Reflection on controversial histories of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, October Revolution and the USSR
By Miguel Urbano Rodrigues
The author, born in 1925, has been a member of the Portuguese Communist Party since the early 1960s, when he was exiled in Brazil. He was editor of the PCP newspaper Avante in 1974-75, publisher of O Diario 1976-85 and a PCP representative in the Portuguese and European Parliament. WW editors Michael Otto and John Catalinotto, who consider it a contribution to the historical discussion of the Soviet Union, translated it to make it available to WW readers.
This article was written to be included in a posthumous book I’m writing. I changed this decision because my companheira persuaded me that its immediate publication may be useful in these days when humanity (including Portugal) is immersed in a structural crisis of the monstrous capitalist system, which is condemned to disappear.
I read in 1961, in Guinea Conakry, the French translation of the History of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of the USSR, reviewed and approved in 1938 by the Central Committee of the CPSU. In Portugal, at the initiative of Comrade Carlos Costa, this history was published in 2010, with the subtitle, Short Course and a preface, very appreciative, by Leandro Martins then editor of Avante! The initiative was controversial within the PCP.
Incompatible views of history
I have in my Gaia library the said History of the Communist Party (Bolshevik), different editions of the History of the Soviet Union published in Spanish by Progress Publishers Moscow and the 1977 translation in Portuguese of The History of the Great October Socialist Revolution, from the same publisher.
The History of the CPSU, published in 1938 and approved by the Central Committee of the Party, was translated into 67 languages and more than 42 million copies were sold. But after the 20th Congress [in 1956] it was withdrawn from Soviet libraries.
I decided, not without some feeling of discomfort, to express my opinion about this work, that of the October Revolution and one of the histories of Russia and the USSR, written by the historians A. Fadeiev, Bridsov, Chermensky, Golikov and A. Sakharov, members of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union. It was also published in Spanish by Progress Publishers in 1960.
Why the discomfort?
Because of the extreme difficulty in establishing boundaries between positive and negative, between the evocation of history and the misrepresentation of history; sometimes these elements coincide in the same chapter or either merge or intersect in labyrinthine confusion.
In the History of the Communist Party (Bolshevik), the first three chapters are devoted to the struggle for the creation of a revolutionary workers’ party (the future Social Democratic Labor Party of Russia — POSDR — initially Marxist), the struggle of the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks and the first Russian revolution (1904-07). The narrative is interesting, with emphasis on the crucial role that Lenin played in this historic phase.
Chapters 4, 5 and 6 are set in the period that goes from the Stolypin reactionary period until the February Revolution of 1917 that overthrew the Czarist autocracy. This information, which is deep and unprecedented for Western readers, enriches these pages that spotlight the rise and the continuous strengthening of the Bolshevik Party and the importance of the theoretical work of Lenin, who was the ideological leader.
Lenin’s April theses , which marked a turning point in the Party line [following the overthrow of the czar], deserve special attention. By raising the demand, “All power to the Soviets,” Lenin buried the idea that the bourgeois-democratic revolution would be long lasting; instead, he mobilized the Party and the workers against the Provisional Government of Russia, outlining the strategy of the proletarian path to socialism.
In chapter 7, the authors of the History of the Party evoke the events that preceded the October Revolution and its preparation, with quotations from Lenin that facilitate understanding of the struggles waged against the Kerensky government and within the Petrograd Soviet itself.
But the language of the book, starting from chapter 4, dedicated to the Stolypin [Russian Minister of Internal Affairs from 1906 to 1911] reaction, in the period preceding the start of the war of 1914-18, changes much and becomes far removed from the rigor, serenity and loyalty required of responsible historians from Soviet academics of world renown like Yevgeny Tarle.
To characterize the opportunism of the Mensheviks, the economists, the empiro-criticists, and to denounce and criticize the mistakes of Kamenev, Zinoviev, Rykov, Preobrazhensky or Trotsky, and demonstrate these comrades’ incompatibility with Leninism, the authors of the History of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of the USSR resort to aggressive and insulting adjectives and gross distortions of history.
Stalin begins to appear repeatedly on many pages that attribute important decisions and initiatives to him from a time period when he was still a leader of little renown in the Party, though close to Lenin.
