stalin's own associates, was shortly treated as a rival and a climber. Toward the end of 1925 he had driven Kamenev and Zinoviev from high position to secondary prominence; the competent and brilliant Sokolnikov had fallen even earlier. Kamenev and Zinoviev, with Trotsky, had been Lenin's closest comrades, and the former were Stalin's helpers against Trotsky after Lenin's death. Bukharin and Rykov come forward in 1926. Combining with these, Stalin drove the others, along with Trotsky and his followers (among them Radek, who had twice sacrificed himself for Stalin), first out of the party and then (in January 1928, four years after Lenin's death) definitely into exile. In the autumn of 1929, twenty-one months later, came the turn of Rykov and Bukharin and many other high dignitaries who had joined forces with Stalin against Trotsky. Toward the end of 1929 Stalin forced Bukharin and Rykov (who succeeded Lenin as President of the Council of People's Commissars) publicly to declare that they would no longer stray from "the general policies of the party" or lend their aid "to any further errors." There is something worse than banishment!
If anything shows the road which the spirit of the Bolshevik Party has traveled since Lenin's death, it is surely this declaration, Never for an instant would Lenin have thought of allowing such a degrading note-in-blank to be made in his name on the convictions of a political antagonist who was a comrade in his party. At that moment Stalin's strategy attained its highest triumph. From that point his star has been declining.
The foregoing survey would not reflect the facts, unless these were defined somewhat more precisely. Stalin got control of power in the state by withdrawing all important decisions and debates in the party from public view, and even from the view of the party at large. He shrouded the Kremlin in a thicker and thicker cloud of secrecy. Anyone who tried to work toward the outside or sought support in the majority sentiments of the party (to say nothing of publicity among the Soviets) was immediately and successfully dealt with as a traitor. Stalin had thoroughly convinced the Central Committee that the exclusion of the public from all controversies was the fundamental principle of self-preservation. By cutting off the danger of interference "from outside" Stalin was able to make use of the forces he held at his disposal inside his close and stuffy inner circle. Nobody had such a well-knit organization of henchmen to depend on. His opponents could rely on little more than the feelings and sympathies of people "outside." These for the most part they surely possessed; but by narrowing their contacts with such forces, Stalin progressively deprived them of their points of support.
Furthermore, it is important to observe that, in his war on Trotsky, Stalin did not proceed in such a way as to kill the man politically. He merely paralyzed him. Trotsky was already helpless in 1924. The end did not come till four years later. In the same way Kamenev and Zinoviev (an idol of the masses), all those individuals whose portraits were to be seen everywhere, who had had no end of buildings and institutions named after them, who received thunderous applause in public meetings even a day or two before their fall, were quietly paralyzed as a prelude to being eliminated. Only when sufficient poison had been administered in increasing doses in a thousand, ten thousand, party meetings, in pamphlets, and in resolutions from all over Russia, were they removed. Stalin never saw himself as replacing them with his own figure. He was all the more anxious, therefore, that they should disappear. He was resolved to be the darkest spot in the darkness at the Kremlin! The imponderables of popular administration and party devotion he valued highly as political assets of his antagonists, however much he may have despised affections which he could never hope to enjoy himself. But he was convinced that he could let mere popularities gradually fade away, be slowly strangled, by his own methods. Then would come the time to upset so many living corpses. He attacked his opponents or rivals on the ebbing tide of their reputations and always used the weaker against the stronger: first Trotsky, then Radek, and then Zinoviev, Kamenev and the dashing Sokolnikov.
The finish was not altogether easy. When he had herded all the people he thought dangerous together and saw that the opposition was struggling desperately in its death agony, he drew back for his blow in the open.
It was in July 1927 that for the first time he asked for their expulsion from the party. The blow missed. His motion was defeated. However much Trotsky and former opponents of Trotsky's who had joined him with gnashing of teeth may have lost prestige before the Central Committee of the party, the Committee thought that to expel them would be going a bit too far.
