Stalin: Conversations with Ideologists
1. Note from the editors
In May 1998, while going through the papers of the historian Vasily Dmitrievich Mochalov (1902-1970), I discovered his own notes of two meetings with J.V. Stalin.
Manuscripts that were collecting dust in the personal archive of the scientist for more than half a century are well preserved. Some of them are short notes that the author made during conversations on December 28, 1945 and December 23, 1946, the other parts are actually readymade essays. Judging by many signs, Vasily Dmitrievich wrote them for himself and did not think about publishing them. With professional conscientiousness, he recorded what he saw and heard, both because it was necessary for his further work, and because it was the moment of the Great History that invaded his own life.
I have already noted that the phenomenon that is still called the “cult of the personality of Stalin” was not his personal creation. The “cult” was actively shaped by numerous “sculptors” from the apparatus, and very often contrary to Stalin’s wishes.
The conversations, which will be discussed in the proposed essays, in this sense is especially indicative. He introduces our contemporary into the dense layers of the ideological atmosphere of the post-war period. We are talking about, perhaps, the most sensitive nerve of the “cult” – the release of the collected works and a brief biography of Stalin himself. The reader finds himself in the holy of holies of the propaganda workshop, in its crucible and brings out a far from unambiguous opinion. Stalin, it turns out, is at war with the vulgar hallelujahs, he is fighting them frivolously, disassembling many of their tricks retroactively, clearly annoyed that they even took place.
Now that Stalin’s editorial is published in the layout of the second edition of his brief biography, one can clearly see N.S. Khrushchev’s slyness when he argued that “Stalin himself strongly encouraged and supported the exaltation of his person.” As an example, at an additional meeting of the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU on February 25, 1956,
Khrushchev cited “some characteristics of the activities of Stalin, inscribed by the hand of Stalin himself’ in his brief biography. Khrushchev cites one passage from a book that says that in the “struggle against the faithless and capitulators, Trotskyists and Zinovievites, Bukharins and Kamenevs, after Lenin’s stepping down from the party, caused the leading nucleus of our party to finally form... the nucleus that defended Lenin’s great banner, rallied the party around Lenin’s covenants and led the Soviet people on the broad road of industrialization and collectivization of agriculture. The leader of this nucleus and the leading force of the party and the state was comrade Stalin.” (J. V. Stalin, Collective Works, Vol. 16, p. 426) The listener and the reader have the natural impression that, according to Stalin, the history of the party is a kind of uninhabited space where only one hero acts – the theatre of one actor. Khrushchev achieves this by a simple trick: he omits the part of the text where the composition of the party core is listed in the person of Molotov, Kalinin, Voroshilov, Kuibyshev, Frunze, Dzerzhinsky, Kaganovich, Ordzhonikidze, Kirov, Yaroslavsky, Mikoyan, Andreev, Shvernik, Zhdanov and Shkiryatov follows. (ibid., p. 75)
Khrushchev uses the same technique, pointing to the place where it is said that Stalin “did not allow the shadow of conceit, arrogance, and self-love in his activity.” “Where and when could any figure so glorify himself? Is it worthy of a figure of the Marxist-Leninist type?” rhetorically asks “our Nikita Sergeevich” (ibid., p. 426). This really sounds spectacular if the listener and the reader do not know that the speaker cut off the quote and omitted the words: “In his interview with the German writer Emil Ludwig, where he notes the great role of the genius of Lenin in transforming our country, Stalin simply declares: “As for me, I am only a student of Lenin, and my goal is to be a worthy student of him” (ibid., pp. 75-76). Of course, Stalin does not deserve praise for his modesty, but Khrushchev’s “objectivity” falls below zero. Stalin, as always, is true to himself. He rigidly binds himself to Lenin, and this inseparability, brought him to self-denial demonstrated repeatedly in very diverse historical circumstances. This evokes more respect than criticism.
Stalin was a man who could not be called timid. It is difficult to judge his thorny life path as a whole, but after October at least three situations stand out along this path, which even for Stalin look shocking. The first is Lenin’s statement about the possibility of breaking relations with him on March 5, 1922; the second is the suicide of his wife, N.S. Alliluyeva, November 8, 1932; the third is the attack of Nazi Germany on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Now we know that the first situation depended not only on him personally, but also stemmed from the Kremlin intrigue which was started by G.E. Zinoviev, L.B. Kamenev and L.D. Trotsky with the connivance of N.K. Krupskaya and stubborn opposition of Lenin’s sister M.I. Ulyanova when Vladimir Ilyich Lenin fell sick. Stalin courageously and magnanimously accepted this terrible blow. He could later call Krupskaya “an old fool” in his hearts, but he did not allow himself a single attack against the teacher and leader. You can only learn the moral attitude of one’s mentor and predecessor from Stalin. How can some of the current left-patriotic leaders, who dream of reviving a unique, distinctive Russia, clutch at the name of Stalin, but following the “democrats” from the historical memory of our people, cross out the name of such a genius as Lenin?
Khrushchev lied, arguing that “Stalin showed disrespect for the memory of Lenin.” Khrushchev references to the fact that “the Palace of Soviets as a monument to Vladimir Ilyich” (ibid., p. 428) was never built, and looks artificial and ridiculous. Subsequently, Khrushchev found a symbolic “solution” to the problem by placing a pit with water on the foundation of the Palace of Soviets. This, as it were, predetermined the restoration of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. A sacred place is never empty...