It is false that Trotsky had joined the party to undermine it from within or with the aim of destroying it.
Kamenev and Zinoviev, on the eve of the October insurrection, took positions that led Lenin to label them as traitors, but the attitude of Trotsky, who was chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, raised no criticism from Lenin.
Regarding the negotiations of Brest-Litovsk, the authors of the History of the Communist Party also misrepresent the events. Lenin censured Trotsky, who was the head of the Soviet delegation, for not having complied with the instructions to sign a peace accord with the Germans, but never characterized as a “traitor” either him or Bukharin, who took an ultra-left position, nor Radek nor Piatakov.
The historians named here claim that these comrades formed an anti-Bolshevik group that waged “within the party, a furious struggle against Lenin.” It’s false that they had plans to “arrest V.l. Lenin, J.V. Stalin and I.M. Sverdlov, assassinate them and form a new government of Bukharinites, Trotskyists and Left Socialist Revolutionaries.”
It’s false that Trotsky, with “Kamenev, Zinoviev and Bukharin as his lieutenants intended to create a political organization of the new bourgeoisie in the USSR, a party of capitalist restoration.”
The proof that they had not acted as conspirators and traitors was the subsequent appointment of all of them for tasks of greater responsibility precisely at the behest of Lenin. Trotsky was named Commissar of Defense in the most dramatic period of civil war and military intervention of the Entente powers, the USA and Japan; Zinoviev assumed the presidency of the Third International with the approval of Lenin; Bukharin was the editor-in-chief of Pravda from 1924 to 1929 with the endorsement of Stalin.
Chapter 9 continues to misrepresent history.
While Lenin was still alive, Trotsky, during the debate on trade unions and the founding of the NEP, took positions that were harshly criticized by Lenin, but he continued in the politburo with Lenin’s approval.
In the pages dedicated to the 13th Party Congress, there was brief reference to the letter that Lenin submitted on December 24, 1922. He was already severely disabled months before he suffered the last and devastating stroke. They omit the content and the meaning of this fundamental document.
The historians of “The History” state that “In the resolutions adopted by the 13th Congress they took into account all the statements made by Lenin in his last articles and letters.”
This is an inexcusable lie.
Lenin’s letter and the addendum on January 4, 1923, were read to many delegates but not published. They were only publicly reported in the USSR after 1956.
In this letter Lenin transmitted to Congress his opinion about the most prominent members of the Central Committee, whose amplification he proposes.
Lenin’s letter to the 13th Congress
Because of its importance I transcribe below some passages from Lenin’s long letter to the 13th Congress that drew attention to the grave danger that threatened the Party if changes were not introduced in the structure of its leadership.
“Comrade Stalin, having become Secretary-General, has concentrated in his hands immense authority, and I’m not sure that he will always be able to use that authority with sufficient restraint. On the other hand, Comrade Trotsky, as his struggle against the CC on the question of the People’s Commissariat of Communications has already proved, is distinguished not only by outstanding ability. He is personally perhaps the most capable man in the present CC, but has too much self-confidence and is too focused on the purely administrative side of the work.”
In a few lines, he traces the profiles of Kamenev, Zinoviev, Pyatakov, and Tomsky who were then, with Bukharin, Trotsky, Stalin and himself, members of the Politburo. To Bukharin he attributed certain weaknesses but also praised him greatly.
About Stalin he warns in this appendix: “Stalin is too rude, and this defect, fully tolerable in our midst and in relations among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a Secretary General’s work. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post and appointing another man in his stead who in all other respects has one advantage over Comrade Stalin, namely, that of being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious, etc. This may appear to be only details. But I think that from the standpoint of what is said about the relationship between Stalin and Trotsky, it is not a minor detail, but it is a detail which can assume decisive importance.” [Portuguese version translated to English here.]
Contrary to frequent speculation by Western historians, it is absurd to consider Trotsky’s appointment as Secretary General as possible. The old guard of the party would never have accepted him.
There are some differences between the translations in English, French, Portuguese and Castilian of the Letter of Lenin to the Congress and the following appendix. But they are irrelevant.
The Epic of the reconstruction of Russia and Industrialization
Chapter 10 is the best chapter of the book.