The story of how, unobserved by the world at large and by Soviet Russia itself, this crisis was solved, is very instructive. Stalin's request for the expulsion of Trotsky and Trotsky's friends for the first time fully betrayed his power, his ruthlessness, his hatred for the men who had stood godfather to the Revolution. For the first time all members of the Central Committee could clearly see how far they had allowed themselves to be carried and just where they had arrived. Even Stalin's immediate henchmen must have wondered whether the shock would not prove too great for the party, the country, the world.
Just before the meeting of the full Committee, Stalin had been in the Caucasus. On his return he found keen opposition and determined faces. Immediately he changed his tactics, as his method was. He got out of his hole by introducing and forcing through an almost friendly resolution on the sins of Trotsky and his friends, provided of course with a clause of "probation." Then he drew off again, took another "vacation;" but he was back within a fortnight. The opposition had been lead by Uglanov. It came from Moscow -- a typical trait, for Stalin's stronghold has always been in the provinces. Uglanov and the little Bukharin (always enthusiastic, always hypnotized by someone) now had to betake themselves to Achilles in his tent. Since Stalin's defeat and "vacation," serious confusion and disorganization had arisen in the party. The effort to establish power on a broader basis, in the Politbureau and in the Central Committee, was not enjoying a very encouraging success. The incident showed what the party would be without Stalin. Not a few people had regarded Uglanov as the coming man. Those few days were the end of him. In December the expulsion of the Opposition of the Left ensued without any difficulties.
In this case too, at a time when Stalin had reached the summit of his power, he followed his old tactics. We see him avoid letting his conflict with the party come to a head, yield apparently, gather his forces, again lead them forward and -- win!
In spite of all his successes, Stalin could not possibly have been cherishing any illusions as to the extent and intensity of his personal unpopularity, as to the general and growing doubt of his right to impose his will on everybody, and, above all, as to the soundness of his practical policy, a corollary to his fundamental conviction that the economic welfare of the country must be subordinated to the exigencies of power (which is shown most clearly by his agricultural policy). This man who strides restlessly back and forth in his office as he listens to his visitors (who usually come all a-tremble into his presence), seldom looks at them, and then only to glare with fierce disdain -- this man who derides anyone who incurs his displeasure with unprintable epithets -- cannot count on sympathies. It is said that at the Politbureau of the party he always tries to speak last, avoids expressing any view of his own till he has fully grasped the tactical situation, and often gives the other fellow the impression that he agrees with him only to attack him from the rear later. Slow-moving, cautious, he more and more came to play against the men who were powerful at a given moment the men who felt they were being overshadowed by them. His choice of persons for such purposes was extraordinarily happy. It was not merely that he replaced the important Jews and Russians whom Lenin used with many Caucasians. He managed, by a process of systematic selection during these years, to develop all over the country petty bosses of a special type, individuals of his naturally quick intelligence and, like him, of ruthless self-assertion untempered by any influence of culture, men destined either to ruin Soviet Russia or else some day to give the capitalist world a real nightmare.
Let us push this characterization of his policy a little further. While progressively restricting the circle of individuals who participated in power at the top, he progressively transformed the whole public organization of the Soviet Union into the executive of the party and made the party itself the instrument of the few on top. The Politbureau, the highest executive body in the party, he made the supreme source of power as against the Council of People's Commissars and the Central Committee. The G. P. U. had already packed these bodies with their henchmen. He did the same. He brought now this, now that, Commissariat under his personal influence: in 1928, the Commissariat on Agriculture, whose personnel, partly taken over from the Tsar's régime, had hitherto been regarded as the most "conservative;" and, in 1929, the Foreign Commissariat, as shown by the incidents with Germany, the straining of relations with Great Britain, and the form of the reply to the American Government on intervention in Manchuria. Despite the fact that, since 1921, Stalin has not held any official post, he has been busy not only personally deciding, but during the last two years personally reviewing and supervising -- in addition to many other things -- the whole Five Year Plan; and he has had entire personal charge of the problem of collectivization. In these connections he has so managed that all important questions are considered concurrently by the party secretariat and the public departments. In 1930 he saw fit to propose that the Central Committee should be divided into sections corresponding to the various Soviet departments. He has a private code for communicating with his subordinates in the Soviet delegations. All nominations to posts of any importance pass through the Politbureau. These are all developments which Lenin sought to avoid.
