Today continuing with this interesting piece from RIA, written by Filipp Prokudin on the 95th Anniversary of the 13th Party Congress. The topic is Lenin’s Last Will and Testament and the ensuing Game of Thrones, Soviet edition, which in the end was won by, you guessed it, Stalin! Well, crafty viewers saw this outcome from quite a while back, even though there were many twists and turns along the way! And even though Stalin did not have a raven sitting on his shoulder, he possessed something much better than that: the support of the Soviet Chancellariat.
Where we left off, we saw that Stalin had turned his “technical post” of General Secretary, which was supposed to be, in the beginning, just that, a Secretary job (like, typing stuff and filing your nails), into a springboard to lead the whole government. Not unlike a “President” type position in today’s terms, where a “strong” President can appoint pretty much whomever he chooses, to whatever he chooses.
And then, of course, Stalin added the twist where he also got to control all the repressive organs of the state and use them to settle old scores against Old Bolsheviks. But that was in the future…
Back in 1922, with Lenin still alive, the ruling Party still ran the government in a collegial fashion. There was no one strong man, there was a strong team, namely the Politburo of the Party. In theory the Old Bolsheviks made decisions as a group. That was the way they had always functioned, a very opinionated and bickering group of people. The way politics is supposed to be. Two years later: And everything had changed. The 13th Congress was not the thing that changed everything, it was the thing where the change was officially registered as the new reality.
Vaguely foreseeing the future, an ailing Ilyich penned his Last Will and Testament, as one last desperate attempt to avert the inevitable. And try to sort of get everybody back together, working as a team, like they always did. Using the power of his last dying words.
To his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin entrusted that part of his will which delved into the personality traits of Central Committee members and chastised them for their quibbles. I don’t know what Lenin thought was going to happen next – that everybody would repent and try to do better? Try to become better people and work together in the future?
In his will, Lenin was struggling to find a way to get the Party back on track, functioning as a collegiate body. At the same time, he was worried about Party unity and feared it would break up into several factions. One of his recommendations was to include more “real workers” in the leading organs of the Party. At that time, in this Vanguard Party of the proletariat, there were practically zero Party leaders who had ever really worked at a lathe or walked behind a plow. “Attracting more workers into the Central Committee, will help to improve our [government] apparatus, which is currently in a horrible state. In essence, we inherited this apparatus from the Tsar and from the bourgeoisie. Currently, with the war over, and having ensured at least a minimal living standard [for the masses], all of our work must be devoted to improving the apparatus,” Lenin wrote, in that portion of his will that was directed to the Central Committee.
Lenin could not have known, at the time he penned this, that his brilliant idea, of bringing in more real workers, would become just another tool in Stalin’s future toolbox: Flooding the Party ranks with raw, ignorant workers who always voted for him! In truth, turning an Elite Party into a Mass Party is what doomed Soviet democracy in its cradle. We will discuss that paradox a bit later on, maybe in tomorrow’s post.
Stalin’s “Coarse” Nature
In that part of the will that he entrusted to Krupskaya, Lenin subjected both Stalin and Trotsky to his sharp-tongued criticism. Lenin’s famous line about Stalin being exceptionally “coarse” (the Russian word is грубый) is open to a lot interpretations. And, although Lenin went on to recommend that Stalin be “removed” from his post as General Secretary due to that one character flaw, it is actually a rather mild rebuke, taking into account Stalin’s future actions against his comrades. Of course, Lenin could not have peered into the future, and glimpsed in the crystal ball how Stalin would some day order the arrest of most current members of the Central Committee; threatened their families; had them tortured into making grotesque false confessions; and then ignobly gunned down like dogs. Given this, грубый is not so bad. Stalin himself, and his cronies, chose to laugh it off, as if he were accused of farting in the elevator.
Trotsky of course tried to play up the “coarse” gag for all it was worth. The main issue at the Congress was whether to follow Lenin’s recommendation and remove Stalin from the GenSec post (Trotsky going “Yes! Yes!”), or to ignore Lenin’s recommendation and leave Stalin his cushy job. Trotsky wrote in his memoirs: “Lenin suggested that we put somebody in that post who was more patient, more loyal, less capricious.” Lenin, at the very least, had indicated that no man, least of all Stalin, was irreplaceable. Stalin begged to disagree.
Nope. Stalin had no intention of leaving his post, Ilyich or no Ilyich. In fact, Lenin’s cutting words might have even come as an unpleasant shock to his touchy ego. Up until then Stalin had hero-worshipped Lenin. Stalin chose to turn his mentor’s criticism into a joke: “I admit it, I really am a coarse fellow,” Stalin declared, sounding like a boorish character from a Chekhov play. “Ilyich has advised you to find somebody else for this post, who would differ from myself only by being more polite. Fine. Get somebody else.”
To which, one of his shills in the back seats shot back: “Never mind, Comrade Stalin, we are not scared of your coarseness. Our whole Party is coarse and proletarian!” Followed, no doubt, by ripples of thunderous applause.
The Congress, already firmly under Stalin’s control (more or less) then proceeded to reprimand Trotsky for his “petty-bourgeois deviationism”, but still elected the deviant to the Politburo. Interesting times…
[to be continued]