Russia was ruined by the world war, by the civil war and by the aggression of the powers of the Entente. Dozens of cities and hundreds of villages were destroyed. Agricultural and industrial production fell way below the levels of 1913. During the catastrophic drought of 1921-22, millions of people died of starvation.
The Soviet government faced tremendous challenges. Existing factories were obsolete.
I cite “The History of the Party”:
“It was necessary to build a series of industrial sectors unknown in czarist Russia; to build new factories to make machine and automotive tools, for chemical and metal products, to organize our own production of engines and of materials for the installation of power plants; to increase the extraction of coal and minerals — because the triumph of socialism in the USSR demanded it.
“It was necessary to create a new war industry, to build new factories for artillery, ammunition, aircraft, tanks and machine guns, because the interests of the defense of the USSR in the conditions of imperialist encirclement demanded it.
“It was necessary to build tractor plants, factories for modern agricultural machinery to provide for agriculture, to give to millions of small individual farmers the possibility of moving toward large-scale kolkhoz (collective farm) production, because that’s what the interests of the victory of socialism required in the country.”
These gigantic tasks required billions of rubles. And the vaults of the treasury were empty.
As the Soviet government had invalidated all debts with capitalist countries that were contracted by the czarist autocracy, it was absolutely impossible to obtain foreign credit.
Soviet power could turn only to agricultural surpluses. But to obtain them it was critical that agriculture was in a position to produce them.
A double challenge appeared: Launch collectivization of the land and modernize agriculture in minimal time providing the kolkhozs [collective farms] and sovkhozs [state farms] with adequate technical resources.
The Soviet power, defying the forecasts of Paris, London and Washington which considered its survival impossible, won that epic battle.
This coincided with the intense struggles within the Party (In 1927 Trotsky was expelled and deported to Kazakhstan; Kamenev and Zinoviev also were expelled, but were later reinstated) and required the destruction of the kulaks [owners of middle-sized farms who employed labor] who had been enriched enormously during the New Economic Policy (NEP) period [when Soviet power encouraged capitalist-driven development, 1921-28].
There are no precedents in the history of humanity where transformations so profound and rapid took place as those in the USSR.
From 1926 to 1927 one billion rubles were invested in industry; three years later, five billion. In that brief period the Dnieper Power Station, the railway from Turkestan to Siberia, the giant tractor factory in Stalingrad and the AMO automobile factory were all built.
In 1928, the area of the large-scale collective farms (kolkhozy) was 1.39 million hectares. By 1929 it surpassed 4.26 million hectares and in 1930, some 15 million hectares.
In the three years from 1930 to 1933 industrial production doubled.
These amazing successes, however, were marred by serious deviations from Leninist principles and values.
In the collectivization of the land, the kulaks were not the only target of repression. Millions of small farmers who resisted integration into the kolkhozy were also brutally pursued.
Stalin criticized the “leftist excesses” of party cadres in an article denouncing the “serious errors of those who had deviated from the Party line” by taking measures of “administrative coercion.”
The statistics forged in the West according to which tens of millions of Russian peasants and Ukrainians died in the process of collectivization are obviously fictitious.
But it’s undeniable that great responsibility is borne by Stalin for crimes committed in that period.
The History of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) omits this fact.
Lenin’s ideas about collectivization were inconsistent with Stalin’s policies for agriculture and with the methods to which he resorted in a context of heightened struggle within the Central Committee.
Nevertheless, my outright disagreement with the strategy of the General Secretary [Stalin] of the CPSU, who was already invested with the enormous power that Lenin feared and denounced, does not prevent me from recognizing that he was an exceptionally gifted revolutionary who took less than a decade to accomplish a colossal work.
I disassociate myself entirely from the insistent and dithyrambic praise for Stalin, but I affirm that, with the First Five Year Plan successfully completed ahead of schedule, Russia transformed itself from a backward agrarian nation with medieval structures into a great industrial country. A country in which almost 75 percent of the adult population was illiterate became an educated and cultured country with an impressive network of higher, secondary and elementary schools. In those schools were taught the languages of the dozens of nationalities living in Soviet territory from the Baltic and the Black Sea to the Pacific. The USSR was the first country in the world in which the State guaranteed health and free education to all its citizens.