Certainly Lenin would have objected strongly to the measures taken by Stalin against the trade unions in order to render them wholly dependent on the will of the party. The trade unions had been a serious rival to the party in influencing the general trend of the economic policy and they had procured special material privileges for their members. During the past two years they have been reduced to purely technical institutions, and by the same methods which Stalin used elsewhere. Their leader, uncontestably, was Tomsky. After a terrible scene in December 1928 (the explanation of which here would take us too far afield) Tomsky's fate was sealed. Nothing is more indicative of the balance of forces in Russia than the fact that his removal from office was not made public, that it took place illegally by the decision of a small group, and that many unions did not learn of it until several weeks after it had occurred.
And the party itself? As early as 1924, Trotsky tried to prevent Stalin from naming party secretaries. By the beginning of 1928 that had actually become an official arrangement. During the same year complicated proclamations were published. In connection with the question as to just how far, in view of the supremacy of the party, it was in point to speak of a "dictatorship of the proletariat," Stalin put forward the formula that the party dictated in the name of the proletariat. But there is a dictatorship over the party also -- the dictatorship of the party secretaries, to whom Stalin in turn dictates. The formula of "party discipline" has proved useful again and again in this connection. Groupings and mass organizations are not tolerated. The union of the "old Bolsheviks," for example, has become meaningless. Stalin has driven its members, for the greater part, into Trotsky's camp.
All this has been taking place, it is true, under a zodiacal sign of self-hypnosis on the part of individual party members, under the sign of the "collective will" of the party, which speaks at all times, that no one else may have a chance to speak. But it has also been taking place under a sharp and uninterrupted "listening-in" on party and country, an accurate calculation of what is possible and not possible, and, further, with ever-present readiness to make detours if necessary. It has been taking place under constant warfare on the concept of party democracy. Was not Stalin obliged, in 1929, in order to deal with certain stirrings in the party, to put forward the ingenious formula of "central democracy?" Nevertheless, the concept of "party discipline" as the highest duty of a member had been playing an enormous rôle -- practically, as regards the general trend of the policy, the decisive rôle.
I cannot describe in detail the last stages in the process of concentrating the power of the Politbureau in Stalin's hands, but I should like to touch upon the fate of such of his allies in the war on Trotsky as sat with him on the Politbureau -- Stalin's treatment, in other words, of such prominent party members (and at the same time leaders in the Government) as Rykov, Bukharin, War Commissar Voroschilov, Tomsky, and the aged Kalinin, president of the Soviet Union.
At the moment when Trotsky's Opposition of the Left was expelled, the economic situation in Russia was the chief issue, especially the falling-off in agricultural production. Either there had to be a slowing-up in the tempo of industrialization and the available facilities supplied to the peasants; or else agriculture had to be brought to forced production by some method of socialization, so that its production could be assured independently of the willingness or unwillingness of the peasants, and the process of rapid industrialization continued as designed. Stalin chose the second course. The Five Year Plan became law during that same critical year, 1929. Its application had already begun in October 1928. The world may have observed the tremendous increase in inner worries and tensions in the economic sphere into which the Soviet Union was plunged by this decision. Looking backward now, one must say that in this phase of his policy also Stalin steered to his goal by keeping the latter as carefully concealed as possible from his collaborators. The destruction of the wealthy peasants, which had begun in earnest by July 1928, was protected from any interference on the part of the elements grouped about Rykov and Bukharin, which considered such a policy disastrous. Party resolutions had spoken against it as late as June. What was going on in the country was for months kept secret from party members in the great cities.