A serious opposition to the official ideological service can be seen in Stalin’s remarks in the published conversations. Stalin defended the author of the notes, who protested against the expansion of the first volumes of the Collected Works of Stalin by attributing to him anonymous articles from the Social Democratic press in Georgian. This was unexpected for the head of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) G.F. Aleksandrov and Director of the Institute of Marx-Engels-Lenin (IMEL) V.S. Kruzhkov. Mochalov insisted on a deep scientific examination of the texts and became uncomfortable with the director of the IMEL. At that time, such behaviour looked like impermissible insolence and sometimes entailed severe “organizational conclusions”. Mochalov “left” the IMEL to the Academy of Sciences, and Stalin quickly figured out why. Taking Mochalov’s side, he fought back the sycophants: “Here, you see, they tried to include more in the volumes, they wanted to inflate the meaning of the author. I do not need this.”. “Can you imagine,” Mochalov told this episode to his wife Konyushey, “Joseph Vissarionovich fully supported my motivations on authorship. He excluded all the works that I claimed did not belong to
Stalin from the composition of the first two volumes.” But such people as Mochalov are a rarity.
According to the same Konyushey, the participants in the meeting on December 23, 1946, who are known to have discussed the issue of Lenin’s new biography and the second edition of Stalin’s short biography, met the latter with the words: “What are you doing Social Revolutionary now? The people, the party are nothing, and Stalin is everything? Stalin is old. Stalin will die soon. Do you want people to panic: if he did everything, then without him everything will end?” (ibid., pp. 233, 234)
Stalin was annoyed by the work of IMEL, especially by its nameless publications, which meant reinsurance at the expense of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks. “When IMEL publishes something without a signature, without the names of the authors, it is worse than theft. Nowhere in the world is there anything like it. Why are they afraid to put the names of the authors? It is necessary that people have the freedom to write...”, these words sound like something from the “thaw” era, some “perestroika” motive of “glasnost”. How different was what was happening inside the tops from what was manifested outside!
On the one hand, Stalin clearly sees a tendency to bureaucratic formalization, the ossification of scientific and revolutionary teachings – it is not by chance that he warns of the danger of the emergence of “armchair communists”, communist tellers, and verbalists of our kind. On the other hand, he is already in captivity of the tradition of self-preservation and continuation of further existence established by the whole party-state machine. As an extraordinary creative person, Stalin tries to break out of these chains, which were forged with his direct participation, but ultimately remains a captive of those who are comfortable in their fetters, an army of officials who cannot imagine a life without internal slavery. For that matter, in the post-Stalin decades, real socialism was destroyed not so much by conscious revisionists or “Stalinists” as the “democratic” press depicts them, but by “armchair communists”, conformists and careerists of all stripes, whose interests were in natural harmony with the interests of “shadow” capital. Laziness of thought and diplomatic ignorance played an outstanding role here. This topic requires further coverage, as these factors continue to put pressure on the social and national liberation process with unrelenting force.
Let’s look back at the past. At the XVI Congress of the CPSU(b) (June-July 1930), for the first time, there was no opposition to the line of the Central Committee and a sweeping offensive of socialism on the whole front was proclaimed. There was still no praise for Stalin during it, and the overall business-like mood reigned. The XVII Congress (January-February 1934) was marked by greater emotionality and is held as a “congress of winners”. During the opening, V.M. Molotov calls Stalin “the leader and organizer of our victories” and “a loyal successor to the Leninist cause”. At the same time, a “brand new” Khrushchev appeared on the congress rostrum, who first made a proposal on the composition of the presidium, and then made a speech. It was he who was among the first to declare Stalin a “brilliant” and “great leader”, and who spoke of his “brilliant report”. (XVII Congress of the All-Union Communist Party (b). Verbatim report, 1934, pp. 6, 145, 147) In the 70s, Molotov recalled that Stalin once saw his signature under some kind of group greeting, where Stalin was called “brilliant”. He became angry and asked this word to be deleted. “How did you get here?” asked Stalin to Molotov. “Got here, as expected.” – “Are you also lagging behind everyone?” According to Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, the praise of Stalin “could not be completely covered up (that is, stopped). This could have negative consequences at that time. Stalin didn’t always like it, but in the end he succumbed to it a little bit.” (One hundred forty conversations with Molotov: From the diary of F Chuev, 1991, p. 242)
But what about Khrushchev?
In an article dedicated to the 60th anniversary of Stalin (1939), the future overthrower of the “cult of personality” states: “Workers all over the world will write and talk about him with love and gratitude. The enemies of the working people will write and talk about him with evil foam at the mouths.” (1940, p. 93).
What a merciless thing is history! Who could then predict that those who call themselves Communists will come up with such a foam? Who would have known that the moral and political inertia of the “Leninist” anti-Stalinists would inexorably push them to the camp of anti-Leninists and anti-Marxists?
The proposed texts are valuable for their reliable socio-psychological observations. There is a lot of controversy in them. But the good news is that it was not a diagram, not a group of wax figures, but a piece of life in its sometimes paradoxical manifestations that appears in those conversations. This wakes up the thought, stimulates it, and, therefore, sparks the continuation of life in intense tension.
I prepared the essays for printing directly from the manuscript, without any edition. My intervention consisted only in combining individual fragments of the text, deciphering some phrases, restoring abbreviated words, and finally placing punctuation marks. The children of Mochalov and R.P. Konyush – Elena Vasilievna Mochalova and Vladimir Mikhailovich Kurkin – helped me with this work.