In the chapter of Conclusions, the authors of the History of Party (Bolshevik) try to present the Soviet regime of the 1930s as the materialization of Leninism. Stalin was named his faithful interpreter.
The course of history proved the falsity of that claim.
Even at that time, the personality cult of Stalin was incompatible with Lenin’s blueprint.
This subject was not raised until 1956 in the 20th Congress of the CPSU.
Nikita Khrushchev, who had never directed the slightest criticism toward the Secretary General, outlined a horrible profile of him. Subsequently it has become known that the famous Report to Congress was seeded with false information. But the cult of personality, stimulated by Stalin, was a reality.
The so-called de-Stalinization cannot hide the fact that the coming to power of Khrushchev signaled the beginning of the revisionist policy that led to the destruction of the USSR.
It was Gorbachev who buried socialism in the Soviet Union, but the one who dug its grave was Khrushchev.
On ‘The History of the Great Socialist October Revolution’
The Portuguese version, published in 1977 by Progress Publishers ,was prepared by a group of academics, but the Soviet publisher did not name them.
For its style, language and sources cited (occupying 71 pages in the index), it’s a very different work from the 1938 version of the “History of the Communist Party (Bolshevik).”
The first references to the differences in the Bolshevik faction of the RSDLP (Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) don’t appear until pages 152 and 163. The authors stress that Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev did not believe in the “victory of the socialist revolution in Russia.” The last two even denounced the preparation of the insurrection of November 7 (October 25 by the Julian calendar still in use) in an article, which led Lenin to accuse them of being “traitors”.
Part 3 of the History in question is dedicated to the Construction of the Soviet State and to the Revolutionary Transformations in the Country.
In the 200 pages it occupies are frequent criticisms of Kamenev and Zinoviev and few references to Stalin and Trotsky.
The criticisms of Trotsky arise regarding the contradictory positions he took as head of the Soviet delegation at the Brest-Litovsk peace negotiations with the Germans and Austrians.
But the language in those lines is not hostile. The authors write that “Just like the ‘left’ Communists (then led by Bukharin), Trotsky did not believe it was possible to preserve Soviet Power without the support of the countries of Western Europe. Lenin had instructed him to sign the peace treaty if the Germans presented an ultimatum.”
And Trotsky, as head of the delegation, ignored the instructions of Lenin, hiding behind his absurd formula “Neither peace nor war!” But when the Germans restarted their military offensive on February 18, Trotsky, in the emergency meeting of the Central Committee, voted with Lenin for the immediate signing of the treaty imposed by the Germans, which was done on March 3.
The authors do not even mention the expulsion of Trotsky from the Party In 1927 and his deportation to Central Asia.
It’s obvious that this group of historians dutifully follows the revisionist line adopted by the CPSU after the 20th CPSU Congress.
The lack of references to Trotsky is unjustified.
Although it’s false that Trotsky had been the brain behind a sinister plan aiming at the dismemberment of the USSR, delivering the Far East to the Japanese and Ukraine to Hitler, it is undeniable that the founder of the Fourth International continually conspired against the Soviet Union during his exile.
A ‘History of the USSR’ that was also controversial
“The History of the USSR” crafted by the five members of the Academy of Sciences cited at the beginning of this article is also a controversial work in which the misrepresentation of events reflects the spirit of Khrushchev’s revisionism.
The work is a hardly ambitious manual aimed at young people. The title is also misleading because the authors tried to condense into 400 pages the centuries-long history of the peoples who settled since Neolithic times in the territory of the future Soviet Union.
Chapter 1, by Bridsov and A. Sakharov, is dedicated to primitive communities and the period of slavery.
In Chapter 2, by Sakharov, the issue is feudalism and includes the foundation of the Russian state, the Mongol invasions, the disintegration of the Golden Horde, and ends with the development of capitalist relations in Russia.
The Marxist perspective is not easily identified in these pages that contain extremely interesting information absent in the work of Western historians about those periods. Stalin’s name appears for the first time on page 141, included in a list of Bolsheviks struggling against the Mensheviks. Kamenev is quoted on page 202 as “leader of the right opportunists.” Bukharin and Preobrazhensky are named on page 206 as “capitulators.”
