Book Review:

The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin

by M.R. Appan (Prajasakti Book House, Hyderabad, 2001) 

Cde. Appan has written a very useful book on Stalin. It covers the period of his childhood and early years as a revolutionary in Georgia in the Caucasus, to his work with Lenin as a leader of the Bolshevik Party and the October Revolution, to his role in directing Soviet society through the period of industrialisation and collectivisation, the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany, and the second rebuilding after the war until his death in 1953. The book is thoroughly footnoted, with references from both bourgeois scholars and Marxist-Leninist sources, making it easy for the interested reader to attain additional information. Appan consistently defends Stalin’s views and actions during his whole life as a revolutionary, without making any concessions to the slanders of the bourgeoisie and revisionists.

In his first, introductory chapter, Cde. Appan openly opposes the attacks by Khrushchev and his followers on Stalin. He points out that while nobody took seriously the attacks by open imperialist agents or renegades like the Trotskyites and social democrats against Stalin, the‘ ‘secret report’ of Khrushchev on Stalin became a powerful weapon in the hands of avowed enemies of communism and helped to undermine the faith of the people in the cause of Marxism-Leninism’ (p. 7). Cde. Appan also correctly states that the ‘cult of personality’ that grew up around Stalin is an anti-working class viewpoint, but that it was Khrushchev and others of his ilk, not Stalin, who encouraged this. Finally, Cde. Appan correctly links the attacks on Stalin to the subsequent downfall of the Soviet Union and the East European people’s democracies, stating that ‘negating the role of Stalin will lead to anti-Marxism and anti-Leninism and the destruction of the socialist mode of production’ (p. 18).

There is, however, a significant weakness in the author’s criticism of revisionism in this introductory chapter. He points out the political manoeuvres of the revisionists after Stalin’s death, such as purging 70% of the members of the Central Committee who had been elected at the 19th Party Congress in 1952 during the course of the 20th Congress in 1956. But there is no mention of the steps taken to undermine socialist relations of production. For example, he omits the selling off of the Machine Tractor Stations to the collective farms, which turned an important part of state production into commodities. Nor does the author discuss the fact that under Khrushchev the profit of enterprises became the leading indicator of production (which Stalin had warned against in Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, written in 1952). Such measures led to the downfall of genuine socialism in the Soviet Union (and the East European people’s democracies except for Albania) well before Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is impossible in this brief review to do more than highlight some of the important points in Cde. Appan’s book. For example, he gives a forthright defence of the policy of socialism in one country, showing that Lenin too thought that this might be the necessary path for the Soviet Union to take. He gives a clear picture of the industrialisation and collectivisation of agriculture, showing how these policies raised the country from the backwardness inherited from tsarist Russia. In the process he shows how Stalin had to combat the ultra-‘left’ deviations of Trotsky and the rightist views of Bukharin and their supporters. Cde. Appan also shows, using lengthy quotes from the trial transcripts, the treason of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and others, all directed from the outside by Trotsky, which led to their execution. He explains the cleansing of the party of alien elements, as well as pointing out Stalin’s criticism of the ‘bureaucratic attitude that led to the unjust expulsion of many ordinary party workers’ (p. 235).

Of particular interest to this reviewer was Cde. Appan’s discussion of measures taken by Stalin in preparing for the impending attack by Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union, which took place in June of 1941. While being careful not to give the Nazis an excuse for an early attack, Stalin called up 800,000 reservists in March of that year and advanced 28 border divisions in April (p. 271). The author discusses the mobilisation of Communist Party and Komsomol (communist youth) members into the armed forces almost immediately after the start of the war (p. 278). And he explains the great work of rebuilding after the conclusion of the war, leading to surpassing pre-war production levels by 1948 and significantly increasing production levels by the end of the Fourth Five Year Plan in 1950.

There are a few areas of the book in which Cde. Appan’s discussion of ideological and political issues is rather thin. For example, in the chapter on ‘The Fight Against Deviation’, criticising Trotsky, Bukharin and others, there is much material devoted to details of how the deviationists lost influence in the various organs of the party, but not enough material that makes clear the substance of their views. This makes it difficult for the reader to grasp the essential nature of the differences between Stalin and the majority of the party on the one hand, and the deviationists on the other.

Overall, Cde. Appan’s book must go down as one of the few forthright defences available in the English language of Stalin and his policies, together with Harpal Brar’s Trotskyism or Leninism (London,1993). Bill Bland’s The Restoration of Capitalism in the Soviet Union (Wembley, 1980), and Ludo Martens’ Another View of Stalin (Antwerp,1996).

To conclude, I will give one quote from the excellent foreword by Nanduri Prasada Rao, since it gives a clear example of Stalin’s grasp of historical materialism. During the armed peasant struggle in Telengana, India, a debate arose as to whether India would follow the Russian road or the Chinese road to revolution. The question was submitted to the Soviet Party and Stalin who, after giving his advice on particular problems of the Indian revolution, pointed out that neither the Russian or Chinese models would be sufficient, and that ‘every country has its own peculiarities, natural and social, which cannot fail to govern its path to liberation’ (p. xi).

George Gruenthal
New York City, USA

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