Nevertheless, directly after Trotsky's banishment serious personal friction arose in regard to agricultural policy among those who were then comrades in power. As early as March 1928, Kalinin said to a deserving civil employee who had been tossed into the gutter for differences of opinion in the domain of statistics, and had appealed to him for help: "My dear fellow, I am not sure I shall not be on the sidewalk myself tomorrow morning!" Rykov, Kalinin, Bukharin and even the insignificant Voroschilov felt growing around them the same creepy isolation which had spelled the finish of Trotsky and so many others. All through the year 1928, as one or another tried to assert themselves, there were bitter quarrels. In the secret meetings of the Central Committee Stalin was forced to allow his opponents to have their say. He even pretended to give in to them. In the Politbureau, however, he answered with short, sharp words, or with threats now veiled, now open; and in the meantime, making full use of his organization, he forced things to the point he wished to arrive at. It is characteristic of him that, later on, in October 1928, he admitted with undisguised cynicism that unfortunately, by some mistake, 12 percent instead of 3 percent of the rural population had been treated as "Kulaks" -- that is to say, more or less ruined. But Frumkin, who had courageously attacked him on this point, had to go. It was perfectly apparent now to everybody that Stalin had not only built up a state within a state, but also a party within a party.
In 1929, Bukharin, desperate, and in agreement with his comrades in misfortune, wrote a letter to Kamenev, who had succeeded in getting back to Moscow from the exile into which he had been sent with Trotsky. In this highly imprudent document, Bukharin stated that the Soviet Union would be ruined by Stalin's highhandedness and his disastrous policies. He urged that Kamenev take over the leadership against Stalin in the party, the majority of which, as well as the majority of the highest Soviet councils (as Bukharin very well knew) shared his opinion of Stalin and of the consequences of his policy. This letter was "stolen" from Kamenev. The Opposition of the Right was therefore obliged precipitately to come out into the open (always within the four walls of the Kremlin, I hardly need say). A majority vote in the Politbureau that Stalin should resign was supported by a similar resolution, based on four "whereases," which carried in the Soviet Executive Committee by 16 votes to 9. About the middle of March came an answer from Stalin: he would retire! But meanwhile he had been manœuvring. He was certain at that moment that no one would dare accept his resignation. He had again eluded the grasp of his antagonists; he was again playing the bottom against the top in the party, promising, threatening, browbeating, winning. During this period he cynically went so far as to telephone Bukharin in an effort to detach him from the enemy. He used the same argument he had put forward in the summer of 1928: "You and I, compared with others, are Schimborasso (Mount Everest)." Not a very courageous man as a rule, and standing with the stronger cohorts this time, Bukharin rang off. He had come to know his some-time partner too well!
In this proposal to Bukharin, Stalin clearly suggested the actual status of power in the Soviet Union. With or without allies, Stalin is Mount Everest. He is the dictator of dictators. Only, he prefers not to look the part. He is not Mussolini. Yet he has one trait in common with Mussolini -- an extraordinary suppleness and pliancy -- and he demonstrates it under a more difficult test. He has acted in full cognizance of the danger that lies in the usurpation of power by a small minority over a vast majority whose interests do not coincide with those of three million (or less) factory workers. He has not taken much stock in the myth of unity between workers and peasants, however much he may have supported the notion for propaganda purposes so long as it worked. He realized, with courageous insight, the futility of Lenin's conception of the NEP. He understood, without shirking any responsibilities, that active socialism and private initiative were incompatible in the same economic area, and he acted resolutely on the perception that the only salvation for the Soviet power lay in the ruthless socialization of the entire country, irrespective of the immediate consequences. These became very evident at once through the crisis in agriculture and through hunger in the towns. These consequences frightened his associates into desperate resistance (at the same time they evidently did not see fit to do without him). The fact that he reckoned with all these factors more accurately, more resolutely, with less disposition to compromise than his opponents and even than his some-time associates, has enabled him to achieve what he has achieved. His success is closely bound up with his perception of these factors. At the same time his success seems to be inseparably bound up with Lenin's characterization of him: "crude and narrowminded."
