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90th Anniversary of Lenin’s Death. The Last Fights of the Father of the Russian Revolution

Translated Thursday 23 January 2014, by Gene Zbikowski

From Lenin to Stalin, there is not so much continuity as a break, as is attested to by the testament by the father of the revolution, who stated: “We aren’t civilized enough to reach socialism directly.”

On January 21, 1924, at 6:50 p.m., having just been informed of the Party’s latest decisions, Lenin was the victim of a final crisis and died at age 54, after having fought illness and worry as to the revolution’s future for 18 months. Stricken by an attack that paralyzed his right side on May 25, 1922, he only partly resumed his intellectual activities in September, helped by his wife, his sister, and his secretaries. He was already quite worried about Stalin’s positions on the liberalization of foreign trade and his questioning of the independence of the Soviet republics, when he suffered a second attack on December 16. Aware that he would soon be “leaving the ranks,” he demanded that, for a few minutes a day, he be allowed to dictate a “letter to the Congress,” which is wrongly called his testament, and his last article, which was published on March 4, 1923, “Better Less But Better.” A third attack on March 10 left him unable to speak, but still lucid.

Aware of the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky, while trying to save the revolution in a Soviet Russia that was exhausted by seven years of world and civil war, Lenin did not intend to designate his successor, like a monarch, but only to reinforce the unity of the Party leadership and the Central Committee’s role. This was a top priority for the reorganization of the government and the activation of the restoration of the ravaged and worn-out country. He consequently invited the Central Committee to watch its leaders while evaluating their qualities and their faults.

Lenin was aware that Stalin was accumulating too many powers as the Party’s general secretary, and as the director of the Peasant and Worker Inspectorate charged with checking all civil servants, while simultaneously intervening, as Commissar for Nationalities, in the affairs of the non-Russian half of the population of Soviet Russia. One cannot reproach Trotsky, the head of the Red Army, for having joined the Bolshevik Party belatedly, but his eminent capacities must not obscure his conflict with the workers’ trade unions during his plans to “militarize labor.” Nevertheless, Lenin had just asked him to defend his views on the Gosplan and on the Georgian question.

While the Old Bolsheviks, Kamenev and Zinoviev, had committed errors before the October Revolution that revealed their weaknesses, it was now necessary to maintain the balance in the Party leadership by promoting two very promising thirty-somethings, Bukharin, the “Party’s darling child,” a brilliant but not always orthodox theoretician, and the very voluntarist Pyatakov, who had the same qualities and faults as Trotsky.

And yet, ten days later, Lenin demanded that Stalin be removed from the general secretariat because he had become aware of his violent attacks on the Georgian communists, who were described as “social-nationalists.” Hence Stalin’s policy truly explains Lenin’s U-turn.

Lenin intended to promote a large number of active skilled workers and specialists to the Central Committee, instead of incompetent apparatchiks, in order to fight the opportunist bureaucracy at every level of the state and Party apparatus. He wanted to fight against Russian nationalism and great power chauvinism. He also warned against the errors to be avoided in pursuing a gradual process of revolutionary evolution in a backward country, where industry had collapsed, where the proletariat was exhausted, and where “Asiatic commerce” was practiced. It was necessary at all costs to save the alliance of the working class and the peasantry, upon which communist power was based, and consequently to prolong the New Economic Policy: “One must be consumed,” he said, “with a salutary mistrust of any hasty and ill-considered advance, and of any sort of presumption.” From this, Bukharin was to deduce in 1928: “No second revolution,” when Stalin decided on the collectivization of the land and rapid industrialization.

Lenin’s death sped up the course of events along the path they had already taken. Stalin, as the grand master of ceremonies, organized Lenin’s funeral and inaugurated the Lenin personality cult. Despite his widow’s opposition, the body was embalmed and placed in the crypt of a first mausoleum, there to receive the homage of the whole Soviet people. Petrograd became Leningrad; every city, every enterprise, every administrative body erected its statue of the father of the revolution. Stalin forged the oath of fidelity: “We swear to you, comrade Lenin…” and Mayakovski sarcastically observed that “even Ilitch’s death has become a great organizer of communism.”

And yet, Krupskaya had publicly declared: “Don’t let your grief take on the form of a veneration for Ilitch… Put rather his precepts into practice.” Stalin pretended to do so. Rather than purging the Party, the “Lenin Enrollment” doubled the number of communists in one year, at the price of a fall in the level of instruction and conviction. But Stalin hurried to draft “The Foundations of Leninism” to present himself as the best disciple of a master whose thought he schematized and sterilized, and to isolate Trotsky, who was recommending a new direction. But, when Krupskaya asked that Lenin’s “testament” be presented at the upcoming Party Congress, Trotsky kept silent, Kamenev and Zinoviev vouched for Stalin’s qualities, and the “letter to the Congress” was not to be revealed in the USSR until 1956. Thus, the hammer of Stalinism nailed Lenin’s coffin shut.

Lenin’s “Testament.

” December 24, 1922: “I think that from this standpoint the prime factors in the question of stability are such members of the C.C. as Stalin and Trotsky. (…) Comrade Stalin, having become Secretary-General, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution. Comrade Trotsky, on the other hand, as his struggle against the C.C. on the question of the People’s Commissariat of Communications has already proved, is distinguished not only by outstanding ability. He is personally perhaps the most capable man in the present C.C., but he has displayed excessive self-assurance and shown excessive preoccupation with the purely administrative side of the work.”

January 4, 1923 addition: “Stalin is too rude and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealing among us communists, becomes intolerable in a Secretary-General. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post…”

By Jean-Paul Scot, a historian and the author of Histoire de la Russie de Pierre le Grand à nos jours. État et société 
en Russie impériale et soviétique, [History of Russia from Peter the Great to Today. Government and Society in Imperial and Soviet Russia], published by A. Colin, 2000 and 2005.


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