Trial to Defend Stalin

Trial to defend Stalin

[This is another re-upload of an old article, slightly edited.]

Stalin has lost in court in a much publicized libel case. Stalin’s grandson, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, charged the paper Novaya Gazeta with libel. Last April, author Anatoly Yablokov accused Stalin of being a “bloodthirsty cannibal” that signed “death lists” and committed “crimes against his own people.” The paper’s editor, a self-described “anti-Stalinist,” was not surprised with the outcome.

The much-hyped trial has social repercussions because Stalin is controversial in Russia. Last year, Mikhail Gorbachev, who has often been voted one of the country’s most unpopular Russians in polls, denounced efforts to portray Stalin in a positive light. By contrast, over and over, polls demonstrate that Stalin is still very popular amongst the ex-Soviet peoples. For example, in a TV poll last year, Stalin was voted “third best Russian” even though he was an ethnic Georgian. Stalin supporters gathered with signs outside the courtroom. Dzhugashvili’s attorney stated:

“Stalin was a great leader who saved the country and led it to democracy. His constitution was the best ever written. Yes, many innocent people suffered and were killed, but Stalin was not responsible for this. Others were. It’s time to put the record straight.” (1) (2) (3)

A tale of two body counts

Central to Dzhugashvili’s case was that the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forests in World War II was not carried out by the Soviet Union. Contrary to the newspaper claims, Dzhugashvili’s attorney asserts that the documents that allegedly ordered the deaths of Polish prisoners of war are fakes. And, there is much evidence, including eyewitness accounts to suggest that the Nazis, not the Soviets were responsible. (4) (5) However, in 1990, after decades of denying responsibility and claiming that the massacre was carried out by Nazis, the revisionist Gorbachev administration acknowledged that the Soviets had executed the officers. However, many continue to maintain that the event was staged by the Nazi forces who “discovered” the bodies after further invading Poland. Many maintain that the massacre was staged as propaganda against the Soviet Union, socialism, and Stalin. They claim that the admission by Gorbachev was just a political maneuver by revisionists to discredit socialism. Since the death of Stalin there has been a continual re-writing of the historical narrative. Stalin has been demonized as a bloodthirsty tyrant by both the revisionists that succeeded him in the Soviet leadership and by Western propaganda. It is entirely possible that revisionists and others have forged archival materials in attempts to taint his legacy. After all, in order for the revisionists to legitimize their own claim to power, they have to discredit Stalin.

The alleged Katyn massacre is harped on as a way to discredit Stalin and socialism. Yet, deaths of Red Army prisoners of war aren’t given a second thought. For example, when Poland declared its independence from Russia in 1918, the Polish army under Pilsudski, with French support, invaded Russia in the hopes of crushing the new, revolutionary, Bolshevik regime. As a result of the war, imperialist Poland annexed parts of Belorussia (now Belarus) and Ukraine. What happened to Soviet prisoners of war in this earlier conflict? 165,550 went into captivity, and 75,699 were returned after the war in 1921. Between 1919 and 1921, Russian sources estimate that 60,000 Red Army soldiers died in Polish captivity. According to Polish sources, about 20,000 died. All sides agree that tens of thousands of Soviet prisoners died in Polish hands. There is a loud outcry over the alleged Katyn massacre yet silence over these undisputed Red Army deaths because the anti-communists are more concerned with smearing Stalin than for justice for the dead. (6)

Ultimately, whether or not the Soviets were responsible for the Katyn massacre is beside the point. What matters is the overall legacy of Stalin. Most criticisms of Stalin fail to take into account his historical context. Stalin took the reigns of power in the Soviet Union at an incredibly difficult time. When Lenin died, the Soviet Union was still backward in terms of its industrial development. Socialist construction had just begun under Lenin. On the whole, Stalin is the leader who carried out the socialization of the economy. Stalin was charged with the task of organizing the first modern and sustained socialist economy. Lasting socialism on a countrywide scale had never occurred. There was no model for Stalin to draw on.

Stalin’s legacy

It was under Stalin’s leadership that some of the greatest humanitarian victories of the last century were won. The Soviet Union was the first. Under Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet countries went from the backwater of Europe to surpassing it in many ways, becoming a modern superpower able to challenge imperialism on a worldwide scale.