Trotsky is criticized (p. 212) for having “violated the instructions of the Party Central Committee and the Soviet government, by refusing to sign the peace accords.”
Stalin was credited with the success, along with Voroshilov, in the victory over [military leader of the White forces] Krasnov (p. 231) in Tsaritsyn (the future Stalingrad).
Trotskyism is again mentioned critically on page 258. Bukharin and Rykov are labeled as an “anti-party group of opportunists” (p. 261).
In the pages devoted to the collectivization of agriculture, the violation of the principles of the Party is attributed to officials and local soviets and the criticism of Stalin is valued as important for such deviations. But there are no references to the crimes committed and the mass deportation of peasants.
The historian does not even allude to the processes of the 1930s that ended with the executions of Kamenev, Zinoviev, Rakovsky, Bukharin, Preobrazhensky and other old Bolsheviks.
The first references to Stalin’s cult of personality appear on page 281. The author of the chapter states that the “idolatry of Stalin inflicted serious damage to the Communist Party and the Soviet Society.” And he stresses that the success achieved by the Party and the masses were unjustly attributed to Stalin.
The chapter on World War II emphasizes that Stalin “took the military, economic and political leadership of the country, concentrating in his hands the entire power of the State” (p. 287).
In Chapter 4, the academic F. Golikov devotes ample space (p, 312 et seq.) to the 20th Congress. He writes that the report of the First Secretary Khrushchev was discussed, stressing that “the question of overcoming the cult of Stalin’s personality and its consequences” merited special attention.
“The Congress,” Golikov wrote, “revealed boldly and honestly the faults and deficiencies in the work that resulted from idolizing Stalin, especially in the last years of his life and activity. Foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism and the nature of the socialist system of society, the idolatry impeded the development of Soviet democracy and the advance of the Soviet Union toward communism.”
But in criticizing the “the errors of the activity of Stalin,” the new leadership of the Party states that “as a true Marxist-Leninist and firm revolutionary, Stalin takes his due place in History.”
In the plenary session of the Central Committee of June 1957, it was indicated that “the anti-Party group composed of Malenkov, Kaganovich, Molotov, Bulganin and Shepilov was unmasked and defeated.”
There follow some laudatory pages about the extraordinary successes of the CPSU under the leadership of Khrushchev that would permit the USSR “in the future to occupy first place in the world in both overall volume of production and production per capita. In this country the material and technical basis of communism will be created.”
Unfortunately for humanity, that optimistic forecast was contradicted by history.
Through its style and language, the essay in question reveals clearly the revisionist mentality that drove the USSR to its disintegration and to the reimplantation of capitalism in Russia.
It’s a work that contributed nothing to the prestige of the Soviet historiography.
After all these decades, it’s my firm conviction that the “History of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) 1938,” the “History the Great October Revolution” and the different histories of the USSR published in the 1970s, each with different objectives, distorted the actual history of some events that will leave indelible marks on the path of humanity.
It behooves us to remember that the vast majority of Western historians, acolytes of capitalism, far from helping to illuminate the true story of the Soviet Union, falsify it perversely to demonize Marxism and Lenin.
On the eve of the commemoration of the centenary of the October Revolution, I feel the need to assert that, despite the serious deformations that perverted Lenin’s vision, the demise of the Soviet Union resulted in a tragedy for humanity. The victory of the Socialist Revolution was the greatest event in history and its legacy confirms that it was the most just and ambitious event liberating human beings from thousands of years of exploitation.
* História do Partido Comunista (bolshevique) da URSS, Edição de Para a História do Socialismo, Portugal, August 2010, 527 pages.
** História da Great Socialist Revolução Outubro, Edições Progresso, Moscow, 1977, 676 pages.
*** Historia de la URSS (Ensayo), Moscow, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1960, 422 pages.
Serpa and Vila Nova de Gaia
http://www.odiario.info/reflexao-sobre-historias-polemicas-do-pcus/ (Portuguese version)
http://www.lahaine.org/mundo.php/reflexion-sobre-historias-polemicas-del (Spanish version)