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Issue #1706      October 14, 2015

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

Anti-Soviet propaganda and Stalin (Part 1)

Where would anti-Soviet propaganda be without Stalin as whipping boy? Well, it would certainly still be with us, of course. It is an extremely potent weapon in the arsenal of the class war, and capitalism’s ideologues wield it relentlessly. When the Soviet Union was in existence, they rigorously suppressed news of Soviet innovations and achievements wherever possible. When that wasn’t possible – as with Sputnik for example, or Soviet aircraft – they resorted to sneering and smearing.

Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin after the final meeting of the Yalta Conference, February 1945.

I remember, when I was at school, being told by a class-mate, that the wharfies went on strike in order to wreck the economy so the Russians could come in and take over. As conspiracy theories go, that one takes some beating. But the carefully fostered misinformation on which that argument was based started appearing when the Revolution was only a few days old.

Lenin was a “German agent” and the Soviets (workers and soldiers councils) were out to destroy Russia’s Christian way of life and “open the front to the Germans” – that was the first anti-Soviet lie. There were lots of others after that (the startling news that “Lenin eats babies” perhaps the most memorable), but when Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) to rebuild the shattered economy after the World War, the Civil War and the armed foreign Intervention (Russia had been continuously at war on its own territory from 1914 until 1922) the character of anti-Soviet propaganda changed.

NEP was essentially the introduction of a mixed economy while the new society rebuilt the country’s infrastructure and laid the foundations for reviving its manufacturing capacity. The capitalists told the world, however, that NEP showed that the Revolution had failed and that Lenin had realised that Socialism could not work.

Their attacks on NEP were echoed by similar attacks from the ultra-left in the form of Lenin’s opponent on the CC of the Bolshevik Party, Leon Trotsky. To end the divisiveness, and to abate the criticism, NEP was terminated prematurely. Lenin died in 1924, after years of overwork and constant tension. He was only 54, which enabled Western propaganda to boldly assert that his successor as Bolshevik leader, Stalin, must have poisoned him.

That is the kind of smear that does not need to be proven to be effective. Soviet medical evidence was dismissed as “propaganda”. Stalin got on with the job, and in particular developed agriculture on a collective, Socialist basis in order to be able to feed the industrial workforce that the new society would be dependent on. Previously, about 5 percent of the 25 million peasant farms in Russia had belonged to rich peasants (kulaks), and about 35 percent to poor peasants (the remainder to middle peasants). The kulaks set out to sabotage the collectivisation process, aided by opposition elements within the Bolshevik Party, mainly Right and Left opportunists, followers of Bukharin and Trotsky.

Determined that the program of collectivising agriculture should fail, and thereby discredit the Soviet government and the Party leadership of Stalin, these anti-Party elements, with funding and other support from abroad, played on the peasants’ lingering small-holder mentality to persuade them not to join their farms to those of poorer peasants lest they be taken advantage of, and to certainly not co-operate with or treat as equals the large number of landless peasants. They were even persuaded to slaughter their stock prior to joining a collective farm, “otherwise the Bolsheviks will simply take your stock from you”. They also sabotaged the sowing of crops, poisoned meat stocks, and in general carried on an underground guerrilla war against Soviet power and the efforts to establish socialism in the USSR.

The result in some parts of the country was famine, and the propagandists of capitalism seized on it to assert that for some unaccountable reason, Stalin had deliberately caused the famine. Such a move would hardly be calculated to win the peasants to Socialism, but the purpose of the propaganda was not to support Socialism but to convince workers in the West that the Soviet system was based on criminal brutality and genocide. Deliberately creating a famine was “just the sort of thing Communists would do”.

When a few years later the Soviet government took decisive action to secure its home-front in the face of the clear preparations by Western governments to launch a new war against Soviet Russia spearheaded by Nazi Germany, the elimination of potential fifth columnists was made the subject of unprecedented anti-Soviet propaganda. The propaganda line that was relentlessly hammered home was that Stalin was “eliminating his enemies”.

And when it became clear that not only were Western politicians and propagandists intent on kindling a war between Germany and Russia, to the benefit of other Western countries, but that because of that there was no chance of forming a meaningful anti-Fascist alliance, the Soviet leadership had to buy itself time by joining a non-aggression pact with Germany. Western governments were furious and their propaganda mouthpieces spewed all sorts of garbage equating Hitler and Stalin.

Then when the USSR had to resort to military force to shift its border with Germany’s heavily armed ally, Finland, back from the outskirts of Leningrad, their imaginations ran riot. Any nonsense was printable providing it was anti-Soviet. Stalin was apparently presiding over the most incompetent military machine the world had ever seen. The British government tried to intervene in the war on the side of the Finns, but the British public proved reluctant. Before they could be persuaded, Finland sued for peace and moved the border.

Earlier, the public trials of the Nazi fifth column elements in Russia had been lampooned. And yet the Nazis were actively seeking out Nazi sympathisers all over Europe (and beyond) as future leaders of the puppet states that would form the Greater German Reich: the disgruntled and notoriously pro-Nazi Duke of Windsor in Britain, Quisling in Norway, Marshall Petain and Pierre Laval in France, Jozef Tiso in Slovakia, the German-born Greek Royal family in Greece, Ante Pavelic in Croatia, and in Russia the head of the short-lived Provisional Government before the Revolution, Kerensky, White Guard general Denikin and the exiled Leon Trotsky were all sounded out.

When war came to Britain and Churchill became Prime Minister, he despatched the Duke of Windsor to the Bahamas where he was safely out of the way, and rounded up many of the other Nazi sympathisers, who were now not potential but real fifth columnists. When war came to Russia there was relatively little fifth column activity (there was some, of course) but as soon as the Red Army had torn the guts out of Hitler’s army and brought the War to a successful conclusion – at a hellish cost – the propaganda about the trials being “Stalin’s purges” began again.

In fact, it was ramped up by the urgent necessity to destroy the Soviet Union’s exceedingly high-status image as a result of its performance in the War. Churchill himself revived Goebels’ line about an “iron curtain”, supposedly imposed on Europe by the evil dictator Stalin and the line was applied with vigour by Western politicians, media and of course propagandists.

Stalin refused to be intimidated by Western politicians and their threats to use nuclear weapons – of which the USA had a monopoly for several years – and he relied on the power of the working class movement to keep them at bay while the USSR pursued a policy of supporting revolutionary change in Eastern Europe and China, the anti-colonial movement around the world, and the working class movement everywhere.

Next week: Cold War propaganda offensive

Next article – Militarisation of the police

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