Quality of life increased for the Soviet peoples under Stalin. Despite the austerity forced on the Soviet peoples by Stalin’s industrialization program and by World War 2, life generally improved. Public education and health care expanded under Stalin’s regime. Life expectancy doubled under the Stalin regime. (7) Life expectancy under Stalin was greater than it has been in recent times in Russia despite all of the technological advances in medicine. (8) It was under Stalin’s leadership that the majority of the population gained access to full rights as proletarian citizens. It was under his leadership that women, non-Russians, declassed and ex-peasants gained full access to work in the modern Soviet economy. This major social shift not only represented higher pay for the majority, but it also represented more autonomy in the private realm and more political power for the masses. Under Stalin greater numbers gained a voice in the Soviet system. (9)

Under Stalin, the Soviet Union was a beacon of hope to the world’s people. Harry Haywood, a Black communist leader, recounts an encounter with racism in the Soviet Union. In Stalin’s Soviet Union, racism was treated very differently than in was in the United States, which still had legally enforced White supremacy in the form of Jim Crow laws:

“In the Soviet Union, remnants of national and racial prejudice from the old society were attacked by education and law. It was a crime to give or receive direct or indirect privileges, or to exercise discrimination because of race or nationality. Any manifestation of racial or national superiority was punishable by law and was regarded as a serious political offense, a social crime.

During my entire stay in the Soviet Union, I encountered only one incident of racial hostility. It was on a Moscow streetcar. Several of us Black students had boarded the car on our way to spend an evening with out friend MacCloud. It was after rush hour and the car was only about half filled with Russian passengers. As usual, we were subjects of friendly curiosity. At one stop, a drunken Russian staggered aboard. Seeing us, he muttered (but loud enough for the whole car to hear) something about ‘Black devils in our country.’

A group of outraged Russian passengers thereupon seized him and ordered the motorman to stop the car. It was a citizen’s arrest, the first I had ever witnessed. ‘How dare you, you scum, insult people who are guests in our country!’…

‘No, citizens,’ said a young man (who had done most of the talking), ‘drunk or not, we don’t allow this sort of thing in our country…’” (10)

In addition to fighting racism and national oppression in the Soviet Union, Stalin used his influenced to combat White chauvinism within North America. It was Stalin who forced the Communist Party USA to embrace the Black Belt thesis, the thesis that the states of the Southeast U.S. constitute a separate, Black national homeland. Thus, Stalin was one of the first Black nationalists. Stalin’s theory is still upheld by some Black national liberation forces today.

The leadership in the Stalin era faced a dilemma. Stalin famously said that the Soviet peoples must industrialize or face annihilation. Stalin’s austerity programs, breakneck industrialization and collectivization, and modernization programs may have been hard to bear, but they were necessary. Stalin’s prediction proved true in 1941 when Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union. The Nazi invasion cost the lives of 27 million Soviet people. Had Stalin not wielded a heavy hand, then many more lives would have been lost and Hitler’s tanks would have rolled all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Because of Stalin’s policies, the Soviet Union had the industrial base to defeat the Nazi onslaught. Stalin was the most important leader in saving the world from fascism in World War 2.

At every turn, the capitalists try to misrepresent the true record of socialism. There is a long history of distortion and fraud perpetuated by the capitalists. (11) The verdict of this trial is part of a long history of lies. Communists do not buy into the sensational lies and distortions of the capitalists. Communists also do not dogmatically defend every error or excess that may have occurred. Rather, communists take a balanced and critical view of our own history. Communists defend what is correct and abandon what is not. This is the scientific approach.

All of his life Stalin fought for socialism. In his earlier days as a revolutionary, he put himself in the line of fire as a guerrilla, robbing banks in order to fund the revolution. Later, he waged struggle against all kinds of revisionism, especially Trotskyism. Stalin led the Soviet Union through very difficult times. The times were hard and called for tough measures. Even in this context, Stalin was able to carry out significant social revolution. As Mao pointed out, Stalin made significant errors, but they are our errors. They are errors that communists take responsibility for. His errors are part of the inevitable trial and error, the zigzag path, of socialist construction.










9. “Review of Women at the Gates.” LLCO. Retrieved from:

10. Harry Haywood. Black Bolshevik: “Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist.” Liberator Press. Chicago, Il.: USA. pp. 170-171.


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