I seem to be on a roll here, still sticking with Russian history of the 20th century, and still on the Stalin vs Trotsky theme. Today I have this interesting piece from RIA, penned a couple of days back by Filipp Prokudin. The topic is Lenin’s Last Will and Testament which, in the end, made not a dime’s worth of difference to the inevitable outcome of the Soviet succession crisis. Just as in a Chekhov play — had Chekhov penned a play whilst in the throes of an unbreakable nightmare — the characters lurch on, unseeing, following the unseen but predetermined path to their ultimate destinies.
Prokudin penned his piece on June 8, commemorating the 95-year Anniversary (in 1924) of the conclusion of the Thirteenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). This was a Congress to remember and determined the future fate of the Soviet Union for many decades to come. Lenin, founder of the Soviet state, had died on January 21, 1924, leaving a succession crisis that ranks, in Russian history, alongside such masterpieces as the death of Ivan the Terrible and the Time of Troubles. As usually happens in these Russian crises, order is eventually restored, under the autocratic rule of a strong leader who represents the Deepest of the Deep States. And so it came to pass.
Although contemporary Russian bourgeoisie like to denigrate Lenin and nostalgize over the various losers of the Civil War, such as Kolchak, Denikin (=Putin’s personal favorite), Yudenich and the like; or even more pukatory, fawning over the Loser Tsar and his simperingly privileged family; — they are not able to deny the obvious: That the mystery-man Lenin is a towering figure in Russian history. The man who built the Party that saved Russia from foreign invasion and dismemberment at its second most vulnerable time in history. The man who founded a new state and a new economic order, the man who rallied millions of workers and peasants to become their own subject of history, instead of mere vassals to the powerful few. The man who became the acknowledged leader, not just of the Russian proletariat, but the workers of all nations. The man who is still an inspiration to millions of ordinary people around the globe, despite his vilification by the sociopaths who run the world today. The man who … was a man, after all, a flawed man, and not an immortal god.
“I hereby bequeath… a Crisis…”
At the 13th Party Congress, delegates were treated to a reading of Lenin’s Last Will and Testament. Lenin, knowing that his words were important, actually starting penning his will at the end of 1922. He suffered from a variety of ailments, including the syphilis he had contracted during his wilder youth (and before the invention of Antibiotics); not to mention the continuing devastating effects of an assassin’s bullet. The Soviet Head of State was already mortally ill and barely functioning in the last year of his life. Like an ailing Tsar Ivan Grozny or Boris Godunov, Lenin would have had an inkling of the shitstorm that would erupt within the Party upon his death. In fact, it was already happening. The Bolshevik elite were a collection of massive mutually incompatible egos. Hence Lenin picked his words very carefully, like a stern father doling out reprimands to his competitive and jealous sons.
Lenin’s will came in several parts, there was a personal part, just for his wife; another part for the Party leadership, and another part just for the inner circle. And, just for more drama, there was also a “secret codicil” of the will, which the Trotsky faction made much hay of later. That was the part where Lenin accused Stalin of disrespecting his (Lenin’s) wife. But Prokudin doesn’t go into that, and none of it made a dime’s worth of difference anyhow, at this point. As we shall see. Stalin could have poured a bucket of shit over everybody at the Congress, and he still would have won their votes.
“How did he do it?” you might wonder. Well, you know the old saying: If purring were a key performance indicator, then cats would rule the world.
By 1924, with the Civil War over and the Bolsheviks the undisputed victors, the Party had become super-organized. Clerical functions were all-important. And rightfully so, in a nation with a would-be planned economy. Swords had been melted down into pens, and Office Workers were the new elite.
The Party chancellery registered and documented the arrival of the first part of Lenin’s will. All correspondence was meticulously logged by the Party functionaries. At that time Stalin occupied the post of General Secretary of the Central Committee. This was supposed to be purely a “technical” post, occupied with matters of clerical organization. Just a year earlier nobody could have ever imagined that such a post would become the springboard of autocratic power. Try to imagine if the Secretary of your local gardening club suddenly became the Ruler of the Neighborhood, and everybody had to start bowing and scraping to her, and writing poems of praise and erecting statues and the like. Well, to be sure the Bolshevik Party was not a gardening club, but still… The point I am making is that the Chekhovian figure of Stalin used his innocuous clerical position as a trampoline to vault to real and eventually almost total power!
As late as 1922 the position of General Secretary truly meant just being a Secretary, the head of the Party apparatus. Job duties included registering correspondence, issuing membership cards, and the like. And the Communist Party was still separate from the Soviet government (technically). The actual head of the government was the Chairman of the Soviet of Peoples Commissars of the USSR. Lenin held that post, as well as the analogous post for the Russian Soviet Republic. The Bolsheviks were the governing party. In theory there could have been other political parties competing to form the government. During the Civil War the Bolsheviks had banned other political parties. It was supposed to be a temporary, emergency measure, but … well, you know how that goes…
Anyhow, the point is, even if there was just one political party, it still wasn’t supposed to be synonymous with the government. And no way was the “General Secretary” of the ruling party meant to become an all-powerful dictator of the entire nation! Things just sort of happened that way, as Trotsky himself conceded, all Robespierres are followed by Bonapartes. The task here is to try to explain why mass democracy can become so corrupted in such a short period of time. We need to learn these lessons, [insert Santayana quote], so that it doesn’t happen again that way, when the next great social Revolution comes rolling around, as it, inevitably, will!
Oh well, maybe next time it won’t be an army General (Napoleon) or office worker (Stalin) who emerges as the totalitarian strong man. Maybe it will be a mild-mannered Professor of History – like Grover Furr, wouldn’t that be something? haha!
[to be continued]