Even before it became the IT capital of India, Bangalore was the least left-wing of Indian cities. When it was merely a cantonment town it exuded an air of placid contentment; that air is now aggressive, suffused by the competitive urges of capitalism—but it remains largely inhospitable to Communist thought. In other Southern capitals, Hyderabad and Chennai and (most of all) Thiruvananthapuram, one finds well defined and fairly active communities of Marxist intellectuals. But not now or ever in my home town.
It was therefore with some surprise that I chanced upon, in a small pavement stall on the busy M. G. Road, a copy of a 1951 biography of Joseph Stalin. Compiled by six men, who made so bold as to give their names, it was published in English and for international distribution by the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow. It a peach of a book, which gives a new meaning to the term ‘hagiography’. It portrays an indefatigable revolutionary, a brilliant thinker, a human being courageous beyond measure. Yet hiding behind the boiler-plate is a deep insecurity—with regard to Stalin’s intellectual pretensions, and with regard to his fitness for his job.
When the book was published Stalin had run the Soviet Union for more than two decades. But he still wasn’t sure whether he was worthy of filling his predecessor Lenin’s shoes. This explains why this biography, written under Stalin’s direction, presents him as a precocious and always loyal disciple of the founder of the Soviet state. We learn how, as a young man, Stalin read Lenin’s journal Iskra and ‘completey identified himself with its policy’, while conceiving ‘a boundless faith in Lenin’s revolutionary genius’. Indeed, ‘he took Lenin’s path as his own. From this path he has never swerved; and when Lenin died, he confidently and courageously carried on his work’.
Stalin was¬—or so we are told—‘Lenin’s most loyal disciple and associate and the most consistent champion of his ideas’. His work among the oil workers of Baku, itself a ‘brilliant application of Lenin’s policy’, apparently ensured that this city and its neighbourhood became ‘a citadel of Bolshevism’. We are then informed that the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda was ‘founded according to Lenin’s instructions, on the initiative of Stalin. It was under Stalin’s direction that the first issue was prepared and the policy of the paper decided’.
Stalin needed to establish his legimitmacy as Lenin’s successor, but also his claims to being an authentically original Marxist thinker. It was in exile that Stalin wrote his Marxism and the National Question, a work ‘on which Lenin set the highest value’ . His writings of this period are assessed, one described as ‘remarkable’, another as ‘brilliant’, a third as ‘an outstanding contribution to Bolshevik thought’ which, inspired by Lenin’s ‘historic work’ What is to be Done?, ‘resolutely upheld and developed the ideas of that genius’.
When Lenin returned from exile in April 1917, it was apparently Stalin, who, ‘with a delegation of workers’, went to meet him at the station. At this time ‘Stalin was at the centre of all the practical activities of the Party’. During the October Revolution, ‘Stalin was Lenin’s closest associate. He had direct charge for all the preparations for the insurrection’. Once victory was won, he helped his leader in solving the national problem of the USSR. ‘There is not a single Soviet republic in whose organization Stalin did not take an active and leading part’. ‘Lenin and Stalin were the inspirers and organizers of the great Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’.
In January 1924, Lenin died, as even Communists must. Now ‘the banner of the Party was taken up and carried on by Lenin’s distinguished disciple,Stalin—the finest son of the Bolshevik Party, Lenin’s worthy successor and the great continuator of his cause’. Having succeeded Lenin and seen off his rival
Leon Trotsky, Stalin, ‘with the farsightedness of genius’, turned to the building of the national economy through socialist industrialization. Here, ‘there was not a
single sphere or aspect of industrialization that escaped Stalin’s attention’.
In a speech of 11 December 1937, Stalin, addressing ‘the voters of the Stalin election district, Moscow’ [what a lovely name for an election district!], ‘pointed to the fundamental difference between elections in the U. S. S. R., which are free and democratic in every sense of the word, and elections in capitalist countries, where the people are under the pressure of the exploiting classes’. In this election season ‘the whole country listened to the speech of the sage and genius, their leader. His words sank deep into the minds of the working people’. When the ballots were counted, ‘of a total of 94, 000, 000 voters, over 91, 000, 000, or 96.8% went to the polls; 90, 000, 000 people voted for the Communist and non-Party bloc, a fervent testimony to the victory of Socialism… And first among the elected of the people, first among the deputies to the Supreme Soviet, was Stalin’.
The narrative of the book then turns to World War II, where ‘the leader and teacher of the working people, Comrade Stalin, took command of the armed forces of the U. S. S. R. and led the struggle of the Soviet people against a malignant and treacherous enemy, German fascism’. Displaying ‘a proper mastery of the art of war’, this ‘wise leader of armies, with whose name on their lips the Soviet soldiers went into battle, foresaw the development of events and bent the course of the gigantic battle to his iron will’. The man of action did not forget the work of the mind, for even ‘while directing the operations of the Soviet armed forces…, Comrade Stalin during the war continued his intense theoretical activity, developing and advancing the science of Marxism-Leninism’.
In February 1946, fresh elections were held to the Supreme Soviet. These were ‘an eloquent and convincing demonstration of the loyalty of the Soviet people to the Bolshevik Party, to the Soviet Government, and to their beloved Stalin. The candidates of the Communist and non-Party bloc received 99.18 per cent of the vote…’ (It might have been this very election which provoked Bertold Brecht to write that if the people were ever so foolish to oppose or criticize the Party, the party could always ‘elect another people’.)
The last chapter of the book salutes Stalin ‘as ‘the Lenin of today’. It speaks of how ‘in all their many languages the people of the Soviet Union compose songs to Stalin, expressing their supreme love and boundless devotion for their great leader, teacher, friend and military commander.’ But it also notes that ‘millions of all workers in all countries look upon Stalin as their teacher, from whose classic writings they learn how to cope with the class enemy and how to pave the way for the ultimate victory of the proletariat’. And this is its final, glorious paean: ‘Stalin’s whole work is an example of profound theoretical power combined with an unusual breadth and versatility in the revolutionary struggle… His work is extraordinary for its variety; his energy is amazing. The range of questions which engage his attention is immense, embracing the most complex problems of Marxist-Leninist theory and school textbooks; problems of Soviet foreign policy and the municipal affairs of the proletarian capital; the development of the Great Northern Sea Route and the reclamation of the Colchian marshes; the advancement of Soviet literature and art and the editing of the model rules for collective farms; and, lastly, the solution of most intricate problems in the theory and art of war’.
From this book it might appear that while Jesus and the Prophet, Rama and Yudhistra, had the odd flaw, Stalin emphatically did not. In fact, in 1956, or a mere five years after this book was written, Stalin’s own successor, Nikita Khruschev, decisively repudiated his legacy, accusing him of committing shocking crimes against the Russian people. Later historians have documented how the myth of Stalin’s infallibility was manufactured. Writing of the founding of the Pravda newspaper, Robert Conquest says, ‘Stalin arrived in St. Petersburg when all the arrangements for its publication were well advanced. It would later be claimed that the whole enterprise was his, but in fact it was largely managed by the Okhrana agent Malinovsky, and the first editor was another Okhrana agent’.
Although this book of 1951 was a pack of lies, there are three reasons why I have resurrected it here. First, because of its intrinsic interest. Second, because it might have been the very book through which countless Communist activists in India—including some now in the highest echelons of the CPI and CPM—first learnt to love and revere Stalin. Third, because it may give some useful ideas to future biographers—sorry, hagiographers–of Atal Behari Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi, Bal Thackeray and J. Jayalalithaa.