The same factors which have operated in the past will, in the last resort, determine the future of Sovietism. Stalin's course is not yet run, nor is that of the Soviet State assured. The test will most probably come when Stalin disappears. It is not yet settled whether his policy of centralizing all decisions in a small group can be maintained. A year ago he was constrained, as I have said, to put forward the complicated formula of "centralized democracy" as exemplified in the Soviet Union. The fact is that the Union is ruled by a dictating minority which is dictated to by another minority to which a dictator dictates. These minorities are in constant change. Their only stable nucleus so far has been Stalin. The more exclusively he has become this, the greater the danger to the situation which his energy has created. For there has been a corresponding growth in the number of people whom Stalin has used and exalted, only to ostracize and deprive of their power at the first sign of independence or resistance. It may be that in the same proportion the number of people capable of assuming responsibility has decreased.
It may be that Stalin has gradually exhausted the reserves required by his tactics. Whereas formerly Stalin allowed his opponents to vanish, he no longer dares to do so. What does the top of the party look like today? Rykov and Tomsky, who have been threatened officially with expulsion from the party if they are caught in any further "deviations," have nevertheless been retained in the Politbureau, as have Kalinin and Voroschilov. The place of Bukharin has never been filled. This is the most astonishing manifestation of Stalin's tactics. Evidently he does not dare for the moment to give the party a spectacle calculated to prove that he discards everybody who has ever been anywhere near him in power. He is afraid of another and greater test of strength, of the danger which might reside in the appearance of new and not yet discredited people in the Politbureau, whose unworthiness he would soon be called upon to demonstrate to the Central Committee, the party, and the Soviets. He prefers to be surrounded by persons so weakened in their political prestige that he can hold them down without too great difficulty, even when inside the party distrust and suspicion of the wisdom of his policy grows apace. As a matter of fact, Stalin has created a vacuum between himself and the party at large. He has reduced the Politbureau very much to a farce. Of its eight members four are altogether in his hands. Three are dependent on him. He holds the Politbureau and the Central Committee of the party as in a pair of tongs, between himself and the rank and file of the "active" portion of the party -- the party bureaucracy. The majority of the party as a whole is against him, or at least has become very critical. His precipitate retreat from forced socialization of the Russian peasants has added to the doubts which already existed. But there is no substitute for Stalin! Nobody would fit into the armor he has forged for himself during recent years.
But this personal security of Stalin's hides, implicitly, a very serious question as to the permanence of his system. The whole organism of the Soviet State and of the party that controls it has been adapted to Stalin's methods. In this sense it has ceased to be self-supporting. There seems to be nobody capable of taking over his inheritance and directing the state along new lines. The men who might have done so have been eliminated from political consideration. After Stalin men will come to the front who will try to be Stalin. They will eat each other in his name and in his manner. It is characteristic that his nearest helpers, at present Molotov and Saroslavsky, are regarded as third-rate men in every respect, even by the party. The artificiality of this whole structure of power is obvious. The danger for Soviet Russia comes first of all from the top of the party -- a danger of partition and decomposition; and this may happen even in Stalin's lifetime. The event depends mostly on future economic developments. Or perhaps the younger generation of Communists may hasten the end. Stalin and his ring have educated young Russia along demagogical lines -- certainly they have taught them to be "crude" and "narrow-minded." These young people may demand the fulfillment of the gigantic promises of power in the country -- nay, of power in Europe and in the whole world -- which have been held out to them. They have been taught to believe in imminent revolution. As young people, they are terribly young and terribly eager. They are by no means certain that they could not do what older people have not dared, replace Stalin.