The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

'Engels did not understand a thing about production ...'

How well we all know Stalin! The arrogant Stalin, the boorish and boring Stalin, the crude, coarse and cynical Stalin, the dull and dogmatic Stalin, the egregiously egotistical Stalin, the ferocious and never funny Stalin, the grim and grey Stalin, the hectoring and hortatory Stalin, the ignorant Stalin, the jealous and jesuitical Stalin, the knavish and kakistocratic Stalin, the livid and leaden Stalin, the mediocre but megalomaniac Stalin, the nationalist and narrow-minded Stalin, the obtuse Orthodox-educated Stalin, the paranoid and parochial plagiarist Stalin, the querulous Stalin, the rude Stalin, the savage, stupid, scholastic and soon-to-be-senile Stalin, the terrifying Stalin, the unlettered and uncouth Stalin, the vain and vengeful Stalin, the wolfish and wilful Stalin, the xenophobic Stalin, the yawn-inducing yokel Stalin, the zealot Stalin.

How different he must have been from the iconoclastic Old Bolshevik who made the following remarks in a series of discussions with economists who were working on a new textbook of political economy:
If you want to seek answers for everything in Marx you will get nowhere. You have in front of you a laboratory such as the USSR which has existed now for more than 20 years but you think that Marx ought to be knowing more than you about socialism. Do you not understand that in the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx was not in a position to foresee! It is necessary to use one's head and not string citations together. New facts are there, there is a new combination of forces -- and if you don't mind -- one has to use one's brains.


Engels has created a lot of confusion here. There was a time when we used to boast that the technical staff and the engineers would receive not more than what the qualified workers get. Engels did not understand a thing about production and he confounded us too. It is as ridiculous as the other opinion that the higher administrative staff must be changed every so often. If we had gone along with this everything would have been lost. You want to leap directly into communism. Marx and Engels wrote keeping full communism in view. The transition from socialism to communism is a terribly complicated matter. Socialism has yet not entered our flesh and blood, we still have to organise things properly in socialism, we still have to properly set up distribution according to work.

We have filth in our factories, but we want to go straight to communism. But who will let you in there? We are sinking in garbage and we want communism. In one large enterprise about two years ago they started breeding fowl -- chicken and geese. Where does all this lead you to? Dirty people would not be allowed entry into communism. Stop being swine. And only then talk about entering communism. Engels wanted to go straight to communism. He got carried away.


The abusive style should be removed from the whole book. You do not convince anyone by abusing. You may sooner get the opposite results, the reader would become wary: 'since the author is being abusive, it means that not everything is clean'.

One should write in a way that we do not get the impression that everything in their system is bad, and everything in our system is good, one should not beautify things.


In the textbook Engels' model of savagery and barbarism is used. This does not lead anywhere. It is rubbish. Engels in his work did not want to have any differences with Morgan, who at that time was moving towards materialism. That was Engels' business. But how does it concern us? People would say that we are bad Marxists once we do not adhere to the exposition according to Engels. Nothing of the sort. What we get here is a huge heap: stone age, bronze age, kinship system, matriarchy, patriarchy and to top it all savagery and barbarism. All this only confuses the reader. Savagery and barbarism were contemptuous expressions used by 'civilised' people.


The first, old generation of Bolsheviks were very solid theoretically. We learnt Capital by heart, made conspectuses, held discussions and tested each others' understanding. This was our strength and it helped us a lot.

The second generation was less prepared. They were busy with practical matters and construction. They studied Marxism from booklets.

The third generation is being brought up on satirical and newspaper articles. They do not have any deep understanding. They need to be provided with food that is easily digestible. The majority has been brought up not by studying Marx and Lenin but on quotations.


To write a textbook is no simple task. One has to deeply consider history. You have done a hack-work of writing the chapter on feudalism. That is how you have gotten used to delivering your lectures, all wishy-washy. And every one listens to you there and nobody criticises you.
These must be from notes of conversations with some other Stalin.

This other Stalin does seem more consistent with the astute, blunt, canny, didactic, energetic, frank, gregarious, hard-working, iconoclastic, jovial, knowledgeable, lucid, modest, natural, open-minded, patient and pedagogic, quite rational and scientific, sometimes sentimental, tough, unflinching, vehement, wry, xanthochroic (yellow-skinned) zetetic Stalin whom we glimpse in the reminiscences of some of his actual acquaintances, from Averell Harriman to Zhukov - but what did they know?

OK, I'm laying it on with a shovel. Some of those actual acquaintances had much harsher words for him. And, given all that Stalin incontestably did, perhaps even joking about his character and thought is in poor taste. But I was genuinely surprised by the notes from which I've quoted above. Some have claimed that Stalin's theoretical works were ghost-written or plagiarised. If these notes are genuine, the least that can be said is that he had no need for it.


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