Book Review: The Essential Stalin, Still Relevant in U.$. Prisons

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[Theory] [USSR]

Book Review: The Essential Stalin, Still Relevant in U.$. Prisons

The Essential Stalin: Major Theoretical Writings, 1905-52
Edited with an introduction by Bruce Franklin
Anchorbooks 1972
511 pages

I finally got to read this priceless gem and it lived up to all my expectations. One of the theoretical weapons in a revolutionary's arsenal should always be this book. Many of us have heard the slanderous claims from many in the "Amerikan left" that attempt to smut up comrade Stalin's legacy, and it's easy to sit back and find fault in someone and snatch rumors out of thin air while confusing many who don't know any better or do not take the time to investigate for oneself what Stalin brought to the international communist movement. This book that displays Stalin's theoretical contributions, from which many new generations of revolutionaries out in society as well as within prisons can continue to glean its political nutrients and replenish the movement today and tomorrow. It is these precious documents which we read from Stalin's own hand and in this way we learn where Stalin stood on the major issues.

In his piece "Marxism and the National Question" we learn of some of the challenges in Stalin's day with nationalism. At the same time he makes clear that Marxists of all stripes must support the self-determination of nations and this includes the right to secede. It is in this piece where Stalin defines what a nation is. Here in United $tates borders we have not only the dominant nation of Amerikkka, but also Aztlán, New Afrika, Boriqua, and several First Nations. Amerikkka, the oppressor nation, does not recognize the above stated oppressed nations on these shores and even deals with those of us who raise the banner of our respective nations by imprisoning us, murdering us and even resorting to torture in prisons to repress our growing resistance. As Stalin points out in his piece "Marxism and the National Question", repressing one's language is a form of national oppression and even after we are imprisoned in Amerika — which in itself is national oppression in today's capitalist society — our languages are repressed, many Spanish words, Mexican indigenous languages like Nahuatl, African Swahilli and other native languages are considered "gang activity" if spoken in many Amerikkkan prisons. Thus our national oppression in Amerika follows us to our grave as even in the most repressive dungeons or torture facilities our national oppression continues!

Stalin's piece "The Foundations of Leninism" defines Leninism but also exposes Trotskyism's shortcomings. As Stalin states in this piece Leninism is the "tactics and strategies of the proletarian revolution" and "the tactics and strategies of the dictatorship of the proletariat" and this is so because Lenin took Marxism and applied Marxist theory to the material world. Marx was unable to see his theories come to fruition so Lenin applied Marxism to Russia and developed more tactics that remain weapons in the arsenal of the people today. Stalin's piece highlights Lenin's contributions to the international communist movement (ICM).

The dictatorship of the proletariat is explained as the bourgeoisie being on the receiving end of suppression while the formerly exploited are now doing the suppression. The Soviets (councils) are explained as well where, like United Struggle from Within (USW), these mass organizations worked to unite different peoples in a forward motion to the path of revolution. "The Foundations of Leninism" has a great depth to it that includes many principles of Leninism among which was Lenin's stance on the national question, particularly Lenin's position on self-determination of the oppressed nations. Stalin gets to the heart of this point when he states:

"Formerly, the principle of self-determination of nations was usually misinterpreted, and not infrequently it was narrowed down to the idea of the right of nations to autonomy. Certain leaders of the second international even went so far as to turn the right to self-determination into the right to cultural autonomy, i.e., the right of oppressed nations to have their own cultural institutions, leaving all political power in the hands of the ruling nation. As a consequence, the idea of self-determination stood in danger of being transformed from an instrument for combating annexations into an instrument for justifying them."(p. 146)

This is powerful and validates what many comrades here have discovered about many "parties" in Amerikkka, who use the idea of self-determination as an instrument for promoting oppression. Groups like the crypto-Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP=U$A) have in fact used self-determination in this exact way. Indeed, if you look at RCP=U$A line, they disagree with the [email protected] nation having a right to self-determination and instead they line up with the Second International and promote the idea of Aztlán being reduced to an "autonomous" region within North America. This, as Stalin reveals, is only a slimy way of RCP-U$A attempting to use the idea of self-determination as an instrument for justifying annexation and oppression.(1)

In "Dialectical and Historical Materialism" comrade Stalin introduces us to Marx and Engels's thought on dialectics and how historical materialism is the application of dialectical materialism in order to study and thus transform society. Dialectical materialism is the process of identifying and then using contradictions to transform our concrete conditions, for example the United $tates government has us locked in these dungeons, in solitary confinement, in slave conditions in order to stifle our advancement mentally, to smother our resistance. When we are locked in these chambers it is to neutralize our ability to rebel, to think, and learn from others while teaching, and to feel the sacred bond of unity! When we turn these torture chambers into revolutionary institutes, where we study the science of revolution, and use prisons as re-education camps, where we learn real history and begin to understand our oppression, this is dialectical materialism in practice! It is using the state's tools of oppression instead to liberate our minds! This is as Stalin describes going from quantitative change into qualitative change or as Engels put it "quantity is transformed into quality."

Contradictions exist in all matter and phenomena, in the United $tates, in the world, in Amerikkka's prisons, in lumpen organizations, in people's ideology and behavior, etc., and in order to advance any matter or phenomenon one first needs to identify the contradictions. "Dialectical and Historical Materialism" teaches us this process and thus helps us advance our struggles. Lenin said dialectics is the "struggle of opposites", and this struggle must occur in order for development to take place. Mao understood this "struggle of opposites" and he said: "We are confronted by two types of social contradictions — those between ourselves and the enemy and those among the people themselves. The two are totally different in their nature."(2) This struggle of opposites must take place if the people are to develop. But grasping dialectical and historical materialism is useless if at some point we don't put this understanding to practice!

There are much more documents and lessons to be learned within "The Essential Stalin", so much to be grasped and applied to today's contradictions wherever we may be.

Long live Stalin's contributions!

1. You can read a more detailed analysis of the RCP=U$A's position toward the [email protected] nation in this book: [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, by a MIM(Prisons) Study Group, Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2015.
2. Mao Zedong, "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People" (February 27, 1957).