The former head of the US Communist Party assesses the career of Joseph Stalin.
In death as in life Stalin was unique, there is no gauge by which he can be assessed, no label under which he can be pigeonholed. And just as the power concentrated in Stalin’s hands during his life grew to unparalleled proportions, so his passing will have unprecedented repercussions.
There can be no successor to Stalin; his shoes must forever remain empty. This is true because his power had a single historical function which has been completed. It developed from his role in lifting Russia out of medieval conditions into those of a modern industrial society, compressing into three decades a process which in Western Europe and America was spread over three hundred years. This tenfold speeding up of history, this forced march of the Russian people out of the seventeenth century into the twentieth, was led and organized by Stalin. He alone of all Russian leaders held to this goal with ferocious tenacity, overcoming all obstacles whatever the cost, driving the entire nation along the marked path, imbuing it with his will, mercilessly sacrificing the laggards. The nation responded, and as it gathered momentum on its course, it built the personal power of its commander to greater and greater heights. With Russia’s victory in World War II and with the reconstruction of its economy after the war, the purpose which had energized this superhuman effort was accomplished. For the first time in its history Russia was invincible, it had a modern economy second only to that of America, it was a first-class power.
Most Americans fail to realize that with Stalin’s historical task accomplished, the Russian leadership that will follow him will necessarily be entirely different. The new leadership will inherit an industrialized Russia, it will have different tasks and therefore play a different role Thus Stalin can have no successor in the ordinary sense of the word.
The Stalin Era in Russia might be compared with the period of the “Robber Barons” in our industrial history. But the American industrial barons were limited in their scope to single regions and industries, whereas their Stalinist counterparts were organized into a homogeneous national machine, a sort of gigantic “trust” in which the traditional profit motive was replaced by socialist slogans. The rule of the Robber Barons in this country had to give way to a regime of law and orderly progress when the economy had been developed to a high level, and an analogous change will take place in the technique of Russian leadership.
Unfortunately for world peace, however, neither Soviet nor American political thought recognizes the meaning of the approaching change in Russia. Soviet thinking is still dominated by the concept of hostile encirclement, which in the world of physical reality has been breached beyond possible reconstruction. The heartland of the capitalist world, America, has today fully as sound reasons to consider itself the victim of “socialist encirclement,” though in this case too the encirclement is more psychological than physical.